John on Wine – Windsor Vineyards reunion mini tour
I worked at Windsor Vineyards in Sonoma County from January 18, 1993 through the end of January in 2001. I started as one of 100 telemarketers, and moved to create and direct a very successful tradeshow program for the winery. In the nearly 15 years since I left Windsor, many others have left as well, but we all seem to have stayed in the wine industry, and seek each other out or run into each other frequently.
I have written about Carol Shelton, who was the winemaker for most of my time at Windsor, and now makes wines under her own eponymous label, often from Mendocino County fruit. I have written about Susan Johnson, who was my partner at the tradeshows for Windsor, and who I worked with after Windsor when we both left for the Wine Appreciation Guild. Mark Friedrich managed Windsor’s tasting room on the Healdsburg town square, back in the day, and now pours at some of the Anderson Valley’s best tasting rooms today, and Mark has also appeared in this column. I have been visited in the McFadden tasting room by an old married couple, great friends Hans Dippel and M.J. Dube, long after I was present at their first date way back in my early days at Windsor.
Recently, I visited former Vice President of Sales at Windsor, Howard Smith, who was a huge advocate and supporter for the tradeshow program I put together way back when, at the Roadhouse Winery tasting room in Healdsburg, where he pours on Sundays at Tuesdays, and then went on to visit Toni DiLeo, who I dated for a while thanks to our shared time at Windsor, as she poured at Merriam Vineyards, between Healdsburg and Windsor. As I was visiting old Windsor Vineyards friends, Gordon Harsaghy (still at Windsor) and his wife Dale visited my tasting room looking for me, and left a sweet note. We all really were far more a large family than co-workers, and the bonds and friendships continue to this day.
The Roadhouse Winery tasting room is located at 240 Center Street, just a couple of doorways south of the Oakville Grocery, in Healdsburg, and specializes in red wines. Each of the wines has a distinctive label, to make finding your favorite, vintage to vintage, easier.
2012 Roadhouse Winery Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir Platinum Label $75 – Weir Vineyard – Bright color, multilayered, deep dark cherry and tea, and that classic loamy earthy undernote
2012 Roadhouse Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Green Label $59 – Sangiacomo Vineyard – Lush and lovely, again dark cherry, with lots of spice, and tea notes.
2013 Roadhouse Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Black Label $57 – Nunes Vineyard – Darker color, softer wine, intensely ripe cherry and raspberry fruit, with supporting herb and spice, nice oak, soft tannin, and good balancing acidity.
2012 Roadhouse Winery Dry Creek Zinfandel Red Label $34 – Rossi Road Vineyard – Unsurprisingly, the Zin is darker and bigger than the trio of Pinots, with raspberry, cocoa, and a light pepper note, met by oak and oak’s vanilla.
2012 Roadhouse Winery Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3 Ball Label $69 – various vineyard blend – Holy licorice, Batman! Blackberry, current, earth, and wood. Terrific balance, integration, and flavors.
The entire line up of reds was delicious, and in a rare occurrence, after writing notes on each wine I found identical descriptors on the winery’s tasting sheet for nearly all of the wines. The wines were great, but seeing Howard, after too long not seeing him, was the biggest treat of the visit.
Similarly, the highlight of my tasting at Merriam Vineyards, located at 11650 Los Amigos Road between Healdsburg and Windsor, was not the stellar line up of wines – and they are stellar – but visiting with Toni DiLeo. We are incredibly comfortable with each other, and our shared professional and personal experiences allow us almost shorthand when talking about wine.
Merriam Vineyards, owned by Peter and Diana Merriam, has ten certified organic acres of vines, and another ten acre vineyard less than a mile up the road, all in the Russian River Valley AVA, so every instance where winemaker David Helzberg’s wine is identified as an estate wine below, it means the wine is a Russian River Valley wine and from Merriam Vineyard’s own fruit.
2014 Merriam Vineyards Estate Rose of Pinot Noir $20 – Strawberry, a touch of rose, light cream, and light herb.
2014 Merriam Vineyards Estate Sauvignon Blanc Danielle $20 – Named for daughter Danielle – Held in neutral oak, the nose is classic lemony grass and pear, with a tiny touch of gooseberry, and becomes lusher in the mouth with notes of melon, pear, and lemon.
2012 Merriam Vineyards Chardonnay Bacigalupi $56 – Toni and I differed on whether Bacigalupi translates as kiss of the wolf or galloping kisses, but we agree strongly that Chardonnay from Bacigalupi Vineyard is about as good as it gets. Oak, toast, cream, vanilla, and light butter come through from the barrel, and are met by apple, peach, pear, and a touch of clove spice.
2013 Merriam Vineyards Pinot Noir Cuvee $28 – Four Pinot clones, 667, 777, 23 and 115, grown organically at Merriam Vineyards, make up this wine. Toni calls this Merriam’s, “$60 Pinot for $28,” and it certainly drinks bigger than the $28 price tag. Deep, dark, rich, concentrated. Dark cherry, other red fruit, oak, and spice.
2013 Merriam Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate $40 – Two Pinot clones, 667 and 777, make up this wine. Unfined, unfiltered, hand harvested, hand sorted. Mouth-fillingly round rich spicy cherry cola character.
2012 Merriam Vineyards Pinot Noir Three Sons $75 – The top two barrels of 667 and 777 Pinot from Merriam’s Windacre Vineyard make up this wine, named for the owners three sons, Stefan, Nicolas and Evan – the name does not reflect wine made from grapes taken from the Fred MacMurray’s ranch, as I had hoped – Up front Bing cherry and strawberry met by dark dusty spice notes.
2011 Merriam Vineyards Estate Merlot Windacre Vineyard $30 – The Windacre vineyard is named after Peter and Diane Merriam’s property in Maine, Windacre by the Sea. Soft, light, very nice and eminently quaffable. In a world of weak and boring Merlot, Toni summed it up nicely, “it’s likeable.”
2011 Merriam Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Windacre Vineyard $32 – Reading my mind as I put nose to glass, Toni said, “I like that nose.” Yes I do. Unmistakably Cab. Cedar, cherry pipe tobacco, blackberry, blueberry nose; soft in mouth yet firm backbone providing structure for violet berry fruit.
2009 Merriam Vineyards Miktos Bordeaux Blend Sonoma County $50 – 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petite Verdot. Raspberry coulis and chocolate nose, reinforced in the mouth. None of the grapes suggest the exact flavor, so it is a bit surprising, but absolutely delicious.
2013 Merriam Vineyards Malbec Lower Pond $38 – Only 50 cases made exclusively for wine club. Dark chocolate covered berry candy nose; and black cherry, blackberry, and currant fruit in the mouth with a dry earthy, cedary, spice note.
If visiting Merriam, consider bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy with your favorite just purchased wine, while relaxing in comfortable yellow Adirondack chairs, with scents of nearby lavender, overlooking vines surrounded by olive trees.
Note: This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 5, 2016.