Monthly Archives: December 2012


Opening to Receive by Giving Thanks

A friend told me recently that she believes the best way to prepare one self for receiving good is to reflect on all the good you’ve received before. What a lovely idea. Here are some of my grateful moments from 2012. There are so many more I could just keep posting.

A trip to LA and Malibu included a wealth of incredible wine

In the early part of the year I was lucky enough to spend time with friends drinking utterly incredible wines, a lot of them favorites from older vintages. In Malibu a friend and I got to open this 1996 Bea. It was in the midst of a 1995 Chinon, a 1975 Pepe (both remarkable wines), Selosse Brut (so brilliant), and others, but the Bea took my heart and never gave it back. His wines are brilliant aged. What a treasure.

In Fall 2012 I closed my teaching career in philosophy

Fall 2011 became my last semester teaching philosophy in Arizona. I resigned in October 2011, but the last day of my contract was January 6, 2012. I stepped into the new year, then, finishing my teaching obligations, turning towards a whole new path. As grateful as I am for my time there, I am also grateful to be done. The biggest blessing came in my classes that final term being among the best I ever facilitated. The two sections of Intro to Ethics both had excellent students that helped me learn the material at a deeper level. What a gift. In Sci-Fi and Society (the other class I taught that term) we were all required to show up dressed as ourselves in alternate universe and then to remain in character through the entire class. I arrived as a Sci-Fi Writer’s Muse, a presence that helped inspire parts of the noble series Dr. Who.

Our sweet Briland opened my heart far more than I ever expected

Rachel, aka. Jr., asked for a hamster in 2011. I was resistant to the idea not wanting another live-thing to take care of. But Rachel was brilliant at helping Briland, her hamster, get comfortable so that he spent lots of time out of his cage playing, and eating treats beside both of us. He softened my heart in a way I didn’t realize it could. Dear Briland spawned a whole comic series, became the mascot of the local veterinary hospital, and made me appreciate the importance of life, no matter how small, in a way I never imagined until I met him. He died in the middle of 2012. I still miss him everyday.

The Rapuzzi family shared an incredible lunch with us

April 2012 included an 8 day tour of Colli Orientali del Friuli. The Rapuzzi family had our COF2012 group for lunch, sharing an incredible selection of their older wines. Thanks to them the world still has Schioppettino–Dina and Paolo Rapuzzi had a big hand in helping to preserve many of the varieties indigenous to Friuli and are credited with rediscovering and then saving Schioppettino.

We spent the first week of April in Friuli

A vineyard in Friuli

Serena and Cristian poured their first Schioppetino vertical for us

Serena and Cristian of Ronco del Gnemiz had us for a vertical tasting of their Schioppettino, explaining it was the first time they’d done so. They’re best known for their white wines, but their Schioppettino is some of my favorite. I am so grateful for our time with them.

Angela and Jason Osborne poured her first full vertical of Grace

In June, I met Steven Morgan of Tribeca Grill during a visit to New York City. He toured me through the impressive cellars of the restaurant and then opened a Schioppettino for us to share while we talked. After conversation about education, comics, superheroes, wine, friendship, and travel, he suggested I reach out to Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace, saying he thought I’d like her and her wine. That very night I emailed her. A week later she had my friend Katherine and I over for dinner with Angela, her lovely husband Jason, and the first full vertical tasting of Grace they’d hosted. We stayed for hours. Steven was right. I loved her, and her wine.

I returned to Naknek after a decade away

At the end of June, after a decade away, I returned to the waters of Naknek, Alaska where I grew up commercial fishing with my family–the area of Bristol Bay hosts the largest wild salmon run in the world, and one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. As Rachel does every year, she spent her summer there visiting cousins, her Grammie and Bobba, and her Aunties and Uncles. This photo shows five cousins–Oliver, Mari, and Rachel on the shore, Ecola and Ceara, my Auntee’s daughters in the water.

