Tag dry creek valley

Idlewild Wines 2012 Collection

Meeting Idlewild Wines

Idlewild Wines 2012 Collection

click on image to enlarge

With inspiration of Piemontese, husband and wife team Sam and Jessica Boone Bilbro launched Idlewild Wines with the 2012 vintage.

As they describe it, Sam and Jessica are both fans of texture and acidity. What is found in their wines is a marriage of delicacy and strength. As a portfolio, the 2012 wines express pretty floral aromatics with a driver of acidity and persistent tannin. Sam credits Jessica’s winemaking with a talent for holding onto delicacy, while Jessica points out the ways Sam pushes her to take her approach to the edge of what she’s used to.

An example can be seen in their Cortese (my favorite of these 2012 wines), an intensely uncommon grape for California vineyards. After locating the fruit, the couple decided to take a couple tons and just see how it developed. Wanting to make something more than the typical Cortese, Sam researched the grape’s treatment in Piedmont. Eventually, he located an obscure Italian text describing three winemakers using skin contact techniques in their approach, something Jessica hadn’t used in the same way on whites. They split the fruit into two lots, putting one on skins for 10 days, and the other straight to press. The straight to press lot brought acidity and drive, a linear presentation to the fruit, while the skin contact added texture and depth with ripe, almost musky flavors.

Sam and Emilia

Sam and Emilia checking fruit in Foxhill Vineyard, Mendocino, August 2013

Sam and I travel to the Mendocino, and Fox Hill Vineyard to walk through the fruit. In the Cortese parcel, he explains the difference in sun exposure between bunches. One side of the row receives more consistent light creating riper, darker skinned clusters that go into the skin contact lot to express the walnut and apricot flavors given by the sun. On the more shaded side, greener clusters go right to press for incredible juiciness. The blending of these two lots creates a showcase of Jessica’s expression of delicacy with depth.

Asking them to describe what they see in their own wines, Sam responds. “The drive is acidity, or tannin in the case of the Nebbiolo, but texture gives interest and a little tension.” In this description the pair find the sort of relationship they seek to express through Idlewild, something that can even be seen in the label’s name–a sense of contrast, two distinct, even opposing, pieces working together.

Jessica and Hudson

Jessica and Hudson talking Idlewild, June 2013

This sense of contrast with harmony can be seen in Jessica’s account of her own winemaking as well. “As much of a control freak as I am, I’m not as a winemaker. I make wine very much by feel.” The control comes in at the beginning–making sure tanks or barrels are clean, that the press has happened properly, but the rest occurs through what Jessica describes as listening. “When I stop, and really learn to listen to gut and intuition, it’s more real. The wine feels right.”

***

Thank you to Sam and Jessica. Nice to spend time with you Emilia and Hudson!

These wines were tasted through multiple visits over the course of the summer and fall.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Visiting Preston of Dry Creek Vineyards and Farm

Touring Preston Vineyards and Farm

Lou Preston

In 1973, after studying viticulture and oenology for a year at UC Davis, Lou Preston, and his wife Susan, moved to a small parcel with Dry Creek running through. The experience would place them in the middle of a community of Italian families multiple generations into life in the region.

What is now known as Dry Creek Valley became home to a push of Italian and Swiss Immigrants in the 1800s. The region developed a vibrant agricultural community growing some grapes, but more readily prunes, apricots, apples, grains, pears, walnuts, berries, and beans–essentially all the crops that enjoy warmer weather and help a community in relative isolation thrive. Wine’s mono-culture seen today did not thoroughly take root until the 1980s.

The effect of the Preston’s move from the Central Valley to Dry Creek was to put in direct contrast the more industrial style farming taught at Davis with the family driven agricultural of his Italian-immigrant neighbors. Preston explains that it is thinking back to the families he became a part of that inspires him. “What captures my imagination is the old way of doing things, in grapes and farming in general.” Today, Preston of Dry Creek brings together diversity farming carrying a focus on sustainability with enough of the right technology to simplify the labor. Over time the size of that original small parcel has expanded to 125 acres.

Jesus Arzate

Moving onto the original property, the Prestons inherited a mix of prune trees, and old vine zinfandel. That first harvest the family harvested the prunes, then pulled the trees and began planting more vines. By 1978, Preston brought in farm and vineyard manager Jesus Arzate, who has been developing the sites sustainable and organic program ever since. Arzate works not only with the vines, but the plants throughout the property, as well as the animals.

