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Wine Tasting of Sonoma County

By James Knight

Duncans Mills is a blink-and-you-miss-it town, a scattering of false-front wooden buildings that resemble a back-lot Western set, missing only a bustling crowd of extras to step out of stagecoaches and exit buildings on cue. Matter of fact, the town's missing crowds of any size, except for a few weekends of rodeo and Civil War reenactment—what a town!—which makes it all the more appealing a layover on the way to the ocean or to a foggy gray nowhere on a cool, winter's Sunday.

Given the light traffic hereabouts, Wine Tasting of Sonoma County is not the most auspicious title. At least the new owners, third in a series, mercifully shortened it from Wine and Cheese Tasting of so on and so forth. Yawn, what were we talking about? I'd have gone with something less aggressively generic, more cozy and inviting, perhaps emphatic: Last Chance Wine Shack? Perhaps the best name is frankly descriptive, after all. How about: Taste Eclectic and Local Wines from Screw-Capped Summer Sippers to the Waiting List-Only Russian River Pinot You've Been Slavering Over but Can't Get Your Poor, Wine-Stained Hands On—We Can Help, We're Actually Quite Nice. The shop inherited some prized allocations from previous owners over the years, and so can offer customers several vintages of Williams Selyem displayed prominently up front. In the back, the "everyday" selection includes an eclectic mix not always found every day and elsewhere, including Swirl 'n' Spit favorites like Atascadero Creek, Enkidu and Kokomo Syrah, Banyan Gewürztraminer, Coturri Zinfandel and Sean Thackrey Pleiades. All that, and microbrew too. The tidy, well-organized little shop was a logger's cabin back in Duncans Mills' mill days. A pellet stove warms the room, with table seating inside and on the deck, and a sofa to settle in on. Featured wines in the tasting flight ($5) vary from day to day; a plate of three local cheeses ($9.50) is supplemented with dried fruits, nuts and as liberal a complement of crackers as is desired.

Nice stop for a nibble and a sip on the way to completing a traditional weekend Sonoma Coast loop via Highway 116 and Bodega Highway. Or finish the afternoon in Duncans Mills for a few tastes and curds in the gray light of gloaming, before dining at the Blue Heron across the road, which is now open again—already for a year now? News travels fast in a small town.

Wine Tasting of Sonoma County, 25179 Hwy. 116, Duncans Mills. Open Wednesday–Monday noon to 6pm. Closing hour varies; call ahead. 707.865.0565.

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