I didn't die eating oysters with Stephan Vivier

A couple of years ago I discovered a shellfish allergy by having a bad reaction to prawns. I didn’t know what other seafood I was allergic to, however, and so dealt with it by avoiding shellfish entirely. The reaction was too uncomfortable to risk it. In July, I met with Stephane Vivier to taste his Pinot Noir wines. We had a lovely time visiting. I loved his rose’ and Pinot, and thoroughly enjoyed our time. When he asked if we should have lunch and start with oysters I decided to risk it. My thought was–this entire experience is so lovely, if I do die by shellfish, I’d be quite sorry for Stephane, but such a happy time would be the perfect way to go. And if I don’t, it couldn’t be a better time to find out I can still eat oysters. It turns out I can still eat oysters. Vivier wine, then, restored one of my favorite foods to me. The experience has inspired me to go on since and test other shellfish too–it turns out I can eat crab (thank god!), and also scallops (thank god again!).

I spent my summer visiting some of the people I admire

I count myself deeply lucky. I have gotten to spend my time with some of the people I admire most in wine. Here from left: me, holding Ryan and Megan Glaab’s baby boy, Randall Grahm, George Vare, Abe Schoener

I lived for a month below the oldest vines in Willamette Valley

In July, I traveled to Willamette Valley, Oregon and was lucky enough to live for a month at the base of the oldest vines growing in the Willamette–Eyrie Vineyards South Block.

My sister charmed Jacques Lardiere

My sister traveled south to attend IPNC too and while there charmed Jacques Lardiere, the just-retired winemaker of Jadot. What a treat to meet him, and to concentrate hard enough to understand his talk on biodynamics.

My sister and I spent time tasting with Maggie Harrison

With Melanie flying from Alaska to attend IPNC I did what I could to schedule time after for us to also meet two of her favorite winemakers. We were able to have time with Maggie Harrison, of Antica Terra, and also Jason Lett, of Eyrie. Melanie told me after those two are like rock stars for her. I agree.

Fulgencio was generous enough to tell me his story

Someone asked me to pick the single most important event I lived this last year. That sort of question is a kind of metaphysical quandry I find almost impossible to answer. That said, the most moving experience I had was meeting Fulgencio, a vineyard worker in Oregon and then to have him trust me enough to share part of his life story with me. The experience was overwhelming. Then, as if listening to him hadn’t been moving enough, at the end he thanked me it, explaining it healed him to be able to share his story. To share in that kind of intimacy with someone, and to have it marked as life changing by both people… I can only explain the importance of such an experience by saying plainly it’s why I believe any of us are here. Such connections, in my experience, are the meaning of human life.

I spent the year following Ribolla from Friuli through California

One of the lucky projects of 2012 turned out to be following RIbolla Gialla from Friuli all the way back to California, its unlikely North American home. I love this grape. Following its story has also introduced me to a wealth of incredible people–George Vare, Dan Petroski, Steve Matthiasson, Ryan Glaab, Abe Schoener, Matthew Rorick, Robbie Meyers, Nathan Roberts, Chris Bowland, and others. Here the Vare Vineyard is being harvested by a crew directed by Steve Matthiasson.

Paul Draper took time to meet with me

Somehow this year included a wealth of visits with icons of wine, including a number of people that truly helped make American wine what it is today. Among them is Paul Draper. In September, Paul took the time to share several hours with me talking through his history and views of wine, as well as tasting the current wines for Ridge. I often joke that my parents are such intimidating people I am rarely intimidated. Paul Draper stands as such an important presence in the history of California wine, I have to admit I was utterly intimidated to go meet with him. That said, he is known for being down to earth, and quite generous in his willingness to share information and insight with people.

His dog is adorable

And he has an adorable dog.

Scientist Legend Carole Meredith, and her equally brilliant husband Stephen Lagier met with me

My final wine interview of 2012 was with two people I hold deep respect for. Carole Meredith is a genuine legend of science. Thanks to her we know the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gamay, and many others. She helped find the origin and originary plant of Zinfandel and Primitivo, thus also helping to boost the local economy of Croatia due to their increase in tourism since (I kid you not–Zinfandel originates from Croatia). Stephen Lagier, her husband, is equally brilliant with a history of having researched chemical changes in vines due to vineyard practices, then going on to a long career in winemaking. Together they now live on Mt Veeder where they grow and make their Lagier-Meredith wines.

