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Field Stone Winery

Field Stone winery is actually built into the hill, carved out in the late 1970s as one of the first modern underground wineries. Walking into the barrel rooms is a little disconcerting, as you wind around into the cool, stone tasting room. You'll likely brush past folks in bicycle pants and hiking gear--the picnic grounds are a favorite among travelers stopping for a quick bottle of wine and lunch. Tasting is a casual affair, with vintners and staff passing through to say hello, and a tasting staff eager to answer questions and explain the history and wines.

After years of experimentation with different varietals, reds have come to rule at Field Stone. The lightest is the summery 2003 Rose of Sangiovese ($12). Served cold, it's a bright, fruity light wine that's perfect for picnics. Vintner John Staten loves Rhone wines (and who doesn't these days?) and has released his first Syrah (2002, $22) this year, an earthy wine that is hard-pressed to live up to its red brethren--Field Stone's Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (2000, $24) or the very mellow and matured "Staten Family Reserve" Estate Bottled Cab ($42). The one to buy, however, is the 2000 "Staten Family Reserve" Petite Syrah ($30) made from vines planted in 1894. This is an expansive, velvety wine with plenty of dark fruit and intrigue. The winery does produce some whites, though nearly all are produced from grapes grown elsewhere. The 2002 Chardonnay, from Russian River Valley grapes, is fruity with peach and apricot and not overly oaky. This is the last year for the winery's dry Gewürztraminer, a favorite for years, and Staten is now working with new Viognier clones just reaching maturity.

Are you a Rhone Ranger? Many California vintners are nearly fanatical about Rhone-style wines and are planting acres and acres of grapes typically found in the Rhone valley of France. Among the most popular red grapes are Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mouvedre and Viognier--a white grape. Although Viognier is a feisty and notoriously difficult grape to grow, it's gaining popularity with lightning speed, producing a wine that ranges somewhere between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with lots of apricot and tropical fruit flavors. -- Heather Irwin

Field Stone Winery. 10075 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg (Sonoma County), California; Tel. 707.433.7266. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. No tasting fee.

From the June 2-8, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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