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Humboldt Terroir

A stellar Moonstone Crossing wine

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A stellar Moonstone Crossing wine.
  • A stellar Moonstone Crossing wine.

Nebbiolo. Oh, I'm beginning to get it -- how humankind, for centuries, has been moved to wax poetic about certain wines. Why Jesus turned water into wine. Why, for thousands of years, Jews have ushered in the Sabbath each week by praising the Creator for the fruit of the vine.

Nebbiolo. Moonstone Crossing Nebbiolo. Nectar of the gods and goddesses.

Nebbiolo, drunk by Pliny the Elder and hailed throughout the Roman Empire for its exceptional quality as far back as 1235 C.E. You gotta love the Italians. Grow foods where you live. Cook. Eat. Slowly. Enjoy your family and friends at dinnertime. Drink good wine. Enjoy life.

In this tradition, Sharon Hanks and Don Bremm, owners of Moonstone Crossing winery, have made a truly wondrous wine. Nebbiolo hails from the Piedmont region of Italy, made from grapes grown there. It is widely believed to be the only soil and climate -- the only terroir in the world -- where these grapes can be grown, harvested and urged into such exquisite libation.

(The concept of terroir developed through centuries of French winemaking based on observation of what made wines from different regions unique. The French began to crystallize the concept of terroir as a way of describing the aspects of a place that influences and shapes the wine made there.)

Although cold, wet fog is not good for growing grapes, our climate is perfect for making wine, as Humboldt's 25 independent wineries will attest. With select grapes hailing from small hillside vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Amador counties and the wine made right down the road, Moonstone wines are pretty darn local.

When traveling to the town of Barolo in the Piedmont region of Italy, Hanks and Bremm gave a bottle of their Barbera to a local enologist. He was so impressed, when he came to America a year later, he made a stop in Humboldt and sampled Moonstone's Nebbiolo, made from grapes grown in Amador County in the foothills of the Sierras. Upon tasting it he proclaimed, "Zis iz impossible!!"

Lucky for us, it is quite possible here on the Northcoast. Available exclusively in the tasting room, Moonstone Crossing's crown jewel, their 2004 Nebbiolo, was awarded the Gold Medal at the 2009 Fingerlakes International Wine Competition in New York.

My first sip, poured graciously by Sharon, in Moonstone Crossing's recently opened tasting room in the former Trinidad Museum, filled my senses with a moment of sublime delight. Rich and smooth, I detected a slight bite that slowly melted, allowing subtle, tingly flavors to emerge. Sharon's description of tannins that continually mellow as the wine ages, exactly matched what was delightfully going on in my mouth.

Yes, this is a $30 bottle of wine. Way out of my usual wine buying price range, Nebbiolo proved an experience that changed my attitude toward my pocketbook. Quality not quantity is my motto, as I further my commitment to buying locally.

What makes one wine cost more than the rest, beyond the varying cost of the grapes? Bremm explained, as we eased into comfortable chairs (soon to be next to a fireplace), "Some grapes are more difficult to work with." The amount of time aging plays a role in the final product, along with the type of wood used in the barrels. Moonstone's red wines are all aged in French and American oak for 22 to 36 months before bottling, then aged an additional six months prior to their release.

The big question: How did you guys get to be so good at it?

It is a remarkably all-consuming craft. "The process is addicting, creating from raw materials, the joy of seeing things come to fruition," said Bremm, attributing their success to their relationship: "Sharon takes good care of me." Sharon assured that unless she was as passionate about winemaking as Don, they couldn't do it.

The devoted couple's passion began on trips to Europe tasting the wines of different regions, which led to learning winemaking by helping a winemaker friend make his many barrels of wine. After making way too much to drink themselves, it was time to get a license and go into business. What a business it is. Bremm built an entire winery on their property on the mouth of the Little River. The Moonstone Crossing label boasts an exhaustive 25 wines. Even with hours at their day jobs, this never-ending process has become the center of their lives.

After such an enchanting time speaking with the winemakers, I've been back to the tasting room twice to procure a bottle of Serenity (a $21 Silver Medal winner). A soft Rhone wine that lent itself to the acidity in my friend's lemon chicken, I had it later in the week with chile rellenos, seasoned with five spice, and made from Earth N Hands' ancho chilies, Loleta jack cheese, onions, barely red tomatoes and garlic, all from the farmer's market.

Another Gold Medal winner, the 2004 Dark As Night, a Bordeaux-style red wine, savors wonderfully with Drake's Glen dark chocolate or the 2005 Cabernet with Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog chevre. At around $20 dollars a bottle, usually at the very top of my "this is a very very, special occasion" price range, these wines have also stretched my priorities about what wines to buy and how much to spend. In these trying economic times, when many of us are wringing our hands over the bills, elegant wines are a miraculous way to brighten the dark and dreary days of winter almost upon us.

So, I'll drink less wine, and, sure, still buy a Crane Lake Sangiovese for a midweek dinner at home. But I will most certainly purchase a bottle or two of Nebbiolo a year to share on a special occasion, for example with a special meal prepared for special friends. Any dish made with a hearty red sauce and the usual Italian seasonings -- basil, garlic and oregano -- will complement this flavorful red wine.

Terroir can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place," embodied in the sum of the effects that the local environment on the manufacture of the product. Soil is often considered the main attribute of terroir, and vineyards in the adjoining counties where Bremm and Hanks select their grapes have proven perfect for the wines they painstakingly produce, but along with the magic of Humboldt's climate, the terroir also includes the terroir of their relationship. Taste the passion, the sunshine, fog, hard work, and love in each sip.

The complexities of a life lived can be compared to the complexities of a great wine. There's a seamlessness that mature, happy couples like Sharon and Don exude. Who they are and where we live has evolved into the seamless orgy of flavor sensations that goes on in your mouth when drinking a great wine.

Moonstone Crossing Tasting Room is at 529 Trinity St. in Trinidad. Normal hours are Fridays 2-6 p.m., weekends noon-6 p.m. and by appointment. The tasting room will be open Wednesday, Dec. 30, as well as New Year's Eve and New Year's Day from noon until 6 p.m.

Spinach Fettuccine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Basil and Olives

2 Tbls olive oil

1 cup sliced yellow onions

3 Tbls chopped garlic

1 1/2 cups sliced crimini mushrooms

1 cup red table wine

1 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes

3/4 cup tomato paste

3/4  cup tomato sauce

1 cup pitted, sliced salty olives (Henry's kalamatas are good)

4 Tbls chopped fresh basil

1 Tbl Balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 1/4 lbs fresh spinach fettuccine (the Co-op has Sergio's locally-made spinach fettuccine or use plain or garlic)

For garnish:

3/4 cup grated parmesean or Cyprss Grove Midnight Moon

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

optional 3 oz proscuitto, julienned

Open a bottle of Moonstone Crossing 2004 Nebbiolo and let it breathe while you cook.

In medium saucepan heat olive oil over medium heat

Add onions, saute briefly, then add garlic and mushrooms, cook 3 minutes more.

Add all other ingredients and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.

Season to taste.

Cook pasta for 3 to 5 minutes, al dente.

Divide noodles onto plates.

Spoon sauce over pasta.

Garnish.

Pour the wine.

Relish the meal.

Savor the terroir.

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