You've got your chateaus, your Tuscan villas, your Valhallas. Your $5 to taste three out of the eight wines from the first page; your $15 for up to two reserves out of five listed on the obverse side. And then you've got your recycled old apple barn with no fee and no fancy pants. At 4:30 on a wintry Sunday afternoon, we're feeling low-key. We'll take last call at the apple barn.
Taft Street Winery, in the rural industrial outskirts of Sebastopol, left over from the Gravenstein's glory days, fits the bill. Don't look for it on that town's Taft Street--the winery's founding garagistes carried the name north from Oakland, when they opened a winery proper in 1982.
None but a few cats are enjoying the small deck of the modest gray tasting room. The staff, comprised of one easygoing dude, puts down his book and sets up a few glasses. No mention of a fee for tasting 11 current releases. The usual suspects haunt Taft Street's lineup of varietals, sourced mainly from Sonoma Coast vineyards. In no particular hurry, we swirl and slurp our way down the list, hang out and--what's the enophile's term?--shoot the shit.
Finnegan, an orange tabby as rotund and jowly as the portrait of 27th president William Howard Taft that hangs on the wall, jumps on the bar to join us. No, we don't mind, especially if he's drinking with us. Dip a finger in wine, and sure enough, he's a tippling cat. Finnegan suffers no Merlot-shy, movie-influenced fools. He enjoys the 2003 Sonoma County Merlot ($13), supple bodied but spicy, the equal of scads of wines at double the price.
The 2005 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($18) entrances with a faint whiff of burnt oak, like lazy smoke drifting from way down the road on a winter evening. A flavor conjures another cozy association, of buttered popcorn at the movies, but with enough crisp acidity to keep it junior-size. My tasting cohort professes the leaner 2005 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($13) to be superior. Finnegan licks her nose.
Thumbs up on the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs. The 2002 Peka Pinot Noir ($25) is a one-time release that refers cryptically to the Russian word for "river." It's richly colored, suggesting chocolate liqueur on the nose and maybe beef jerky too.Taft Street's award-winning Sauvignon Blancs are a great deal, and as for the rest, are they remarkable? Here's what's remarkable: everything is quite good, local and reasonably priced. We pick up a few bottles, Finnegan is put out, thank you, and good night.
Taft Street Winery, 2030 Barlow Lane, Sebastopol. Tasting daily; Monday-Friday, 11am to 4pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11am to 4:30pm. 707.823.2049.