An Italian Slant In Sonoma County
Taverna Santi's Thomas Oden and Franco Dunn know their Italian cuisine.
As might be expected, the bulk of the wine selections at Taverna Santi in Geyserville come from nearby vintners, but about a fourth of the impressive wine list features rare and tasty offerings from Italy, a fact that is delighting all but the most Sonoma-centered of Santi's customers. "Even though we are in the wine country, we see no need to limit ourselves," says sommelier Greg Dolgushkin of the new restaurant's wine list.
Sure, a few old-time Sonoma stalwarts grouse about the foreign offerings, but most welcome the opportunity to compare home-grown versions of wines like Barbera and Sangiovese with their Italian counterparts. "A lot of our customers thought they didn't like Italian wines, but they just didn't know the good producers," says Dolgushkin, who shares his position with co-manager Paula Lambert. Current selections worth trying include Vietti's 1998 Tre Vigne Barbera d'Alba ($30), Allegrini's 1996 Palazzo Della Torre from the Valpolicella region ($30), and the 1993 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva from Tenuta Trerose; as lesser-known Italian wine regions improve, Taverna Santi will introduce them to their adventurous clientele.
The food, too, reflects an interest in regional flavors. Co-owners Franco Dunn and Thomas Oden, who met during their tenure in the kitchen at Jordan Winery, have created a menu that reflects their vast experience cooking throughout Italy; between them, they've spent time in no fewer than 22 Italian kitchens. The result is food that is deeply satisfying and innovative, without being gymnastic. A platter of prosciutto, various salamis, and other charcuterie was simple and sensational; I've not had better cured meats in this country. Spaghetti in a red sauce, an old Calabrese recipe borrowed from Oden's grandmother, takes its considerable richness from slow-cooked pork and beef ribs.
A salad of delicate veal sweetbreads, an extraordinary lasagnette perfumed with anise and cinnamon, toasted buckwheat polenta with a seductively creamy interior, and a moist, buttery sea bass infused with a whisper of smoke reveal Oden and Dunn's collective creativity and their staff's skill at realizing their vision.
Located a bit off the beaten path, Taverna Santi, housed in a historic building that was formerly Catelli's the Rex, is banking on the support of local customers. Based on the farmers, vintners, writers, and artists I've seen lingering over conversation and dinner, it looks like Taverna Santi will be around for quite some time.
Taverna Santi, 21047 Geyserville Avenue (near Highway 128), Geyserville, California, tel. 707/857-1790. Lunch and dinner served daily. Appetizers $5.75-$10; entrées $9.50-$22.50.
—Michele Anna Jordan
While some producers are abandoning Temecula (see "Callaway Goes Coastal," page 13), Loretta and Ray Falkner, a Texas couple, have purchased Temecula Crest Vineyard and Winery for a reported $2.3 million. Plans call for the winery, renamed Falkner, to focus on Rhône varietals.
Deerfield Ranch Winery, located in Kenwood, Sonoma, has announced plans to expand its presence through a new 20,000-case winery building and 47-acre acquisition. Of the new land, approximately 12 acres will be planted and farmed biodynamically; the remaining acreage will be managed in conjunction with numerous state agencies to preserve the habitat of the endangered Kenwood Marsh Checkerbloom.
July's KCBX Wine Classic garnered more than $1 million and attracted over 6,500 attendees to San Luis Obispo. The event, now in its fifteenth year, benefits KCBX, a Santa Barbara County public radio station.
Napa's Pine Ridge Winery is reportedly on the market, along with sister property Archery Summit in Oregon. The asking price? A cool $120 to $180 million will get you two wineries and close to 400 acres of vineyards, with the potential to produce up to 125,000 cases per year.
BevAccess.com, the first online industry exchange for the alcohol beverage industry, has announced an e-commerce alliance with the wholesale division of Wine Enthusiast Companies.
People in the News
Laurie Hook has been promoted from associate winemaker to winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. She will assist Ed Sbragia on the Beringer wines. Ron Schrieve, associate winemaker for the Napa Ridge brand when it was under the Beringer umbrella, has been named winemaker for the Beringer Founders' Estate wines.
Louis "Bob" Trinchero, CEO of Trinchero Family Estates, has been elected chairman of the Wine Institute, a California trade organization. In other Wine Institute news, Kari Birdseye, a former executive producer at CNN, has been named director of communications.
Zaca Mesa Winery has a new director of winemaking: Steven Roberto. Roberto's previous post was at Ste. Chapelle in Idaho; before that he worked on Robert Mondavi's Woodbridge line.
Christian Le Sommer, formerly with Pauillac first-growth Château Latour, has been retained as a consultant by Fetzer Vineyards in Mendocino. Le Sommer is expected to lend his expertise to Fetzer's reserve program and an associated new winery to be built on its Valley Oaks property.