Susan Arbios, a former archaeologist transplanted to Healdsburg, had no intention of ever being in the wine business nor did she ever dream about scuba diving and could have cared less about marriage. Then she met Bill Arbios and now is a married, scuba-diving vintner. Life changes when you least expect it and Susan’s was never the same after a magnum of Lyeth wine, bought at the annual Geyserville Alexander Valley School spaghetti dinner, was being poured at another event and got Susan introduced to the winemaker, Bill Arbios.
William “Bill” Arbios has always been making wine although his path in college started in veterinary medicine at UC Davis. One summer in a vet’s office had him checking other course offerings at Davis and, as luck would have it, the nation’s top veterinary university is also the top winemaking school. So Bill learned the chemistry of wine instead of animals and has spent thirty years perfecting the elegance of winemaking and carved out a niche in winery design as well.
Introduced by mutual friends at this local fundraiser, Susan and Bill aligned to make truly elegant Cabernet Sauvignon wines under their Arbios label and soon developed Praxis Wines for other varietals Bill wanted to work with. Praxis means “to practice” and raising Bill’s three boys in Healdsburg and launching a family winery took as much patience as practice. Their wines are now sought after in Locals tasting room and are distributed in fifteen states across the country.
Bill’s background includes stints being mentored out of college by Lee Stewart at Chateau Souverain, an incredible place to start. He then went on in the 70s to excel in both vineyard management and winery design including building Alexander Valley’s Fieldstone. Here the 6’ 3” Arbios built counters that suited him but the next winemaker, at 5 feet three inches, had to have a stepstool built throughout just to reach them. Design and winemaking projects followed at William Wheeler and Lyeth wineries.
During his tenure at Lyeth, Bill rose to winemaker and vice president and pioneered Bordeaux-style or “Meritage” blends which started the movement toward these French blends in Northern California. In 1993, while at Lyeth, Bill decided to purchase fruit from an existing Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the Pine Mountain area of far Northern Alexander Valley. Here, at 1600 feet, hillside vineyards stress these vines only visited by wild boar and mountain lions when not being pruned or picked. And this rare climate shows in the elegance of the Arbios finished wines. Sixteen years later, Bill and Susan cultivated their own Pine Mountain vineyard and that Cabernet Sauvignon fruit goes into their current releases. Some of those wild boars have made their way into Bill’s sausage that may be their most sought-after release among friends.
At Locals, try the 2012 Arbios Cabernet Sauvignon from this gorgeous vineyard and taste the refinement in the wine from three years in French oak and at least a year in the bottle. Speaking of the bottle, it is labeled with 24 karat gold and is stunning in presentation. The wine is beautiful now with its deep currant and cherry nose with leather and cedar aromas followed by flavors of deep berry, cherry and spice. The finish is long and elegant and at $35 for a single vineyard estate wine of this caliber, the Arbios Cab is a steal and will continue to develop for years to come. If you are lucky, Locals will have the 2006 Arbios Cab open to taste, purchase and get a glimpse of the future for these lovely estate wines.
The Praxis line of wines starts with a spectacular and fruity Rose of Pinot Noir that has more structure and body than most roses while remaining refreshing and bright. This Sonoma Coast vineyard just 30 feet north of the San Francisco Bay also provides the fruit for Praxis’ Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that is an excellent value for this area at only $25. Bright fruit and balance with a long finish make this Pinot Noir perfect for food but excellent on its own as well.
The Praxis Viognier is one that Bill likes for its freshness and complexity in a white wine round and balanced yet retaining acidity. This Viognier is fermented in all stainless steel and has the tropical fruit and white flower notes the grape is known for but is not overly floral. Also a great value at $21.
Bill and Susan know that Merlot has had its fair share of turmoil but well-made Merlots have never dwindled in popularity and Praxis Merlot is an excellent example of Bordeaux fruit captured in an elegant California style. Beautiful with its cherry cola aromas and flavors, Praxis Merlot comes from a small vineyard in Alexander Valley that is meticulously maintained and it shows in the wine.
And the finale to the wines of Praxis is the very rarely seen, or tasted, Lagrein. An Italian varietal that Bill and Susan discovered on a trip to the Austrian Alps area of Italy where Susan wanted to see the mummified remains of Otzi, Lagrein is a local favorite that was grown in only one area of California. Bill found that vineyard and became one of the first winemakers to produce Lagrein in the state. A deep purple wine, the Praxis Lagrein has aromas of bing cherry and roses and flavors of pomegranate and cherry with a finish of dark chocolate. This is the perfect wine to finish tasting the Arbios and Praxis wines at Locals Tasting Room. Unique and well-made can be said for this exotic varietal as well as all of Susan and Bill Arbios’ wines.
Interview by Barbara Barrielle