For anyone who digs wine – and I mean really DIGS the art and craft of what it means to take a patch of soil, nurture vines and grapes on that soil, then find a way to capture that soil, those grapes, that place in a bottle of wine – there is something spectacular about visiting a renegade, crusading winery in a non-descript office park off a side road in some (relatively) forgotten corner of Sonoma County.
There are no pretty flowers as you approach. No grand gates with wrought iron lettering on gorgeous, restored oak-barrel slats. No illustrious works of art on the walls. Definitely no samples of private-label artichoke-parmesan-chardonnay dip with mini-pretzels. Heck, there’s not even a sign to help you find your way there. This is the anti-Napa-mega-winery. The un-Disneyfication of wine country. This is where zealots toil and hope to produce something magical. This, is the home of the NPA and Salinia wines.
If you haven’t heard about these wines, do check them out (go ahead, click on them!). If you have heard about them, it was probably a story on NPR or Gawker about the cool stainless steel refillable canteens that the NPA wines come in, or the fact that they are destined for consumption only within 100 miles of the winery and not meant for cellaring, OR possibly because some guy named Hardy Wallace now works for them after showing that a little wine blog called Dirty South Wine could indeed bring a bit of the dirty South to California wine country.
In any case, getting to know more about the NPA and Salinia is a very good thing, as I recently found out at that very same non-descript office park off a side road in some (relatively) forgotten corner of Sonoma County. Winemaker Kevin Kelley and crew are pushing the boundaries of where “natural” winemaking can go, and the resulting wines will literally shock and astonish a lot of wine drinkers for their uniqueness, their resonance, and the pure enjoyment and provocation that they deliver. It must be said, you will only find the NPA wines in the San Francisco area, and there is no better place to taste them than from the barrel or from the tap at the NPA tasting room / winemaking superheadquarters in Santa Rosa. The Salinia wines, meant for aging but following a similar philosophy to the NPA wines as it relates to the care for the soil, the grapes, and the winemaking itself, are bottled and can be shipped out of California. They are all worth seeking out. The Salinia wines are not cheap, but they truly deliver an unforgettable experience. My tasting notes from the Salinia Chardonnay (a decidedly atypical California chardonnay) went something like this: “holy sh!t, are you kidding me? crazy good stuff. Nose of olives (yes), butterscotch, herbs (rosemary and thyme). Definitely chard when it hits the palate, but so much more, nuanced and crazy. Knockout wine.” See what I mean?
Rather than ramble on about the philosophical underpinnings of these wines, let me just say that tasting them is a revelation – something like how I imagine it would have been to see a Picasso for the first time when all you knew was Rembrandt. That’s no knock on Rembrandt, but Picasso was simply playing the game in a way no one else was playing it, and the results were shocking and amazing. So, next time you’re visiting California, forget Disney Napa World, drive past the tourist busses stopping at the wine country welcome centers, and head to a tucked away office park on a side street of Santa Rosa. Your taste buds will thank you.
Photos from the NPA / Salinia Tasting Room, Santa Rosa, CA: (clockwise from upper right) the wine taps, fermentation in process (day 10), “spot on pinot blanc,” wine paparazzi stalking Hardy Wallace, an empty barrel of which there are many as the small production volumes sell out, NPA skin fermented sauvignon blanc, tools of the trade, Hardy Wallace climbing the barrels to retrieve a sample, Salinia current releases, the amazing color of crazy juice – recently harvested 2010 NPA Pinot Gris.