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Sonoma Portworks, Petaluma

Author: Alexandra Russell
May, 2016 Issue

Sonoma Portworks
Foundry Wharf
613 Second Street
Petaluma, CA 94952
(707) 769-5203
Hours: Open Thursday through Monday, noon to 5 p.m.
Tasting fees: None
Beverages offered: Aris Cask Reserve, Aris Petit Verdot, Aris Petite Sirah and Deco Ports; Duet sherry and Dyna aperitif; Fig’n Awesome, wood-aged and unwooded grappas
Reservations: No
Picnics: Yes on the common lawn or outdoor seating areas at Foundry Wharf
Pets: Yes
 
Did you know: Winemaker Bill Reading also created the barrel ring and copper wine art that adorns the tasting room walls.
 
 

Sonoma Portworks is located in Foundry Wharf, a funky little business complex just east of Petaluma Boulevard. The winery started 22 years ago as Sonoma Valley Portworks, near the town of Sonoma, but when it relocated 12 years ago, founder Bill Reading adjusted the name. The cozy tasting room is at the front of the space, separated from the winery production area by curtains and a wall of barrels (it also bottle several products at another winery elsewhere in Sonoma County).
 
Talk about small: “We press by foot,” says Reading, adding that Sonoma Portworks is the only winery he knows of that does this. “It’s a very gentle press, so we’re not imparting tannins we don’t want into our port.” There’s another benefit as well, but I’ll get to that later.
 
The first port Reading introduced commercially was Deco (in 1994), which is infused with a proprietary dark chocolate essence that’s been emulated—but not mastered—by numerous wineries since its initial debut. It has an earthy bouquet and is definitely kissed with chocolate, but the rich dark fruit and velvety finish are what really make is special.
 
“I want the dark fruit of the grape to be your primary experience,” Reading explains. “I try to keep alcohol and natural grape sugar on the lower side of the port spectrum so the dark fruit can really express itself. I want the aromas to be clean, I want it to be clean on your palate, I want the finish to be clean and I want the fruit to shine through.”
 
As we taste through Sonoma Portworks’ portfolio, this notion is repeated, both in word and in execution. Each port (I tasted three of four) is distinct and delicious, but they all share Reading’s signature style. The Aris Petite Sirah 2008 Port is complex, with dark cherry, chocolate, a hint of espresso and a nice, long finish. The Cask Reserve Port Batch 4 (a blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot) is a tawny port (the oldest wood-aged designation), rich on the palate with a brilliant honey color and flavors of caramel, truffle and honey.
 
In addition to port, Reading makes two fortified wines: Duet Sherry (infused with hazelnut for a nutty, earthy character that’s great with desserts) and Dyna Aperitif (made from unwooded Chardonnay that’s fortified to 17 percent and blended with agave nectar and extractions of orange peel and ginger). Their stylized label designs fall in line with Deco Port to make a stylish presentation.
 
In partnership with neighboring Stillwater Spirits, Reading produces three grappas, made by distilling grape pomace after pressing it for wine (port). Here’s where the gentle foot press comes in: “because we can’t get every drop out pressing [by foot], there’s a lot of port left in our pomace,” Reading explains. “[Stillwater has] a beautiful 500-gallon copper Armagnac still, which we use to make our grappa.”
 
Here again, Reading shows in creativity. In addition to a traditional grappa, he also produces a wood-aged grappa, which exhibits richer, deeper flavor notes, like a smooth, well-aged Scotch. Then there’s Fig’n Awesome, which is infused with California figs purchased directly from the grower. It’s unlike anything I’ve tried and had me imagining creative ways to use it. Reading suggested substituting it for sweet vermouth in a Manhattan or making a hot toddy: I’m in.
 
In addition to fortified wines and grappas, Reading also makes Sonomic Almost Vinegar, which has a rich, sweet and tart taste and half the acid of balsamic. It can be used in place of vinegar but also as an ice cream topping, a finishing drizzle on grilled meats or veggies, or as the base of a refreshing nonalcoholic cocktail.
 
Until late last year, it was the only tasting room in city limits—and it’s still the only bonded winery. Because of that, Reading says, “we get a lot of support from the local community.” It’s support that’s reciprocated in a number of ways. On weekends, Reading often has local cheese, chocolate, pastries and other artisan foods available for pairing. “Petaluma is the hub of artisan consumables in Sonoma County,” he says. “We like to emphasize that.” There’s also a tip jar on the tasting bar, with all monies donated to Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), Jack London Restoration Fund and Petaluma Animal Services.

 

 

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