By James Knight
Yes, there's wine in Marin; that we've established. Where to find it is now less of a big question than a little adventure. Exiting Petaluma via D Street, there are no vineyards to show the way. The Petaluma-Point Reyes Road winds through oak woodlands nestled in between cow-studded hills, as blanched and golden as Schlosskranz cheese rind. South of the Marin French Cheese Co., past sagging 19th-century farmhouses that mightn't have had a coat of paint since the mid-20th, colorfully clad cyclists optimistically spin their cranks up long, steep grades. Turning west, we drop down into Olema Valley, where cow country meets conifer forest. Jonathan and Susan Pey may be the most outgoing ambassadors for Marin County wine, yet in tiny Olema their tasting room is but a foothold in the historic Olema Inn. The five-room inn, dating from 1876, has a full restaurant and an orchard patio that's a popular wedding venue. Winetasting may be hosted by innkeeper John Wiltshire, who manifests the combination of genial hospitality and wry realism befitting an English publican. He knows the wines, and notes are helpfully provided on placemats, with one glass for each taste. Untiring label-creators, the Peys have a different moniker for nearly every wine, saving the Pey-Marin designation for Riesling and Pinot that they farm in northern Marin. Opening with fruity pineapple and nectarine aromas, the 2008 "Shell Mound" Riesling ($24) tastes instead like lemon-lime with a note of stone-dust, and finishes as lean and dry as all get-out, cutting across the palate like a cool razor and refreshing as a blast of sea breeze (fustian winespeak, but all true).
If the 2006 "Trois Filles" Pinot Noir ($39) isn't the standout, it could be that the other wines share its core qualities—enticing aromatics coupled with a bright, clean finish. This medium-bodied, clear Pinot, with cranberry and wild berry fruit accented with brown spice, finishes with lithe acidity. The 2006 Mount Tamalpais Merlot ($28) shows raspberry, blackberry fruit with just a background echo of vegetal, black-olive Merlot-ness for complexity, an appealing claret that's silky, dry but not sticky.
The 2007 Spicerack "Punchdown" Sonoma Coast Syrah ($25) appears to be an opaque, purple monster: dark, spicy aromas of black licorice and cracked pepper waft up; ripe flavors of licorice, black cherry and olallieberry wash over the palate, take a bow, and make the most mannerly and continental exit. It's a big, luscious paper tiger of a Syrah that does not leave the palate heavy and dry, but refreshed and ready. Folks, this is what Sonoma Syrah can be.
Across these disparate varietals, Pey-Marin wines adhere to a common theme. Some would say it's terroir. Bah! It may as well be the hand of the winemakers, honing in on wines that score big—at the dinner table. Later, we found our way over the hills to a restaurant in nearby Fairfax. The service was friendly and the filet was OK, but the wine list was crumbs. Sure could have used some seasoning—from the spicerack. Pey-Marin at the Olema Inn, 10000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Olema. Open daily from noon to 4pm. $12 fee. 415.663.9559.
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