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08.05.09

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Phaedra

C. Donatiello Winery

By James Knight

The PR standard along Westside Road is the same as any other wine road: portray uncompromising family farmers—as deeply rooted as the vineyards they tend—in black-and-white vignettes, creating a timeless idyll meant to contrast the full-color, fast-moving worlds of tech and finance. In reality, it seems like winery trends and proprietorship shift as often as the tectonic plates that lie beneath them.

The man behind the curtain at scenic Belvedere Winery, for instance, was none other than tech sector investment wizard Bill Hambrecht. A few years ago, Hambrecht parceled off vineyards and closed the popular but financially troubled 100,000-case Belvedere, then helped to relaunch it last year with East Coast wine and spirits executive Chris Donatiello in the fore. Donatiello pared down production to 7,000 cases and narrowed the focus to the region's star Burgundian varietals.

None of which matters to the koi fish lazily swishing in their fountain. The same landscaped grounds provide picnic spots, herbal stairways and rose-studded garden paths leading to the revamped tasting room. The interior has been opened up, with a central bar island where our low-key, knowledgeable host briefly updates us on the current ownership and then directs our attention to the pertinent story: the winemaking team, vineyards and the product.

Tasting flights are tiered: a dabbler's for a fiver, all-Chardonnay and all-Pinot, with a glass provided for each pour. The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($24) is the outlier varietal. In between lean and sweet-bodied styles, it's a front lawn of lemongrass leading to a small orchard of mild peach skin and guava. The 2007 Maddie's Vineyard ($34) popped out from the Chardonnay pack for its nose of for-once-it's-not-butter aroma of taffy and chewy caramel candy; the palate is tense with oak, fleshed out with—what else?—baked apple.

While the 2006 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($48) pours onto the palate like ripe cranberries out of a bog, it's otherwise free of riparian weedy notes, accented with brown spice and red cherries. The supple 2007 Floodgate Vineyard RRV Pinot Noir ($55) smacks of plum jam, with indistinct but seamless flavors. The 2007 Maddie's Vineyard RRV Pinot Noir ($62) is a cooler character, more tart and austere but knitted together in the same soft and pleasing format. Neither aggressively extracted nor shy of flavor, these Pinots inhabit a still pool in of the plump middle of the Russian River profile; classy but immediately accessible wines to enjoy in the here and now.

C. Donatiello Winery, 4035 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am to 5pm. Tasting fee, $5–$12. The winery hosts a summer concert schedule, "Live from the Middle Reach," on Sundays from 1pm. Free. 800.433.8296.


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