Don't blame winemakers Chris Condos and Suzanne Hagins for bringing yet more Pinot Noir to Sebastopol's historic apple country. Just relax under the apple trees at their new tasting room on Gravenstein Highway, and have a long, cold pour of their heirloom . . . apple cider.
The husband-and-wife team behind Horse & Plow Winery got into the cider business by happenstance, according to Hagins. For one thing, from the outset they committed to only buying grapes from certified organic properties, and those tend to support a diversity of crops, including apples. Then one year there was a bumper crop of apples at their son's school down the road. The cider they made from those apples was a success, and they decided to go for it, commercially.
Horse & Plow ciders and several wines are poured on tap in their "tasting barn," a rustically styled building that fits right into the weathered promenade of old Gravenstein Highway apple sheds, but is new construction, with recycled wood accents from a barn that occupied the same footprint on this lot.
I wrote about Hagins for Swirl back in 2009, when she was making Lutea Pinot Noir. Now the Pinot program is folded in under "The Gardener" label of Horse & Plow. For all the critical attention they've received for Horse & Plow, the couple hasn't yet made it their only job (Condos runs the 40,000-case Vinum Cellars in Napa), but their young son has. He'll try to sell you a $3 squash from a "farm stand" he set up on an antique wagon in front of the tasting room.
On a recent weekday, two young women from a local business were overjoyed to unwind after work with a glass of fresh and fruity Beaujolais-style 2015 Carignane ($8 glass), while a dude who favors the bolder reds found the inky purple 2013 Old Vine Petite Sirah ($9 glass, $28 bottle) more his speed. Bright and spicy, the 2013 Horse & Plow Redwood Valley Grenache ($28) has hints of bay leaf and black olive, while the top Gardener barrel selection, the 2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($45), is as brooding as a blueberry cobbler could be.
The 2015 Hops & Honey Cider ($4 glass, $22 growler, $12 refill) is bottle- and keg-conditioned, meaning that a secondary fermentation produces the bubbles, not a CO2 injection. Only a little bit on the tastefully funky side, the Farmhouse Cider ($12) is Gravenstein-heavy, but also contains heirloom cider varieties. Don't pass this one up.
1272 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol. Open Thursday–Monday, 11am–5pm. Tasting fee, $15; by the glass, $4–$10. 707.827.3486.