Sitting on the shaded porch of the Cline Cellars tasting room, an 1850s farmhouse, and looking out on the lush grounds and vineyards, it’s hard not to fall in love with Cline even before you taste the wines. The historic property was once the site of a Miwok Village and the first camp of the Sonoma Mission. A short walk from the main building on the Cline property is the California Missions Museum, a treasure trove of information about the Spanish missions built along California’s El Camino Real that includes mission models that were built for the 1939 World’s Fair at Treasure Island, as well as mission paintings, stained-glass panels and more historic relics.
Since 2000, Cline Cellars has been farming its grapes the “Green String” way (based on Petaluma’s Green String Farm methods): naturally and sustainably, avoiding commonly used chemical pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. Instead, Cline employs the use of organic cover crops, compost teas, crushed volcanic rock and oyster shell, natural mined sulfur and sheep grazing. Which is all fine and dandy—but what about the wines?
One of the things I like best about Cline Cellars wines is that I can afford them. Cline specializes in Rhone-style varietals, stemming from when Fred Cline decided to buck the Cali-Cabernet trend, realizing that “magnificent old vines were in my own backyard,” referring primarily to the old-vine Zinfandel there. And, Zinfandel is what put Cline on the map. Today, however, Cline has branched out and also produces Viognier, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Mourvedre, and Carignane as well as blends that incorporate Marsanne and Roussanne. It’s definitely a great place to Rhone.
Although there are Cline offerings that Utah doesn’t carry—mostly special bottling available only to Cline’s club members—there is a nice array of Cline wines here. During a lengthy wine tasting at Cline Cellars, I got to taste ’em all, although about halfway through I had to take a break to wander the grounds to visit with the vineyard donkeys, Fancy and Pudding, and take in the gardens and ponds (watch out for mud sharks!).
Some highlights: Four Whites ($8.75) is a refreshing, floral and fragrant blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Palomino, Malvasia Bianca and Viognier—a lovely picnic wine with stone fruit and mango nuances. Five Reds ($8.75) is Cline’s Rhone red blend, made with Merlot, Zin, Barbera, Alicante Bouschet and Petite Syrah—lots of berry flavors; a dependable hamburger wine. Cline’s cornerstone California Zinfandel ($11.95) can frequently be found on sale for $8.95 and is a solid, everyday house Zin with well-balanced tannins and fruit. A step up in price is Ancient Vines Zinfandel ($13.99), with black fruit that explodes on the palate, from vines 80 to 100 years old. One of my faves from the tasting was Big Break Zinfandel ($19.99), a robust Zin—full-bodied, powerful, spicy and just a little bit macho; not for the timid, this one. For a break from Zinfandel, you might want to consider Ancient Vines Carignane ($13.99), a nice, all-purpose table red that pairs nicely with grilled meats, spaghetti and meatballs and pizza. And, if you can find it, get yer mitts around a bottle of Heritage Zinfandel ($34), aka sex in a bottle.