Made an impromptu visit to Windy Hill Estate Winery in the Petaluma Gap today. Tasted some interesting wine. This is the winery up on the hills overlooking Highway 101 (on the left, going south) at the north end of Petaluma (although, officially, the winery appears to be in Rohnert Park). I've watched the number of vines on the hills increase over the years and always been curious about what was going on up there. On the way back from the city today, I decided to stop for the first time, lured by the hand-painted plywood signs offering wines from $6 to $11 a bottle.
There is little to see at the winery--except the view over the hills to the highway and beyond (see photo). It's just a small warehouse with a tiny tasting room on the side. There's a shed and there was a large bladder press sitting outside. The tasting room is nearly bare and painted pumpkin color with a low table and some chairs in it. When I walked in, a couple was sitting, talking to Bill (the only name I got), who was pouring and selling wine, seated behind the table. Except for the wine, I felt like I had walked in on a job interview.
The conversation was relaxed and lively. Bill mentioned my Alfa Romeo t-shirt and the conversation veered away from wine momentarily, running off in the direction of old cars before getting back to wine and the story of what was going on at Windy Hill Estate. I'm a bit sketchy, but it seems the winery was founded by a couple that has just divorced (the plywood signs mention that a divorce sale is going on). Whoever has been making the wines for the last seven or eight years doesn't seem to have had much interest in selling them. Apparently the warehouse is full of wine that needs to be moved. The 2006 and 2007 wines haven't even been bottled yet. Because of the divorce or a lack of space (or both), the winery is now getting serious about moving some wine--hence the low prices.
I tasted a 2001 Chardonnay and three Pinot Noirs, a 2001, a 2002, and a 2003. The 2002 was a trifle too oaky for my taste. The 2001 was attractive and quite drinkable, but a bit light. The 2003, however, I thought an excellent wine and a steal at $9 a bottle. I bought several bottles and will be going back for more.
According the winery's Website, this hill is where Christo's Running Fence installation began its run to the sea. Interesting.
I opened a bottle of the Chardonnay with dinner last night and a bottle of the 2003 Pinot Noir later. To be honest, I liked the Chardonnay less well than I thought I would based on first impressions, which is why when I reviewed wines professionally, I never based a recommendation on anything but a slow sit-down with a full bottle and a meal. Still, in the right circumstances and with the right food, this is an interesting wine and a good value at only $6 a bottle. I suspect that it will not appeal to those unfamiliar with the flavors typical of an older white.
It was a brilliant, medium-deep golden color--very pretty in the glass. Powerfully scented--the sort of wine that comes up from the glass to greet you. Toasty scents, pepper (odd in a Chardonnay, but present), butterscotch, toasted grain--oatmeal biscuits, I finally decided was the truly characteristic scent. Very concentrated on the palate. Dried pineapple. Very long. Dry, but momentarily gives the impression of sweetness because of the concentrated fruit. A bit low in acid, although it finishes with a little tartness. Not multi-dimensional, but surprising persistence on the palate. The age is apparent in some sherry-like hints. With garlic-roasted pumpkin, very ripe melon and prosciutto, or similar foods, quite attractive, but, ultimately, doesn't sustain interest very long. Begins to feel a bit heavy-- although, for a California wine, it is comparatively low in alcohol, at 12.5%. I'd be interested to taste younger vintages, but I'm not sure they are still making Chardonnay.
The 2003 Windy Hill Estate Pinot Noir: At the winery, I liked this wine best. I still liked it after a leisurely tasting. It was a medium-garnet color, showing a bit of age. It had attractive red fruit scents (strawberries?), the scent of violets, and the scent of dried figs, with subtle oak. There were perfume-like floral scents besides the violets, but nothing I could pin down. Later, hints of cola and cinnamon. Good presence on the palate, fine tannins. Fairly soft, but with attractive acidity. Chocolate and dried figs again. Overall, balanced and satisfying, if not terribly complex. I suspect this will improve further. Definitely worth buying at $9 a bottle. I will be going back for more. I have heard that the 2005 is very good, but that does not yet appear to be available.