Photograph by PHOTOCRED
M alolactic fermentation just doesn't produce the same fizz these days. Everybody knows that malolactic isn't Latin for "bad milk"; it's a natural process that turns crisp malic acid into mellow lactic acid. Now the fashion is to tout its absence. That's usually signaled by a "green apple" characteristic, but rarely is it the unreal Jolly Rancher wow of a green apple that pops out of Christopher Creek's 2006 Sapphire Hill Vineyard Chardonnay ($27)—apple as created by white-coated flavor engineers. But then, I'd just recovered from a hot fermentation of my own, having suffered the flu. After cooking at 103 degrees for days, my sense of smell was just getting its mojo back, resulting in hallucinations—a René Magritte shower of green apples, covering my face.
Christopher Creek began as Sotoyome Winery, run by some ahead-of-their-times folks who bottled "Shiraz" way back in 1984. The modest Healdsburg estate was sold to folks who renamed it for their son (plus the creek down the hill), and later bought by Fred and Pam Wasserman, who kept the name, dropped the union jack from the label and added a thistle.
The tasting room is a small, wood-paneled anteroom to the 5,000-case winery, festooned with ribbons and stocked with bins of wine. There are no fountains, Italian tiles or anything not having to do directly with the business of sampling wines made on the premises. The gentleman who had been whiling away a slow afternoon with some paperwork lined up eight bottles and made only incidental reference to the existence of a wine club in course of the complimentary tasting.
With just 5 percent malolactic, the Chardonnay does have a light creamy finish, like apples with Brie. The 2006 Catie's Corner Viognier ($28) hit me with a distinctive apricot cobbler on the nose, but pure lemon meringue pie in the mouth. Best known for reds, Christopher Creek's 2004 Zinfandels—the Dry Creek ($26) and the Russian River ($26)—are brambly, jammy and dry as a thistle.
The 2004 Dry Creek Finlay's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($32) has juicy and lively fruit, while the "flagship wine" doesn't leap out of the glass, and for now, that's a good thing; the big, closed and reductive 2005 Estate Petite Sirah ($32) bristles like some beast in its den. There's nothing to do but let it sleep for another half decade in the bottom bin. Hinting darkly of blackberry-plum syrup, it may be worth the wait. In the meantime, how about them apples?
Christopher Creek Winery, 641 Limerick Lane, Healdsburg. Open Daily 11am–5pm; no tasting fee. 707.433.2001.