I find Kevin Kelley irrigating his vineyard with an ordinary watering can, but it doesn’t take him long. It’s just one gangly grapevine poking out of a planter in front of the office, in the shadow of looming, beige warehouses. An inauspicious atmosphere for one of wine country’s few practitioners of “natural winemaking”—or is it? The Natural Process Alliance has no problem eschewing the flora and gewgaws that dress up the fronts of other wineries—other than this lonely little plant.
Kelley doesn’t fit the bill of a wild-eyed wine reactionary. The young, clean-cut, UC Davis–trained winemaker seems like he could just as well be a junior account manager making thoughtful conversation at the water cooler. Fascinated by fact that wine is a product that literally makes itself, he says he just wants to give it the right conditions, and watch what happens—under a microscope. Grapes have everything they need: sugar, and flavor and aroma compounds in the skin, which hosts the yeast that makes it all go. Throw the switch—crush the grapes—and let ‘er rip.
The NPA staff includes Hardy Wallace, the wine blogger from Georgia who won a one-year social media gig at Murphy-Goode. Now he’s working the media here, as well as making milkman-type deliveries to Bay Area restaurants and bars. Wines produced by NPA are “bottled” in stainless steel Kleen Kanteens. The blend changes from week to week, depending on the shifting moods of particular barrels, and Wallace picks up the empties the next time around.
Kelley likes to say he practices “antique winemaking.” As for the “natural wine” debate, he says only, “Our books are open.” He wanted to add a short list to his labels, which read “Ingredients: Grapes,” but the regulating agency nixed it, admonishing that there’s no way that wine can be made with grapes alone.
A set of taps dispenses the current batch of NPA wines directly from refrigerated kegs, by the bottle or glass. The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc received three different treatments: SB1 was pressed soon after crushing. It’s got fresh, butterscotch and golden apple aromas. SB2 soaked in its own skins for several days. It’s full-bodied, with Gewürztraminer-like tropical fruit. SB3 is the real weird sister: whole-skin fermented, like a red wine, it’s loaded with guava, papaya fruit and reminiscent of nothing if not a carton of tropical-orange juice. Although cloudy, this wine punch cocktail is as fresh as next Friday.
In a traditional glass bottle, Salinia’s 2006 Chardonnay ($45) is whole-cluster pressed, then goes into the barrel and is, as natural wine adherents love to say, “left alone.” With typical aromas of butterscotch and toast, and melon fruit, the finish is unexpectedly resinous, but tasty enough that, after opened, you won’t want to leave it alone for long.
Salinia Wine Company, 3350 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa. Tasting room open Friday–Saturday, 10:30am to 6pm, or by appointment. 707.527.7063.