By James Knight
Jon Phillips says that he's given up. Not given up on his dream of operating a small winery—at 1,500 cases, he's just getting started. "I've given up chasing Pinot Noir," he shrugs, even while forklifting two barrels of the stuff into position for bottling. Phillips holds his price point at $30, which for many small vintners is a Pinot no can do. "There's a lot of great fruit out there that's not Pinot, at great prices." That's frank talk in an age when sales of flagging brands are routinely "inspired" simply by jacking the price over $60, a threshold proven irresistible to discriminating buyers with a thirst for the Veblen vino.
Having left a nearly paid-off Peninsula home and a steady career in IT to go into debt all over again, Phillips has scant cash to lavish on new oak barrels, the happy result being wines that taste less like sawmill and more like, say, Sancerre. The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is nutty, spicy like orange peel potpourri, with a finish like an artisanal greyhound. While the 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Chardonnay ($24) shows wood overtones with rich baked fruit over a bright core of acidity, ask for the 2008 and find subtler fruit and floral aromas, cashew and fermented apple. Had enough ho-hum Viognier? Inspiration's 2009 RRV Viognier ($29) is a genre standout of orange blossom and apricot pie, fruit cocktail and apricot nectar.
The colorful pastoral depicted on the label does exist, but the winery is sensibly located in the Pinecreek Business Park. Here the tasting room features a flecked composite bar, modish lighting—the works. Make it your first stop on this Saturday's Taste of Olivet, the newly formed Olivet Wine Road's public invitation to join them along the area's most friendly wine road less traveled. Bookended by the venerable De Loach and boutique Tara Bella, the family-owned wineries in between include Hook & Ladder, Harvest Moon and Pellegrini, with plenty of Pinot in between—at a great price.
Inspiration Vineyards, 3360 Coffey Lane, Ste. E, Santa Rosa. Daily, 11am-4:30pm. $10 tasting fee. 707.237.4980. "Follow the Olivet Road" to music, eats, and a 20 percent discount on all wine at Taste of Olivet, Saturday, April 2, 11am-4pm. $30. www.olivetwineroad.com.
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