Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: The story goes something like this: winery owner Lou Preston wanted Italian marble for his tasting room bar counter. The designer warned against installing the expensive marble, concerned that the very porous marble would be easily stained by red wine spills. Then the customers had better not spill, Preston replied.
The marble counter, with a few red wine stains, still sits at the center of the tasting room. Preston is a notoriously exacting kind of guy. He doesn't like kids messing around on the bocce court unattended and he leaves notes for the staff when they mess up his bread-baking kitchen. But that exacting nature and desire for order makes for some damn good wine. And it's why, when you ask so many folks around Sonoma which is their favorite winery, more than a few of them will tell you they're huge fans of the quirky Preston.
The Dry Creek Valley winery sits far north on West Dry Creek Road, with a sign at the entrance detailing the rules of the winery. No outside wine, limited picnic facilities, no beer and, oh, feel free to hug the cats. It's a lovely place, with organic vegetables for sale near the door and some of Preston's homemade bread almost always for sale. Follow the rules and you'll have a great time.
Mouth value: The winery recently cut production from some 30,000 cases down to 8,000 annually so that the Prestons could have more control over the process. The 2003 Viognier ($25) is a great summer wine with lots of floral, apricot and tropical fruit notes--typical of the varietal--but a lot less overtly flirty than many. The 2003 Vin Gris ($15) is made from 30 percent Mourvedre and 70 percent Cinsault. The wine is pink, yes; simpering, no. The Mourvedre gives a healthy infusion of power while allowing the wine to keep its gentle sensibilities.
Reds, however, are the bread and butter. The 2002 Mourvedre has deep, dark fruit and chocolate with a nice tannic nip. The 2002 Sangiovese is tarter and fruiter--a sort of mid-afternoon romp through the blueberry bushes. The 2001 L. Preston Red, in the stenciled bottle, is a favorite, a Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Mouvedre, Carigane and Cinsault with lots of dark cherry flavor. We also enjoyed the hearty, vanilla and oak-heavy Syrah ($18), though in 95 degree heat, it felt a like wearing a wool sweater in August.
Don't Miss: Sundays are the best day to visit. The bread is usually fresh, and it's the only day you can get the Guadagni jug wine straight from the barrels. Jim Guadangi was an Italian farming neighbor of the Prestons who inspired the simple home-grown blend. Preston's wife, Susan, designed the labels and will grab a huge jug from the shelf and fill it up personally while you eagerly wait.
Spot: Preston of Dry Creek, 9282 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am to 4:30pm. Tasting fee, $3. 707.433.3372.
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From the July 14-20, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.