We have been visiting Sonoma Valley wine country for more than 15 years, long before AdVINEtures ever existed. And while we’re still a long way from getting to all the wineries in the region, nothing excites us more than a new discovery, which on our most recent trip was Comstock Wines.
Located just northwest of the town of Healdsburg in the Dry Creek Valley AVA, Comstock Wines’ inaugural vintage was 2012 but since the winery wasn’t set up yet, they had to custom crush elsewhere. In 2013, they broke ground on the winery and the first vintage was made there in 2015, the same year the tasting room opened.
While the winery itself is relatively new, the experience behind it is not. If ever there was a Renaissance couple, Bob and Sandy Comstock fit the profile. Both are world travellers, licensed pilots, and avid cyclists. More than fifteen years ago, they fell in love with Dry Creek Valley, purchased a home and became growers selling to the likes of Duckhorn Vineyards, Dutcher Crossing Winery, and Dry Creek Vineyards. Sandy made wine on the side and one night over the dinner table she & Bob decided to pull back some of the fruit contracts and start their own winery. Bob being a developer always had the vision of building from the ground up but the challenge was finding the right property. After a several years of searching and with the help of 11 investors made up of family and friends, they purchased the vineyard that is now home to Comstock Wines. But not just any vineyard, the 17 planted acres at the property include 116-year-old Zinfandel vines as well as several other varieties with many vines averaging 60 years old. The winery’s 17 acres combined with 22 acres at Bob and Sandy’s ranch 6 miles up the road provide all the fruit for Comstock Wines.
Winemaker Chris Russi also brings with him a wealth of experience having initially started in vineyard management prior to pursuing the winemaking side working at Geyser Peak Winery, Christopher Creek Winery, and Thomas George Estates, before being named winemaker at Comstock Wines. He joined the winery from the very beginning which meant he helped choose the equipment and provided input for a winery that was deliberately being built with expansion in mind. The winery currently produces 6,000 cases but has the capacity to produce 35,000 cases. The plan is for Comstock Wines to produce about 10,000 cases per year while using the balance of the capacity to do custom crush for other facilities (this year they are working with 8 such facilities).
The backbone of the Comstock operation is Zinfandel and this relatively small producer makes no less than four different ones: a Dry Creek blend (100% Zinfandel), an old vine Zinfandel from the 116-year-old vines at the front of the property, a Zinfandel from the Rockpile Vineyard, and one more from the old vines planted at Chris’ home in the Russian River Valley. They also produce a Sauvignon Blanc from Bob & Sandy’s vineyard, a Viognier from Russian River, a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon. With about 100 olive trees on the property not far from the 116-year-old vines, Comstock also harvests olive oil from both Spanish and Greek cultivars.
Hospitality Director Tracy Fabro BidiaWhat’s immediately clear when you arrive at Comstock Wines is that you are welcome. Hospitality Director Tracy Fabro Bidia greeted us with an infectious smile and a genuine warmth that instantly made us feel as though we could spend the rest of the afternoon there without being hurried out the door. She explained to us that being hospitable isn’t just about inviting people to come and taste their wines, they firmly believe that a visitor’s experience at the winery is the final step in their winemaking process, “We are all in the same business, it’s called hospitality.”
The tasting room itself is large and inviting with lots of natural light pouring through the windows that look out over the vineyards. The interior is contemporary without feeling cold, dominated by red feature walls with black trim and a long curving tasting bar leading you to a fireplace at the far end. Outside there is plenty of comfortable seating as well as picnic tables, a Mugnani woodfired oven, and a bocce court. This is a place that has been built to bring people together and they have a myriad of ways to prove it. Wine and cheese pairings, breakfast pairings, wine/pizza/bocce nights, outdoor picnics, and blending seminars are just a few of the ways a visitor can experience Comstock’s offerings. They even started doing “Yoga in the Vines” but had to discontinue when the county forced them to stop due to their permit not allowing that type of use! A shame for those interested in a truly unique practice but it won’t stop them from continuing to come up with new and innovative ways to bring people together over wine.
The Residence sits in the middle of the property amongst the vines and if you’re lucky enough to stay there you won’t be disappointed. Perfect for a small group getaway, as a place to host a special milestone, or as a corporate retreat, it is a spectacular accommodation that will likely force you to cancel dinner plans just so you can maximize your time enjoying its ultra-premium comfort.
It’s been a challenging year for the region with the recent wildfires that swept through large parts of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Although the Geyserville pocket fire came within 20 miles of Comstock, they managed to come through the disaster unscathed. All their fruit had been harvested prior to the fires but they saw 600 less visitors in October versus last year. As a small production winery that sells 100% direct to consumer, that alone could be devastating. But they are acutely aware that many of their friends and neighbours were not so lucky and instead consider it a part of their duty to help support their community in this time of need. For example, 100% of the profits from their 2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel will be going directly to those affected by the wildfires.
Discovering Comstock Wines was just the affirmation needed to confidently tell the wine world that not only is Sonoma open for business, wineries like Comstock continue to push the envelope both in terms of producing quality wine along with providing a quality experience. This is a winery to watch and one that deserves to be around for a very long time. We’ll definitely be making it a regular stop on future visits.
2015 Russian River Valley Viognier
Apricots and peaches form the nose of this very aromatic white. They follow on to the palate which is medium+ in body, full and textured without becoming unctuous. There is enough acidity to balance the body which makes this a lovely summer sipper. We can imagine it pairing nicely with white meats and fish too!
Very Good (US $42 at their tasting room)
2016 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Lemon and lime notes get added complexity from the hints of mineral and cut grass. Medium body and medium acidity work together to create good balance. The juicy finish quenches your thirst while the body reveals it would pair nicely with an array of foods. More French in style than New Zealand, we are becoming increasingly fond of how California expresses this grape variety.
Very Good + (US $28 at their tasting room)
2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Fuller in body this clearly shows its California roots. Nicely balanced, the acidity on the back end is a good match for the body and the slightly rich texture. Notes of white peaches and apple mix with wet stones. We are glad to see more Sonoma wineries returning to this bolder style of Chardonnay; it is what the region does so well.
Very Good + (US $50 at their tasting room)
2014 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
This is a Zinfandel-lovers Zinfandel. It has all of the classic traits of the great Zins: Forward with blackberry and boysenberry with pepper and spice on the finish. The texture is rich and it shows a lot of body. Long finish that stays in your mouth for over half a minute. This would be an ideal pairing for grilled Tri-tip.
Excellent (US $42 at their tasting room)