I ended up leaving Unti Vineyards right after Mick, as I had an appointment in just a few minutes at Rued Vineyards, just about a half a mile down Dry Creek Road from Unti. I entered the tastefully done tasting room and was promptly greeted by Dee Rued (pronounced roo-id), the business and tasting room manager. After a brief introduction, she called for her husband, Richard, who then escorted me out the back door for a quick tour of the winery.
Right off the bat, Richard described himself as a “fourth generation farmer in Sonoma County.” He said “farmer” and not “grape grower” or “wine maker”, which lent some insight to his approach (this was underscored by his prominent cowboy hat). The other portion of that opening statement is significant as well: Richard’s great grandfather bought land in Sonoma County in 1876 and first planted grapes in 1882. In 1957, Richard took over the small family plot of grapes in Dry Creek Valley–land that would become the their home estate vineyard in Dry Creek.
Everything about Richard and Dee seemed to echo this long history and wealth of experience. I doubt if anyone would ever characterize them as garrulous, but there was a calmness to both of them that was both reassuring and welcoming.
After the tour, we got down to some tasting. While Dee certainly runs the tasting room, Richard seems to be the final word on the wine–as Dee would open a new bottle, she would pass the first taste to Richard, who had on arm on the edge of the tasting bar (with his cowboy hat it was not difficult to imagine him in the same pose, in a movie Western, sipping on whiskey). Richard would first sniff, take a small sip, and then turn back to Dee with a small nod as if to say “It’s OK.”
Well, as we went through the wines, I found them to be more than OK–they were fantastic.
2012 Rued Pinot Grigio: Retail $16. Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are wines made from the same grape, but in different styles. The former is the (in my opinion) the rather bland Italian style, while the latter is the more unctuous and flavorful French style. This wine, for me, falls in the second category, but is labeled as if it were in the first. OK, I get it. I do not have the official statistics in front of me, but I would guess that there is a whole lot more “Pinot Grigio” sold in this U.S. than there is “Pinot Gris.” But make no mistake, this is not your grandmother’s wimpy Italian-style white, it is rich and full with great honey and melon, and a wonderful viscosity. Let me put it another way: I came back with four different wines from Dry Creek Valley, and this was one of them. I don’t think this is one to hold onto, but at $16? No brainer. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2012 Rued Sauvignon Blanc: Retail $16. Like the Pinot Grigio (I really want to call it a Pinot Gris), this is not a wallflower. Another full wine with great flavors of grapefruit and lemon. It might be a tad bit too full, however, as the acidity seems to fall off a bit at the end. Still, Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2013 Rued Chardonnay Russian River Valley: Retail $18. As mentioned above, the Rueds farm a majority of their land in Dry Creek, but they also have some vineyards in the Russian River Valley. This Chardonnay is almost entirely aged in stainless steel (with a tiny bit aged in new French oak). The wine is bright and lemony with the fruit practically jumping out of the glass. On the palate, rich and full–I really like this a ton. For the price? Whoa! (And another wine that made its way into my box to take home.) Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2010 Rued Mount Olivet Chardonnay Russian River Valley: Retail $28. In contrast to the previous Chardonnay, this wine is 100% barrel fermented, with 50% going through malolactic fermentation. This is much more in the style of more “classic” California Chardonnay: big, creamy, oaky. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2010 Rued Pinot Noir Russian River Valley: Retail $28. A very nice nose of raspberry and blackberry with just a hint of oak. On the palate, some rather big red fruit with some nice depth on the mid-palate and an above average finish. This is a solid Pinot, especially for the price point. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
Currently, the winery is considered small by any measure (3,000 cases currently), but there are plans to almost triple production (to around 8,000 cases) in the near future. That would be good news to folks (like me) that live outside of California, since a large portion of their current production is sold from the tasting room, and never makes it to distribution. Many thanks to both Dee and Richard for the wonderful visit.