Lazy Creek Vineyards

Lazy Creek Vineyards

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

Mention Lazy Creek Vineyards to fans of this idyllic winery and eyes glaze over, mouths water and an audible sigh escapes.

Falling in love with Lazy Creek is as easy as driving through the front gate, say new owners Don and Rhonda Carano (echoing the sentiment expressed by the previous owners Josh and MaryBeth Chandler). “It’s the place I fantasize retiring,” says one Lazy Creek devotee.

Lazy Creek was established in 1973 by Theresia and the late Hans Kobler, who had been a longtime waiter at the legendary Jack’s and Blue Fox restaurants in San Francisco. Hans planted Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines, brought from Europe by suitcase to connect his old world heritage with his Anderson Valley abode. It didn’t take long for other new vintners to follow suit. Those two varietals, with Lazy Creek as one of the most sought after producers, soon put Anderson Valley on America’s winegrowing map. The annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and Alsatian Varietals Festivals now showcase these wines every spring in Anderson Valley.

Its word of mouth reputation and out of the way location mean, that for many followers, tasting Lazy Creek wine often precedes a visit. One drive up the meandering shady lane lined by weathered split rail fencing, however, and the charming setting infatuates. This is the winery everyone wishes was theirs.

When the Koblers arrived it was the old Pinoli homestead and plum trees were the crop. A 1940s flatbed pickup is parked where it’s been for decades. Barrels are stacked on the bed and a painting of it hangs in the tasting room. The Koblers converted the old barn to a winery They stacked barrels by hand on top of each other pyramid style. And they offered samples at the picnic table by the ramshackle farmhouse. Today, the barrels are on racks and the tasting room evokes a charismatic blend of old and contemporary.

Lazy Creek is situated in a small bowl at the end of the tree lined drive. You drive in past the weathered redwood tractor shed surrounded by rolling vineyards. To the northwest the focal point is the rusty red corrugated siding on the tasting room with its contemporary lines and large plate glass doors and windows. Roses and fuschias (one which Hans and Theresia planted from a cutting at my home in the village of Mendocino) and a prolific vegetable garden, giant walnut trees, a few well fed chickens and Diesel the dog contribute to the inviting scene.

“Diesel is learning to be a country dog,” says resident winemaker Christy Griffith, who acknowledged that she had the privilege of spending time with Hans Kobler. “Hans was a mentor,” she says, “we plan to honor the same meticulous hands-on winemaking traditions that Hans made Lazy Creek known for.”

Griffith grew up in Santa Rosa and had a few other occupations before being drawn to the wine industry in the early 1990s. She started out in sales and marketing at Murphy-Goode winery in Sonoma County. “I have a background in chemistry, which I love,” she says. She signed up to intern during a harvest and that experience propelled her to Fresno State University and a degree in enology in 2001.

Her first job was as assistant winemaker at Jordan Winery near Healdsburg where she stayed for five years. “In 2006 I was hired to be in charge of the Pinot Noir program at Ferrari-Carano,” she says. The Caranos liked her style of winemaking and looked for more Pinot Noir grapes, which brought them to Anderson Valley. They purchased Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir vineyards in the Mendocino Ridge appellation. In June 2008 the Caranos bought Lazy Creek and Griffith moved here from Windsor to be the winemaker.

The entire ranch has been sustainably-farmed for 40 years says Griffith. “We recycle all organic matter for use in the vineyard and the gardens around the winery,” she adds. In addition desirable plants and insects have been introduced and farm animals integrated.

When the Chandlers were here they moved the winemaking from the old barn to a beautifully designed concrete and barn wood winery. The Caranos plan to build a cave that will go from the new winery into the abutting hillside. And the state-of-the-art press Griffith uses was made for champagne grapes, which means it has the gentlest pressure.

Lazy Creek’s heritage Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer vineyards continue to be the winery focus and the Chandlers and the Caranos planted more varietals. All the grapes for Lazy Creek wines are grown on the property. In addition to well rounded luscious Pinot Noir, no-oak Chablis-style Chardonnay and classic dry Gewurztraminer, Lazy Creek wines now include Riesling, Syrah and Rose of Pinot Noir.

Griffith’s first vintage includes a 2008 dry summer Rose and 2007 Riesling on the tasting list. “The Riesling is dynamite, a favorite food wine,” says Griffith adding that all Lazy Creek wines are made to go with food and in the French style with a lower alcohol level. “The Rose is 12.9%, a Sunday sipper.”

The tasting room attracts locals who bring their visiting friends as well as fans who have followed Lazy Creek for years. Tasting room manager Vicky Sitts is a personable and enthusiastic guide who pours for the steady stream of visitors. Painted hutches line the natural wood and sage green walls. Handcrafted barn wood serves as the tasting bar and the broad high windows flood the room with light from the south, west and north. The wine is packaged in high quality glass with heavy rims and elegant wax like caps. Each bottle is numbered and the label captures the scene with a pewter colored line drawing.

The tasting room is open 11 am – 4pm Friday through Monday. During the week, if the gate is open, drive on in says Griffith. Lazy Creek wines can also be tasted daily at Seasons of the Vineyard in Healdsburg on the plaza.

Soft spoken and good natured, the youthful looking Griffith, 42, has curly hair, blue eyes and the perfect attitude for her lifestyle. As she shows me around I wonder how it was to move from a more urban area to the country. “This country living keeps me young,” she laughs. Then she describes catching a rat on the roof and finding a potato bug in her bed the previous night.

Stepping back and taking in the intimate landscape with the loyal following known as Lazy Creek Vineyards, Griffith echoes many other Lazy Creek fans, “I love it here.”

TASTING NOTES: Lazy Creek’s classics continue to impress. I enjoyed the spicy dry 2007 Gewurztraminer (bottle number 5362) with grilled quail and sauteed cabbage and Lazy Creek’s 2006 fruit rich earthy Pinot Noir (bottle number 04090) with venison burgers topped with sauteed mushrooms.

For more information on Lazy Creek Vineyards contact the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission at www.truemendocinowine.com or www.lazycreekvineyards.com

Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes on behalf of the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.

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