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By Daedalus Howell
In a semisecret compound off Sebastopol's Gravenstein Highway, a converted apple-processing plant now churns out world-class wines by a handful of producers, among them the marvelous Owl Ridge Wines. Through some deft telephone work, I wrangled a tasting with the winemaker and then did him the professional courtesy of showing up 45 minutes late.
Complicating matters was the fact that I had blown the head-gasket of my Jeep on my way west, necessitating rescue from my pops, who picked me up at a tasting room in Kenwood where I waited, chatting up Bette, the 83-year-old sales associate (who actually had me autograph a copy of the Bohemian for her). My dad and I eventually made it to Sebastopol, and since he had the decency to never leave me in a hot parked car as a kid, I thought I'd return the favor by bringing him to the tasting.
We travel well together--I do all the talking and he does all the head-shaking. Imagine George Emerson and his father in A Room with a View, but instead of me being moody and making punctuation marks with my food, I drink too much wine and he drives.
After locating the winery, we entered a slim door into a large warehouse. The industrial interior wasn't much to see but could pass for the set of a mid-'80s hard rock video: corrugated metal, cement and catwalks. The only things missing were the over-rouged women in halter-tops and elf boots washing a car--or each other.
Winemaker Joseph C. Otos eventually found us and ushered us into a back conference room. The man is a youthful thirty-something and has the quiet confidence that comes stock in dudes who are taller, broader and generally vaster than the average bear.
Tasting wines in front of their creator is often like sitting on the edge of the bed while someone tries to impress you with her poetry. Not the case here--not only could Otos see through me, he could see over me and possibly in back of me, too. More importantly, Otos' wines are poetry in a bottle--very good poetry. Byron-meets-Ferlinghetti good.
Though a range of excellent wines were poured, Otos' Cab program had particular resonance with my palate that day. The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley ($50) has a wry sensibility with winking notes of currants, cherry and, as Otos put it, a "fudgey aromatic." Right you are, sir. It also comes with an optional screwcap, which is quite hip.
The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the T.R. Passalacqua Vineyard ($19) in the Dry Creek Valley is a full-bodied, expressive wine marked by cranberries, blueberries and softer notes of white chocolate. The multi-award-winning 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon "Vineyard Select" Sonoma County ($38) is likewise a Cab to reckon with, heady and drenched in notes of black tea with a dusty quality that instantly made me want to invest in antiquarian books. I mentioned this to Otos, who nodded back warily. My father, of course, just quietly shook his head.
Owl Ridge Wines, 2064 Gravenstein Hwy., Ste. 120, Sebastopol. By appointment only. 707.823.9505. www.owlridge.com.