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Swirl n' Spit

Quivira Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: After two years of writing this column, I've learned at least one thing: A glass of wine is never just a glass of wine. What's in the glass, no matter how inexpensive or costly, are three things: time, place and intent. And at the risk of sounding a bit wine snobbish (which trust me, I am far from becoming), it's what separates drinking a well-made glass of wine from, say, a Diet Pepsi.

There is nothing fully automated or immediate about a glass of wine. Bottles don't roll off assembly lines by the millions without the need for any human intervention. There is a process that--even with the cheapest bottles of wine--involves the land, the elements of rain and sunshine, the hands of dozens, maybe hundreds, of workers, a grower who decides when and where to pick, a winemaker who decides what to add and leave out, quiet time to mature and, finally, our own decision about when the bottle is opened, which can alter the flavor and character of the wine literally from one moment to the next. That's a lot of stuff to go into a tiny glass.

I suppose it's why we enophiles perform all the silly rituals we do, swirling, sniffing, tasting. In a way, it is to suss out those elements of time, place and intent and to pay homage to the work and thought put into the wine. Without noticing any of that, a glass of wine really is, I suppose, just something to drink.

Bringing this column full circle, I visited Quivira Winery last week, the place where I started Swirl and Spit two years ago. In that time, the winery has undergone some tremendous transformations, recently receiving its biodynamic certification and nearly completing a seven-year-long project to return salmon to its own tiny Wine Creek, a small tributary that once teemed with fish and in recent years was all but dead due to erosion and pesticide use in the vineyards.

A handful of tiny salmon now swim in the creek. Buds will break into the warm spring sun without the use of pesticides or harsh chemicals, but to the pecking of chickens and small weed-eating goats. It's an almost ridiculously old-fashioned way of thinking, but whether you believe that a buried cow horn filled with manure or singing to your vineyards has any real impact on the ultimate outcome, wineries like Quivira are beginning to understand that the mere process of paying attention to the cycles of wind, rain and season, working with vines from bud break to harvest and relying more on nature than pesticides is more than mere hippie juju. This old way is the newest way of thinking.

Though their biodynamic wines are barely into puberty--not ready for release for at least another nine months to a year--winemaker Grady Wann says that he can already see a difference in the wines. He ventures to say that perhaps they'll be the best yet. Hoping to break free from the stereotype that biodynamic wine equals bad wine, Quivira is aiming high and hopes fans will realize that its wine is more than just a glass of wine; it is a sip of time, place and the very best of intents.

Spot: Quivira Winery, 4900 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am to 5pm. Tastings free; picnicking available. 1.800.292.8339.

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From the February 22-28, 2006 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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