For this All Hallow's Eve, I was going to regale the reader with a tale of an unusual tasting in the hills just above Santa Rosa. Some of the state's finest Zinfandels were made here over a century ago, and in the great stone cellar, I enjoyed barrel samples of the latest vintage of Mountain Claret drawn from huge oak ovals. The 1934 Chablis was still showing remarkable crispness, if a bit dry. I was going to say that when I turned around to ask the kindly and dapper winemaker if the date on that bottle was a mistake, he faded like an apparition into the dank and rubble-strewn cellar. The ceiling had collapsed and the ovals were empty and rotting. I heard the sound of footsteps, or was it the gnarled branches of trees scraping against the ruined Champagne cellar? I fled under a waning moon, for while I've indeed drunk wine at Fountaingrove Winery on a dark and stormy night, there's been no service, no tasting fee and no earthly person at all there for more than 60 years.
Spooky, but why dwell on the dusty past? Not in a town that shuns such venerable landmarks, that buries the past in headstones of monolithic blandness and whose most treasured history is commemorated by a brass dog. Let us flee the haunted hillsides of Santa Rosa and instead embrace life, sweet life, in this darkest of night, in a town that builds for the future, that treats citizens to a whole new downtown district out of vacant lots instead of only tricking, and tricking again.
Let us pay a visit to La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge in Petaluma's Theatre District. Brand-new last month, this modern and classy joint is airy but suitably dark, with a variety of seating arrangements. Recessed, lighted alcoves highlight the spare decor. The music is loungey, and the flat screen above the bar plays movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's subtitled in Spanish. Before I forget to mention that this is an ultimo spot for a date or long chat with a good friend, let it be said now.
Wine is available in all sorts of combinations, by flights of three-ounce pours, by the glass, half carafe or bottle. Appetizers include insalata, bruschetta and crostini con funghi. We chose the piatti di formaggio ($9) with a choice of three local and imported cheeses, baguette and sliced pear. The Petaluma Gap Flight ($16) features local producers like Keller Estate's 2005 Casa de la Cruz Chardonnay and Kastania's 2004 Proprietor's Reserve Bordeaux blend. Other flights include Exotic Whites and Around the World Reds; sparkling and dessert wines are offered by the glass.
Pours can be sipped and shared by two, flights can be custom-mixed to your preference—owner Sahar Gharai is gracious to the indecisive. She's attentive and clearly excited about making her business a comfortable, low-key and efficiently run place, with some extras like live music and winemaker tasting dates coming up. If the wall of wine bottles is covered in cobwebs, it's not just another fleeting phantasm, it's for the lounge's Halloween party. We wouldn't want to see this place fade from view anytime soon.
La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge, 151 Petaluma Blvd. S., Theatre Square, Petaluma. Open Tuesday–Sunday from 11am; closing varies, 10pm-ish to 11pm-ish. 707.763.6363.