Just west of the bustle of Santa Rosa on a Sunday drive, it is clear that autumn has quickly followed the first few days of rain. Leaves speckle the road, the roses of a roadside memorial glow red in the slanted light and shadows cross the road in the midafternoon. Farther west, traffic thins, save for a flatbed truck stacked with heaping bins of Chardonnay grapes careening down Graton Road to beat the next rain. In these hills where pioneering Russian orchardists encroached on the great Spanish land grants, the apples now give ground to grapevines. The road passes through a little valley green with vineyards, surrounded by redwoods, overlooked by Marimar Torres Estate.
Representing a Spanish winemaking dynasty, Don Miguel Torres brought along daughter Marimar on a California visit in the 1960s. She later made it her home. With support from the family business, Marimar, also a food writer, built the winery in 1993. It's well laid out: there are bright yellow walls, blue-framed windows, a courtyard fountain and flowers spill out on the walkway to the tasting room above the steep, hand-farmed vineyards.
The tasting room is inspired by a Catalonian farmhouse kitchen, with decor selected from the region, and wines are presented on the central dining table. Despite the Iberian heritage, the wines are strictly Burgundian. The 2006 "Acero" Chardonnay, Don Miguel Vineyard ($29) is named for the Spanish word for "steel," contrary to the trend towards "roble," but in keeping with the countertrend against oaked Chardonnay. Yet the aroma is butterscotch, the acidity lemon-lime, the fruit fresh.
From the home vineyard named for Torres' late father, the 2004 Don Miguel Estate Pinot Noir ($39) is a concentrated Pinot, with rich black cherry fruit balanced between tartness and solid tannin (like a fine Tempranillo?) with something of a smoky, vanilla note. The 2004 Estate Pinot Noir ($45), from a newer vineyard overlooking Freestone and named for matriarch Doña Margarita, is, if it can be believed, more feminine. A hint of strawberry peeks out over dark cherry aroma, subtly perfumed with allspice or clove. The mouth-feel is rich, refined; the tannin supple, without vegetal character save for an afterthought of rhubarb. This is among the best Pinots I've tasted in the past year.
Although I've been partial to more rustic Russian River valley operations, the picture-perfect Marimar Estate is not a bad stop for locals on a Sunday drive. There's a feeling of a private tasting at a little-discovered, tucked-away location. The only other folks who showed up during my visit were locals who immediately found one degree of separation with the host and struck up a conversation. Spain's Prince Felipe has already visited—in 1994—but you can still beat the crowds in this winery's springtime. Marimar Estate, 11400 Graton Road, Sebastopol. Open 11am to 4pm. No tasting fee; tours by appointment. 707.823.4365.