I spent the holidays with family

Jr and I closed the year in Alaska. We were able to spend the Christmas holiday in Anchorage, where my parents, and the families of all three of their girls were together at Christmas for the first time since 2006. Christmas Eve we spent with our closest family friends, the Meyers. Here from left: me, my sister Paula, my sister Melanie, and Robyn Meyer–she grew up with us like a sister. Jr and I now spend the New Year holiday in Juneau with Melanie’s family.

Lots of love to everyone! I am so grateful for all that 2012 brought (including all the stuff that felt like total bullshit–hardships hold sometimes the deepest blessings), and more grateful we can now turn in to 2013. May we all be blessed. Amen.

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Most of my family lives in Alaska. My daughter Rachel and I are the only two that live ‘outside,’ as Alaskans call the rest of the United States. My sister Melanie though resides now in Juneau, in Southeast Alaska, with her family. With Alaska being a fifth of the size of the continental U.S., or, the same size as the province of Quebec (where Jr and I also lived for a time), travel from Anchorage to Juneau is significant. Most of the state is inaccessible by car. The point is, having all of us together–Mom and Dad, plus all three of their girls and their girls’ families, isn’t necessarily common. As a result, my mom makes sure we get family photos each time it happens, though she likes the photos taken as family sets. Here are ours from this year.

My dad is 71, and my mom 68. This year they will have been married 50 years. Over Christmas dinner my dad told us about how they spent their first Christmas dating apart and realized they missed each other. My parents had met at University in the center of the state, Fairbanks, but returned to their different family towns on the Western coast for the holidays. Fifty years ago remote Alaska didn’t easily celebrate phone technology. Most homes didn’t have one and villages might share one phone for all the residents. After the New Year they, as he put it, proposed to each other. My parents have been together since. It’s remarkable to think how much they’ve lived in those fifty years together. To talk to each other once during that first holiday apart my mom had to walk across the tundra to the one phone in her small town. Now they’ve raised a family that travels the world, returning regularly to all be together in the far North. Remarkable.


from left: Dad, Melanie’s girl Mari, Rachel (aka. Jr.), Paula’s girl Melissa, Melanie’s son Oliver, Mom, Paula’s girl Emily

Mom and Dad with their Girls

from left: Melanie, Me, Dad, Mom, Paula

Paula's family

Paula is the oldest of three girls. Her family: Melissa, now a student at NYU, Emily, age 8, Paula, husband Kevin

Melanie's family

Melanie is the middle of three girls. Her family: husband Tim, Oliver is 5, Mari is 11, Melanie

My family

Rachel Marie and I. I am the youngest.

Happy New Year, everyone! Rachel and I have flown from Anchorage to Juneau now to spend the New Year with Melanie’s family on this mountainous island that hosts the state capitol. It’s all mountains and water here. There is a lot of rain today but I’ll try to get photos while we’re here. Like most of the state, it’s a region of vast and dramatic, gorgeous landscape.

Lots of love to all of you. I’m spending the day today reflecting on what I’m grateful for from this last year. There is so much.

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I developed a yen for long drives from living so remotely here in Alaska, I believe. My best friend in high school lived in Girdwood, a town 30 miles South of Anchorage. The area was so tiny the high schoolers bussed in everyday to attend the same school I went to for 9-12 grade. It’s how she and I met. My senior year, when I had my own truck (real girls drive trucks growing up) I’d drive her home after running or ski practice and we’d hang out.

The year after I graduated, unfortunately, turned out hard as two different friends died in horrible ways–one from hypothermia after missing for 6 weeks, the other killed by the cops after a psychotic break. In the first case, I was away when told the news. In the second, I was at someone’s home for dinner and found out the tragedy by watching my friend get shot on the evening news. (Not my best friend, another friend.) It was unbearable. The long drive out of town towards Girdwood, with such massive mountains–so much bigger than me, so much older than me–turned into my respite when I needed the space to deal with grief. I’d set off in silence heading South and drive along the Turnagain Arm till my feelings had adjusted enough to turn around and head back home. Sometimes it was a long long drive before I hit that point.

