5610 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, Calif. 95448
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Tasting Fees: $15 per person for classic flight; $35 for elevated flight (includes cheese plate).
Wines Offered: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Sparkling
Reservations: By appointment only on weekends; reservations strongly recommended on weekdays.
Pets: Yes—on a leash and attended, outside.
Did you know? VML’s tasting room is located on a farm that includes a portion of Dry Creek (the stream itself, which winds through its namesake valley). The farm is home to steelhead, salmon, ospreys, goats, sheep, chickens, and a vegetable garden. (Plus, there’s a hidden flower garden for club members.) It’s certified biodynamic, as VML strives to incorporate ancient and sustainable farming methods with crystals buried in the soil, no pesticides and a land-as-organism philosophy. At the same time, grapes are sourced from small grower-owned farms across a broad range of farming practices.
The drive along Dry Creek Road, with its picturesque vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley, is an experience in itself. An added treat to the region is VML—a whimsical winery nestled in the valley that is both playful and amusing and feels like a different land altogether. The sounds of the Dry Creek (yes, the creek exists) are faint and in plain view, and sometimes after heavy rain, guests mistake it for the Russian River. In the garden, rows of organic strawberries, kale and herbs are warmed by the sun. It’s magical, just like the wines, made with grapes sourced from carefully selected boutique farms throughout the Russian River Valley. As Winemaker Virginia Marie Lambrix—whose initials make up the winery name—puts it, “they’re little plots of land containing exciting mysteries.”
So, why a Pinot house in Zinfandel country? Lambrix learned the art of winemaking and viticulture as an apprentice in the Russian River Valley, an area rich in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Then in 2007, she was hired as winemaker at Truett Hurst Winery in the dryer, hotter Dry Creek Valley. She gained acclaim for Zinfandel, yet she continued to feel drawn to the Pinot Noir vineyards that had enchanted her. With support from Truett Hurst, Lambrix launched a second brand, VML, focusing on exquisite Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—along with striking labels that blend femininity, astronomy and mysticism. VML moved to a separate location in southern Healdsburg for five years, but recently returned home to the company’s estate property where they’ve built an intimate, elegant tasting space next door to Truett Hurst.
Lambrix’s playful spirit makes it impossible for her to limit VML strictly to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. She accommodates a restless palate by also making a California-style sparkling, dry Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, rosé and a complex Syrah. Her celestial theme—with wines like Earth, Moon and Stars Pinot Noir—expresses the essence of VML: elegant otherworldliness and irresistible earthiness comes through in both the tasting room and the wines.
“We want the wine to love your palate,” says Lambrix. “Some of the wines might be more feminine, some might be more burly. Ultimately, it’s wines we’d like to have at home.”
We begin the tasting with Lambrix’s go-to wine—the 2012 Blanc de Noir Sparkling, which is her personal favorite at home. A hands-on partnership with renowned Iron Horse Vineyards, Lambrix and fellow winemaker Ross Reedy craft a brut-style fruit-forward sparkling. “It’s shamelessly Californian,” Lambrix says laughing. She likes picking her grapes on the riper side, for a bold, play-with-the-palate effect.
Next, we taste the 2015 Russian River Chardonnay—one of the five Chardonnays at VML that are quintessentially Russian River. The grapes are exposed to both fog and powerful sunshine, resulting in an incredible amount of complexity and depth. Lambrix’s passion is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—the main attractions at the winery. While this Chardonnay is a blend portraying the region as a whole, VML also makes small-production single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinots. This means every grape in the bottle comes from just one meticulously farmed vineyard. These tend to be the bottles that win awards and critical acclaim; a single-vineyard Chardonnay received a 94-plus nod from Robert Parker last year—no small achievement.
“I try to get out of the way, and let the essence of that plot of land—that year—speak for itself,” says Lambrix modestly. These vineyards are in locations full of character, featuring distinctive clones, sought-after soil types, and just-right weather (fingers crossed). The farming is a collaborative process, with growers and vineyard crews applying their expertise while also incorporating requests from the winemaking team throughout the year to finesse the vines toward the VML style.
“We always use at least 20 to 25 percent new French Oak,” adds Reedy regarding his Russian River Chardonnay blend. “It’s a marriage of Californian and Burgundian styles, with minerality playing nicely alongside stone fruit, floral notes, and a crème brûlée finish.”
Next, we try the 2015 Pinot Noir. Any great Russian River Pinot Noir needs a good dose of cherry cola, as Reese and Lambrix explain. And their Pinot Noirs have it. “I’m Russian River, hear me roar!” Lambrix shouts as her 2015 Russian River Pinot Noir’s intense flavors burst from our glasses.
We end with the 2015 Svengali Syrah sourced from Dry Creek. The deep magenta colored Syrah rolls through the palate with silky tannins and meaty texture—highly finessed, yet it’s the most contentious of their wines. Why? The executives initially resisted the winemaking team employing such a time- and labor-intensive barrel program for a Syrah, but it’s turned out to be management’s favorite wine. “The tasting room staff sometimes hides it from them because there’s so little of it,” notes Lambrix. It’s never on the tasting menu, and primarily sold to wine club members. However, if you’re visiting the tasting room, just ask. The staff might find a bottle for you.
Next time you’re seeking the perfect bottle of Russian River wine, let gravity pull you towards VML Winery, where the wines and the views are out of this world.
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