Although visiting Ridge Vineyards was probably my favorite experience during my holiday trip to Healdsburg, I did go to several others that were "interesting" experiences, both good and both.
On the bad side was Foppiano Vineyards. I arrived there early on a drizzly Sunday shortly after tasting at Limerick Lane Cellars. I was probably the first person there, and was looking forward to trying some of their offerings from this historic winery. They were pouring some old Petite Sirahs and had some deals (buy one get one).
The first wine I have notes on was the Lot 96 NV ($25 at the tasting room, but looks like $12 online, though it may be a different bottle, see link here). It's a field blend dominated by Sangiovese, with Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Carignane, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc thrown in. Stinky nose with red fruit notes. Nice tannic structure in the mouth.
Also have notes on the 2001 Paso Robles Petite Sirah ($59.95). Again, stinky nose of blue cheese, with an earthy barnyard funk taste, and a long finish of black peppercorn and coffee. Certainly interesting.
The bad part about my experience here had to do with the guy pouring the wines. He seemed friendly enough when I showed up, but made a comment when I spat into the dump bucket on the bar. "Aw geez, you really going to make me clean that?" he said. I laughed because I thought he was being sarcastic, and tried a few more wines, spitting every time. After the third wine he made another comment, saying "You know, that's a health code violation." Then I realized he was serious. I asked if I could have a plastic cup to spit in and he gave me one, but all the joy from tasting was gone. I just felt really embarrassed about spitting, but I was driving that day and I also wanted to take good tasting notes, both of which become impossible for me if I drink every pour.
By the time I finished off the wines on the pour list, he was offering all sorts of deals on library wines, like two-for-one on a $60 Petite Sirah from 1991, but it didn't excite me enough to spend $60 for two bottles, so I left there in a hurry. At every other winery I went to that day, I asked if it was ok if I could use the dump bucket for spitting, and they all looked at me like I was crazy. "Of course you can, why wouldn't you?" I told them about my little incident at Foppiano and they were surprised. I've never had anyone else act as strange about spitting, and was really shocked that someone in Russian River Valley, of all places, would take offense. You'd think they would have seen that before. I guess not.
On the plus side, I had a nice experience at Porter Creek Vineyards. I felt a little awkward because I was there by myself surrounded by several different groups having fun, while I was scribbling notes and spitting. The guy pouring wine nervously asked if I was in the business, and I said I'm a journalist that writes about wine, but that I was just out for a personal trip (I wasn't planning on writing an article for the company I work for on the winery, at least not from that visit, but blogging I feel is different).
The tasting room is a tiny wooden shed built decades ago (I think he said 1920s, but I'd don't recall). The top of the bar was a glossy piece of stripped wood, and we were told it was made from a old bowling alley lane, which was a nice touch. Only one light bulb lit the room, a new, welcomed addition, the man behind the bar said.
I was excited to try the 2006 Carignane "Old Vines," from Alexander Valley ($24), as the grape known for its quantity, not quality, in France, has become a darling of some winemakers in the U.S. looking for a tasty, affordable varietal. I found a good mix of funk and fruit in the mouth.
Next I found the 2006 Syrah "Timbervine Ranch", from Russian River Valley ($36) to have a herbal finish.
Lastly, the 2006 Zinfandel "Old Vines" Sonoma Coast ($34) had an earthy, vanilla spice nose, and was balanced in the mouth, until the end when spices send you off with a nice kick.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Porter Creek, and the tasting room employee was able to weave wine geek info about the bottles to me with general info for the four younger British lads just out for a few glasses of wine.