Williamson Wines – A food and wine pairing’s casual elegance and sophistication

Williamson Wines’ tasting room is delivering a little ‘down under’ panache to downtown Healdsburg, Ca.

At their table, sip world-class wine, sample flavorsome morsels and chat one-on-one with the winemaker. Embraced by the tones of home, guests receive one of the most enlightening tasting experiences this side of Dry Creek Valley.

Aussie owners, Bill and Dawn Williamson, are keenly focused on the alchemy of food and wine. Taking a “from the pantry” approach, they recognize how the flavor of everyday cuisine truly enhances the savoring of vino. “I’ve had over 30 years of personal experience with food and wine,” said. “Just look at me.”

With a myriad of awards under their belt including regional gold medals for Merlot and Chardonnay, Williamson has received serious accolades.

“I believe quality wines should accomplish three things,” said Bill. “First, be beautiful. Secondly, extract flavor from food that wouldn’t be present if the wine wasn’t there. Thirdly, it should induce social intercourse,” he said.

Gathered at a private dining table in their cozy tasting room, Williamson pleasantly introduces his wines and explains on how they pair with the petite, flavorful tapas prepared by wife, Dawn. “You don’t need to have Wolfgang Puck prepare you dinner so you can enjoy a bottle of wine,” he chuckles.

They begin with the ’04 Chardonnay mated with Dukkh, a blend of six nuts and spices on an endive leaf. The presentation is simple, but the dish subtly enhances the oak in this rich white.

Next, the ’04 Pinot Noir Rosé captures aromatics of wild strawberry, hints of juicy watermelon mid-palate and allows light spice to linger. This beauty is met with a generous slice of roasted duck topped with a hoisin sauce. The duck’s fattiness softens the spice while the hoisin’s plum essence and the Pinot’s red fruit shine together.

The ’04 Merlot, the flagship, greets with bold notes of cranberry and dark cherry while exiting with a soft, luscious tannin structure. When paired with a rich, chocolate brownie, the tannins cleanse away the fats allowing the cocoa to intensify. The generous tasting extravaganza also includes a visit to a Meritage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cuvée.

Soon after the couple sold their technology firm in San Francisco, they searched for their place under the sun in Wine Country. “I could see the global wine industry maturing and realized great individual wines would in demand,” Bill said.

The Williamson’s searched high and low for the vineyard they now call ‘home’. “I was looking for somewhere to grow Bordeaux grapes,” Bill recalls. A Sunday drive changed everything. “We wanted to see where Perry Mason lived, so we drove up to Raymond Burr Vineyards in Dry Creek. As we reached the benchland, I stopped the car and looked out. I said to my wife, ‘Look at this valley, it’s perfect!” he reminisces.

Soon after purchasing 20 acres of Dry Creek Valley property, they fine-tuned their focus on growing Chardonnay and Merlot. “My wife and I bought 150 Merlots and tasted them privately to identify what we liked. My target was Duckhorn’s Howell Mountain Merlot. In ’02, my Merlot was entered into Wine Spectator’s Merlot shootout and beat Duckhorn. The apprentice had surpassed the mentor,” Bill states. “That gave us the confidence to move forward more daringly,” he continues.

Bill Williamson’s first thrust to a major stake in Dry Creek winemaking began with his vineyard’s soil.

With a hired team, he developed a blend of natural nutrients to add to the soil. Further, Williamson invented the Dipple Stick, a device resembling a pogo stick with a 3 foot spike on one end used to permeate the soil with nutrients. After digging 10,000 holes, “We changed the soil chemistry. So now I have Bordeaux grapes growing on a river flat thinking they are on the side of a volcano,” he boasts.

For all of the chemistry in the vineyard, when it comes to making the wine, Bill practices non-intrusive methods. “God already made grapes perfect. The least we do in the wine making process the better,” he remarks.

Certainly, Williamson’s innovative methods in the vineyard paired with their hospitality in the tasting room equals an unparalleled experience in wine country.

By James C. Claus
Copyright 2008 Artisan Wine Tours, LLC

Williamson Wines tasting room is located at 134 Matheson Street, near the town square, Healdsburg, CA. You are welcome to walk in for a tasting. Food and wine pairings are by appointment. Artisan Tours invites your comments on the experience. Phone: 707 473-0193