A Favorite Winery – Wind Gap Wines
When you pull up to Wind Gap you might wonder if you are at the right place. You made it to Forestville, a sleepy little town near Santa Rosa, CA. You see an old fruit processing factory and there won’t be a tour bus anywhere in sight. In fact you’ll have to call ahead to have set up your appointment for a tasting. However, you’re in for a real treat. You’ll find food-friendly wines that reflect a true sense of place. And you’ll have the opportunity to meet people passionate to share their point of view and their wines.
Wind Gap’s “tasting room” is a concrete counter in the working space of the winery. You are surrounded by the sights and smells of the place where the wine was made. Susan Larossa is Wind Gap’s marketing and sales director and the marketing and sales department for that matter! Susan takes a very personal approach with Wind Gap customers and she always makes sure she is available to meet with us when we visit. Susan has been a great source of wine knowledge and she has also given us some excellent recommendations for other small wineries with similar approaches. She has also sent us to some excellent restaurants in the area, such as the Willow Wood Cafe in Graton.
Pax Mahle is the owner and winemaker at Wind Gap. The winery focus is on wines of balance, sourced from grapes grown in the cool wind gaps near the coast in California. Different from typical California wines, they are not super ripe or influenced by lots of new oak. A major focus is on Rhone varietals, but Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a host of really interesting grapes make their way into wines at Wind Gap as well. The wines are raised in a careful, minimal intervention approach. Native yeasts, little or no additives beyond the sulfur necessary to stabilize the wine and very little new oak are trademarks of Wind Gap wines. These wines are meant for the table, showing best with food. Perfect!
When we visited this fall, we tasted a couple of their current releases and a couple of wines scheduled for release next spring. I was particularly taken with the Old Vine Grenache. It had a lovely aroma, so bright and full of strawberries. I can’t wait to place my order next spring!
Pax uses a variety of “old world” approaches in his winemaking. He was an early California adopter of concrete eggs as fermentation containers. Several wineries we have visited this year have proudly showed a single egg tank they are trying out. Wind Gap has been using them for several years, and they are the norm for a bunch of their wines. In fact, the Old Vine Grenache I loved was fermented in one of these egg shaped concrete tanks.
Wind Gap wines aren’t distributed in all states. However, they have a mailing list which is open (no waiting!), and a nice online ordering system. Their wines are typically priced between $20 and $45 per bottle. You should definitely give them a try! It’s hard to pick out favorites, but here are a couple I’m particularly fond of:
Sonoma Coast Syrah – color is deep red-purple. Aroma immediately on opening is so nice: earthy, meaty, smoky, a little pepper. Flavor is nice and smooth with lively acidity and medium tannins. Really an enjoyable wine. This Syrah goes well with steak and lamb, but it is light and lean enough to go well with chicken on the grill if you like.
This summer, I fixed a nice steak on the grill and opened the Wind Gap Sonoma Coast Syrah and a Guigal Hermitage, which cost almost twice as much. Both wines were very nice, the Wind Gap was more aromatic with a bit more fruit and a bit less tannin. It was a great complement to the meal and seemed to me to be an excellent value for $35.
Wind Gap offers several Chardonnays. The James Berry Chardonnay is fermented in concrete and steel. It is more like Chablis than a typical California rich, buttery Chardonnay. It’s chock full of limestone and fresh tart apples. I started shucking my own oysters this year, and what a pairing! The James Berry Chardonnay is my favorite Wind Gap Chardonnay; in fact it is my favorite Chardonnay, period.
Thanks to Pax Mahle and Wind Gap for making such compelling wines, and thanks to Susan Larossa for always making time to host us at the winery!
Lastly, I’m not a huge believer in wine scores. I do like the wine review team at the San Francisco Chronicle, though. In their new 2012 100 top wines article, they name 100 top western US wines, but no scores. In each segment, the wines are listed alphabetically! In the “Rhone Style Reds” section, Wind Gap 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah is listed, with a photo and a quote from Pax, to boot!