Written by: Michael Meisner
Published on July 15, 2013
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Located in Healdsburg, California, Lambert Bridge Winery produces an abundance of small lot wines, with meticulous attention to quality. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Ten years ago, like many wineries in the US, Lambert was cranking out 25,000 cases of wine each year. The quality was good, but not what it could be. When new owners took over, they switched things up, reducing production to around 5,000 cases, placing a much greater emphasis on producing flawless examples of each varietal they grow on the estate vineyards.
While most California wines are known for their high-octane approach: heavy oak, high alcohol, some times cloyingly sweet with big ripe fruit, Lambert makes more refined, elegant wines with lower alcohol levels that pair equally well with food. As they outline in their philosophy, they strive to create “completely hand-crafted, impeccably balanced wines that mix old-world refinement with perfectly ripened grape varietals from Sonoma County’s unique and treasured terroirs.”
Enter the winery, and you’ll be greeted by two of the most ubiquitous winery dogs around. The big yellow Labrador, Gus, is the more social of the two and makes his rounds through the tasting room, actively looking for compliments and vocalizing his excitement. Bernadette, the St. Bernard, can more often be found occupying as much surface area of the cool floor as she can, with a big tongue flopping out the side of her mouth.
Like the resident guardians on the property, you’ll find a much more laid back, community-oriented feeling among the staff, with all taking part in the entire scope of operations at the winery. Unlike many tasting rooms where the person pouring the wine for you has a limited role, the staff here knows every intimate detail about both the winery and each other, with guests receiving a much more personal understanding of the winery and wines being poured. This commitment to quality isn’t just for show – Lambert Winery actively supports local Sonoma activities that benefit children’s education, sports, the arts, and healthcare.
You’ll find a plethora of varietals here, including common ones like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc and less common regional examples such as Petit Verdot and a delicious Viognier. They source everything from carefully maintained blocks in vineyards, and place an extremely focused attention to every aspect of growing, sorting, and producing, hand-sorting everything to ensure only the best quality grapes pass through their hands and into the final product. They’re one of the few wineries in the region that uses a “Le Trieur” sorting machine that removes individual grapes from the clusters and each member of the staff works the line to ensure that only the most ripe grapes make the cut.
Zinfandel fans will enjoy their Maple Vineyards and Forchini Zinfandel, both of which offer more acidity and complex flavors than most one-dimensional examples of this varietal. Their Sauvignon Blanc is truly spectacular as well, with a brilliant white color that could more easily be defined using a diamond clarity scale. The Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc each display unique depth and balance. And to my surprise, they produced a great Petit Verdot, which is a grape that’s hardly produced as a designated varietal as it’s usually reserved for blending. While their prices are not cheap (the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon we bought was $90), they are fair, given the overall quality. Plus, these wines are not widely distributed, and can only be purchased direct from the winery. In general, you can expect to pay an average of $50-60 for most bottles.
Visitors have two choices for tasting. They can opt for a classic tasting of five wines at the main tasting bar or head into the reserve room for a sample of five of their more exclusive, extremely limited offerings.
Alternatively, guests can do a sit-down tasting and food pairing in the reserve room on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We opted for the wine and food pairing, which provided a lengthy and highly education experience.
While most people are vaguely aware of which wines pair with certain types of food, they probably don’t understand much beyond the basic principles. We came away from this food and wine pairing with a completely new perspective and understanding of how flavors in wine and food can be enhanced in both directions. For example, the Maple Vineyards Zinfandel was paired with a caggiano smoked pork/duck sausage with red onion confit. Our host, Summer Jeffus, explained how the sausage would enhance and lengthen the smoky backbone of the Zin, and sure enoug,h it was true. Each example provided a similar revelation, and really helped us experience the ways that food and wine can share and highlight flavors in one another.
With hundreds of wineries stretching in all directions, it’s not hard to find great wines in Northern California. But when you go wine tasting, the overall experience matters most, and you’ll remember the stories, settings, and people as much as the wines you try. At Lambert Bridge, these aspects coalesce perfectly to culminate in a truly memorable visit. There’s a sense of originality and unpretentious California style, exhibited by the classic truck parked out front, the vintage silverware used for the food pairings, staff that truly cares about your experience, and vaulted wood ceilings in a candlelit tasting room.
As a final note, I highly recommend bringing a picnic to enjoy on the expansive grounds that surround their property. They have a great array of gardens and picnic tables where guests can continue to enjoy the day, soaking up the warm sun or retreating under a gazebo in the shade.