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Wine Tasting @ Oakville Grocery (Healdsburg)

Melanie Wong | May 31, 200403:57 AM

Friday afternoon as I headed north from Petaluma I got to thinking I wanted a spot o’ wine to wind down the day. Taking Stony Point Road up to the Gravenstein Highway and then east on Highway 12, I pulled up to Appellations in Sebastopol to see if it might have re-opened yet. No luck, a sign by the entrance says it’s still closed except for private events. Detouring on the Old Redwood Highway, the parking lot at Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa was jam packed, so I passed it by. By now winery tasting rooms had already closed, where to find a little wine? Then I remembered that Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg features local wineries on Fridays in the summertime for complimentary tastings on the patio and headed in that direction.

Walking up to the store, I broke out into a wide smile when I recognized the winemaker. I’d hit pay dirt again – Kevin Hamel was pouring tonight. Hamel Syrah has been one of my favorites since trying his 1994 vintage.

The 2002 “Campbell Ranch” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is his first release with this variety. Hamel contracts for two acres of this new 16-acre vineyard in Annapolis. This was the vines’ third leaf and showed some nice character for such young ‘uns. A vibrant nose of pure and direct raspberry and black cherry fruit, in the mouth silky tannins and good acid balance and just a hint of oak tones in the background. No new barriques were used, only 1 year old and older, allowing the delicate fruit to soar. Not that complex, but it hits a nice chord. This Pinot is carefully made and a good first effort.

The 2001 Sonoma County Syrah, made from a blend of southern Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley sites, is much more structured and backward than prior releases. Held back for additional bottle age, it is still pretty edgy with a strong cut of acidity and sinewy tannins and would benefit from a year or two more in the cellar. While not integrated and tamed yet, the firm structure is in balance with the well-defined red and black fruit layered with violets, sweet spices, and truffled nuances. The wine has excellent length and persistence and just needs time to flesh out.

Both offerings are priced under $30 at Oakville Grocery, and can probably be purchased for less from discounters. Certainly not inexpensive, but fairly priced for the quality presented, in fact, positioned rather humbly in the California wine market.

I’m going to have to remember to head home a little earlier on Fridays to catch the summer tasting series at Oakville.


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