Now, decades later, there is still a comfort for me in the shape of these mountains. They still look the same. I recognize the peaks, the saddle between two mountaintops, the slopes along the roadway. And the water, exactly how it looks when it is rushing in versus moving out. Whenever possible I make a point of driving out the Turnagain Arm at least once on a visit back to Anchorage.

These photos might show you why. Taken from multiple points on the drive towards Girdwood.

Looking up the Turnagain Arm

Looking at the Kenai Peninsula

View from Beluga Point

Danger Point

Love this view

The frozen Turnagain Arm

Looking up Bird Ridge

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My father’s family is Inupiat from the Norton Sound area of Alaska on the Western Coast, just below where the nose of the state, the Seward Peninsula, stretches out towards Siberia. My Uncle and Auntee come down from Unalakleet in the winters now to spend the cold months with their granddaughter outside Wasilla. We were able to drive out this past week to visit, and left with beluga muktuk, and hard-smoke salmon. What a treat!

I’m the youngest of three girls. My father is the youngest of three boys. My birthday is the same as my cousins, but I was born the year after he died in an accident. As a result, my Uncle and Auntee have always called me “Baby girl” in honor of the day I share with their late son.

Here are photos of our family. My Auntee is Athabascan from Interior Alaska. She is about to turn 82!

Two brothers

two brothers–my dad is on the left

Auntee Mary and me

Auntee Mary and I

Auntee Mary and Jr

Auntee Mary and Jr

Jr and Uncle Leonard

Jr and Uncle Leonard

Uncle Leonard and me

Uncle Leonard and I

Two Brothers

my Dad and Uncle Leonard

All of us

from left: Jr and I, Mom and Dad (in the back), Auntee Mary, Uncle Leonard, niece Mari, and sister Melanie

Uncle Leonard


Happy Holidays!

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My parents’ winter-house rests along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet in Anchorage, Alaska. The water way hosts the second largest tidal range in the world at 38.9 feet, with tides rushing to cross the distance at 15 miles per hour. The water speeds in so quickly it creates a wall of water several feet high speeding up the Arm to bring in the tide. These walls of water are called “bore tides.” Anchorage, Alaska carries a record bore tide fifteen feet high.

My sister Melanie and I awoke this morning, bundled up for the frozen air and walked the grasslands along the Arm in front of my parents’ house as the sun came up slowly. Living this far north the sunrise lasts for an extended period of time in winter.The Turnagain Arm splits us from the mountains in these photos, with the tide carrying ice flow tens of miles as the water flows in and out twice daily. (The rough ground in the distance of these images is broken ice flow several feet tall resting on the mudflats at low tide.)

Here are photos. Melanie snapped the picture that includes me, the rest are mine.

Looking up Turnagain Arm

Standing on the Frozen Wetlands

Cat tails on the flats

Cloud cover

The sun coming up over the mountains

The sun coming up over the grasslands


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Meeting Doug and Andrew Nalle

from left: Doug Nalle, Andrew Nalle

The Nalle label began in 1984, with Doug Nalle starting to make wine under his own name after over ten years in the industry already. Son Andrew Nalle grew up tasting wine with the family, working with the Henderlong Vineyard (which the Nalle family now owns), and seeing the work his dad did with winemaking. Since 2002, Andrew has been slowly taking over the winemaking in the family after earning an undergraduate degree in philosophy (my favorite), studying abroad in Sydney, and working harvest in South Africa.

I was able to spend several hours each with both Doug and Andrew talking with them about their work in wine. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about Doug’s wealth of experience in the industry (Nalle makes some of the finest Zinfandel), as well as their view on old vines. Today, I’ll post what I learned from listening to Andrew.

Listening to Andrew Nalle

After spending time talking about old vines, and his experience studying philosophy, Andrew begins to tell me what made him turn from the style of life found in university, to what he does now–make wine.

“I like the creativity of making wine most of all, and the self discipline of it seems to work for me.

“I like to travel and see how others do their wine. But I can’t be away too long, now that I’m more involved in the winery. So, on vacation, I always go to a wine area.

