Purple teeth and broad smiles are all part of the winetasting experience, but the smiles come to a halt when Ray Göpfrich reveals that he's an accomplished dentist. Have no worries, says Göpfrich—he won't suggest braces or a new crown. In fact, he'll gladly help to stain those teeth purple. That's his new job.
Göpfrich isn't the first dentist to retire to a life in the vineyards, but he did know darn well what he was getting into. "I had a realistic approach," he says, "after growing up around agriculture." Years ago, having gleaned all he could about picking apples on his family's Pennsylvania farm, he sought out a career in dentistry, eventually becoming a university instructor and managing a private practice. But when he settled down on West Dry Creek Road, he didn't slow down; Göpfrich farms 20 acres and produces 500 cases of wine mainly by himself, with one assistant. "If you like what you do," he says about both pulling teeth and picking grapes, "it's not really work."
Clad in plaid shirt and vest, measured in speech but affable, Göpfrich looks every bit the Yankee farmer as he shows visitors on a "35-second tour" through a small, tidy cellar. When he apologizes that it's a little disorganized at the moment (it isn't), it must be a giveaway of his German heritage. Referring to the un-Anglicized spelling of his name, his wine club is called the "Umlaut Club." During one winery event, contestants were invited to create versions of the "hidden umlaut" prints displayed in the tasting room today (see above). "Some showed talent," says Göpfrich; "Some were a little raunchy."
This is the only Dry Creek Valley winery that also sells Riesling, Silvaner and Huxelrebe, made in Rheinhessen, Germany, by family friends. For his part, Göpfrich says that he aims to make wines that will complement his supper, not overwhelm it. Accordingly, his 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($38) is light of roasted oak and red of fresh, berry fruit, and finishes with a refreshing, astringent smack. Smoky and feral, with black cherry and chocolate creeping up the palate, the 2009 Estate Syrah ($30) leaves nothing of the sappiness of overblown Syrah.
A blend of Syrah and Cab, the 2009 Estate Cuvée ($32) is as fun to chew on as a chocolate-cherry bonbon, but finishes agreeably dry. Göpfrich wraps up the tasting with the sweeter German wines. The Klemmer Family's 2009 Rheinhessen Riesling Spätlese ($18) has pretty, floral aromas of honeysuckle, and buzzes like a bee in between pears-in-juice sweetness and leavening acidity. And it just might help clean up those purple teeth.
Göpfrich Winery, 7462 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Tasting by appointment only, Saturdays. 707.433.1645.—James Knight