Together, Arzate and Preston have worked to increase native plant vegetation (as a support too of the helpful bug and bee populations), develop olive and citrus groves, apple orchards, and work to restore the creek bed through planting native trees along the creek side. The effect of rebuilding the creekside has been to increase the soil density thanks to winter deposits from flooding, and help improve the spawning habitat for trout.

The Preston Altar, the compost pile

One of Preston Vineyards more recent projects has been the development of their own compost. All of the grape and olive pommace, tree pruning, garden and animal waste are recycled through their compost and then recirculated back through the property. Preston refers to the project as exciting, describing it as “managing the spirit of a place” through the preservation and recirculation of the land’s microorganisms. Our first stop in the visit was the compost pile. As we drove away he referred to it as “the farm’s altar.”

Giuseppe

Once grape harvest is complete the property’s sheep and chickens are introduced into the vineyards to help assist with natural fertilization and pest control. To keep the animals safe and more readily managed, Giuseppe lives with the herd.

Giuseppe and his ewes

When I moved closer to the ewes to take their picture, Giuseppe moved between me and the sheep. Good dog.

Giuseppe's chickens

the Preston Farm chickens

Matt Norelli

Matt Norelli has been with Preston Vineyards for over 20 years, officially becoming winemaker in 2000. As a result, Norelli has helped oversee at least two significant changes in the Preston project.

Preston Vineyards was one of the few places with a tasting room open in the mid-1980s. As ubiquitous as the concept is today, at the time it was uncommon to walk into an open tasting room alongside a winery. In 1996, Preston built their current tasting room adjacent to the winery building, and the baking and farm store areas of the property.

What is more unusual is that in stepping into his role as head winemaker, Norelli also helped cut the wine production to less than a third of its peak. In doing so he assisted in the Preston shift from wine to a more diversified farm. At exactly the same time, Norelli clarified the recognizable Preston Vineyards style with a focus on clean fruit expression touched by an interest in earthiness.Rotating crops

In touring the Preston Vineyards Farm, Lou highlights various ways in which farming practices focus on the sustainable health of the property. Intentionally shifting ground crops is one such example. This bare plot contained Sauvignon Blanc that had severely declined in productivity. The piece will rest and then be replanted with a grain crop for the bakery program. Baker Lindsay Challoner has been experimenting with heritage grains for bread. The cleared parcel gives the opportunity to grow a greater range of grains to play with further.

Rebecca Bozzelli

Farmer Rebecca Bozzelli develops the Preston gardens rotating crops by season. We asked her to discuss further the importance of crop rotation. As she explains, in gardening it is important to rotate crops for the health of the soils, and so too the health of the food produced. By rotating crops with different root depths, the nutrients are allowed to develop or deplete at differing levels. In changing out plant types, plant-specific pests have little chance to increase in size and so are less likely to become firmly established in a garden. Soil-borne diseases tend to occur with various plant families (like tomatoes and potatoes with soil blight) but die off after 5 to 6 years. So, by planting by family, then waiting the 5 to 6 years before replanting the family in that same spot soil-borne issues can be avoided too.

Lou in the cabbage and kale

Lou walking through the cabbage and kale. Rebecca has just started experimenting with use of the biodynamic treatments. She hasn’t used them before but so far she can report that the resulting leafy greens are HUGE. I saw ‘em. They’re HUGE.

Zin hill

Much of the Preston Vineyards property is on the flats along Dry Creek but they also own a hillside area on the Western slope that they refer to as Zin hill because of the 100+ Zinfandel vineyard that had grown there through the 1980s. The vines currently growing here are from cuttings of those original vines. Part of the hill they are currently allowing to rest. To the right you can see some of their olive trees, interplanted with citrus fruits.

The Preston Tasting Room

The Preston Vineyards’ tasting room offers not only their wine to sample or buy, but also samples of their olive oil, and various books that they’ve found useful for their farm philosophy.

The Preston Farm Store

Next to the tasting room, Preston Vineyards also showcases a farm store where their own produce, breads, and farm eggs are available for purchase.

Preston Community Activities

Rebecca Bozzelli has also helped develop a community focus in the gardening, including a “U-Pick” pumpkin patch happening now next to the tasting room and farm store. The pumpkin patch is one example of Preston’s expanding its focus on community engagement.

