It’s easy to drive past Amista Vineyards, in the shadow of mighty Dry Creek Vineyards and across the road from the busy Dry Creek General Store. We’ve passed it many times, usually on our way to nearby F. Teldeschi to visit Bill Wertzberger. This year we finally stopped in and were glad we did.
Wertzberger had told me that my old boss, Ross, manages Amista’s tasting room, so we entered the barn winery hoping he’d be there. He was not. Day off. Oh well, so much for not calling ahead. Instead, we met charming Clayton, who poured us through the line while comparing high schools with our daughter, Tara.
While they discussed the relative merits of attending class reunions, we tried the 2008 Rosé of Syrah, made from grapes grown in the estate-grown Morningsong Vineyards, the vines right outside the door. A fine brunch wine, it’s crisp, dry and fruity, but also has the hefty feel of sweet tannins. There are beautiful notes of strawberry, cherry and rhubarb that were lifted elegantly by the lip smaking acidity.
Tasting the chardonnay, Clayton told us a bit about the owners Vicky and Mike Farrow. He said they were inspired to start a winery years ago after seeing a Gallo commercial. Did he mean Gallo of Sonoma? No, Ernest and Julio Gallo, the guys who made jug wine, they inspired the Farrows to start a life of wine. Chemist Mike started playing with garage wine in the 1980s, with success.The couple bought Sonoma County property in the 90s, and in 2003 they released their first commercial vintage. Check out their Owner’s Dream video for their story.
Back to the wine, the 2005 Morningsong Chardonnay tasted gorgeous, and I don’t say that about many chards. Fermented in neutral barrels, this white wine has a full body, a rich, round mouthfeel, and a delightfully long and fruity finish with just a touch of minerality. Its green apples and peaches tasted as fresh as the fruit from our trees, without the oak.
Just then, Vicki stepped in from the sun-drenched patio, seeking a glass of the rosé. She introduced herself and welcomed us warmly before ducking back out to join her “visiting relatives.”
The 2005 Morningsong Syrah was big, bold and smoky with notes of cassis, tobacco and vanilla, and a spicy, mineral finish. With its powerful tannins, it’s a red wine that ought to lay down well. Clayton was kind enough to open the 2004 Syrah to compare, and what a difference a year makes. This syrah was full of plums, cassis, mulling spices and bacon, with pepper on the finish, and was more elegant and well integrated than the 2005.
As we were admiring his syrah, Mike walked in from the winery and asked Clayton for a glass of it. He greeted us like family and we complimented him on his wines, and then he too, stepped out to the patio, glass in hand. Watching them, I wondered how I could get this family to adopt us.
When he poured us the Illusión, a brandy-infused dinner wine, Clayton offered us little dark chocolates, as it should be. This port-style blend of zin and syrah seemed to have chocolate built into its warm syrup of cassis and black cherry. The mouth is like velvet smeared with butter and its tannins are chewy as a fresh bagel. I loved it and bought a bottle. We also bought the chardonnay to take across the street and drink with sandwiches at the Dry Creek Store. With better planning, we might have done the reverse: picked up the sandwiches and brought them across to Amista, to sit on that beautiful patio.
Much more was tasted that I can write about here, but it was all good. Amista’s wines are solid, its setting is splendid and the people are genuinely friendly. Now we can cross another new winery off our to-visit list.