Who are these newcomers, turning a funky local landmark into yet another winetasting room? a friend grumbled when the Alexander Valley store and attached dive bar were closed. Just who did they think they were? They’re the boys from Medlock Ames, who can perhaps best be described as the most ambitiously low-key among the valley’s newcomers, and they’ve revamped the century-old store as a tasting room that sports a garden instead of a deli, fresh produce in place of salty snacks. And for us thirsty hayseeds just hankering for a cold one, there’s a pleasant surprise.
Founded by young out-of-towners funded by the tech boom, the Medlock Ames story is a combination of hip urban aesthetic and a painstakingly self-conscious approach to their impact on the land. Sustainable land practices are mixed with biodynamic borrowings on some 40 acres of vineyard, with a resident flock of sheep, natch; the rest of Bell Mountain Ranch’s 300-odd acres are left wild. Underscoring the approach, the newest iteration of the logo is die cut-out, leaving sunlight and wine shining through.
Over a year in the remaking, the new tasting room’s interior is airy; voguish lighting swings from wee wiring. Cafe-style seating, booths, a communal table or a zinc bar ensure visitors a variety of choices. Herbs, vegetable starts, citrus and assorted fruits will soon be spilling over an acre of neat, metal-sided garden beds adjacent an insta-ancient grove of transplanted olive trees, while the remainder is a meadow planted in native wildflowers. Meanwhile, the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($27) is already loaded with fruit. Guava, strawberry and fruity grassiness make this a standout, and the 2005 Merlot ($42) is an overstuffed basket of blackberry and cherries in cognac teetering down a sinewy palate. Hello again, guava and strawberry in the cloudily contrarian 2008 Rosé ($20)—I want to sneak a shot of vodka and a little umbrella in it.
All very well and good, and wine is paired with petite and savory bites to boot. Still, a tasting room can’t really take the place of a watering hole, especially when closing at 5pm. But what’s that? I just said the magic words: the Alexander Valley Bar is secreted away in the back of the building, and lo, it’s 5 o’clock. A stylishly self-conscious take on an old-time country bar, the dark-in-the-daytime nook has chocolate-brown stamped-tin ceilings and tobacco colored walls. There’s seating at an industrial metal shop table, and, for now, a 25-cent photo booth. It’s hard not to feel an instant, warm nostalgia for this friendly, brand-new and undiscovered joint—or maybe that’s the fresh garden mint-garnished Southside talking. And as for my friend the grumbler? Now she says she just can’t wait to go there.Medlock Ames Tasting Room, 6487 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg. Open daily 10am to 5pm. $12.50 fee. The bar opens daily at 5pm. 707.431.8845.