The new Tasting Room

With the grand opening of the Michael-Bernard Tasting and Hospitality Center in Healdsburg last week, visitors got a taste of family-owned winemaking style.

But more accurately, the new destination is owned by two families, across multiple levels. And it makes an interesting snapshot of independent winemakers in the year 2010: how they can make a dramatic impact even against the larger brands that are so increasingly common across Sonoma.

Owners Mike Kuimelis and Bernie Orsi have introduced their collaborative concept, of three generations of families joining together for multiple labels in one setting: Michael-Bernard, Mantra, Mobius, Prophet, Orsi Papale, Orsianna and Lazy Monkey.

More than just a tasting room, it’s an entire center, staged in a preserved Craftsman-style house built in the 1920s, on the 20-acre Michael-Bernard estate vineyard on Westside and West Dry Creek roads. Guests gather in comfy red armchairs around a fireplace while they sip, or lounge on the wrap-around deck overlooking the vines, directly across from the new Davero Farms olive oil tasting facility.

Just a few of the wines

If it is a small operation, Kuimelis and Orsi are packing a lot into the experience. About a dozen wines are offered, all made from grapes grown in the estate vineyards, which include properties across Sonoma County.

They’re also drawing from a long history of friendship and working together. The two met fifty years ago, as college freshmen near San Francisco. Kuimelis grew up in Kandela, Greece, a small village where every family is self-sufficient, producing its own wine, wheat, olives and cheese. Orsi is a first-generation Italian-American who grew up in San Pedro, California, helping his mother tend the family garden and working alongside his grandfather, making wine in the garage.

In 2009, Kuimelis and Orsi purchased their 20 acres in lower Dry Creek Valley, including its 90-year-old residence. The winery itself is in the planning stages, with construction beginning in 2011.

Yet the most interest comes from the wines themselves. To follow along, there’s a dual family tree on display, which details Kuimelis’ first vine planting in 1978, to Orsi’s introduction of his Orsi Papale label alongside partner and winemaker Lawrence Papale.

Sip and relax around the fireplace

Multiple relationships continue though the other wines – sons, daughters, in-laws and cousins work with various partners to present offshoot brands, with most wines themselves crafted in complex blends of multiple varietals. The Mantra, for example, marries two different Cabernet Sauvignons with two different Zinfandels, plus Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and a proprietary red grape.

Vineyards stretch like a Monopoly board, from Hopland and Cloverdale, to Guerneville, in a rainbow of varietals from Cabernet Sauvignon to Schiopettino.

If it gets confusing, then that should be celebrated, reflecting on the innovation of independents succeeding in an increasingly corporate winery landscape.

Details: Michael-Bernard, 779 Westside Road, Healdsburg. 707-433-2900. Tasting room open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tip: Celebrate your family owned winery experience with the convenience of chauffeuring by a family-owned car service. Pure Luxury Transportation can help you plan and enjoy an entire day enjoying Wine Country with no need for a designated driver; just ask the Pure Luxury concierge for destination recommendations.