Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat: The Witch Creek Winery

As I’m writing this on Halloween, it seemed apropos to cover the Witch Creek Winery in Carlsbad, California. The winery and tasting room are located on Highway 1/101, which changes names in just about every coastal town you come to in southern California. I thought I’d be tricked into another tourist-trap winery, but instead discovered a real treat.

My apprehension dissolved with a plop, much like the dough boy in The Ghostbusters, when I saw the list of wines they offered. Three full pages of varietals and blends, which change frequently, Rich Koziell said when I enquired. Really? I took a peek behind me at the operation. Standard bottler, modest sized crusher, how do they do this, I wondered.

Rich is the owner/VP of Witch Creek, and, luckily for me, was on hand to talk about his winery. He introduced me to some of the people that keep it humming, including Ryan Baker. Ryan is billed as the associate wine maker, and I found him to be an enthusiastic member of the Witch Creek team – and very opinionated when it comes to types of oak, and which ones worked best for various varietals.

One thing is for sure, you won’t be bored with the same old choices found in many other California wineries. I really needed a scorecard to keep track of all the different and delightful wines they offered for tasting on the day before Halloween. Maybe I should drive past today, just to make sure it hasn’t disappeared.

The playful names of some of the blends suggest non-elitist wine lovers are at work here, such as the 2008 Château Neuf Du Cat, a classic Rhone blend that sports a don’t-mess-with-me black cat on the label. The 2007 Zinzilla is an equilateral triangle blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah, that I had to grab for tonight’s eerie dinner.

The wines have character and wonderful flavors of the grape, and no bludgeoning from the American and European oak barrels used for ageing. Witch Creek Winery sources their grapes from numerous locations including the Valle de Guadalupe just over the border in Mexico, Clarksburg, the Central Coast, and as far north as Lodi.

The Sangiovese-Brunello, which uses the Brunello clone of the Sangiovese grape, was very authentic. Old world flavors of tobacco and spice wrapped around a new world interpretation with rich cherry made this one a delight. Perhaps that’s why the Tuscany lawyers complained to Rich about using their name on his wine. He patiently pointed out that it nowhere stated Brunello de Montalcino so what was the problem? Yeah, with lawyers, there’s always a problem, isn’t there?

The 2007 Due Pastore blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes suggests some of the uniqueness of their wines, as does the 2007 Mourvedre, a principal Rhone varietal that requires some skilled handling to stand alone. This one stands out with a more complex nose and palate that others I‘ve tried recently. At $22 and $23 per bottle, respectively, you aren’t paying a premium for Witch Creek’s magic, either.

The 2006 Reserve Merlot, a gold medal winner at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition, uses Guadalupe fruit. The rich cinnamon nose backed by black pepper was enticing, and the palate rewarded me with red berries and earthy spices. At $30, this is a no brainer for Merlot lovers. In fact, that would be true of all the wines I sampled. Prices that would keep me coming back for more, knowing I’d be in for a few surprises along the way. Witch Creek Winery: no tricked out wines, only treats.

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