“But, we definitely have a system down here. Dad is adamant about how wine should be made. But, the truth is, I agree with him. It matters where the grapes are grown, and the person making it has to really pay attention. You have to know when to rack it, fermentation… pressing… you don’t want to press it too heavy. Someone has to have skill–it matters in fine wine. To start, you need great fruit. Right now people like to talk about less manipulation or intervention, but it’s the wrong word.” Andrew pauses here. He agrees with the idea of not manipulating the wine, but disagrees with the implication that that means you don’t do anything. He starts again, “you need to pay attention”

outside the Nalle winery

“It’s fun. It’s a challenge. If you like to get things just right, and then people come in later and taste with you, and recognize it… it’s really nice.

“Sometimes I feel like, why are you trying so hard? I guess, I want a little more refinement. The kinds of wine we’re making are for people that know their palate. It’s about making a good product that people can enjoy. For me, it’s like cooking. It’s nice when the chef is right out there, and you can see him cooking. But, really, people just want to know it’s a good meal, and then enjoy and talk to each other. It’s about making a good bottle of wine that can be really special to somebody. I worked in restaurants in college. That helped a lot to making me want to come back here. Growing up in it [in winemaking, and the Dry Creek Valley area], you’re used to it. But seeing people in a restaurant get so excited about a good wine with the food…

old vine Zinfandel planted in 1932, Henderlong Vineyard

“Food, it’s everyday. Wine, you have to be way more patient. It’s a slow process of waiting on flavors, to see how it all integrates. In restaurants, there are recipes, but there is also the feel. I enjoy that. How personal it can be. It’s like there is a recipe, but the winemaker does have a huge stamp on it. Like in the Old World, a father does give his recipe to his son [like Doug to Andrew], but everything keeps going, maybe the vineyard changes, but there is also this consistency to it. People can count on that. It’s comforting to people.

“People say all the time, you’re really lucky to be doing this. I am. But I want to keep improving, to keep making the wine better. It’s fun to hear that, but you can’t get too caught up in that. You’ve got to stay hungry. Ultimately, it’s fun to create.

old vine Carignan planted in 1932, Henderlong Vineyard

“If I didn’t grow up in a winery, I’d probably be working in a restaurant, and making wine on the side.

“It’s nice to have put in my apprenticeship now. Because, in the beginning, you have to put in so much patience. It’s not like cooking, in a way, because if you mess up, you can’t just start over. It takes years. You need time underneath you. Older winemakers have time beneath them. Maybe something you make, you put five years into, and then five years later, it’s still good. It takes time to get that. To not worry as much and trust it. You can’t just teach that. You have to put the wine and the time in. It’s always been fun for me, but it’s nice now to have more experience to enjoy it in a new way now, to have more confidence.

Andrew’s dogs (they’re oh my gaw awesome)

“We always say it is about the wine. The wine has got to be good. We’re doing this for people to have a great glass of wine. But it’s clear there is all this other stuff that goes into it too.

“When I’m cooking, every little flavor detail, what kind of rice I’m using, where I harvested the veggies, what spices, and how much… I just want to spend all my time in that. I want to do it again and again. I’m not okay with eating hot pockets every night. It’s like that here [at the winery]. Still, you can recognize that it’s Nalle wine. A lot of why I’m winemaking is really about cooking.

outside Nalle Winery

“I was doing philosophy, and then I realized, why am I looking so hard for what I want to do when it is right here, and I really wanted to work for my family. It is the best. They supported me so much, and so it just seems natural to want to do this for my family. Family is another layer of why I came back. I like being near them.

“Studying philosophy made me acknowledge more how special this is. Not everyone grew up like this. For me, this is how I grew up, so it’s really normal. You know, doesn’t everyone just taste wines at dinner, and travel to all these wine countries? Growing up like this got me into traveling. We’d see all these different wine shops, and restaurants. Then, you see all these people, and places. I realized from that, we’re all so different, and all human. It does have an effect on people–seeing it, the vines, where they grow. They’re taking that with them in the bottle. It’s pretty amazing seeing how excited people get.

