Great Tastes
Armida Winery / by Karen Hart / September, 2018

At a Glance
Armida Winery
2201 Westside Road
Healdsburg, Calif. 95448
(707) 433-2222

Hours: 11a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except holidays
Tasting fee: $20/per person (Waived with a $50 purchase.)
Wines Offered: 2016 White Bordeaux Blend—Domus Alba, 2015 Gaps Crown Vineyard Chardonnay, 2015 Castelli-Knight Ranch Pinot Noir, 2016 Maple Vineyards Zinfandel, 2015 Tina’s Block Zinfandel (Selections change monthly.)
Reservations: Recommended for groups of 8 or more
Picnics: Yes
Pets: Yes

Did You Know? Armida Winery is serious about winemaking and known for its vineyard-designated, artisinal wines. Yet Bruce and Steve Cousins, the brother-proprietor team, aren’t afraid to have a good time. In the spirit of fun, they created PoiZin—“The wine to die for” in 1994.  The first vintage of the Poizin Reserve cost $80, but today it’s available at a more affordable price point. Next time you’re on Westside Road, stop by Armida, and pick your poison—a bottle or two of Armida PoiZin for your Halloween celebration.

Bruce and Steve Cousins, got into the wine business by chance and a perhaps a bit of luck in the early ’90s. They learned of a small winery owned by Robert Frugoli that was for sale on the famed Westside Road in Sonoma County, which they purchased and opened for business in August 1994.

The Cousins brothers introduction to wine began as young boys. Their grandfather, Caesar Ciardelli, made wine from grapes grown by a friend in Santa Clara County. At family meals, there was always a jug of wine on the floor by Caesar’s feet. Everyone enjoyed the wine, including the grandchildren. The wine was measured and diluted with water in European tradition, depending on each child’s age.

 “It wasn’t good,” recalls Steve with a laugh. He admits that later, as a young man, he once asked his grandfather if he could take a barrel to the winery where he was working and “run it through a machine” to improve the taste.  That day, 24-year old Steve dumped his grandfather’s wine, replacing it with a much better wine. When he returned, his grandfather took a sip of the wine and declared, “I make the best wine!”

Following that day, Caesar’s friends asked Steve if they could also run their wine through the special “macchina,” and young Steve finally had to admit to his grandfather that there was no macchina. “I know,” Caesar said. The joke was on Steve, but 40 years later, the two brothers are producing wine that would, no doubt, make their grandfather proud.

Located in the hills of Westside Road, the tasting room features a sweeping panoramic view of the Russian River appellation and the Mayacama mountain range beyond. Winemaker Brandon Lapides has been with Armida for eight years, and his philosophy is centered around trusting the process. “During a wine’s aging process, it’s impossible for it to show its ‘peak’ all of the time,” he says. “It’s important not to overreact. There’s an art to harvesting, an art to blending, but most importantly, there’s an art in the process. Patience is an important part of the process.”

We begin with the 2016 white Bordeaux blend, Domus Alba, which means “white dome”—a nod to the three geodesic domes and the three main buildings on the estate. This Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend is light and fruity with citrus flavors, a perfect welcome wine for a warm summer day.

Next, we taste the 2015 Chardonnay with fruit sourced from Gap’s Crown, a premier vineyard along the Sonoma Coast. Contrary to the popular style of a lean, fruit-forward Chardonnay, this one is rich and luscious. “This is a more traditional style,” says Steve. “It has an almost oily texture—it’s unctuous with sweet vanilla nuances from the oak and tons of ripe fruit.”

Next we move to the reds, and sip a 2015 Pinot Noir with fruit sourced from the Castelli-Knight Ranch in the Russian River Valley. Concentrated with a higher skin-to-juice ratio due to exceptionally small berries, this wine is more intense with a classic structure. “This vintage is complex due to the low yields—much lower than average,” says Bruce. Sourced from a four-acre vineyard, this Pinot is distinctive for its round fruit and round mouth feel.

The 2015 Zinfandel, has beautiful spicy notes. It’s made with fruit sourced from Maple Vineyards, a result of a partnership forged in the early days when Bruce—still new to the business—had the moxie to call Tom Maple to request grapes. “I’ll never forget the phone call,” says Bruce. “Tom laughed out loud, put me on speaker phone and told his wife, Tina, “Get a load of this guy. This is the wine that made us.” Adds Steve, “This is one of the best Zinfandel vineyards in Sonoma County, if not North America. The fruit is head pruned, providing a lower yield, but always a high quality—it’s benchmark Dry Creek Zinfandel.”

Finally, we end with another 2015 Zinfandel, sourced from Tina’s Block, which was planted in 1910 in Maple Vineyards. A classic field blend with 80 percent Zinfandel and 20 percent mixed black fruit, this is a beautiful, bold spicy glass of history. “History in a glass,” says Bruce.

Armida will celebrate its 24th harvest this autumn, and the brothers have high expectations. “Right now it’s looking like a blessed combination of above average yield and outstanding quality,” says Steve. Armida wines are beautiful and distinctive, made from some of the best vineyards in Sonoma County. And while the brothers continue their tradition of serious winemaking, they continue to have a good time in the process.