Climbing the long driveway, passing new vineyards and open meadows, we were struck by the oak and boulder forest at the top of a knoll. It looked so mysterious and earthy, I half expected to see a circle of druids performing an ancient rite.
Resisting the urge to flop down in an Adirondack chair on the winery’s front lawn, we trouped to the tasting room. Built on the site of the original homestead, we got the distinct feel of a Shinto temple, as if chanting were appropriate upon entering. Inside, we met Mark McWilliams, who was kind enough to find a plug for my camera battery charger. The tasting room was cool and airy, with a ranch house feel, and the vibe was serene, yet friendly.
At the bar, our server poured us a flight of Arista’s 2007 Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer, the 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2006 Longbow Vineyard Pinot. He explained how the McWilliams family bought the property in 2004 and have since been planning new vineyards to be used in future releases. The current vintages were made from purchased grapes from around Sonoma County and Anderson Valley.
The gewürz was a refreshing mix of citrus and tropical fruit that tasted perfect on the 90-degree day. The palette was spicy and a touch minerally, but there was an underlying richness that hinted at a dose of oak. It was so luscious; I had to have a bottle.
Like every winery in this valley, Pinot Noir is Arista’s focal point. Their Sonoma County Pinot was sold out, but the Russian River and Longbow Vineyard were still available.
The Russian River is a blend of Martinelli, Bachigalupi, Toboni, and Mononi vineyards and has the spicy, earthiness so typical of local pinots.
The Longbow Pinot – named for the archery tool, not a vineyard – is made from grapes sourced in the Russian River, plus 3% from Wild Horse Valley, a small appellation that straddles Napa and Solano Counties. The wine’s nose offers smoky cherry, which follows through to the ripe, plumy palette. Well balanced, focused.
It will be interesting to taste Arista’s estate grown pinots, sometime after 2010.
What sets Arista apart from almost every other winery on Westside Road is that it appears to have grown out of its natural surroundings and not the other way around. If the tasting room had been any larger, trees would have been cut down or mossy boulders would have been moved, upsetting the natural balance of the place.
As it was, the environs made me wish we’d brought a picnic lunch to eat with these wines, but then, making a decision on where to sit might have taken all day. On one side, the rock forest offered picnic tables set in the dappled shade, where we could have chilled for hours. The other side featured a floral, Japanese-style water garden, with a waterfall rushing over moss-covered rock formations, where a patio table would have been ours. The Adirondack chairs on the sunny lawn were all taken, but the benches on the shady deck were quite available. So many choices, yet so moot a point.
Next time at Arista, we picnic.