“With philosophy, it is so hard. You have to start from the beginning, and there are so many questions. You need a whole life to do it. Wine, this seemed natural for me. But studying philosophy, I realized there are so many questions. And from that I started to think it isn’t about asking why but about how we live our lives. And that made me think about what I can contribute to things. For me, living an authentic, a good life was in making wine. This was more natural for me, and I think maybe I am good at it. I want to make my life better, and I want to make my family’s life better.”

Thank you to Andrew Nalle for taking the time to talk with me. I very much appreciate hearing your story. You make a wonderfully vibrant while focused zinfandel.

Thank you to Doug Nalle.

Thank you to Michelle McCue, Anne Alderete, and Dan Fredman.

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Meeting Clay Mauritson

Clay Mauritson

Clay Mauritson began making wine under the Mauritson label, the first winemaker in six generations of vineyard farmers, in 1998. For the first years, Mauritson focused only on making Zinfandel with fruit from Dry Creek Valley. When the fruit from the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile overlap came online in 2001 he began making the family’s first Rockpile Zin. In 2002, he expanded to include Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2003, Petite Sirah. As a result, the Mauritson label focuses on doing their best single vineyard Zinfandel, and a wines from a range of Bordeaux varieties.

In talking to Mauritson about the foundations of his winemaking, he says, first and foremost it’s Zinfandel. The grape was the first to show him the intricacies, and challenges of winemaking. “It is such a difficult grape to grow, and such a difficult wine to make, I have such appreciation for it.” After the grape, his passion is inspired by Rockpile, his family’s homestead area, at the top of Dry Creek Valley. In 2012, the Mauritson label will include 6 to 7 single vineyard Zinfandels from the family property. As he explains, “when you have so many different soils, single vineyard wines had better taste different.” Appreciation for the quality of the soil enriches Mauritson’s passion for wine.

Though Mauritson’s primary focus in is the winemaking, he has a deep respect for the vineyard and the soils that offer its foundation. “We have this amazing piece of ground, and we’re just celebrating the diversity of our sites.” The Mauritson family grows vines in 17 different registered soil types. In discovering the rich soil variation of his family’s property, Mauritson became interested in exploring the effect of soil on the final wine. So, he developed the Loam series.

Tasting the Soil: Cabernet Sauvignon, Loam Single Soil Wines

The Loam series focuses entirely on Cabernet Sauvignon, all grown on identical rootstock, the same clone, and vinified the same way. The one variation occurs in soil type. In zeroing in on the plantings that fit the requirements, Clay identified five soil types–Suther, Clough, Positas, Josephine, and Cole. Three of the wines in the series–Suther, Clough, and Positas–are made from a few rows grown only in the one soil type. The fourth wine, Loam, is made from a blend of wine from each of the five soils.

click on comic to enlarge

The Loam series includes clean, well-integrated presentation, and a nice balance of grip and movement in each wine. There is also a distinctive offering between the soil types, that I was thrilled to try. We were able to taste three vintages of both the Suther and Positas, and the current release of 2009 for each of the four wines.

My personal favorite was the 2009 Clough, it presents a well-focused wine with great acidity. The Positas offers a bigger flavor presentation, and not quite as much juiciness in the mouth as the Clough, but the three vintages show a nice progression of age. Suther showed the greatest consistency across vintages, and the 2006 and 2007 were both impressively young, with the flavors still tightly centered. The 2009 Loam brings together a nice offering of the volcanic dust patina found on Suther, with the richness of Positas. The “bigger shoulders” of Positas and Loam were the most popular with the wine club members present.

More on Mauriston Zinfandel will appear later in the series on Dry Creek Valley when I look specifically at different Zins from the AVA.

Thank you to Clay and Carrie Mauritson for including me in the Loam tasting. I very much enjoyed the evening.

Thank you to Ashley Mauritson.


Part 1: The History of Dry Creek, Lake Sonoma, and Rockpile: Meeting the Mauritson Family:

Part 2: Visiting the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap:

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Visiting Mauritson Vineyards, the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap

Some Ancient traditions referred to heaven as “Summerland”–a place of peace, full of light, that we go to after we die and rest happy. Visiting the Mauritson property at the Northern reach of the Dry Creek Valley AVA, and the Southern point of Rockpile AVA, it’s easy to imagine such a place is real.

