Ah, terroir! The word leaps off the tongue with Gallic flourish. The mere act of pronouncing it is often thought to make wine taste better. It’s not enough to say that the concept of terroir is simply misunderstood, because it’s so murky in the first place, a gift to wine marketers, a photogenic vista of emerald waves of grape vines, suitable for framing. Generally, terroir is a unique combination of soil, terrain and climate. The myriad decisions of the winemaker add at least as much nuance to the product. If there is someone who can to tease out the differences between terroir and style, it should be Kerry Damskey.
Damskey’s Terroirs is the newest addition to tiny downtown Geyserville, wine country’s perfect hamlet, bifurcated as it is down the middle of the street into production and consumption. Irrigation supply, tractor dealership and men’s ranch wear on one side; fine restaurants and winetasting rooms on the other.
Like Locals down the street, Terroirs features a variety of wineries and regions. The difference is this: While Locals collects small area wineries into one retail spot, Terroirs’ wines are all made by the same winemaker. A very busy winemaker. As well as consulting for California and Washington State wineries, Damskey makes the rounds in India, China and Bulgaria. At Terroirs, the team of Kerry and Daisy Damskey have assembled a few wines from Godwin Family Wines, Hughes Family Vineyards and Peña Ridge as well as their own Palmeri label.
It can’t always be cool and rainy on a visit to Terroirs, but it doesn’t hurt. The refurbished brick interior soars with dramatic, airy space, yet it’s warm and cozy by the monumental gas hearth. There’s ample room for a busload at the long concrete bar or to lounge around in big chairs by the fireplace, but in this season visitors are likely to have the floor to themselves. The view is of shiny new Kubota tractors across the street—for me, as enticingly scenic a vista as any.
Damskey describes his own Palmeri Wines 2004 Alexander Valley, Van Ness Vineyard Syrah ($53), as a “wild” wine; indeed, it’s got an earthy bouquet of forest floor and mushrooms that resolves into the more typical violets and licorice. Another animal entirely, the 2003 Napa Valley, Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet-Syrah ($53) is not the work of a single-varietal purist. By adding some Syrah to flesh out the structure of this mountain Cabernet, Damskey makes a more full, complete “terroir-driven” wine, with all the bold fruit flavors of each.
One could complain that the stylish but spare Terroirs doesn’t do much to explicate its core organizing theme—not that a bunch of maps would necessarily help, nor one of those ubiquitous heaps of rocks on the tasting bar. Maybe that’s because it’s not so much what’s out there, somewhere, as what’s inside the bottle.
Terroirs Artisan Wines, 21001 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. Open daily 11am–5:30pm. 707.857.4101.