Crave – food & drink

Yesterday, I trekked up Highway 101 to Healdsburg, Calif. to sample the local fare. My companions & I all agreed the favorite winery of the day was Stephen & Walker, a small, artisanal family-owned winery which crafts wines from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Monterey counties. The tasting room is located at 243 Healdsburg Avenue, off Healdsburg Plaza.

My favorite wine of the day was Stephen & Walker’s 2011 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley ($39), a winegrowing region in northern Sonoma County. The grapes for this wine come from 40-year-old vines grown on the valley floor. The tasting notes highlight flavors of “violet, cherry-berry and vanilla spice.” The wine is definitely fruity and velvety smooth.

Other notable wines we tasted were the 2011 Zinfandel from Russian River Valley ($39), and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from the renowned Howell Mountain in Napa Valley ($65). The Howell Mountain Cab is grown at an elevation over 1,400 feet and wins medals in tasting competitions year after year.

The Stephen & Walker wines are made by Nancy Walker, who has worked as a winemaker more than 20 years. She has won awards for the winery’s Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Late Harvest Chardonnay and more. Tony Stephen, a partner in the winery, is Nancy’s husband.

By far, the strangest wine we tasted was Stephen & Walker’s 2010 Late Harvest Chardonnay from Mendocino Ridge. It’s a “botrytisized” Chardonnay. Botrytis is a fungus that grows on grapes. It can ruin an entire vineyard—or it can be carefully cultivated to create this unique wine. The tasting notes for the 2010 wine call out aromas and flavors of “peach, honey, ripe pear, ripe apple, subtle soft wet earth, mushroom, pineapple and guava.” For me, mushroom was the most prominent flavor, followed by sweet fruit. It was an interesting combination.

Stephen & Walker is a participant in the upcoming Passport to Dry Creek Valley event April 27-28, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are available on a first-come-first-served basis; $120 for the 2-day event or $70 for Sunday only. Passport guests are invited to 50+ wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a wine, food and entertainment.