Lunch wines

At the end of the 1970s, Preston became the first to plant Syrah in Sonoma County, and among the first of the new adopters of the Rhone variety in California. There were sparse plantings of the grape in California in the late 1800s (with the oldest still existing vines found in Mendocino), but no new plantings were made again until the 70s. Today, Preston’s Rhone program has expanded to include a wealth of red grapes, as well as white. The wines are available both as classic, clean blends, or as single varietals in the tasting room.

Zinfandel was already established on the site when the Prestons purchased it, and they have continued to grow vines taken as cuttings from the historic vines. They have since also expanded into a refreshing, clean with greenery notes, and good acidity expression of Sauvignon Blanc, one of their signature wines.

Barrel tasting

Norelli let us sample some of the 2012 and 2013s. Incredibly, the 2013 crop was even larger than the 2012. 2012 also marks the start of a new experiment in making no sulfur, whole cluster Syrah. The 2012 example right now shows beautifully integrated with fresh blue-and-purple fruit and flower, Italian sausage, and nice earthiness. In 2013 he mixed in 10% viognier, offering a brighter lift in the flavor presentation. It’s too soon to tell how this wine will come together but it has nice components and strong structure that show promise. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a bottle of the 2012 when it’s ready.

***

Thank you to Lou Preston. Thank you to Jesus Arzate, Rebecca Bozzelli, Matt Norelli, Lindsay Challoner. Thank you to Ken Blair.

Thank you to Michelle McCue, and Anne Alderete. Thank you to Jameson Fink.

I had a great time.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Touring Dry Creek Valley with Jameson Fink

Dry Creek Valley

Drink Zin, sign at Preston Vineyards tasting room

At the Northern edge of Sonoma County, the Dry Creek Valley appellation reaches from the late 1800s Italian-Swiss Colony multi-culture farming communities into the more wine focused plantings of today. The regions warm day time temperatures meant it did well for growing grapes in the post-Prohibition push for wine. It’s cool nighttime temperatures mean it also has the structural range to support quality wine today.

Today, the Dry Creek appellation carries a central theme of quality Zinfandels. The Valley can be understood through four quadrants with varying growing conditions and fruit characteristics. However, the area’s Zins still share commonalities when compared to those made in other areas of California. Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels tend towards berry fruits with more raspberry-to-blackberry in the Southern Valley, and blackberry-to-black plum further North. The area offers rich flavors without need for over extraction, black pepper, some earthiness, and good acidity and structure. There is, of course, variation in winemaking style by producer.

Historical vineyards dot the area with vines floating around 100 years in age mixed through with Carignane, and, in some cases, also heritage whites. Dry Creek Valley can also support beautiful examples of Rhone wines, with some of the first contemporary adopters of Syrah in California planted in the Valley near Cloverdale in the 1970s. Producers also do well with Rhone whites, and Sauvignon Blanc has proven a signature grape for the Valley.

Touring with Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink standing in front of Quivira Vineyards

This week I got to spend two days touring Dry Creek Vineyard with Jameson Fink. He’s a friend of mine that lives in Seattle, and blogs (and podcasts!) about food and wine. Here’s a link to his site: http://jamesonfink.com/

We’ve been talking for a while about doing a wine trip together and so jumped at the chance to join up for part of his time in Dry Creek. Later I’ll be doing write-ups on some of the visits. Jameson will be posting more on his blog too. In the meantime, here are some photos of the visits we did together.

Visiting Ridge Lytton Springs with John Olney

Ridge Lytton Springs

Ridge Lytton Springs

Winemaker John Olney

Ridge Lytton Springs Winemaker John Olney

John and Jameson

John and Jameson talking old vines standing in old vine Zinfandel

Petite Sirah coming in

Petite Sirah coming in at Ridge Lytton Springs

Aging Zinfandel

Aging Zinfandel in American Oak, Ridge Lytton Springs

Lytton Springs vertical

Three vintages of Ridge Lytton Springs (one of my favorites of theirs–it ages really well)

1997 Monte Bello

Finishing with a bonus: Ridge 1997 Monte Bello

Visiting Mazzocco Winery

Entrance to Mazzocco Winery

The entrance to Mazzocco Winery, Dry Creek Valley

View of Dry Creek

View of Lytton Springs Road from Mazzocco Winery

Tasting at Mazzocco with Rob Izzo

Talking Vineyard designates with Rob Izzo, Mazzocco Winery

Jameson and Rob

Jameson talking Zinfandel with Rob

Visiting Quivira

Jameson and Andrew at Quivira

I wasn’t able to stay for the visit at Quivira but before going in to taste wines in the tasting room I was able to get this shot of Jameson and Andrew Fegelman in the Quivira garden. I love this.

