What happens when a traditionally Rhône-focused producer in Sonoma hires one of California’s best Pinot Noir winemakers? That’s not a trick question, and the answer is quite predictable: their wines improve and they start making fantastic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
I’ve been following (and saying nice things about) Anaba Wines since they sent me their very first efforts in 2009, and it’s been a great pleasure to watch this project evolve into maturity.
After falling in love in college, PC-salesman-turned-real-estate-executive John Sweazey found himself increasingly obsessed with the idea of owning a vineyard. After many travels to the town of Sonoma and surrounding areas with his wife Kathleen, Sweazey learned that the 16-acre Castle Winery property in Carneros was for sale and jumped at the chance to buy it.
Sweazey renamed the property Anaba, after the term “anabatic” which describes the phenomenon of winds that are generated by the rising of warm air up a slope, which draws in cooler surrounding air to replace it. This is precisely the phenomenon responsible for the wind and fog that have made the Carneros region so famous for cooler-climate grape growing.
As I noted, for many years the winery focused on Rhône-style wines, made in a refreshingly unpretentious style, always sporting higher acidity, moderate ripeness, and the modest use of oak (if used at all). This approach has led me to enjoy just about every bottle I’ve ever tasted from the label. In the early days, the wines were extraordinary values, but as accolades have continued to heap up for the label, prices have understandably climbed higher. Compared to many California wines, however, they are still quite affordable.
Interestingly, despite steady growth, Anaba has only added just a few acres to its tiny estate holdings, preferring instead to work with some of the top growers around Sonoma County, including the Sangiacomos, the Teldeschis, and more. When pressed, Sweazey admits that there’s some tax strategy behind this decision.
“At the moment, the property is a second home with some vineyards attached,” he says. “If we add a lot more acreage, it becomes a farm, and that’s a different ballgame from a property tax perspective.”
One of the features of the Anaba portfolio that has always been most appealing are pair of red and white blends that were originally launched under the name “Turbine.”
These blends shift each year, depending on the nature of the vintage, but are generally priced attractively and reliably delicious.
From a winemaking perspective, Katy Wilson keeps all her grape lots separate for quite some time, watching each develop on its own, choosing to blend only just before bottling.
“I taste regularly, and lay out all the barrels every three months if not more often,” says Wilson. “I smell the lees of every barrel to decide whether to rack or not. I do that for every wine I make. It’s incredibly time consuming, but I don’t make wine by recipe.”
To that end, Wilson makes decisions on a vineyard block level for each vintage in terms of stem inclusion for Pinot Noir, though she admits that most years the Rhône varieties are fermented whole cluster as a rule.
Wilson’s touch with Pinot Noir is quite remarkable, and her wines have a crystalline freshness to them that I’ve always admired. When I ask her what her secret is, she claims to have none, other than to treat the fruit incredibly gently.
Wilson has been given carte blanche to make the wines to the best of her ability, and she takes full advantage of that permission, varying the use of steel, large-format and smaller barrels for both fermenting and aging.
“Some wines we’re aging now a bit longer before bottling, which I feel makes the blend come together a bit more,” she says, admitting that, “though in some cases we’re aging longer because we can’t get the glass, corks, capsules and labels we need when we need them.”
Anaba has been focused lately on making significant improvements to its tasting room and hospitality experience, which now includes a significant food program, including wood-fired pizzas, as well as bocce ball, wine blending experiences, and for their wine club members, access to their snazzy pickle ball court.
The winery’s vibe is extremely laid back, both dog and kid friendly, which is why it’s often a top choice when friends ask me for suggestions of where to visit when they want to go wine tasting in Sonoma.
So if you’re looking for a fun visit near the town of Sonoma, Anaba is a good bet, but the most important thing remains that their wines are great and getting even better as time goes on. Here’s a look at a bunch of their current releases.
2019 Anaba Wines Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and a hint of pineapple. In the mouth, rich lemon curd and lemon peel flavors have a bright zingy acidity. A silky texture accompanies hints of white flowers and cream with a nice length. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2019 Anaba Wines “J McK Estate” Chardonnay, Carneros, Sonoma, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and white flowers. In the mouth, lemon curd and white flowers have a rich, faintly buttery complexion, with good acidity and length. A bit richer than the Sonoma Coast bottling. 50% new oak. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $58. click to buy.
