Barrel Tasting Tidbits

Is this Disneyland, or what? Stretch limos in black or white (take your pick, and then choose the 15, 20, or 25 foot versions), tour busses big and small, Maseratis with tops down, sedans with their hubcaps shined, and diamonds leathers tightjeans WOW. This was my first Sonoma barrel tasting.

Luckily, with the Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma guidebook in hand, I was able to avoid the wineries that seemed to be high on the tour-for-pay routes. I'd been told that "passionate amateurs are very welcome" in the smaller wineries, and this certainly proved to be the case.

The most welcoming was Hawley Winery, at 6387 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Youngest of the clan, Austin, obligingly put his scrambled eggs on bread and got in the pickup and drove down the hill from the family's nearby house. The experience was delightful! My guest, 22-year old niece Margaret and my authentic millennial and thus social media consultant, is packing a bottle of their 2006 Zinfandel, Ponzo Vineyard ($26) back home to Indiana.

Austin let us taste from a number of barrels, and the 2008 Cabernet is going to be SPECTACULAR. Too bad they don't do futures! They'd just bottled their 2007, but it wasn't yet labeled or for sale. I consoled myself with a bottle from one of the 400 cases they'd produced of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Saggio Hills Vineyard, Alexander Valley ($32.00). The back label says it all: "This wine is exactly what little cabernets dream of becoming when they grow up".

John Hawley and sons Paul and Austin have a wonderful back-lane enterprise producing wines that are top-shelf worthy. Go see them for yourselves.

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