It's been a quiet week here in Healdsburg, on the edge of the Dry Creek Valley. The last wine warrior weekend was the closest thing they'd had to maximum capacity since, probably, the weekend before. There are plenty of seats down at the Flying Goat Cafe, where three telecommuters are lined up, laptops flipped open, like a pop-art triptych. Nice time to catch up on work.
Just outside of town, there's a little mill that looks like it was lifted right off a tin of holiday cookies and plunked down on Westside Road. If you had holiday visitors to entertain, it's the kind of quaint spot you might take them, and they might wonder aloud, "Is this from the old days, when they used water power to crush the grapes?" It's a delightful notion.
You might wonder to yourself, is this rustic scene merely a branding concept of the liquor and spirits division of some corporation? No, sir. I report to you with confidence that since the 1970s the Kreck family has run the entire operation lock, stock and barrel—medium toast. While the historically inspired building is just spinning a decorative wheel, here at Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery, quaint is just a footnote to quality.
The dry Estate Gewürztraminer ($16) is a regular award winner and perennial favorite. Some folks from out of state stopped by for the express purpose of tasting it. Yeasty spiciness is imbued with honeydew melon and mango notes, with just a little residual sugar. Pair it with spicy Asian food, and you might not go too wrong. The 2005 Estate Reserve Chardonnay ($25) is a sweet, cool mouthful of frosted coffee cake with roasted nuts.
The 2004 Estate Merlot ($22) is a bright, warm scoop of cranberry and raspberry fruit. It's a fine Merlot with, you know, soft tannins—but the out-of-staters sipping down the bar from me would have none of it. Seems That Movie has corrupted even our Deep South friends. Alas, this Dry Creek winery is a Pinot-free zone. (Too warm here, don't ya know, although they're just a stone's throw from where Dry Creek make its appointment with the Russian River—OK, if it was a small stone, and you had a good arm and you drove a half mile down the road to get a better shot at it.)
The newest member of their family of wines is the standout 2004 Estate Syrah ($27), with its dark scents of berries, ink, violets and vanilla, and a hint of smoked blackberry pie. If, on a whim, you got the bright idea to put a pie in the smokehouse, it might come out something like this. You wonder if God made Pinot to give Frenchmen who couldn't grow Syrah something to do with their hands, and keep them out of trouble.
Plan a visit Thanksgiving weekend. If it's a lousy, cold day, a little wood-burning stove makes the tasting room quite toasty. I visited on a gorgeous, warm day. Better luck to you.
All the wines are above average at Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery, 1401 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am to 4pm. Tasting fee for reserve wines. 707.431.2121.