Photograph by Michael Amsler

Estate grown: The lavender gardens at the Matanzas Creek Winery nurture a variety of fine products, ranging from herbal satchets to handcrafted paper cookbooks.

Wine Lines

Gifts for that wine connoisseur in your life

By Bob Johnson

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care . . . And since it’s your job to play Santa, you likely have a lot of shopping to do. Sonoma County has more than its share of wine lovers among its populace, and these vino aficionados love to receive both wine and wine-related paraphernalia as holiday presents. Since we live so close to the source, it makes good sense to shop locally for such gifts of the grape. Think of the dozens of nearby wineries not merely as tasting rooms, but also as gift shops.

Stow your least-maxed credit card, clear some space in the family jalopy, and let’s go. . . .

Stop and Smell the Lavender

Matanzas Creek Winery has become almost as well known for its lavender gardens as its $95 Estate Merlot (no, we didn’t miss a decimal point in that price). Among the lavender-inspired products it sells is an estate-grown culinary line that includes Lavender Tea ($12), Garam Masala Spice Mix ($9.50-$12.50), and Herbs de Provence ($9.50-$30). Matanzas Creek Winery, 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. 528-6464.

I Love It When You Speak French

Even as Walter Schug was gaining global acclaim for the cabernet-based blends he was making for Joseph Phelps Vineyards, he longed to work with pinot noir. Now he does at his Schug Carneros Estate Winery, where he also makes a sparkling pinot noir based on the Spatburgunder Sekt his father made in their native Germany. Schug’s 1997 Rouge de Noir ($25) is vivid red (not pink) in hue, very fruity, and as refreshing as a spring shower. Schug also continues to do wonderful things with Bordeaux varietals, and his 1996 Sonoma Valley Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) is big, bold, and exotic, boasting aromas and flavors of chocolate, mint, black cherry, toasty oak, and spice. Schug Carneros Estate Winery, 602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma. 939-9363.

Jennifer Aniston Not Included

Ross Carron is Navarro Vineyards’ go-to graphics guy. He’s had a hand in every Navarro design project from the first label to the latest newsletter. Now he has assembled a cloth-bound address and birthday book ($17.50), and sprinkled it with photos of winery personnel and quotes about wine. On the cover, an elegant grape leaf drawing is accompanied by a single word: “Friends.” Navarro Vineyards, 5601 Hwy. 128, Philo. 895-3686.

For the second consecutive year, Windsor Vineyards has produced a limited-edition holiday label, this year depicting a turn-of-the-century (from the 1800s to the 1900s, that is) holiday celebration. Windsor’s 1995 River West Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) is one of the bottlings on which this label appears, and this wine offers a floral nose and flavors of cherry, chocolate, coffee, tobacco, and spice. Windsor also has adorned its Signature Series wines with a limited-edition millennium label sporting a bold MM insignia. As with all Windsor labels, both the holiday and millennium labels can be personalized, making each bottle a truly unique gift. Windsor Vineyards Tasting Room, 308-B Center St., Healdsburg. 433-2822.

I Wish I Were an Oscar Meyer Wiener . . .

David Stare has been making world-class sauvignon blanc at Dry Creek Vineyard for eons, and now that savory flavor can also be found in the winery’s Fumé Blanc Mustard ($2.95). Hot dogs never had it so good. The winery’s holiday offerings also include a high-octane (40 percent alcohol) Old Vines Grappa ($45 per 375-ml. bottle). If your previous experience with grappa beverage made from the pulp, skin, stem, and seed residue of wine grapes brings back throat-burning memories, you’re in for a surprise with this bottling. Made from grapes grown on century-old Dry Creek Valley zinfandel vines, it offers a creamy raspberry aroma, good mouth feel, and a smooth finish that doesn’t burn. Dry Creek Vineyard, 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg. 433-1000.

One Man’s Art Is Another’s Coaster

Ever since the Benziger family began putting the family name on their bottlings, the wines have been tremendous. If there’s a Benziger fan on your shopping list, he or she would probably love to receive marble coasters adorned with Benziger labels ($9.99) or perhaps a poster of a past or present label ($15). Limited quantities of posters signed by the artist ($25) also are available. Benziger Family Winery, 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. 935-3000.

Etch-a-Sketch for Adults

Cline Cellars has hopped on the millennium express and commissioned special etched bottles for three of its 1997 vintage wines: Los Carneros Syrah, Ancient Vines Mourvedre, and Ancient Vines Zinfandel ($35 each). Cline Cellars, 24737 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. 935-4310.

Hands-on Approach

Speaking of commemorative bottlings, the Meeker Vineyard has released its 1997 Winemaker’s Handprint Collection Merlot ($30). Each bottle is unique, since the color splashes are created by the winemaker grabbing a bottle with his paint-covered hands. Even so, a member of the Wine Lines tasting panel swears he saw a rendering of a holiday turkey on the bottle that the panel sampled. Check it out, and see if you have a similarly weird Rorschach experience. The Meeker Vineyard, 21035 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 431-2148.

All Dressed up and Somewhere to Go

Whether you’re dressing a holiday tree or wrapping a special bottle of wine, Pezzi King Vineyards offers attractive solutions. For the tree: colorful holiday ornaments ($4.95-$50). For the bottle: velvet wine totes ($15). Pezzi King Vineyards, 3805 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg. 800/411-4758.

From the December 9-15, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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