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The Geyser Peak you don’t know – Appellation Series wines

Ondine Chattan has completed her 15th harvest at Geyser Peak.
Ondine Chattan has completed her 15th harvest at Geyser Peak.
Geyser Peak

If you drink a bit of wine, you probably know that Geyser Peak is a northern California winery that makes decent supermarket wine. And they are proud of that. What you may not know is that they also do some very good, very interesting limited-production wines that are not so readily available – though they should be.

I had lunch earlier with the lovely Ondine Chattan, chief winemaker at Geyser Peak. It was so interesting to speak with her about their smaller production wines from the Appellation Series. These are the ones I enjoy. While their large production wines are their “bread and butter,” the little guys are so much more fun.

For example, they are probably best known for their California Sauvignon Blanc. As the name states, it is sourced from various places in California. They make almost 200,000 cases of it, and it’s one of the best selling Sauvignon Blancs in the greater marketplace.

On the other hand, they also make a River Ranches (Russian River Valley) Sauvignon Blanc (2012), which is quite lovely. It has less residual sugar, better acidity and much more focused flavors. It’s harder to find, and about $10 a bottle more than the California appellation wine. It’s seriously worth it, but they only make 796 cases of this. That sounds like more than it is when you spread it over a big country.

Moving to Chardonnay, of which I am a big fan but also not that tolerant, they make a Water Bend from Sonoma County (2012) – and only 1700 cases of it. The style of oak, from which the name generates, is so entirely different than what I am used to seeing.

First of all, it is completely fermented in oak – from first-year through third-year barrels. This means that you would normally expect some dominant oak characteristics (at least partially). Water-bent oak is such a vastly different creature from fire-bent oak, and that is so apparent on the wine. While the oak is all French, I couldn’t notice those characteristics or that level or that it was new.

Water bending oak barrels allows for a totally different extraction of flavors, contributing a soft and round texture to the wine. It’s vastly different from what you would expect from wood-fired oak of this same provenance and age. The wine was much cleaner, more complex and generally more enjoyable than I would have expected. (It’s about $22 at retail).

They only make 500 cases of their Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir (2012) from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma. First of all, why is it called Pluto’s Fury? Who did it offend? Actually, no one. The name comes from one of the historic geysers that were in the region before most of the wineries we now know were built.

While this is obviously a California Pinot Noir, it does speak well for its Russian River Valley roots. High levels of acidity, elegant fruit (mostly red – cherry, raspberry, strawberry, etc) and lovely “dirt,” really speak to why this is a wine to look for at about $28.

There are also a few Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines that are sourced from the Alexander Valley. The grapes for their Walking Tree Cabernet Sauvignon (2011) grow on the western or sunnier bench of the valley. The wine also contains 8% Petite Syrah. The warmer afternoon sun helps develop robust fruit. This is a big, bold California Cab that shows dark and red fruits, tea and woody notes. It’s $28.

The 2011 Tectonic is a blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Syrah and 16% “other red.” This is an easy drinking wine with good acid and length. The tannins are smooth, and the length long. The wine is named in honor of Geyserville’s geological history and “the upheaval of the earth’s crust that created our namesake Geyser Peak Mountain.” Also, $28.

Finally, we tasted the 2011 Devil’s Inkstand, which is a blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot and the last 16% is a mix of Malbec and Petite Syrah. The grapes for this wine are grown in vineyards that have (among them) all four exposures. There are only 350 cases of this made. It’s a complex, nuanced wine that’s big and bold. “Devil’s Inkstand takes its name from one particularly intriguing spring with notably steep sides and great depth causing the water within to appear black as ink.” $50.

These wines can be purchased online

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