Touring Preston Vineyards and Farm

Lou Preston

Lou Preston introducing his farm

Giuseppe and his sheep

Giuseppe and his ewes (they go into the vineyard in Fall time along with the chickens)

Matt Norelli

Winemaker Matt Norelli talking about apple cider in the apple orchard

Rebecca in the winter garden

Gardener Rebecca Bozelli walking through the just planted winter garden

Jameson and the Preston farm team

Jameson with the Preston farm team, from left: Rebecca, Ken, Jesus, Lou, Matt

Jameson talking vineyards with Jesus and Lou

talking vineyards with Vineyard Manager Jesus Arzate, and Lou

farm food lunch

getting ready for lunch with farm foods

lunch wine

lunch with some Preston wines

***

Tomorrow I’ll post more on the Preston Vineyard & Farm.

***

Check out Jameson’s overview of the region here: http://jamesonfink.com/dry-creek-valley-wines-and-vineyards-provide-9-noteworthy-finds/

***

Thank you to John Olney, Rob Izzo, Andrew Fegelman, Lou Preston, Jesus Arzate, Matt Norelli, Ken Blair, Rebecca Bozelli, Lindsay Challoner.

Thank you to Michelle McCue and Anne Alderete. Thank you to Jameson Fink.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

A Life in Wine: Andrew Nalle: Philosophy, Wine, and Cooking

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.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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

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: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/03/the-history-of-dry-creek-valley-lake-sonoma-and-rockpile-meeting-the-mauritson-family/

Part 2: Visiting the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/04/visiting-the-dry-creek-valley-rockpile-avas-overlap-the-mauritson-family-vineyards/

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

 

Visiting the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap: The Mauritson Family Vineyards

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: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/03/the-history-of-dry-creek-valley-lake-sonoma-and-rockpile-meeting-the-mauritson-family/

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: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/03/the-history-of-dry-creek-valley-lake-sonoma-and-rockpile-meeting-the-mauritson-family/

Part 3: Tasting the Soil: Meeting Clay Mauritson’s Passion for Loam and Cabernet: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/05/tasting-the-soil-clay-mauritsons-passion-for-loam-and-cabernet/

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

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

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: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/04/visiting-the-dry-creek-valley-rockpile-avas-overlap-the-mauritson-family-vineyards/

Part 3: Tasting the Soil: Meeting Clay Mauritson’s Passion for Loam and Cabernet: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/05/tasting-the-soil-clay-mauritsons-passion-for-loam-and-cabernet/

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Visiting Gustafson Winery, Dry Creek Valley AVA, 1800 feet elevation

Gustafson Family Vineyards, Overlooking Dry Creek Valley from 1800 feet

Having spent time regularly visiting Sea Ranch, on the coast West of Healdsburg, Dan Gustafson began looking for property in the Dry Creek Valley area. He wanted to grow grapes. Having raised his kids on a working cattle ranch, in the midwest, he was used to work outside and was ready to invest long term in Sonoma County. Early in life he’d worked in restaurants, gaining exposure to food and wine. During the same period, he developed a taste for California wine because, he says, it was what he could afford at the time.

The point on the Mountain Range is St. Helena, photo taken looking East from the Gustafson house, located on the West side of Dry Creek Valley on Skaggs Spring Road, near Lake Sonoma

In the midst of a trip out to Sea Ranch, Dan Gustafson drove by a property on Skaggs Spring Road with a For Sale sign. He jumped the fence to look at it, and discovered a wealth of Madrone trees throughout. Viticultural folk knowledge says that where Madones grow, vines will too–they both need to keep their feet dry. The property also already had several clearings throughout that meant no dry grading was needed to start building, and clearing wasn’t required to plant vines.

So, Gustafson moved an Airstream to the top of the property to live in while he planted vines and started construction on the winery. In 2004, the Heritage Tree Block was planted with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah. Over time what was found was the site did best for Petite Sirah, and so that became the bulk of the property’s focus.

In 2006, construction on the winery began, close to the house site, with a barrel cellar built beneath. The layout arose naturally from the demands of the ground itself–it turned out to install a proper foundation, the crew had to dig 18 feet down to bedrock. The space between the foundation and the house floor, then, built into the hillside, became the winery’s barrel storage.

