Sonoma Valley Portworks

In the middle of the night, friends of Sonoma Valley Portworks might get a call. No, they’re not unloading contraband down by the docks under cover of a fog that lurks over the slough like a jealous lover. Although it’s a small-time crime to call a wine “port” when it wasn’t made in Portugal, it’s all on the level here in Petaluma—grandfathered in. For 20 years, Bill Reading has been creating flavorful dessert wines in a style all his own.

Where was I? Having another sip. Ah, yes . . . The folks at SVP make California port in an industrial sector of Petaluma that includes Cowgirl Creamery and Aqus Cafe, and which retains its ramshackle charm while drawing customers from the Theater District nearby. “We like to say it’s a well-kept secret,” says retail sales director Caryn Reading. “But don’t keep it a secret.”

Damn, this port is good! If you have two glasses, don’t fret—it’s served in such tiny glasses . . . As I was saying: About those midnight calls, to produce some of their port, SVP practices the ancient method of foot treading. When it gets down to 9 percent sugar, the pressing must be done; feet rallied to action no matter what inopportune the hour.

Curious tasters may simply sidle down Second Street on any long weekend. The warehouse is decorated with old vines and lights, the bar is a simple across-two-barrels affair. Tchotchkes are at a minimum, but everybody gets a button. One says, “Lick my glass!”

This is the home of DECO Port ($18), the first California dessert wine packaged in a tall, thin bottle. This tawny-style, sweet wine made from California Zinfandel and Australian Shiraz and Grenache has just a hint of chocolate. The Aris Petite Sirah Port ($30) is a sweet, substantial ruby wine; while the Aris Petite Verdot Port ($30) is substantially different, with a dry, tannic finish and herbal high notes.

The Maduro ($40) has nutty, Frangelico aromas and is said to pair well with aged cheese and desserts: “We have what I call high-calorie conversations,” Reading says of visitors whose imaginations are spurred by their wines.

The Spirit of the Harvest Grappa ($35) is made from the juicy remnants of gentle foot-treading and imparts a clean, fruity, ghost-of-the-grape aroma after being distilled next door at Stillwater Spirits. This spirit may be sniffed and purchased on the premises, but not tasted—some things are still verboten by the Fed, down by the docks.

Sonoma Valley Portworks, 613 Second St., Petaluma. Thursday–Monday, noon to 5pm, and by appointment. No tasting fee; donations to Committee on the Shelterless accepted. 707.769.5203.