I’ve noticed over the past few years that visiting wineries in California has become more and more of a “corporate” affair. What I mean by corporate is that the winery experience has become less personal, less informative, and more of an assembly line experience. They lack the essentials of getting to know the winery, the land its on, and the people that make things happen. Tours are giving way to a walk to the tasting room, a flight of wine at table, and an exit through the gift shop. The truth is you can do the same thing at a wine bar and get more wine for your money at the same time.
I recently had an experience at a winery in the northern tip of Sonoma, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA, that restored my faith in the winery experience. Bobdog Winery, which also uses the name Sky Pine Vineyards, is a place that has most likely not been your radar, or list of wineries you plan on visiting. You should be warned that if you visit Bobdog you won’t find a tasting room complete with fine art, pressed napkins, and fabricated waterfall. What you will find is a hands-on vineyard experience that will leave you with a greater appreciation of growing grapes, wine making, and wine drinking.
You should know that the drive up the mountain side to get to Bobdog is not for the faint of heart. It’s a fairly steep twisty road that that can be concerning if you are a nervous driver. But remember that the bottling truck, a factory on wheels, makes it up the mountain every year at bottling time. It is said that the most beautiful places are the hardest to get to, and this is no exception.
Once you arrive, you are met by the proprietors, Tim Ward and his wife Kandy. Kandy is the wine maker while Tim works and manages the vineyard. After introductions, Tim describes how he started the winery, cleared the land, and planted the vines. The first bottle was produced in 1996. He says he considers himself a farmer. He is happy to answer any questions and then walks you into the vineyard where he will tell you about the vines and grapes as you hold them in your hands. This was quite refreshing for me, after being scolded by an employee at another winery the day before because I approached a vine to look at it more closely. After a very educational and entertaining discussion, its time to sample some wine. Tim and Kandy prefer the term “Wine sensing” over wine tasting. They will personally guide you through several wines, and discuss the process and challenges they have had creating each.
The winery grows all of the Bordeaux varietals and no others. With an elevation of 2000 feet, this is the highest altitude winery in Sonoma, and the highest altitude producer of Bordeaux varietals in the entire country. The altitude is reflected in the wine, which differs from grapes grown on the valley floor. The mountain fruit tends to be a bit lighter and tighter, dare I say prettier, than its big round counterparts found in the neighboring valley floors. This is high quality fruit, with a good portion being sold to high end Napa and Sonoma producers. The estate bottles are an outstanding value at around $35 to $45 a bottle.