The reality of planting an entirely new vineyard site rests in a process of learning the soils. The vineyard manager and winemaker, Emmett Reed, likes to say the vineyard is young and still learning itself.

The site located at 1800 feet elevation on the Northwest side of Dry Creek Valley has no vineyard planted neighbors. As a result, there is no blueprint for what does best in the area, nor neighbors to ask for advice (there are other vineyards further up the road, but in uniquely different slope, aspect, etc than Gustafson Family Vineyard).

With vintage variation as well, Gustafson wine is also, in some ways, getting to know itself. Reed is happy with how the 2012 harvest has gone, and with how the quality has progressed through the last several vintages (including their weather challenges).

looking Southeast down Dry Creek Valley

The Gustafson site has 3 natural springs, and a wealth of both Redwood and Madrone. The winery is bonded for 4000 cases, and makes approximately 3400 currently. Much of the fruit from their site is sold, with two of the primary customers being Orin Swift Wines, and Eric Cohn’s Shoe Shine Wine. The Gustafson fruit is preferred for the cleanliness of the site that comes with its elevation, but especially for how precisely Reed is able to follow the clients’ vineyard protocol.

looking Northeast towards Lake Sonoma, and the Rockpile AVA

The elevation over Dry Creek Valley comes through with the inversion effect–Gustafson is warmer at night, and cooler during the day, offering a narrower overall temperature range. The site is also only 18 miles from the coast, located at one of the higher points between the coast and the valley.

steep slope vineyards at Gustafson

With elevation, the individual berries on a cluster tend to be smaller, offering more concentrated flavors. This proved true even in 2012 when the overall cluster size was larger. This recent vintage, then, offered a unique balance of the concentrated spice from small berries, with still greater volume from larger clusters. The ultimate goal is to establish dry farming throughout the Gustafson Estate. Currently minimal watering is done simply because of how young the vines are.

Sheep’s Barn Pasture

The lowest vineyard on Gustafson Estate offers cool enough overall temperatures to host Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. It is the one area that had to be entirely replanted when the original grapes didn’t handle the cooler area well. It is also the only area on the site that has suffered frost damage from cool air pooling down the hillside into this little flat.

The Heritage Madrone, Gustafson Estate

Gustafson Estate hosts the oldest Madrone in Sonoma County, and what is believed to be the oldest in California as well. The tree is 11.5 feet around its base, and so beautiful.

The Heritage Madrone, with Kaitlin Reed, Gustafson’s Hospitality Manager

The idea of affordability is at the core of Gustafson Wine label, with the wines being priced for genuine value between $20 and $28.

The 2009 Mountain Cuvee, 83% Zinfandel, with the remaining a blend of Petite Sirah, and Syrah, is the clearest value. It offers a nice texture with smooth polish, an interesting complexity, and super clean presentation. They describe the goal of the wine as “to get enough backbone to be recognized as Zin, while avoiding the steamroll.”

The 2007 Petite Sirah is a good example of the quality of their fruit, again offering good value at $28. The advantage of the Gustafson site has shown itself in its love for Petite Sirah–it’s become the most planted fruit, the vine proving to be easy to generate both good crop levels and complexity on the hillside. Thought of as “the poor man’s Cab”, the Gustafson’s Petite Sirah does well at offering the richness and potential weight of a Cab, without going into heaviness that can come in an overdone Petite Sirah. It offers a lot of complexity on the nose, following into the palate with a silky rich mouthfeel and stimulating finish.

***

Thank you to Kaitlin Reed for hosting me, and giving me a tour of the Gustafson site. It’s quite beautiful.

Thank you to Kyrsa Dixon.

***

Touring Dry Creek Valley: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/11/28/touring-dry-creek-valley-sonoma-california/

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Touring Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California

This Fall I have been lucky enough to get to know the Dry Creek Valley AVA through tastings, interviews, and tours. Beginning with yesterday’s feature on Paul Draper’s work with Ridge Vineyards–they began making Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley within two years of Draper starting at Ridge–I’ll be showcasing aspects of Dry Creek Valley here.

Included will be considerations of Zinfandel, but also a tasting on Cabernet Sauvignon from differing types of loam; interviews with people that have helped shape the AVA; photos of specific sites; and historic pre-Lake Sonoma photos shared with me by the Mauritson family.

To begin, here are some photos of the beautiful valley. Enjoy!

