Wine by Wertzberger: Grape Whisperer of Sonoma County

The day I tasted Bill Wertzberger’s breakout red wine, the velvety 2005 Monson Vineyard Merlot, I knew he was on his way to becoming one of Sonoma County’s next big garagistes.

This year he will have personally farmed almost half of the grapes he uses for winemaking. Some of the fruit is grown at his house in Cloverdale, and some comes from obscure vineyards he has rescued from oblivion, such as six acres of chassales from Eastside Road and a half acre of French colombard from Chalk Hill.

He might even play his guitar to the vines, since he claims to know what they like hearing.

Wertzberger style is to use oak judiciously and let the grapes speak for themselves. Although he makes cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, and zinfandel, his heart lies with Rhones.

“Syrah and grenache can make either big and bold or delicate, elegant wines. They can cover so much more territory than cabernet, merlot or pinot noir.”

Wertzberger also sources from the Gibson Ranch at McDowell, which he says has the oldest block of syrah vines in North America, planted in 1947. His grenache and petite sirah are planted there too, but his favorite McDowell vineyard is the “Y” block syrah, grafted from the original old vines.

After Wertzberger and his wife Robin moved from San Francisco in 2001, he started working in tasting rooms like McDowell while making wine at home. Eventually, he progressed into the cellar at Asti Winery where he learned the big-time production ropes. By taking a job at F. Teldeschi Winery in 2005, he stepped up his game significantly. Dan Teldeschi lets him make his wine there while managing his tasting room, and he sometimes helps Wertzberger at crush time!

Still, after six vintages, Wertzberger’s output is limited. He made 600 cases of wine 2010, which he sells through his email list, web site, and select wine stores. This year he plans to add carignane, valdigue and mourvedre to his repertoire. And yes, he still paints the pictures on his wine labels.

Last August, we visited Wertzberger at F. Teldeschi in Dry Creek Valley and he set us up with a case of wine from six vintages. Here are the notes from my faves:

2010 Chasselas, Raffaini Vineyard, Russian River Valley
I really like the way Wertzberger does his chasselas, as does anyone I’ve poured for. It’s much drier that what’s found in BC of this Swiss varietal. Lovely citrus and peach flavors, on a full round body, that finishes clean and dry. A refreshing and appealing white wine, perfect with fish, Asian or Mexican. 13% alc.
2009 Syrah, Dry Creek Valley
A jammy, full bodied red wine with forward fruit: fresh plums in the mouth, red raspberries and black cherry on the nose. Not as spicy as his other syrahs, it has some acidity, and hefty tannins, yet has a smooth mouthfeel. Approachable, drinkable, and amiable with grilled steak as well as salmon. 15.1% alc.

2006 Syrah, McDowell Valley
Super dark, almost opaque in color, with floral, wood and plum notes on the nose. In the mouth, it’s lush yet biting with deep purple and black fruit, lots of spice, and smoky notes. The dark finish is long, hot and dry. 14.3% alc.

2007 Oldest Vine Syrah, Gibson Ranch, McDowell Valley.
Dark, deep scarlet in color, it has an appealing fruity, floral, spicy bouquet accompanied by big tannins, soft texture and some heat on the palate. Finishes long, and plummy with hints of licorice. Great with barbeque. 15.1%

2007 Syrah, Y Block, McDowell Valley
Loads of Christmas spice aromas like, cinnamon and nutmeg. On the palate is a super spicy cherry cola/root beer effect. Dazzling acidity on a medium body made it pair magically with grilled salmon, steak and vegetables. Interesting and rather exciting. 15.% acl.

2009 Grenache, McDowell Valley
This wine is surprisingly well integrated for a young wine. A great mix of red and black fruit, earth and wood notes create an experience far superior to the sum of its parts. Drank on Canadian Thanksgiving with turkey, sweet potatoes, and beet salad, and it was like the wrapping of a package the way it pulled it all together.14.1% alc.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monson Vineyard, Alexander Valley
Big cedar, sweet oak, violets and black fruit on the nose. On the palate it’s lush and intense, with concentrated black cherry, spice, black pepper and pine. There’s a pleasant zap of acid on the finish that leaves a lip smacking, jammy juiciness. Fantastic with tomato-based pasta sauce as well as chocolate. 14.2% alc.

2009 Merlot, Mercedes Soto Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley
Very soft texture in the mouth. Almost no acidity, but a gigantic black berry jam effect, with notes of sweet oak and cocoa. On the finish there is a slight tingle of acid and a whiff of dry heat. It was great with roast chicken and asparagus, which nicely absorbed the finely grained tannins. 14.9% alc.

Bill Wertzberger can be seen on YouTube talking about his Million Dollar Wine, and about himself in Wertzberger on Wine.

You can find Wertzberger Wine at Val de Cole, Cal-Divis, Vallejo Van-Ness Market, Bacchus Wine Bar, Za Pizza, Vin Debut, D & M, the Secret Wine Shop, Redwood Café in Cotati, Aqus in Petaluma, TipTop liquor in Healdsburg, Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, the Hidden Vine and the Barrel Room in San Francisco, Valley Wine in Davis, DuVin in Alameda, and Woodacre Market in Marin. In Southern California, Wine and Liquor Depot in Van Nuys and LOU on Vine in Hollywood.

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Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.

2 thoughts on “Wine by Wertzberger: Grape Whisperer of Sonoma County

  • November 11, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Loved, loved, loved Wine by Wertzberger…and I cannot wait to love his merlot and hopefully soon! And you’ve gotta love a man in his beret.

    Good one Mari—I thoroughly enjoyed this blog and have passed it on to others. And, by the way, you made me look up “garagistes”!

  • November 14, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Thanks Nanci. Garagistes is a term used in Bordeaux to describe small, artisanal winemakers, but if the beret fits.. Cheers!

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