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09.08.10

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Phaedra

Wind Gap Wines

By James Knight


For most wine makers, having Thanksgiving crowding the calendar with the grapes not budging past 22 degrees brix is a nightmare. For Pax Mahle, it's business as usual. Although Mahle made big, opulent Sonoma County Syrah at his eponymous precursor Pax Wine Cellars, his new project is focused on white and red varietals that ripen at low sugars in cool, wind-scraped gaps throughout the California coast, with the goal, he says, of crafting "more savory, more European wines, that are brighter and fresher."

His 1936 American Wine Company building is hidden in the backstreets of Forestville. Friendly dogs wander through the cellar, while the crew works down a list of crush preparations. Mahle's the guy rounding the loading dock, looking a little like he could have just stepped off a yacht. He points out a "cool room" originally built to house computer servers, now nicknamed the "hen house." Inside, there's a clutch of egg-shaped concrete tanks. Biodynamic and other winemakers have gone crazy for these oeufs Ó la mode, that are said to simulate the amphorae of ancient Roman cellars. Wind Gap Wines are made using comparably traditional methods: no added yeasts, and red grapes are trod underfoot with the aid of beer and a modern sound system.

Mahle plunks a chunk of limestone on the bar, representing the soil from which springs the unreleased 2009 Paso Robles Chardonnay, a hazy, zippy refresher ennobled with faint hints of almond nut, lemon cake and butterscotch. Rounded by barrel time, the 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($40) has caramel richness over pear cider and chamomile tea, with a tease of butterscotch on the firm finish.

Leave it to others to deploy the latest in de-stemming devices; Mahle's lush 2007 Syrah ($36), gushing boysenberry, blueberry, velour tannins and German-chocolate-cake spice was simply stomped with bare feet. More sanguine on the spectrum, the 2007 Russian River Valley Syrah ($48) shows its stems and spice with black peppercorn and . . . OK, if an outsized olallieberry could squeeze into skin-tight red leather and puff languorously on a Nat Sherman Virginia Circle, that might be close.

The orange-pink 2009 Windsor Oaks Vineyard, Chalk Hill Pinot Gris ($32), is a nominally white wine fermented on its skins. With aromas of apricot, mango and a hint of cherry, this cool, clean wine floats rosÚ-like strawberry, watermelon flavors on a watery, Pinot Gris palate and finishes with satisfying astringency, a vibrant and food-friendly wine that may win accolades for the daring dinner host. Wind Gap has no regular tasting room hours, but the cellar is furnished with a bar and creatively repurposed rustic artifacts, and interested parties can be accommodated by appointment. Shirt and shoes required—except on crush days, one might suppose.

Wind Gap Wines, 6450 First St., Forestville. Tasting by appointment only. 707.887.9100.


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