Pasterick Vineyards, on West Dry Creek Valley Road

Jr. Drawing in a Rhone-varieties Vineyard

A view of the Valley from 1800 feet

Gustafson Family Vineyards, Looking Towards Lake Sonoma

The Oldest Madrone in Sonoma County, and likely in California, at Gustafson

Looking up the Valley from Dry Creek Valley Road, near Geyserville

A Garden Family at Nalle Vineyards

Head trained Zinfandel planted in 1932

The overlap of Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile AVAs in the early morning

***

Drinking Balance: Considering Terroir, Old Vines, and Natural Winemaking, A Conversation with Paul Draper: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/11/27/drinking-balance-considering-terroir-old-vines-and-natural-winemaking-a-conversation-with-paul-draper-ridge-wines/

Happy Halloween! Or, And Now For Something Complete Different (and a little random): The Heritage Madrone, A Bonus in the Wine Writer’s Life, for Shiloh: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/10/31/happy-halloween-or-and-now-for-something-completely-different-and-a-little-random-the-heritage-madrone-a-bonus-in-the-wine-writers-life-for-shiloh/

Visiting Gustafson Family Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley AVA, 1800 feet elevation: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/11/29/visiting-gustafson-winery-dry-creek-valley-ava-1800-feet-elevation/

The History of Dry Creek Valley, Lake Sonoma, and Rockpile: Meeting the Mauritson Family: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/03/the-history-of-dry-creek-valley-lake-sonoma-and-rockpile-meeting-the-mauritson-family/

Visiting the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap: The Mauritson Family Vineyards: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/04/visiting-the-dry-creek-valley-rockpile-avas-overlap-the-mauritson-family-vineyards/

Tasting the Soil: Clay Mauritson’s Passion for Loam and Cabernet: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/05/tasting-the-soil-clay-mauritsons-passion-for-loam-and-cabernet/

***

Thank you to Michelle McCue and Dan Fredman.

Thank you to Krysa Dixon, and Anne Alderete,

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Drinking Balance: Considering Terroir, Old Vines, and Natural Winemaking: A Conversation with Paul Draper

Visiting Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, with Paul Draper

In considering his mentors in winemaking, Paul Draper of Ridge Wines is clear. His work is done in California, and his influences find their roots in this same state. The important point though is asking when his mentors did their work. As Draper explains, in the 1930s winemakers could be found still producing California Zinfandel in what he calls a traditional method. “They made wine that was still traditional, a straightforward process.” He pauses, “well, natural.” The relevance of this idea for Draper carries into the balance of the final wine, and the quality with which it ages.

Ridge is known for great success and influence in at least two styles of wine–Bordeaux blends, on the one hand, and Zinfandel, on the other.

Starting as Ridge Vineyards’ head winemaker in 1969, Draper was given the charge of increasing the quality of the company’s wines, and its overall business model. The hope was to bring the winery into a long term vision. The original owners had commitment to the idea of creating world class wine but needed someone with know-how to help fulfill the dream. By 1976, the Monte Bello blend had bested first growth Bordeaux on an International stage, the grand Paris tasting. It is these wines that originally secured Ridge, and its winemaker, Draper, its now legendary status. Bordeaux blends are widely considered the pinnacle of caché in wine circles, with even those that may claim to prefer other styles still feeling the weight of reputation emanating from Bordeaux.

I ask Draper to tell me the story of how he started with the company. He was invited by the original three family partnership to taste wines from their Monte Bello property. They poured for him their 1962 and 1964 blends. The site had originally been planted in the 1880s with a first bottled vintage in 1892. By the 1940s a large portion of these vines had been replanted, having seen great neglect during Prohibition. 1962 was the first vintage for the new family partnership relying on these more than 20 years old vines. The family winemakers, however, had no real experience with making the beverage. “They’d made beer once,” Draper explains. “But never wine.”

After a moment, Draper adds another detail–they also poured him a wine spontaneously (and non-commercially) done in 1959, ten years prior to Draper’s meeting with the families. The 1959 vintage had been made almost in error. The family picked grapes from their low yield vines, put them into a bin, and then went on vacation for two weeks, leaving the grapes completely unattended during their absence. When they returned, the fruit had fermented dry, so, they pressed and bottled the resulting wine. By the 1962 commercial vintage, the families had integrated in a purposeful submerged cap technique, and developed a slightly more refined result to the wine.

