Wines of the Wind: Recent Releases from Anaba Wines, Sonoma

What happens when a traditionally Rhône-focused producer in Sonoma hires one of California’s best Pinot Noir winemakers? That’s not a trick question, and the answer is quite predictable: their wines improve and they start making fantastic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

I’ve been following (and saying nice things about) Anaba Wines since they sent me their very first efforts in 2009, and it’s been a great pleasure to watch this project evolve into maturity.

After falling in love in college, PC-salesman-turned-real-estate-executive John Sweazey found himself increasingly obsessed with the idea of owning a vineyard. After many travels to the town of Sonoma and surrounding areas with his wife Kathleen, Sweazey learned that the 16-acre Castle Winery property in Carneros was for sale and jumped at the chance to buy it.

Sweazey renamed the property Anaba, after the term “anabatic” which describes the phenomenon of winds that are generated by the rising of warm air up a slope, which draws in cooler surrounding air to replace it. This is precisely the phenomenon responsible for the wind and fog that have made the Carneros region so famous for cooler-climate grape growing.

As I noted, for many years the winery focused on Rhône-style wines, made in a refreshingly unpretentious style, always sporting higher acidity, moderate ripeness, and the modest use of oak (if used at all). This approach has led me to enjoy just about every bottle I’ve ever tasted from the label. In the early days, the wines were extraordinary values, but as accolades have continued to heap up for the label, prices have understandably climbed higher. Compared to many California wines, however, they are still quite affordable.

Interestingly, despite steady growth, Anaba has only added just a few acres to its tiny estate holdings, preferring instead to work with some of the top growers around Sonoma County, including the Sangiacomos, the Teldeschis, and more. When pressed, Sweazey admits that there’s some tax strategy behind this decision.

“At the moment, the property is a second home with some vineyards attached,” he says. “If we add a lot more acreage, it becomes a farm, and that’s a different ballgame from a property tax perspective.”

One of the features of the Anaba portfolio that has always been most appealing are pair of red and white blends that were originally launched under the name “Turbine.”

These blends shift each year, depending on the nature of the vintage, but are generally priced attractively and reliably delicious.

Winemaker Katy Wilson, as photographed by Bex Wyant

From a winemaking perspective, Katy Wilson keeps all her grape lots separate for quite some time, watching each develop on its own, choosing to blend only just before bottling.

“I taste regularly, and lay out all the barrels every three months if not more often,” says Wilson. “I smell the lees of every barrel to decide whether to rack or not. I do that for every wine I make. It’s incredibly time consuming, but I don’t make wine by recipe.”

To that end, Wilson makes decisions on a vineyard block level for each vintage in terms of stem inclusion for Pinot Noir, though she admits that most years the Rhône varieties are fermented whole cluster as a rule.

Wilson’s touch with Pinot Noir is quite remarkable, and her wines have a crystalline freshness to them that I’ve always admired. When I ask her what her secret is, she claims to have none, other than to treat the fruit incredibly gently.

Wilson has been given carte blanche to make the wines to the best of her ability, and she takes full advantage of that permission, varying the use of steel, large-format and smaller barrels for both fermenting and aging.

“Some wines we’re aging now a bit longer before bottling, which I feel makes the blend come together a bit more,” she says, admitting that, “though in some cases we’re aging longer because…

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Wines of the Wind: Recent Releases from Anaba Wines, Sonoma  
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