One of my greatest pleasures remains the surprise and delight of opening the very first wines made by a new winery and discovering in them both enjoyment and the signs of great potential. Alas, such pleasures are only occasional, which make them all the more exciting when they do occur.
My latest opportunity to celebrate the beginnings of a new winery came at the hands of a few bottles that showed up on my doorstep bearing the name Anaba in beautiful looping script. I was immediately intrigued to note that the first releases from this new Sonoma County winery were Rhone style blends — far from the typical initial foray that most new wineries make in Sonoma County. (Most opt for the safe and sellable Pinot Noir or Zinfandel).
Anaba Wines, named for the anabatic winds (big points with meteorology geeks) that are so crucial to the climate of Sonoma’s wine country, is a new label started by John Sweazey and his wife Kathleen in 2006. Sweazey fell in love with wine in college, and after graduating into a successful job selling IBM PCs in the early days of the industry, his first opportunity to take a sabbatical found him wandering the wine regions of France and Italy.
Sweazey continued his exploration of wine through a long career in real estate, and like many, at a certain point he began dreaming of owning a vineyard. Through all his travels to various wine regions with his wife, Sonoma county, and in particular the town of Sonoma, felt the most like home to him. So when the time was right, he struck a deal with Vic McWilliams, who had decided to unload the winery and 16 acres of vineyards known as Castle Winery in Carneros. Sweazey promptly renamed the label, started replanting, and purchased some grapes from vineyards like Sangiacomo Vineyard, Windsor Oaks, Ferguson Ranch and Bacigalupi Vineyard, to make the first wines under his new label.
For help with winemaking Sweazey turned to the young Jennifer Marion, a recent graduate of the U.C. Davis enology program, and most recently the assistant winemaker at MacCrostie Winery in Carneros as well as a technical vineyard consultant for agricultural management company Crop Care Associates. Marion, given her background in both viticulture and enology is responsible for everything that happens in the vineyard (both the estate vineyard that is being replanted and the contract vineyard sources) as well as the cellar.
And as far as I can tell, she’s doing a pretty stellar job. The inaugural wines from this little label are encouraging in many ways, not only for their unusual focus on red and white Rhone blends from Sonoma County (yes they are also making Pinot) but for their styling, which clearly focuses on lower alcohol, very little new oak, and pure fruit expression. The whites are whole cluster pressed and are fermented partially in neutral oak, partially in steel, then aged in 20% new French oak barrels with. The reds see 50% new oak on average.
In addition to being one of the most promising new wineries in Sonoma, the winery seems focused on making sure it is relevant, producing wines in the $20-$35 price point, which will make them quite attractive to wine lovers in search of a treat in these tighter times.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2007 Anaba Winery Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast
Light cold in the glass, this wine smells of crushed stones, cold cream and hints of white flowers and citrus. In the mouth it has a satin texture with a steely, mineral foundation, and soft flavors of tropical fruits layered on top of the nicely balanced minerality. The long finish leaves a note of petrichor: wet pavement after a rain. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26.
2007 Anaba “Coriol” White Rhone Blend, Sonoma Valley
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a perfumed nose of peaches, dried apricots, and wet stones. In the mouth it is silky and nicely weighted on the tongue. Primary flavors of lemon curd, peaches, and orange peel, emerge as the wine finishes smoothly. A blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc. Score: around 9. Cost: $28.
2006 Anaba “Coriol” Red Rhone Blend, Sonoma Valley
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of a very unique combination of earthy and spicy aromas with hints of red fruit peeking around the edges. In the mouth it is bright and juicy with raspberry and mulberry fruit mixed with a nice mix of spices and cedar that linger with a hint of vanilla through the finish. Lovely and unusual. A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise and Petite Sirah. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28.
At the moment, the only place it appears you can purchase these wines online is the winery web site.