Draper explains, it was these early efforts, and especially the 1959 vintage that convinced him to join the Ridge family. “These winemakers had no knowledge, no experience. They were utilizing fully natural winemaking. That is, the wine really did make itself” (the truth of that certainly couldn’t be denied at least in 1959). Yet, what Draper tasted in the resulting wines was complexity, and a sense of completeness. “These guys just were not getting in the way.” Draper tells me. “I thought, it must be the site giving the quality.” Draper realized it would be an honor he could not deny to work with such a location. “Plus, I liked the families.”

That experience with the first vintages of the Monte Bello, plus the work he’d already done around old vines in Chile, set him on a mission. To expand the production of Ridge Wines they would seek old vine vineyards. In 1971 they located what is now known as the Lytton Springs site, making their first Zinfandel blend from Dry Creek Valley with that fruit in 1972. The vineyard had been planted in the 1870s and 1880s and at least half of the plants had actually survived Prohibition. In 1990, Ridge bought the old vine half of the Lytton Springs property; in 1995, they purchased the rest. I ask Draper about the about-20 years between when they first started using the Dry Creek Valley fruit and when they finally took ownership of the vineyard. In that case, there was a little back and forth with the previous vineyard owner. But Draper clarifies that Ridge tends to take their time before buying new property.

Discovering Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, and Zinfandel

Draper illustrates what he thinks of as a 50-year plan. The decisions they make today at Ridge are all aimed towards turning these first 50 years of the company’s success into the next 50. One of the primary effects of this view is that Ridge, the company, grows only as it has the money to grow, planting new vines only as it can afford to let those vines develop into greater age, and buying new sites only once the particular vineyard has proven itself with consistency over time. With that in mind, Ridge has worked with more than 50 Zinfandel vineyards throughout California, with all but ten of those being old vine planted, and at least 20 being within Sonoma County. The larger portion of vineyard sites for Ridge, then, is devoted to Zinfandel plantings, rather than Bordeaux varieties.

While Bordeaux blends carry with them a weight of reputation, Zinfandel, on the other hand, was long described as the everyman wine, costing very little compared to the heftier cost of Bordeaux blends. Draper succeeded, however, in showing that even California Zinfandel could be worthy of wider acclaim. In 1983, he appeared on the then-popular show Dinner with Julia offering her a 1980 Ridge Amador Zinfandel, which he described as “a Beaujolais style Zinfandel”, as well as a 1977 Paso Robles Zinfandel (and the 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon–keep an eye out for the Ridge White Zinfandel, which he calls their “essence of Zinfandel”). What is impressive about this, then, is that Ridge has wielded incredible influence at both ends of the California wine spectrum–showing California wine can garner respect at the highest level with Bordeaux blends, and that an everyman grape like Zinfandel can be deserving of a better reputation as well.

Draper tells me that they like to experiment by sourcing around from different sites. “In a typical year, we’ll produce Zinfandel from 12 or 14 sites in very small quantities. We’ll look at the consistency of character and how fine it will age.” Scouting a new site for Ridge, then, depends first on picking a location that shows promising characteristics up front. But the next level of commitment comes not only in working with that site for multiple vintages to see how the wine does each year, but also waiting long enough to see how well the resulting wine does in the bottle. When I ask Draper how many vintages that would tend to mean for him, I guess, maybe five or 6 to show a range of seasonal variation? He tells me, “With Lytton, we purchased it 18 years after making the first vintage with proven quality. We just let go of a good [but not reliable enough] vineyard we sourced fruit from. We made wine from that location 20 years before we dropped it.” That said, the goal for Ridge is to farm 75% of its own grapes, with other locations being experimented with in only small quantites. He tells me why Ridge focuses on having control over their own vineyards, and on only expanding as they can afford. “The heart of the matter is not being driven by what the market will sell, but instead on what the soil and climate will support. That is hard to ask of people.”

In considering the number of vineyard sites Draper has had the privilege of working with, he returns to the idea of “wine making itself.” The reality of winemaking, Draper explains, is that “the wine won’t make itself without you standing there. But, with the right vineyard site it is like it makes itself.” We turn, then, to the topic of terroir, and I ask Draper to describe his understanding of the notion.

