Consider This Wine: 2004 Stony Hill Gewurztraminer

The name "Gewurztraminer" is one of those unfortunate Germanic concoctions that most English speaking Americans just can’t get their tongue around. And it’s a shame. Had the name of this grape been something more accommodating to the Anglo palate, perhaps something like "Spiceonnay" you can bet it would be far more popular among American wine drinkers than it is.

Because what’s not to like? Here is a grape that lends itself to a variety of winemaking styles. It can become a richly sweet dessert wine, a slightly sweet wine, a wine with a rich body a wine that explores the delights of bone dry austerity. It’s a wine with an aromatic profile that is hard to resist, often delivering spicy, floral near-exotic aromas. Bottom Line: Gewurztraminer is a grape that it’s easy to get behind.

But then….there’s that name.

The Traminer variety of grape is an ancient one believed to be developed in the Tyrol region of Italy in the Middle Ages. A particular clone of the Traminer that imparts the spicy aromas and flavors that we recognize today was developed or discovered in the sometime in the 19th century. Gewurz means "spicy".

04stonhillgewurzThe most celebrated Gewurztraminers are those raised in the Alsace region of France. My recent bottle of 2004 Stony Hill Napa Valley Gewurztraminer clearly takes the Alsatian model as its inspiration.

It’s interesting to see Stony Hill Vineyards take anything as its inspiration since this trailblazing winery is usually the inspiration for the optimistic vintner that thinks they will buck the trend of BIG wine and produce something different, something unusual, something more elegant and defined…something very "Stony Hill."

Stony Hill is one of the original cult wineries. Beginning back in the 1950s, the winery produced citrus-driven, angular, packed tight Chardonnay from a hillside that beckoned supports of American wine that wanted something that might age like Burgundian white. And they got it. Year after year Stony Hill sold out their eclectic chard to a dedicated group of consumers, retailers and restaurateurs who were committed to purchasing the wine every year.

I was late to the party having tasted my first Stony Hill Chard around 1999. However, what I tasted was a ten year old Chard that was unlike any other version of this wine I’d been drinking. It kicked out muted lemon, grapefruit and peach aromas, along with a hint of caramel. It was still filled with acid and backbone. It was unlike anything else I’d been drinking. So I bit and went on a search for well aged Stony Hill Chards.

Most of the wines I acquired came via auction houses. Others from collectors I’d been put in contact with. Some were as protective of the wine as they were willing to sell it. One, whom I met in the parking lot of a run down hotel in Santa Rosa, CA as they were traveling north from San Jose to Oregon, actually got out of the car, walked over to me, asked "Are you Tom"? I nodded. "I’ve got your stuff." I instinctively looked around hoping not to be busted for trafficking in…..something. After we made the exchanged, the gentleman said to me, "take good care of them."


I currently have the Stony Hill Chardonnay vertical going back to 1971.

Why anyone, let alone Stony Hill, would choose to make Gewurztraminer is beyond me. The prices for he wine rarely get above $15. Few people buy them. The grapes are hard to find. And you are forced to explain the wine. Why not just make more Cab or Chard?  The Stony Hill crowd make their marketing mistake early on. They first planted Gewurztraminer in 1949. There was probably more planted in CA then than today.

I picked up my bottle of 2004 Gewurztraminer at Taylor & Norton in Sonoma. It was just sitting there, in a box yet to be shelved. Greg Taylor saw me eying it. He didn’t have to sell. You don’t see much of this stuff around. They only make about 180 cases. They don’t have to sell it either. People come and get it.

You don’t want to drink this wine all too cold. If you do, the subtle apricot, white peach and lemon aromas won’t lift out of the glass too well. You want to let it warm up a bit. Something just south of room temperature was perfect. This wine is bone dry. No sugar. No sweets. The acids are prominent. And the alcohol is about 11%. Perfect.

We happily drank the whole bottle with popcorn and one of the most overlooked Spielberg movies, Amistad (great cast). The austere quality of the wine and its acids helped wash down the butter on the popcorn the same way hot water drives the soap on one’s hands.

There are not more than about 1500 acres of Gewurztraminer planted in California and a whole lot of it goes into cheap, sweet $10 bottles. Stony Hill’s is among the great Gewurztraminers along with Thomas Fogerty, Navarro, Handley, Bucklin and a few others. It’s not hard to do a survey of the better Gewurztraminers in the world. You need to start in Alsace. But after that you can pull a few bottles from California, Germany and a few other locales. It’s actually kind of nice to be able an international survey of the best of a type in such an easy and efficient fashion.

The wine was released in September. So, do your search and you can probably find some here or there. Or go through the winery.

"Spiceonnay"??  Probably not.


2 Responses

  1. Terry Hughes - November 18, 2005

    Spiceonnay is waiting for someone to pick it up and run with it. What a great coinage!

  2. Bradley - November 21, 2005

    Come a little farther north (Okanagan Vallery) and see the Gew in fine form. Every second winery here makes a Gew and the results are very pleasant. I am making a dry and and an off dry for a start-up coincidentally named Stone Mountain. Ready by March or so.

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