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Wine Uncorked

Exploring The Barlow & Sonoma Wines

Exploring The Barlow & Sonoma Wines


If it’s true that familiarity breeds contempt, then I am glad I don’t live in Sebastapol.

Because then I might take for granted the wonderful space that is The Barlow.

Space may not capture it: The Barlow is 12 acres of an apple processing facility that have been repurposed to great advantage. The old warehouses now are home to local artisans, craft brewers, winemakers and distillers, and purveyors of some really delicious foods.

Wander around and you’ll see how the large doors of the shops are flung invitingly open. It’s very likely that, upon wandering in, you’ll get to meet the face behind the work. And, if not, you’ll still find yourself in very capable hands.

My interest, of course, was with wine. There are four wineries represented at The Barlow, two of whom I visited. (The others are Marimar Estate and Kosta Browne, both excellent, but there was only so much time!)

Wind Gap Wines makes their wines on-site, and I got a quick tour of the facilities. (It doesn’t take long; this is a small, boutique operation!) Then I got so sit in the rustic, wood-paneled tasting room, where vinyl records provide the music.

This is the place to go for the unusual and compelling. Winemaker Pax Mahle has a reputation for big, bold syrah wines – and you will definitely find them in his lineup. But in a nod to their Sonoma location, he also makes some delicious pinot noir.

But he doesn’t stop there. He makes a dynamite nebbiolo, a savory grenache with flavors of mushroom, olive and green herbs, and a truly unusual wine called Soif, which is a blend of several grapes, including valdiguie, zinfindal, Carignan, petite sirah, dolcetto, negroamaro and mourvèdre.

All plantings are old vine – the mourvèdre was planted in 1881, and the youngest are the dolcetto and negroamaro, planted in 1975. The wine was fermented using carbonic maceration – a winemaking technique that results in light, fruity wines meant for immediate enjoyment.

It clearly works. My notes say, “SO GOOD!” There were lots of dark berry flavors, but the wine felt light, not heavy. It’s good on its own, but is definitely a food wine.

Wind Gap makes white wines too, including chenin blanc, which was crisp with notes of peach and honey, and trousseau gris, which produces a light, aromatic wine with notes of cream, vanilla and flowers. A chardonnay was lean and Burgundian in style, with peach and melon flavors.

The staff is knowledgeable about the wine, and is happy to chat as much (or as little) about it as you like. But the friendliness isn’t limited to vino: I left the tasting room not only with a comprehensive list of restaurants to try in Healdsburg, where I was staying, but also a list of other wineries to visit.

Next, I parked myself for a couple of hours in the MacPhail Tasting Lounge, which occupies a corner spot. The doors are open to the gorgeous day outside, a light breeze wafting in. A 40-foot sculpture of red Radio Flyer wagons descends from the ceiling, and the “terroir wall” shows a cross-section of soils in the various vineyards the winery uses to source its grapes.

This is another cozy spot to belly up to the bar, though the room has a distinctly modern feel. The specialty here is pinot noir, and anyone who wants to geek out and taste how soils, climates and various winemaking techniques impact a wine’s flavor will be in heaven.

But first: chardonnay, including the Pratt Vineyard, which was smoky and minerally with notes of vanilla and apple, and the Vagon Blanc, which is made with the juice from the four best barrels in the winery. It was very nice (this was underlined three times in my notes), round and creamy with white fruit flavors and a “cotton/fluff” feel.

Then we moved to pinots, and I tasted through a good portion of their lineup, including:

Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard: Lovely aromas of smoke and stone, a fresh feel on the palate with bright fruit flavor.

Gap’s Crown Vineyard: The aromas were smoother, and the texture leaner than the previous wine. Has a slightly smoky character.

Lakeview Vineyard: Totally opposite from above, with aromas of earth, dirt and mineral and bright red fruit and pepper on the palate.

Toulouse Vineyard: Violet on the nose, earthy finish, with a nice minerality.

Sundawg Ridge Vineyard: This is big and mouthfilling, more new world in style than old. Rich with notes of cola, cherry, herbs and flowers.

Mardikian Estate: Lots of earth, dust and mineral aromas, yet light on the palate with smoke and dark cherry flavors.

Tasting through them, I noticed similarities to each, but definitely had preferences among them! Going through the wines, it was fun to discuss the different soils, climates and winemaking techniques. (It’s probably no surprise that MacPhail also has wonderfully chatty and informed staff!)

Bottom line: The Barlow is a great place to hang out – and it’s probably a good thing I don’t live nearby!

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