Glen Ellen's most notable rock 'n' roll winery is surely B.R. Cohn, but on any given Friday, the tunes are cranking way past his olive trees at the neighbor's place. That's when Little Vineyards' owner Rich Little gets out his Chapman Stick in the corner of the tasting room and noodles out a few licks. Off the beaten track, Little Vineyards is a refrain on the small, family winery started in the late 1990s, with a few surprises, like its own recording studio and a house wine with its own companion CD.
I first encountered Little Vineyard's Band Blend at my local pub. At $5 a glass for an estate bottled Sonoma Valley red, it was an improvement over the previous house wine, and what wine looks more in its element in a bar with a Stratocaster on the label? The Band Blend Track 2 ($15) is unfined, unfiltered and also uncomplicated to open—crack the screw cap and you're ready to rock. With a backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, Syrah and Cab Franc to fill in the center, it's accented by juicy riffs of Zinfandel. Dry, but gulpable, with dark black cherry fruit, it's not a sipping wine or your father's Oldsmobile. Plus, it has its own CD mix. Since this column is about wine, I will demur to the music critics—look, my tape deck was playing Flock of Seagulls on the drive over—but the wine rocks, for sure.
All of the Little's wines are made from their 15-acre estate vineyards, and they're serious about their product. If winemaker Ted Coleman doesn't like a particular vintage, he sells it out as bulk. Can't redub it, you know? I like that approach. So there will be no 2005 Zinfandel, but the available 2004 Zinfandel ($25) is a bright, claret style, with a red raspberry zing and phase shifted volatile notes—echoes of Meeker Vineyard's acid-rock Rack 'n' Roll. The 2005 Syrah ($30) is a more gothic number, rumbling with dry dark fruit of the grape.
While contemplating the wine or tapping your toes, you may note that you're sharing the same tasting bar with Jack London some years hence. The Littles chanced upon this heavy, dinged-up wooden stand-alone bar in a neighbor's barn in Glen Ellen. From the Rustic Inn, it bears the proprietor's proud plaque certifying that the famous author tippled with him here in 1916. Not a lucky year for London, but had he only had such fine and robust wine as this . . .
Little Vineyards Family Winery, 15188 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen. Tasting by appointment. 707.996.2750.