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July 4-11, 2007

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Wine Tasting

Larson Family Winery

By James Knight


When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to publish a wine column on the Fourth of July, one might well expect a theme. Wine for the barbecue? No-brainer. Save the Pinot, pair the grilled product with a big hearty red. The all-American wine? "Zindependence" celebrations regularly crop up wherever America's "heritage wine" is the thing. But as we can't even agree on California's state grape, how about an all-American winery, the true red, white and blush, some fiercely independent, family-owned place that embodies the Jeffersonian agrarian ideal?

Larson Family Winery fits the bill. At the end of a tree-shaded lane south of Sonoma, it features vineyards, rustic barns and pet sheep. On Sonoma Creek, steamboats once delivered new Americans to this land of promise, and General Mariano Vallejo passed through on his way to secularize the Sonoma mission (and on 07/07/'07, it's happy 199th, General).

The tasting room is in a barn, with various memorabilia on display. Site of Northern California's largest rodeo in the last century, the ranch was also a training ground for Seabiscuit, whose story is as plucky and democratic as it gets in horseracing. The bar is backdropped by a mural that weaves the area's history with the winery today.

Let's crack open some wine. The 2005 Pinot Grigio ($19.99) is a crisp quaff with a hint of honeysuckle. The 2005 Gewürztraminer ($16.99) is rich and dry with a pungent floral aroma. More complex than strawberry lemonade, the 2005 Pinot Noir Rosé ($25) is just as drinkable. Get that fresh-baked berry-pie noseful of the 2003 Meritage ($24.99). Like all Larson reds, double gold medal winner 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50)--scented of orange rind, fancy candles and black currant--is easy-going on the tannin. Barbecue wine alert! The 2003 Sonoma Red Table Wine ($19.99) is a Cab-heavy, smoky, juicy blend with crackling acidity. Screwcap, in a liter jug, of course.

As for America's grape, Larson pours a Zinfandel from DenBeste, who parks his cars here during NASCAR and whose wine is made at Larson, with a few others. As it turns out, they have a lot of extra capacity because they formerly operated the 100,000-case Sonoma Creek here. The Larsons built the supermarket brand during the boom of the '90s, overexpanded and declared bankruptcy following the bust. They reorganized and sold the brand in 2003. What could be more American than that?


Larson Family Winery, 23355 Millerick Road, Sonoma. Tasting room open daily, 10am to 5pm. $5 fee. 707.938.3031.


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