The site stands over Lake Sonoma, a formation gathered by the containment of Dry Creek. Rockpile AVA is defined by the fog that gathers above the lake, with its boundaries being elevation dependent–elevation consistently above the fog line. Only vineyards planted above 800 ft in elevation fall within the Rockpile zone. Though the land that sits inside the outer bounds of the drawn AVA include more than 15,400 acres, the plantable-to-Rockpile zone (above 800 ft) measures at only about 300 acres with approximately 160 currently under vine. Currently 11 vineyards meet the requirements. [post-edit: this section originally stated that 160 was plantable, instead of currently planted. this has been corrected]

Looking South, over Lake Sonoma and some of the Mauritsons’ younger vines

The Mauritson family was kind enough to drive me to their vineyards above Lake Sonoma first thing in the morning in order to capture the view above the fog line.

Looking Northwest into one of the arms of Lake Sonoma, and over Mauritson vineyards

These photos show the importance of the fog effect–with the resulting inversion layer, temperatures above the fog remain warmer at night, and cooler during the day than below, offering a narrower overall temperature range for vines to grow.

Looking North

The Mauritson plantings reach to just above fog’s reach. The land through this area remains from the original family homestead, 700 acres not taken by Eminent Domain to build the dam–the land pictured here appears in the final image featured in yesterday’s write up on the family’s vineyard history:

View from the top of the property


Though I’d originally intended to post both the photos and tasting notes today, I’ve decided to separate the two–tasting notes for the Mauritson family Loam series will appear tomorrow.

Thank you to Ashley Mauritson for bringing me to the vineyard site for morning photos.

Thank you to Kyrsa Dixon.


Part 1: The History of Dry Creek, Lake Sonoma, and Rockpile: Meeting the Mauritson Family:

Part 3: Tasting the Soil: Meeting Clay Mauritson’s Passion for Loam and Cabernet:

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Honestly? This is part of why I follow the project of this blog–meeting the Mauritson family, and making contact, in a sense, with history, and regard for family, is a genuine honor for me. The Mauritson’s were generous enough to share some of their historic family photos for me to post here. I am deeply grateful. Thank you.


Meeting the Mauriston Family

The Hallengren-Mauritson Family Homestead, now under Lake Sonoma

The vitality of the Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley AVAs depend partially on the the creation of the Warm Springs dam, which controls the flow of Dry Creek, one of the tributaries of the Russian River. As described by the Army Corps of Engineers, the purpose for creating the creek containment was to reduce the flow into the Russian River, thereby reducing serious annual flooding along its drainage into the Pacific Ocean, and in less common instances further inland as well. The reservoir resulting from the dam also guaranteed a supply of water (needed for irrigation in an otherwise fairly dry area), and the production of electricity for portions of Sonoma county. Greater development and planting along the waterways then became possible.

Warm Springs dam proved controversial at its beginnings for a collection of reasons. To create the reservoir west of Healdsburg, the U.S. Army Corps reclaimed land that had been homesteaded through the area, paying as little 9 cents on the dollar for the lands’ value.The Pomo tribe, that had resided through the Dry Creek area also fought creation of the dam due to the loss of archaeological sites it would cause by flooding the valleys North of the containment. Additionally, the dam was built through an area of significant geological activity–it crosses a fault line–with the safety of the engineering feat regularly called into question.

The Mauritson family, reaching back through the Hallengren side, had settled significant portions of the land now under Lake Sonoma, with four generations establishing their livelihood on the family’s estate through sheep ranching, grape and prune growing. As recently as 1960, 3300 acres of the Hallengren-Mauritson estate were reclaimed under assertion of Eminent Domain to allow production of the dam. The family was able to retain smaller portions of their original land grants on what are now the hillsides above Lake Sonoma, at the overlap between Dry Creek Valley AVA and Rockpile AVA.

Tomorrow I’ll post photos of the Mauritson family site today. Today, I am so grateful to share photos from the Mauritson family’s archive. They have given me permission to share photos of their family estate from the early part of the 1900s, far prior to the creation of the county’s reservoir.

Clay Mauritson‘s grandfather, Edward, who lived much of his life on the family property, shares notes about life on the estate handwritten around the following two images.

