Soon after my recent post about being intimidated by wine tasting, friends Paula and Julie (and their dog, Buster Posey!) invited me to a tasting at Medlock Ames in Healdsburg. They’re wine club members and have access to VIP tasting experiences at their Alexander Valley Tasting Room.
I’m hoping that they actually enjoy my company just a bit, but I also think they figured I could benefit from their expertise in the wine department. (They were right).
I’m a bit fascinated with wine club memberships and always want to know how people decide to join a particular winery – there’s usually a bit of a story behind the decision. I have other friends who chose to stop at a winery in St. Helena because the name begins with the letter “E” – as does many of the first names of their family members. They had such a great time that they decided to become members right on the spot. Deciding on a wine club membership seems to be just as much about instinct and emotion as discovering great wines.
Julie and Paula were drawn to Medlock Ames because the owners are college friends who joined forces to become stewards of Bell Mountain Ranch and vineyards that they farm organically and power with environmentally responsible solar energy. The backstory matters to many people who like to know the “who” and “why” behind the wine they’re drinking.
I realize that I really do enjoy tasting wine “plein air,” if possible. Of course, oppressive heat would cause me to rethink this approach, but the weather the day we were at Medlock Ames was warm but enjoyable – especially when sitting under their shaded pergola. Being on the patio affords you a view of vineyards, their edible garden and a court for what I first assumed to be bocce ball but what was actually the French tossing game, petanque.
The vibe is very laid-back and relaxed with babies, dogs and small groups of picnickers all enjoying the communal setting.
The day we were there coincided with the bicycle portion of the Santa Rosa Ironman competition – the riders were literally zooming along right outside the fence. There was the sound of cheering and cowbells – which only added to the festive atmosphere.
Medlock Ames often has pizza from their own outdoor oven available, but the day we were there they were serving fresh grilled oysters from Bodega Bay Oyster Company. I passed on the seafood, but there was one other culinary offering that caught my attention. It isn’t every day that you get to pair delicious wines with locally-made homemade berry pie, but we were in luck. Pie it was!
For those who prefer to taste their wine inside, the indoor tasting area is the former 100-year-old Alexander Valley Store. Medlock Ames created a new building that features salvaged materials from the old structure. The chic space has an open beam ceiling, industrial lighting, and floor to ceiling windows that open to the patio. Visitors can taste and purchase homemade marmalade, pickled vegetables, olive oil and other seasonal offerings from the olive groves, organic vegetable gardens, and orchards at their nearby Bell Mountain Ranch estate. For those who want to try recreating their delicious marmalade at home, Food & Wine Magazine features the recipe for their orange-and lemon marmalade.
Reservations are not required at the tasting room for basic wine tasting for parties of 6 or less but are “strongly recommended.” The fee is a reasonable $15.00. Cheese and wine pairings are available for $25.00 and reservations are always recommended – especially on weekends.
My “newbie” tip #1 – don’t go wine tasting without eating at least a small meal first. The tasty bites that came with pairings are specifically chosen to accompany each wine and bring out it’s unique flavor. I was hungry, so I absentmindedly started to take little bites as if the food was hors d’oeuvres. Oops! I pretty much single-handedly derailed the concept of carefully selected “pairings” but I suppose one faux pas isn’t too bad.
Tip #2 – Schedule a 45- minute walking tour and tasting at the Bell Mountain Ranch property ($40.00 per person, complimentary for wine club members) and bring your own food to enjoy lunch in the vineyards either before or after your tour. Picnic tables and blankets are provided Monday-Friday from 12:30-2 pm. The experience includes a tour of the winery and barrel cellar and a walk through the vineyards, olive groves, and organic gardens.
Tip # 3 – Check local events to see if they have the potential to cause any delays or traffic issues so you won’t be late for your wine tasting experience. There’s always a lot going on in wine country!