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Wine Country in fall colors

  • 11/14/2012: B1:

    PC: Above Bennett Valley, a vineyard basks in late fall light, Mt. St. Helena in Napa County touches the sky, background, Tuesday Nov. 13, 2012. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

When Joe Battaglini bought 30 acres along Santa Rosa's Piner Road some 25 years ago, wine observers scoffed. The gnarly old zinfandel and petite syrah vines looked like skeletons, many with giant holes bored into their trunks. He was advised to rip them out and replant.

"No way," declared Battaglini, a civil engineer who emigrated from Tuscany in the 1950s and learned to make wine the simple, Old World way from his father and grandfather. "In Italy, they have vines that are 200 years old."

The Battaglini Estate Winery's homespun tasting room behind his 100-year-old home is plastered with awards for wines produced from those 128-year-old vines, brought over from Europe in 1885 as cuttings preserved in potatoes.

Leaf peepers, listen up. If you like the full color spectrum in autumn, you'll want to see the red, melted-butter yellow and gold of Sonoma County vineyards.

You'll generally find red leaves on old vines, on vines that are stressed or on some vines that produce naturally colored red juice, says Rod Berglund. The owner and winemaker of Swan Vineyards in Forestville has roamed the county's wine roads for more than 20 years, often admiring the ancient vines that have survived blight and shifting consumer tastes.

Battaglini's vineyard at 2948 Piner Road produces deep magenta leaves. This often overlooked corner of Wine Country, bounded by Piner and Olivet, is a nice place to view the changing landscape and taste wine without the crowds.

Another great place to catch the fall is the Dry Creek area around Healdsburg. Berglund suggests its beautiful vineyards, which stretch out on both sides of the road. The Sonoma Valley also has some old vines in Kenwood, a narrow neck of the Valley of the Moon that offers a deep concentration of color. Hike to the top of Sugarloaf Ridge for forever views, or simply stop at the side of the road and look up at the hillsides, braided in color.


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