Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
Russian Hill Winery
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: As God is your witness, you'll never go wineless again. Or wear drapes to jail again. But you can visit Tara in Sonoma, perched high above the Russian River Valley, where Scarlett and Rhett (better known as owners Ellen Mack and Edward Gomez) create some mighty tasty Pinots and Syrahs, ya'll.
Their big, white estate, complete with soaring columns and old Southern charm, does look an awful lot like the Gone with the Wind movie set. In fact, locals refer to it as Tara. But that's where the similarities end. Owned by two former academic physicians, the tasting room (a former dog kennel) has a simplicity and clarity of purpose similar to their former professions. Likewise, the focus of the wines is equally simple--strong Pinots and Syrah.
With their first vintage in 1999, the winery is still finding its unique style with the help of winemaker Patrick Melley. But so far, the winery has received a handful of accolades and continues to work toward refining its wines--in a setting that can't help but inspire greatness.
Mouth value: Like most wineries, Russian Hill has experimented (successfully) with Chardonnays and other varietals, but its bread and butter is the Pinot Noir and Syrah. We tasted both the 2000 and 2001, lighter-style Pinots that were very drinkable even when this young but will likely gain depth with age. The later vintage had lots of sharp, ticklish spiciness along with deep, earthy fruit, making it my favorite of the two. The '01 Syrah, however, was like walking into grandma's kitchen after a day of baking cookies. With scents of vanilla, toasty oak and lots of spice, it's a nice, deep wine that you'll want to bury you face in. Repeatedly.
Don't miss: The views from the tasting room are some of the most spectacular in the valley. Step outside onto the deck on a warm, sunny day and imagine that this is yours, all yours.
Spot: Russian Hill Estate Vineyards and Winery, 4525 Slusser Road, Windsor. Open Thursday through Monday, 10am to 5pm. No tasting fee. 707.575.9428.
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From the January 19-25, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.