Looking Under Lake Sonoma

Looking into the valley of the Hallengren-Mauritson Homestead, notes around the edges handwritten by late Grandfather, Edward Mauritson. Click on image to enlarge.

Reads: May 2, 1983 — This is the old Hallengren home area (as you can see by my mother’s penmanship below). This picture taken about 1912 or 1913 (pretty good camera those days). They had all the area in vineyard down in the middle and winery run by a steam engine, no electricity in those days. My uncle Lloyd used to go down to said winery and build up lots of steam in the steam engine on December 31 and at midnight tie the whistle down. Uncle Lloyd (red hair, everybody called him carrot top) was quite a boy. This vineyard in those days was taken care of by all Japanese people that lived right on the ranch, no Mexicans in those days. Later this vineyard was taken out and put into prunes. Next door neighbors, Rickards, took their vineyard out also (grapes only $4 or 5 a ton).”

The Mauritson family established their initial homestead in 1868, with progression of their estate occurring through homestead based land grants from 3 different presidents, culminating in a 4000 acre property.

Documentation shows the family establishing grape vines on the valley floor, and up some hillsides as early as 1884, with clear harvest records from as early as 1893. As a result, the Mauritson family has included six generations, over 140 years, of vineyard farmers.

The History of North Dry Creek Valley, and the Southern Rockpile AVAs

The Hallengren-Mauritson Homestead. The front portions of this photo are all currently under Lake Sonoma. Portions of the ridge along the back are not under water. Text handwritten by grandfather that lived most of his life on the Homestead property. Reads: May 2, 1983 — My Aunt Lily, sitting on the rock, a former school teacher (old maid, never married) and a super super cook as I can remember. Aunt Lettie, sitting on the horse, had all the financial brains. Everything she touched turned into money, and was Ed Thompson first wife. Eleven years older than Ed and could out talk Ronald Reagan. On the wagon is Ed Thompson (on the inside) and old “carrot top” Uncle Lloyd. Lloyd was quite a politician and even run for State Senator one year, didn’t get enough votes to even become the dog catcher, quote “Hay” [can’t read]. Lloyd was always broke and borrowing from his sister.”

Though the land was reclaimed by the government in 1960, the family was given a few years to move from their property. In 1968, the title to the original land was pulled, and the family purchased a smaller parcel in Alexander Valley with the money given in exchange. Though the new property was originally planted in prunes, it was immediately turned to vineyards.

The remaining land in the Dry Creek Valley/Rockpile overlap, overlooking Lake Sonoma (and shown in the photo above), as well as newer parcels through Dry Creek Valley have since also been planted in vines by the Mauritsons.

In 1998, Clay Mauritson became the first winemaker in generations of vineyard owners. As Clay explained to me, growing up taking care of vineyards he wanted little to do with the activity. But, after leaving the area for college his view of the quality of life in Sonoma County improved. He wanted to return to the area, and live closer to his family, but shifted out of vines and into wine.

Clay began by first taking harvest internships in other Dry Creek Valley wineries, and then working full time for other winemakers. While helping other wineries crush, Clay developed his own label in a custom crush facility. After 5 years, showing that Mauritson wine could offer a viable business, the family built their winery located at the entrance of Dry Creek Valley, focusing on their own Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Bordeaux-style wines, alongside offering custom crush services.

Tomorrow, I’ll post notes from a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting I was lucky enough to attend with the Mauritson family. Clay is passionate about soils, with the family growing in 17 different registered soil types.

To show how great the difference of expression soil can offer, Clay has created his Loam series–4 Cabernet Sauvignon wines, each grown on the same root stock, the same clone, and vinified the same way, but from different soils.


Thank you to Kyrsa Dixon.

Thank you to Ashley Mauritson for taking time to meet with me, show me Rockpile and taste me on the family wines. Thank you to Carrie Mauritson for sharing the family photos with me.

Thank you especially to Clay Mauritson for taking time to talk with me.

Part 2: Visiting the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap:

Part 3: Tasting the Soil: Meeting Clay Mauritson’s Passion for Loam and Cabernet:

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