We arrived at this historic winery on the outskirts of Healdsburg in the early afternoon and were greeted by the tasting room staff. Jan and Nadine were especially attentive and thoroughly knowledgeable about Simi’s history.
Simi Winery was established by brothers Giuseppe and Pietro Simi who emigrated from the hilltop town of Montepulciano in Tuscany in the 1850’s. They came to make their riches with the Gold Rush.
Arriving a little late, they settled in San Francisco and began making wine and selling fruits and vegetables to hotels and restaurants in the city. The rolling hills of Sonoma County reminded them so much of their Tuscan home that in the 1880’s they moved their wine making operations to Healdsburg and completed their first stone cellars built into the hillside at their current location along Healdsburg Ave. They called their winery the Montepulciano Winery.
The brothers continued to enlarge their winery and vineyard holdings until, tragically in 1904, they both died within four months of each other during a flu epidemic . Isabelle, Giuseppe’s daughter, took over management of the winery at age eighteen.
She continued that role for the next 66 years until at age 84 she sold the winery.
Of course the 14 years of prohibition created hardships and the sale of much of the family owned vineyards. At the end of prohibition, Isabella obtained a new license to operate and renamed the winery Simi in honor of her father and uncle. To their credit, Constellation Brands, who purchased Simi in 1999, has taken great pains to preserve and enhance this historic landmark.
While we waited for our 2PM tour to begin Nadine allowed us to sample some of the tasting room fare. We were not disappointed. We started with an ’09 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Aged 100% in oak is maintained a good deal of crispness and fruit flavor. We followed that with a 2009 Pinot Noir from Sonoma County fruit. Very round and supple with a nice fruit forward flavor. We next had a side by side by side of three Cabernet Sauvignon’s, all from Alexander Valley, and all very good. The ‘08 Landslide Cab had some rough edges when first poured but opened up beautifully after a few minutes in the glass. Of course, the just released ’06 Reserve Cab (100% Cabernet – 24 months in new French oak) was exceptional.
At 2pm, Jan took us on the tour and I was very impressed with the modern sophistication of the process and equipment used in crushing, fermenting and aging of the Simi wines. This is juxtaposed with the continued usage of traditional oak foudres and hand-made wines.
The 100 year-old original cellar is amazing in its stone construction (early Chinese laborers) and first cut oak floors.
The Constellation Brands wineries in the area (Ravenswood, Clos du Bois, Geyser Peak, et al) do all bottling and labeling at the large Clos du Bois facility in Geyserville.
At the end of this awesome tour, Jan took us to a private tasting room where we were seated and enjoyed several different wines starting with a 2010 Pinot Gris. This Russian River Valley white was crisp and floral having been in oak for 6 weeks and the balance in stainless steel.
Jan’s knowledge and passion for the wines and the winery were clearly on display as she articulately and warmly described each wine. She followed with a sweeter wine named Cuvee 1876 (in recognition of the establishment of the winery). A delightful 50-50 blend of Muscat and Gewürztraminer grapes which would go wonderfully with spicy asian dishes or with a cheese plate. We escaped with a couple of these as well. The third wine in the private tasting was the ’08 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. Very drinkable and different from many of the Dry Creek Valley Zins I have tasted. Finally, to complete our tasting Jan dazzled us with a ’08 Petite Sirah (100% PS) and it was another winner (we purchased a couple of those). Very smooth with a wonderful balance of fruit and tannins. A great wine with food at any meal!!
If this was all not enough, we were then ushered back to the outside Simi Landslide Terazzo for our wood oven fired pizzas. The Groupon allowed us an individual pizza each so I ordered the Forage which is a thin crust pizza with home-made sausage, mixed mushrooms and roasted onions. My photog wife ordered the Margarita and we shared a Caesar Salad. Of course, we ordered a glass of wine to accompany. I had the ’08 Petite Sirah mentioned above and I enjoyed it even more with this hearty Italian pizza. The ’07 Alexander Valley Cabernet accompanied the Margarita very nicely.
The prices for the items not included with the Groupon were very reasonable and I would recommend a visit to the Terazzo for a snack or lunch with wine anytime it is open. The menu with prices is accessible on their website. It truly brings authentic flavors of Italy to Sonoma County. Having just returned from two weeks in northern Italy we can attest to the authenticity of this claim. Simi’s Pizza Café is situated on their terrace, surrounded by towering redwoods and is now open Fridays 12 to 6pm and Saturdays 11am to 4pm. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!!
In Summary, despite the wide availability of Simi wines in local wine shops and supermarkets (over 400,000 case production annually) many of the wines we tasted are only available through their wine club or in the tasting room. Add the Landslide Terazzo to this equation and a personal visit to Simi Winery should most definitely be at the top of your list.