Toasted Head: Wines Ablaze

toasted490.jpgThe Toasted Head winery, tucked away since 1995 in northwestern Yolo County, is far from the well-beaten tourist paths of Napa, but its vintners, who have a penchant for irreverence, like it that way. Rather than investing in a flashy Napa Valley-style monument, they set up their collection of over 20,000 oak barrels in simple, barn-like buildings overlooking the picturesque wheat fields and grapevines of Dunnigan Hills' rustic landscape. The winery produces eight award-winning wines, including a trio that makes up their new Barrel Reserve series.

The brand is named for the age-old practice of toasting barrel heads, which lends a rich, toasted flavor to the wines. The mysterious fire-breathing bear who appears on Toasted Head labels was inspired by a drawing created by Robert Shetterly for a William Carpenter poem entitled "Speaking Fire at Stones." The poem reads: "Every one of these stones contains a bear. You just have to burn it free," which, metaphorically speaking, is probably how Toasted Head's winemakers Barry Bergman, Owen Smith and Blake Kuhn see their job.

The tasting room is open five days a week, and the winery hosts special events throughout the year, among them "Toasted Head Cooking School," where chefs show participants ways to prepare local produce (Yolo County is home to California's greatest concentration of organic farmers) and which wines to pair with their meals.

In March 2009, Moleskine reporter notebooks were sent to journalists across the country, donning a paper band, positioned vertically, like a wine label, featuring the Toasted Head name and its trademark bear. The bear appears twice more, debossed on the cover, and on the front of a postcard included inside the notebook. The card tells the story of the Toasted Head winery and its commitment to superior, artful winemaking, and encourages recipients to record their thoughts as they spend a few moments with the label's new collection of Barrel Reserve wines. "As journalists well-versed in the art of painting with words," it says, "we hope that a few sips of Toasted Head's Barrel Reserve Wines will inspire you to capture your immediate reflections within the pages of your own Moleskine notebook."