The ingenuous winetaster may not realize, on passing glance, that this brand-new tasting room tucked into a dell off Westside Road is very much more than the latest iteration of a contemporary trend. What makes the difference between a dream and a third-generation winegrowing concern of international acclaim? Time, good timing, and good grapes.
Santa Rosa native Charles Bacigalupi settled into a dentistry practice in town. Dreaming of country life, he purchased benchland vineyards above the Russian River in the 1950s, then turned to his clients for advice. Paul Heck, who had recently purchased Korbel, advised—as best he could in between gargling, surmises granddaughter Katey Bacigalupi—that he replace the old Chenin Blanc with Chardonnay, using budwood from Karl Wente. He did, and grapes from that vineyard composed a good portion of Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay that won the famous "Judgment of Paris" tasting in 1976.
Napa generally gets the credit for that, but Katey and twin sister Nicole are quick to point to a copy of the original weigh tag from 1973 that's displayed in the tasting room, below watercolors painted by their great-grandmother, Olive, in the 1940s and 50s. Depicting redwoods, historic wineries and a scene of downtown Healdsburg that looks as fresh as yesterday—vintage truck and all—her paintings offer both a window to the past, and a mirror for the present. Wine country watercolors? Dentists longing to rusticate amid the vineyards? Wine country hasn't changed so much, after all.
A website and blog, of course, keep us up-to-date on what is new. Katey and Nicole are the new face of the family business, energetically building the brand while participating in next-generation events like Single Vineyard Night, and staffing the family-run tasting room. On the odd weekend, grandfather Charles may lend a hand, too.
Most Bacigalupi grapes go to long-time buyers, including Williams Selym. John Tyler wines (named for vineyard owner John Bacigalupi and winemaker Tyler Heck) are offered in mini verticals of Pinot and Zin. Most are aged in neutral oak and released several years after the local norm. The 2004 Russian River Valley, Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir ($52) shows graceful aging with orange peel, rhubarb and pepper jelly; the 2006 Pinot Noir ($45), earthy, Burgundian aromas of hay, cinnamon stick with cherry, pepper jelly flavors and wide, fine dry finish; while the 2006 Zinfandel ($38) has a minty, sweet herbal aroma that I just can't place—is it anise, plus rose hip and dried raspberry? While the aroma haunts, the finish is dense, not hot; an agreeable table Zin with some ineffable extra. Old World twists on old California clones from a brand-new winery.
John Tyler Wines, 4353 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10:30am to 5pm. Tasting fee, $10. 707.473.0115.