The story so far: When Russian River Pinot pioneer Davis Bynum hung up the hose clamp for the last time and retired, he sold his eponymous wine brand to the Kleins, owners of Rodney Strong, leaving the actual, bricks-and-mortar estate to be acquired by the Bakers, formerly of Toronto. Both parties vowed to continue the winemaker's 40-year legacy, yet this still begs the question: Who is Thomas George? The winery's thirty-something president, yet to make a name for himself in these parts, named the enterprise in honor of his father's and grandfather's given names. Meanwhile, back at the tasting room: If the nose is redolent of fresh varnish, don't look for it on the aroma wheel—it's not the wine. The gutted and revamped facility is still in the throes of construction. The winding, tree-shaded drive up to the winery is quaint and packed with contractors' trucks. Caves were being ground out of the shale hillside, concrete mixed, bottles clanked down the bottling line, while inside the tasting room, the din grew louder. Now that I'm on the record as saying that Monday is the kick-back, relaxed locals' day on the tasting trail, it's unsurprising that the very next time I go out, it's a li'l different.
The attractive space features a long, stained concrete bar, video screens flashing vineyard views in brilliant RGB, and unfortunate acoustics. My cohort, on a rosé kick, couldn't help but note another patron's booming approval of the "rich, fruity" rosé. The unlikely cuvée of loose juice from the bottom of the picking bins was nice enough, but we did not, so to speak, echo his assessment. Our host, perfunctory but professional, could have used some help behind the bar.
Although served ice-cold, the 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($32) showed a typical nose of popcorn with real butter, slices of baked apple and pineapple, and stayed lively in the mouth with moderate acidity. The 2007 RRV Pinot Noir ($38) showed candy-coated forest floor and black cherries roasted on thyme sprigs, coffee and marshmallow; cherry-brambleberry flavors lingered on a long, sweet finish. With aromas of cocoa, coffee and toast, the lush, soft, atypical 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($34) lubricated the palate with glycerin and juicy, chewy cherries, topped with chocolate, raspberry and a note of jalapeño jelly.
Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009. For a peek at the good works done and things to come, try visiting on a weekend. Or for the real action, try the middle of crush.
Thomas George Estates, 8075 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am–5pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.431.8031.