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Don Juan Was Here

Three Sticks opens tasting room at a most antique address

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Amazing what time will do for a hut built of mud and straw.

The adobe at 143 West Spain St. in Sonoma is one of several constructed around 1842 by Salvador Vallejo, whose more famous brother floated him some land on the west side of Sonoma Plaza. Vallejo seems to have had a hard time unloading it. His first buyer, a certain Don Juan Casteñeda, sold it back to him after a year. Over the past 170 years it's been a blacksmith's shop, among other uses. Now that it's one of the last adobes from the 1821–1846 Mexican period still standing, it's getting some attention again. In 2014, it became home to Three Sticks Winery tasting room after an expensive seismic retrofit and redecorating job.

If you are looking for a lavishly designed tasting room, however, you might pass right by the inconspicuous Vallejo-Casteñada adobe, marked by a small plaque. All of the technical feats involved in stabilizing the building are invisible now, but you can see that no expense was spared on the interiors, a pastiche of period styles with contemporary flair by San Francisco design personality Ken Fulk. Winged leather chairs, for example, are a more comfortable interpretation of so-called cockfighting chairs from the mid-19th century. Spindly Zalto stemware adds style to the wine flight.

Three Sticks is the personal wine project of William S. Price III, who also heads Kosta Browne and Gary Farrell, owns several high-profile vineyards and clearly could have funded a vanity chateau instead of spiffing up this historic mud hut. Wines are made by Don Van Staaveren, formerly the winemaker at Chateau St. Jean. To sip on during the tour of the grounds, we get a glass of 2012 Casteñeda Red ($48), a fruity blend of Durell Vineyard's Rhône varieties.

The 2012 Durell Vineyard Chardonnay ($48) sports a madeleine-like aroma, not that it reminds me of anything—it's a big Chard in its own way, rolling over the tongue like a lemon drop candy; the aroma of freshly split, dried oak suits it better than the usual roasty-toasty. From the school of big fruit, the plush 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($60) was this group's all-around favorite; the 2012 Gap's Crown Pinot Noir ($65) is spicier and leaner. Right in between black olive and chocolate, the fruit-forward yet savory 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) is in a pleasurable spot now, no aging needed.

Three Sticks Winery, 143 West Spain St., Sonoma. Open Mon–Sat, by appointment only. Tasting fee, $35; library tasting, $70. 707.996.3328.

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