John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Simaine Cellars
Note: This is an expanded version of the column that ran on September 4, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper.
Picture a winery, set amidst endless acres of rolling grapevine rows, more a castle than an ordinary structure, covered in ivy, with European supercars parked in front, fountains spraying water with misted droplets creating rainbows, trees carefully carved into topiary wine bottle shapes, a helicopter tied down beside the castle, and a sign welcoming visitors inside to enjoy a wine tasting for a nominal $20 tasting fee per guest. Haughty hosts judging your worth with practiced eye, pouring perfect half ounce pours with practiced hand. The wines, too often ultimately disappointing, unsurprisingly each an extension of style over substance. Not for me, thanks.
Simaine Cellars Wine Tasting & Gift Shop is gloriously the opposite of that; located at 3001 South State Street in the Redwood Square industrial park on the south end of Ukiah, one property north of the Redwood Health Club, in the rear row of businesses, where the Simaine signage at units 41 and 42 let you know you’ve arrived at the right place.
Stepping through the door, you enter the gift shop, filled with colorful, handmade jewelry. Both Victor Simon, owner and winemaker, and Max, the winery dog, greeted me, and we walked through the gift shop and into the winery.
Simaine Cellars is all about function, and is a local example of a growing movement where wineries locate in urban industrial parks rather than in rural vineyard settings. Victor buys his grapes, then crushes, ferments, barrel ages, bottles his wine, pours it at tastings, and sells it, all from an intimate ‘no frills’ environment. The focus is squarely on the wines and with reduced overhead, they are made more affordable.
The large one room winery has barrels stacked high, wide and deep along one wall, a tasting bar on another wall, and cases of wine for tasting and sale on a third wall. The fourth wall is where a roll up door allows grapes to be delivered at harvest time. In the center, a table or two are available to sit, and if your timing is good, Victor will share a homemade lunch with you as you wine taste.
While you can find Simaine in shops and restaurants in Mendocino County, “the best wine sales happen in tasting rooms. Stores allow bigger sales, but tasting wines is always better, that’s why I do my special events” shared Victor. Once a month, Victor hosts a dinner concert in his winery, with a local restaurant providing the food. On September 13, Paula Samonte will sing before traveling to Rome, Italy to perform. Paula’s concert is called “Leaving Notes” which she literally does as a singer.
Victor generously poured through all of his wines. I believe all of the wines I tasted were made from grapes that came from Venturi Vineyard.
2010 Simaine Sangiovese, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 15.0% alc. – Dark color. Plum, coffee, dark rich cherry, chocolate. Lush, anise herb, all spice. The tart cherry on a cheesecake or jubilee dessert.
2010 Simaine Zinfandel, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 16.3% alc. – Dusty cocoa, Lush fruit, fruit, fruit. These wines are the exact opposite of light wines, but no high alcohol flavor. Balanced ripeness. Cherry. jammy berry, pepper spice.
2010 Simaine Syrah, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 15.7% alc. – Coffee and cherry and raspberry and bright cherry fruit meet purple dark plum and cassis fruit.
2010 Simaine Primitivo, Venturi Vineyard, $150, 16.4% alc. – Available only to wine club members and in the tasting room. Deep dark cherry, berry. Remarkably smooth. I loved this wine; sadly it is nearly sold out.
2010 Simaine Carignane, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.6% alc. – 105 year old vines, dedicated to grower Larry Venturi’s mom: Elvie’s Block on the label. Victor told me, “low yield, not too many tons per acre, gives so much character for the wines,” and I agree. Cherry, rose, and vanilla played really well against the notes of Victor’s salsa at lunch. Light, but full of flavor.
2010 Simaine Merlot, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.1% alc. – Soft mouth, dusty spice, blackberry, cherry, rhubarb. A touch of mint. The finish is long and lingering. Good acid, food friendly
2010 Simaine Petite Sirah, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.1% alc. – Nicely not overpowering. Smooth, soft tannins. Rich on palate. Tannins this soft on a wine this rich is remarkable. “All my wines are free run juice, so full body but smooth,” was Victor’s explanation. Dense blackberry, anise, pepper.
There was cherry accented or cherry leading the way notes in practically every red wine. They were all big wines, but smooth. They all were delicious, but would be made more so with food. I really liked the wines, and the overall style shown by Victor Simon at Simaine Cellars.
Simaine wines are made from fry farmed and organically grown grapes, using only free run juice, the juice that comes simply from the weight of grapes on top of grapes, and not pressed grapes for additional juice. Victor returns the skins to the vineyard they came from to be used as compost. Simaine wines are French oak aged and made from one varietal, not blended; and each wine is from one vineyard, which receives vineyard designation on the finished wine bottle.
Victor works at the winery every day, and to make that tolerable, enjoyable even, he makes himself lunch every day, and makes enough so he can share with you, if you are there at the time. If you miss lunch, there is always homemade fresh salsa and chips available because, as Victor explained, “I make salsa and beans every day, my wines are full body and go really well with spice.”
I enjoyed Tillamook peppercorn and crushed red pepper cheddar cheese quesadillas; fresh beans made with whole beans, red onion, jalapeno; and salsa made with Roma tomatoes, red onions, garlic, jalapenos, and cilantro – all made fresh by Victor.
Over and over again, one wine after the next, without exception, I found Victor’s Simaine wines to be rich, deeply flavored, but smooth and incredibly well integrated. These were wines of weight but remarkably soft tannin. Each wine delivered on the promise made in the smelling of it; the nose leads seamlessly to the mouth, and on to the finish. They also paired spectacularly with food.
Visit Simaine Cellars to taste and talk with Victor, or peruse www.Simaine.com for more information.
I had a visit at work from a reader, not to taste wine, but to tell me that she reads my column each week and, even though she isn’t really much of a wine drinker, I write so everyone can understand what I am writing about and she likes the column. I wanted you to know I appreciate your kindness and was humbled that you sought me out to share it. Thank you, and thank all of you, my readers.