WHAT: History is important at a place like Simi, which has been making wine continuously in the same place since 1890. But they make their reputation every year by producing high quality wine.
Simi produces outstanding wine from five estate vineyards and from other vineyards throughout Sonoma County. They are most famous for cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but they are not limited to those two.
While so many of their wines are excellent, the Reserve Chardonnay is really something special, a stunning wine. It is a light straw yellow in the glass, with powerful aromas of lime zest, green apples and stone fruit, with some floral notes. Melon and Granny Smith apple flavors mix with vanilla and smoke. The smooth finish has a touch of minerality.
The mouthfeel is lush, rich and full of complex flavors that keep unfolding as the wine opens. Chill the wine before serving, but let it warm up for 10-15 minutes before drinking, to allow the flavors to release.
All of the grapes come from the Russian River Valley, well known for producing outstanding chardonnay and pinot noir because of its ideal soil and climate.
Most of the fruit (52 percent) comes from Simi’s Goldfields estate. The rest of the grapes sere bought from neighboring Dutton family and Tillbury vineyard, farmed by the Dutton family. Some of the vines used to make this chardonnay are 25 years old.
The 2013 vintage was another outstanding year in California, especially for white wines. A cool, wet spring extended the growing season and kept the grapes on the vine for a long time.
The grapes were hand harvested and whole-cluster pressed to preserve the pure fruit flavors from the field. All the wine was barrel fermented, followed by malolactic fermentation for 80 percent of the wine. That added richness and creaminess to the wine. The wine was aged for 11 months in burgundian oak barrels, 35 percent new and 65 percent one year old.
WINERY: In 1849, Giuseppe Simi left the hills of Tuscany to find his fortune in the gold fields of California. When that didn’t work out they started selling fruit in San Francisco.
Then in 1876 he and his brother Pietro made their first wine from Sonoma County grapes. The family has been making wine in the same cellar in Healdsburg since 1890.
When both brothers died of the Spanish flu in 1904, Giuseppe’s daughter Isabelle took over management at the age of 18. When Prohibition began in 1920, Isabelle sold all her vineyards, but kept the cellared wine. Simi continued to make some wine for medicinal and sacramental purposes.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Simi was ready with 500,000 cases of perfectly aged wines.
The first retail outlet and tasting room was built in 1934 from a 25,000-gallon cask placed in front of the winery’s stone cellars.
When Isabelle retired in 1970, she sold the winery to Russell Green, who had been a grape grower in Alexander Valley. Mary Ann Graf became Simi’s winemaker in 1973 after being the country’s first woman enology graduate. In 1979, Zelma Long joined the winery and directed a major renovation of the winery’s fermentation and barrel rooms.
The tradition of female winemakers continues today with Susan Lueker, director of winemaking, and Lisa Evich, winemaker. Tom Gore is the vineyard director.
They have added vineyards in Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley. In 1990, the winery added a new hospitality center to replace the cask tasting room.
Simi makes a variety of wines at all price levels, including limited production wines available only at the winery. All of their wines are designed to pair well with food. This year they are celebrating their 135th anniversary of continuous operation as a winery.
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I had this with a special grilled chicken, and it was a grand pairing. The wine was smooth and brought out the delicate flavors of the chicken that had been cooked for more than two hours over a low heat.
I helped GRU Athletic Director Clint Bryant cook the chicken leg quarters, ribs and sausages for his athletes when they returned to campus last week. I love cooking with Clint because I always learn something.
He liberally sprinkles Morton Nature’s Seasons over the chicken, and we cook it on a large grill at about 250 degrees over direct heat. Every 45 minutes to an hour we would spray or mop on the mop sauce. I don’t want to give away Clint’s sauce, but it’s mostly apple cider vinegar and Nature’s Seasons. We turned the leg quarters over a couple of times to make sure they got good and brown on both sides.
The chicken always comes out tender and full of flavor, the meat falling off the bone. It is so good I don’t even put barbecue sauce on it, which I do most of the time when I cook chicken on the grill. For helping, Clint gave me some quarters to take home for one of our no-cook midweek dinners.
The wine also would go well with seared scallops, seared halibut with warm herb vinaigrette or lobster bisque.