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September 20-26, 2006

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

PlumpJack Winery

By Daedalus Howell


My wife the Contessa has a crush on San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, and I've never bothered to fathom why. To me, he's always seemed like a lost Baldwin brother squeezed into the familial lineup somewhere betwixt Alec and Billy, what with the gravel voice and his post-pompa-do slickened with an extra dab of suave and all. Certainly, we're all entitled to such extracurricular reveries--I mean, when I'm not thinking of the Contessa, I'm thinking about Marion Cotillard, the sleepy-eyed femme fatale last seen as the sexy villainess in A Very Long Engagement (emphasis: not the gamine permagirl Audrey Tautou, but the deadly serial killer poured into the corset). My fantasies outside of my committed relationships have typically been anima projections, black widows who I'd just assume kill me in the heat of passion rather than awake desperate to ascribe the pangs of guilt to a hangover.

Were it not for the fact that Gavin's portfolio boasts an interest in the PlumpJack Winery, which is right next door to the place of my wife's employment, I'd probably never give the politician a second thought. But when her schedule recently dashed my plans for an impromptu luncheon date, I was left knocking around the neighborhood with nothing better to do than peek into her daydream.

PlumpJack is named for Jack Falstaff, the jocular, debauched foil who cameos in a handful of Shakespeare's plays. The tasting room, by contrast, is a spare and hip affair replete with a flatscreen TV that plays an endless clip reel of the mayor chumming it up with various network personalities, its sound overrun by an ersatz soundtrack that spans Modest Mouse and Sinatra.

In lieu of a Gavin Newsom sighting, spies can glower at Josh, the young dude at the counter who is efficient to a fault, necessitated, surely, by the droves of tourists daily delivered to the winery by the limo load. Within a beat, I had a healthy pour of the 2005 Reserve Chardonnay ($46) splashed before me. A gangly adolescent of a wine with late melon notes and a cotton-candy finish, the Chard might leave a peach-fuzz mustache if it weren't so deliciously lean. It is not intended as an insult when I say that this wine would pair brilliantly with a corndog--it has a jaunty, "county fair" attitude that awakens the palate and affirms that some wines demand reckoning on their own terms.

The 2004 PlumpJack Syrah ($38) was a comparatively beefy number, roiling with plum and black cherry notes in an exuberantly hot admixture that is 15.4 percent alcohol--perfect for cheap dates like me. The 2004 PlumpJack Merlot ($50) is a no-nonsense easy drinker in shades of pale raisin with a toasty finish that feels like someone just cinched the last strap of some shameful apparatus, leaving only enough breath to wheeze, "Kill me, Marion, just kill me."


PlumpJack Winery, 620 Oakville Crossroad, Oakville. Open daily from 10am to 4pm. Tastings are $5. 707.945.1220.


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