Downtown Healdsburg is a lovely place to visit; full of quaint shops, delightful art galleries, enticing restaurants, and a handful of tasting rooms. However, if you limit your jaunting to only the square, you will undoubtedly miss one of the best selections of wines — not only in the neighborhood — but in California. Selby Winery has their tasting room a few blocks off the main shopping drag and is definitely worth looking for; almost hidden by overgrown trees just a few doors down from the fire station.
I was there on a week day and the tasting room was bustling! Full to the brim, Amanda was aptly handling the large crowd. I was patient and waited for it to quiet down. I was fortunate to taste through the entire line-up of Selby wines for a related article I’ve been working on, as well as having the opportunity of meeting Susie Selby in person.
She is diminutive in stature and has a personal warmth that immediately exudes charm and grace. She initially came to Northern California to help her father out in a small custom-crush winery (those are the kind where serious amateurs make wine for fun). Susie got so enamored with her father’s obsession, that it encouraged her to get a job in a local tasting room. When the bug really hit her, she began serious studies while working as a cellar rat, eventually becoming an assistant winemaker. Now with her her own label, she is entirely self-taught, learning the entire wine industry from the ground up, literally.
Since her first vintage in 1993, she has built a reputation that includes having her wine served at the White House on multiple occasions. Robert Redford is so impressed with her winemaking style that she has been contracted to produce the Chardonnay for Redford’s Sundance resort. She has a tasting room (decorated with fabulous art by Clay Vajgrt), and a thriving winery producing 15,000 cases. What impressed me more than anything is the overall quality and integrity of the wine and the fact that Susie is not afraid to take chances as is depicted in experiments along the likes of a Malbec and a Syrah rosé, wines that are just plain fun to drink.
2004 Sauvignon Blanc – Crisp, clear kiwi and pineapple tones without being harsh or strident. $13.00
2004 Rosé of Syrah – The color of a sparkling, almandine garnet. An enchanting rosé because of its varietal integrity, Laura makes this wine solely because she likes to drink it (god bless her!). Explosive cranberry and pomegranate flavors behind a fresh, clean berry aromas with hints of white flowers. Nothing cloying or sweet, this wine is clean, fresh, and crisp. $13.00
2004 Chardonnay, Russian River – Intense nose of kiwi and white melon with a whisper of white peach. Crisp entry and some cream on the mid-palate that is opulent and engaging. Going away from the more butter-rich Clone 4, this is a wine made from the muscat chard of Dijon and Spring Mountain. $28.00
2004 Pinot Noir, Russian River – Heady perfumey aromas of cinnamon, clove, and cherry. The mouth fills with spicy, cinnamon-covered red hots that is teasing and playful. The spicy fruit flavors are well-defined and invigorating. $32.00
2002 Malbec, Alexander Valley – I am such a huge Malbec fan and this does not fail to impress. Chewy tobacco with layers of soy and miso in the nose. The flavors are redolent with dark fruit, tiered with a rich mineral core. $28.00
2002 Merlot, Sonoma County – With 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc. Redolent nose of black cherry and licorice with a whisper of dried herbs in the back of the nostrils. Black fruit and black pepper enter the mouth, teasing with a touch of plum liqueur. Big, chewy entry is smooth in the center with a perfectly balanced finish. $24.00
2002 Syrah, Sonoma County – 4% Viognier provides a hint of sweetness in this rich, sweet boysenberry wine. Jammy entry with a core of licorice and spice, medium-bodied and easy to drink. $24.00
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County – 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec. Medium-bodied, terroir-driven aromas show herbs and cherries. Rich, sweet entry is smooth and toasty. Not overly complex or chewy, but great body and flavors. $24.00
2002 Zinfandel, Sonoma County – From 65 year old vines. Rich vanilla tones in a smooth, dark entry that displays sultry plum and spice notes. Jammy, spicy, toasty, and a hint of earth. $24.00
2002 Dry Creek Syrah, Vesenaz Vineyard – Only 150 cases made. Terroir-driven aromas with a heady liqueur of blackberry. Inky black red with an even, spicy core and supple, velvety finish. $32.00
2002 Sonoma County Zinfandel, Bobcat Vineyard – Leaving the grapes on the vines a little longer than usual, this is only the fourth vintage of this wine which has a tiny amount of residual sugar. Dark and spicy, the smooth and velvety mouthfeel is ever so slightly sweet, but not enough to coat the teeth. Smooth and intense, the flavors are defined and intense; quintessential zinfandel and after most of the tasting, a culmination in the example of the style that is Susie’s wine. $32.00
2000 Sweet Cindy – This wine is an homage to Susie’s dearly departed sister-in-law, Cindy. It is a blend of late-harvest Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc with grapes that are fully botrysized. Intense, dark gold orange color, there are hints of earthy, rustic honey with a core of pear. While the wine is sweet, there is a heightened acidity that provides perfect balance and clean flavor. A bargain at $12.00
Selby Winery ~ 215 Center Street ~ Healdsburg ~ CA ~ 95448 ~ 707-431-1288
$5.00 for four tastes, although many additional bottles are often open and offered.