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.
ANOTHER KIND OF WINE COUNTRY
Chico Hot Springs near Bozeman, Montana:
the newest wine getaway.
When was the last time you mentioned Big Sky country and wine country in the same sentence? Great Cabernets are not normally associated with southwestern Montana, but what’s going on these days in this area north of Yellowstone National Park may call for an expansion of the term “wine country.” No, you won’t see acres of well-trained vines or charming tasting rooms, but “The Last Best Place,” as the area refers to itself, has become getaway country for some top winemaking personalities.
The area is anchored by the college town (Montana State University) of Bozeman, and offers everything from hot springs to world-class fly fishing to whitewater river sports, and of course superb skiing at slopes like Big Sky and Bridger. With multicity promotional tours now so much a part of top winemakers’ lives, more than a few of California’s best-known wine personalities have sought R&R in this pristine country, including Jed Steele, Dennis Cakebread, Gary Farrell and Dan Duckhorn (each of the winery that bears his name), and Gary Andrus of Pine Ridge (and Oregon’s Archery Summit). Italy’s Lodovico Antinori, maker of Ornellaia, came for a short visit that became an extended stay, and ultimately led to his purchasing property in the area.
Considering the shift in clientele of late, it’s not surprising that wine and food offerings are being enhanced. In aptly named Paradise Valley, Chico Hot Springs, owned by Mike and Eve Art, is a resort anchored by a 100-year-old inn on the National Register of Historic Places. Under the direction of manager Colin Davis, the wine program at Chico is serious business. His efforts include the conversion of a stone shed on the property into a charming cellar containing a growing list of top California bottlings, and organizing regular food-and-wine events, such as two recent vertical-tasting dinners—one of 14 vintages of Beringer Private Reserve, and the other featuring 10 years of Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace.
A valley away in the Gallatin Canyon, across a range of 10,000-foot-high peaks, Rainbow Ranch is a lodge situated beside the beautiful Gallatin River (which starred in A River Runs Through It). This is no rustic getaway: The rooms are neo-Ralph-Lauren perfect, and in the elegant restaurant chef Scott Boswell offers up fine food on a par with top urban eateries. Proprietor Patrick Hurd is in the process of constructing an 8,000-bottle wine cellar to hold top wines from all over the world.
In the town of Big Timber, the Grand Hotel, built in 1890, has been restored and updated with uniquely appointed rooms by proprietor Larry Edwards. An attractive menu and wine list add to the funky yet traditional appeal of the hotel, which looks like something you’d see in an old Western. —Mark Mazur