The kid sister of wine juggernaut Gundlach Bundschu, stately Bartholomew Park Winery is nestled in the Sonoma hills on the site of a former women's prison--an odd but scenic locale for something that sounds like it belongs in a Henry James novel.
The warden and guards are long gone, and I was warmly greeted inside by a sage trio of wine women perched behind the counter. Kathy and Connie are veteran staffers recently joined by Mychal, to whom bits of their wisdom seem to drift, effortlessly, like the filaments of a dandelion. When I mentioned the local lore about a prison ghost at the winery, wide-eyed Mychal confessed to having just heard of it, Connie reiterated my query neutrally to Kathy, who effectively exorcised the ghost by nonchalantly saying, "She's gone." Public-relations lesson learned: there is no ghost. No worries, Bartholomew Park makes up for its lack of the supernatural with a bevy of preternatural wines.
Consider the 2005 Sauvignon Blanc sourced from San Lucas Vineyard in Monterey County; it's practically the summer solstice in a bottle. A sip of this wine, and you're a child running through the sprinklers, a flock of badminton shuttlecocks overhead and nary a weed underfoot. A pale blonde wine drenched in citrus kisses, it would pair well with a sundress and a mild sunburn (with just enough sting to prove you've been dancing in the sun). Serve poolside with a lawn chair and paperback.
Likewise, the 2002 Merlot, sourced from the Desnudos Vineyards (a former nudist colony looming over the Sonoma Valley), boasts hints of tobacco, brambly blackberry and the deepest black cherry--the breath of the wrong acquaintance whispering the right words in your ear at a party. It's a devilish wine, like the person you're not sure you're avoiding or saving for later and, made from 100 percent Merlot grapes, suffers no Pinot envy (curse you Sideways!).
I followed with the 2003 Kasper Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, an earthy, broad-shouldered wine with mature tannins and notes of currant, raspberry and, inexplicably, Fudgesicle, or more specifically, Fudgesicle on an Oak Stick. A pleasant, full-bodied wine, its closest rival on Batholomew's list is its older sibling, the 2001 Estate Vineyard Cab, which is marked by dark berry flavors augmented with notes of cooled espresso. Its suggested cellaring time is five to 15 years, but if you don't have a cellar, I suggest using the next best thing: a corkscrew.
Bartholomew Park Winery, 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma. Open daily, 11am to 4:30pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.935.9511.