Neither of them are big wine drinkers (Dad more than Mom, but still not in a major way) and yet both of them happily joined me for a vineyard walk and winery tour of Michel-Schlumberger on our recent weekend in Healdsburg. Possibly enticed by the promised sandwich stop at Dry Creek General Store, but more likely just wanting to spend some time with their sons, they came with interest and excitement.
Michel-Schlumberger was a perfect spot for such an excursion, with plenty to interest the uber-geek and beauty and fascinating farming intention to convince the less-interested, not to mention some tastings of delicious and obviously carefully crafted wines. The property is beautiful, and the focus on sustainable practices is apparent throughout. Beehives buzz with activity near Wine Creek (one of only 4 creeks in Sonoma County that still sustains salmon spawning). Cover crops keep the dirt in the vineyard, out of the creek, and the wandering sheep keep the cover crop 'mowed down'. 15 different varietals are carefully being watched for their response to the hundreds of microclimates the hilly property provides. Everything is picked and fermented in small lots, allowing maximum freedom for the winemaker to craft his blends. It is an intentional place, both in the vineyard and in the family-like atmosphere of the 27 employees (including a directly hired vineyard crew.) While we were walking through the winery itself, the employees of Michel-Schlumberger were breaking out their potluck to celebrate the end of harvest. With just a few tons of Cabernet still hanging in the vineyards the picking and crushing were almost done, and the genuine joy and pride of the teams' work was being celebrated.
The wines we tasted also had an intentionality to them that was incredibly appealing. A delicious Pinot Blanc was refreshing and crisp, with enough fruit in the nose to entice, and enough interest on the palate to keep you going back. The Le Sage Merlot was spectacular, obvious notes of cherry and chocolate identify the varietal, but the acidity and florality of the palate provide a delicate beauty. Their Zinfandel also seems to be bursting with fruit, but fresh fruit. Their vineyard and vinification practices avoiding any gloppy, bombastic unpleasantness. And finally we tasted a 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, that while certainly displaying retracted fruit, had a striking freshness to the color, and ample tannic structure to continue. The leather and smoke were advancing in a delicious way, and the wine was certainly standing the test of time.
This is the type of winery that gets me excited. It is authentic, it is slightly idealistic, and it is a group of people who come together to form a family around their endeavour. They are striving to do things right by their product, by their label, by the land they are responsible for, and by their consumers. The results are delicious, distinct, and affordable. So in their idealism they are succeeding, which is precisely what I want to experience in both drinking a wine, or when introducing non-vinophiles to a beautiful afternoon in Sonoma.