This is a tale of two tasting rooms. To say that the Marin County wine industry is the underdog of the North Bay is to overstate both industry and underdog. It's less than fledgling 'round Fallon; only nascent in Nicasio. A few winemakers are enticed by the limited quantity of cool climate Pinot Noir, but the county's cows won't give up turf to grapes any time soon. Good news for cheese eaters. Just two tasting rooms have regular business hours, and to continue last week's discussion, Marin is two for two in the "just folks" column. One's in town, the other in the country--for tasting-on-the-fly during either a 101 corridor drive-through or a Tomales Bay joyride.
Ross Valley Winery is in a vintage building in downtown San Anselmo. Proprietor Paul Kreider is a Bay Area native, apt to point out the water line from the last big flood, and not a hard seller for his collection of eclectic wines. He runs the winery as a local community of sorts, holding winemaker dinners and wine classes, and bottling and picking parties. Grapes are sourced mainly from outside the county, with exceptions like the unoaked, lemon-lime-butterscotchy 2004 Stubbs Vineyard Chardonnay ($20). His Red Hill Blend ($12.95) is a simple, cherry-berry thirst-slaker for tonight's pasta. He'll cautiously dig up a Marin Cab from under the counter, while his 2003 Carneros Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($45), made from 53-year-old vines--yeah, Carneros Cab--is pretty soft, with blackberry and dried cherry notes.
All it takes to find Pt. Reyes Vineyard, apparently, is a vague recollection that it should be around here somewhere, and wouldn't it be a nice bookend to the afternoon drive? Somewhere between Pt. Reyes Station and Marshall, up it pops on Highway 1. Old barrels and Champagne racks line the drive up; two sleepy hunting dogs half-waggingly welcome visitors. The display of Grateful Dead-themed wines on the back wall are more for collecting than for quaffing.
It was a good call for owners Steve and Sharon Doughty to focus on making sparkling wine. After all, they've only been able to make estate Pinot Noir still wine twice in 11 years. The property also encompasses the Pt. Reyes Vineyard Inn, currently closed for renovation. What at first appeared to be a hot tub--Marin, baby--in the midst of the complex turns out to harbor a few koi in its cool green water.
The nonvintage Marin County Blanc de Blanc ($24) is a methode champeniose-style sparkler made from estate grapes. The 1992 Late Disgorged Brut Cuvée ($40) shows more unique character, containing an earthy, cheese bouquet--pair it with blue cheese made by their next door neighbors? If you're curious about hard-to-find Marin Pinot, they've got a 2002 Estate Pinot Noir ($40) and 2002 Marin County Pinot Noir ($30). Also: 10 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon from a warm spot in Terra Linda.
If continuing on north along Highway 1, consider this: What might go best with fresh oysters? Or barbecued-on-the-half-shell oysters with garlic, butter and herbs? Oysters and Champagne, now you're living. Fire up the hot tub if you've got it.
The Ross Valley Winery, 343 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo. Open 1pm to 7pm, Tuesday-Sunday. 415.457.5157. Pt. Reyes Vineyard, 12700 Hwy. 1. Tasting room open 9am to 5pm, Saturday-Sunday. 415.663.1011.