2021 Anaba Wines “Turbine White” White Blend, Sonoma County, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and golden apples. In the mouth, creamy pastry cream, lemon curd, apple, and a hint of melon have a nice roundness but bright acidity. Nice length. A blend of 23% Viognier, 22% Roussanne, 19% Marsanne, 19% Picpoul Blanc, and 17% Grenache Blanc. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2021 Anaba Wines “Snow Vineyard” Grenache Blanc, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of Ranier cherries and white flowers. In the mouth, white flowers, melon, Asian pear, and pastry cream have a tiny bit of salinity to them and a nice, brisk acidity. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $38.
2021 Anaba Wines “Turbine Pink” Grenache Rosé, Sonoma County, California
A light coppery pink in color, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon. In the mouth, bright strawberry and watermelon rind flavors have a nice silky texture and wonderful floral sweetness to them. Faint citrus peel flavors come into the finish. Malo blocked, then ages for 3 months in steel. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2019 Anaba Wines Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit are bright, juicy, and boisterous with hints of blueberry creeping into the finish along with some citrus peel. Excellent acidity and brightness. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $54. click to buy.
2019 Anaba Wines “Las Brisas” Pinot Noir, Carneros, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers and raspberries. In the mouth, raspberries, sour cherry, dried flowers, and notes of pomegranate have a wonderful delicacy and floral quality. Silky, beautiful, and bright. 50% new oak. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $56. click to buy.
2019 Anaba Wines “Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully bright cherry flavors are shot through with mouthwatering citrus peel flavors that keep the saliva flowing through a very long finish. Juicy and bright. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $74. click to buy.
2019 Anaba Wines “Westlands” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, redcurrants, and raspberries. In the mouth, wonderfully bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors are juicy and floral and fantastically bright. Excellent acidity, silky texture, ethereal and wonderfully weightless in the glass. Gorgeous. A Katy Wilson Pinot Noir, for sure. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $74. click to buy.
2019 Anaba Wines “Soberanes” Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and pomegranate. In the mouth, wonderfully bright sour cherry and raspberry flavors have an expansive brightness to them, with a stony note underneath citrus peel acidity in the finish. Aged for 22 months. 13.8% alcohol. 244 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $74.
2019 Anaba Wines “Turbine Red” Red Blend, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blueberries and strawberry jam. In the mouth, blueberry and blackberry fruit has a nice bright juiciness and a muscular powdery tannin backdrop. Excellent acidity. A blend of 48% Syrah, 42% Grenache, and 10% Petite Sirah. Fully destemmed. Aged for 20 months in 13% new oak. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.
2019 Anaba Wines “Bismark” Syrah, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie and a hint of white and black pepper. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of blueberry and blackberry mix with deeper meaty, iodine flavors. Gorgeous, powdery tannins. The tannins stiffen as the wine finishes. 14.8% alcohol. Roughly 30% whole cluster, with 60% of the wine aged in puncheons. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $56.
2019 Anaba Wines “Teldeschi Home Ranch” Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky purple in the glass, this wine smells of blueberries and licorice. In the mouth, blueberries and blackberries offer lush, sweet fruit with powdery muscular tannins. Excellent acidity and manages to not end up too heavy. Some vines are 100 years old. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $74. click to buy.
2018 Anaba Wines “Late Harvest” Viognier, California
Light amber in the glass, this wine smells of candied apricots and orange peel. In the mouth, nicely stony apricot, honey, and peach and white flowers all swirl in a silky, moderately sweet package, excellent acidity. Picked on November 1st. Fermented on skins for a week and then pressed and finished, and stopped fermentation with temperature. All in stainless. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $34. click to buy.
2017 Anaba Wines “AeroPort” Red Blend, California
Fortified with Germaine Robin eau-de-vie. Syrah based. Very fresh, juicy and bright. Foot tread. Picked at the same time as the normal Syrah. Add eau de vie, for a couple of days, and then press slowly for 2 days. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.
Images courtesy of Anaba Wines.