Reflecting on Terroir, Balance, and Natural Wine

“Terroir in California,” he begins. “It shows in wines that distinctly offer the same character of place when tasting the wines side by side through different vintages, though the vintage element too will be distinctly different.” Draper says the focus for Ridge is on offering terroir through their vineyard specific wines, because what he wants for Ridge Wines is the kind of complexity and quality that accompanies that sense of place. In order to accomplish this goal, the winemaking team at Ridge (Draper still acts as head winemaker, but now also has a team of winemakers that work with him–located at the three wineries) uses what Draper calls “minimal intervention with very obsessive watching over.” He elucidates, “any tweaking occurs at blending, choosing what barrels, that is, vineyard parcels, we want to include. We avoid mechanical or chemical intervention. The goal is to make the best that vineyard can make.” As a result, Ridge wines also go through both natural alcoholic and malolactic fermenation.

Ridge does, however, utilize “the minimal required amount of sulfur” having tested what is demanded by each site, and by the specifics of a particular vintage. Draper tells me he does know, of course, that some people making “natural wines” go without sulfur as well. But, for Draper, to fulfill his commitment to terroir, the wines require a small portion of the additive. “It takes some SO2 for the vineyard to show its individual character.” I ask him to talk me through this view. He offers me two side-by-side explanations.

First, he offers, “when we talk about terroir, we’re saying the wines are showing the individual character of a site. But,” he goes on, “sometimes the word terroir becomes an excuse, without it being necessarily clear if what is showing might actually be the fault of the winemaker.” This brings him to his second point. “When we don’t use the minimum effective level of SO2, the wine goes off differently every year. It can be fine. Or, it can be off. But we’ve found, what you get is simply not a consistent sense of character from the place it came.” That is, the overall quality and presentation the wine gives you might be pleasurable, but what it isn’t offering is that reliable experience of terroir coming from the vineyard site itself.”

We come around to the idea of balance. It’s a word that has gotten a lot of traction recently in discussions around wine. Zinfandel, one of the primary grapes Ridge works with, for instance, is known for readily growing to produce higher alcohol levels. Some have argued that it is possible to have a quality wine of higher alcohol as long as it works with the wines’ other elements, while others strike the view that only lower alcohol (coming in more like below 13%) should be considered in balance.

Draper offers his view. “When any element is too extreme a wine does not age as well. The elements we can easily name–acid, tannin, fruit.” He later adds the idea of too much oak as another aspect for consideration. “Plus, each of these need to work with what the grape brings to it as far as more complex flavors. For example, when you see a wine that is initially too tannic… yes, it will soften with age. But it will never be as finely balanced if it isn’t in balance initially.” He continues, considering his view in relation to ripeness. “If a wine is really over ripe, or if the alcohol is not carried well enough by the body, then it is out of balance.” He acknowledges such a wine will change over time but clarifies that it is certain types of integration-over-time his view of balance is in relation to. “But how is that wine in ten years? Or, in three years? If you don’t prefer that wine in ten years, then it wasn’t in true balance initially.”

This consideration of aging potential ties back into Draper’s interest in minimal intervention wines, and his reasons for winemakers of the 1930s being his original inspiration. At that time, winemakers were still relying on techniques from before Prohibition, that is, little mechanical or chemical technique, very much using only what was available locally. “One of the effects of Prohibition,” Draper tells me, “is an eventual break from this tradition. [UC] Davis came in post-Prohibition as a kind of reinvention of winemaking by modern chemistry, relying on cordon versus head pruned, clones versus selections.” He clarifies that it isn’t that some portion of such knowledge couldn’t be useful. But he does go on to say that in his view, “newer technique [ie. mechanical and chemically intervened] wines don’t age as well as traditional.” He further clarifies that whether or not a wine ages well can be considered part of the character of a place (depending too though on how interventionist the wine was made).

In one final conversation around terroir, Draper expands on his original comments about the notion. “Terroir,” he tells me, “is also a matter of what grapes grow best in what climate and in what soil. Does the vineyard show consistently? Or, do we have to help it out? Do you have old vines, or new vines? The Geyserville site was originally planted with some Carignan, but at Lytton that other portion is Petite Sirah. We’ve kept that.” Draper’s description, then, implies at least two things. For one, the quality of each site varies. Some produce better, and certainly different wine than others. But, in addition, terroir does not just come down to the rocks and climate of a place. It is also an expression of a vineyard’s particular grape types, and history, and those are both a matter of the people that have worked the site.

***

For more photos from the visit to Monte Bello: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/10/04/visiting-with-paul-draper-at-ridge-monte-bello-vineyards/

To see video of Draper on Dinner with Julia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffy2xvVksqw&feature=player_embedded

For an interesting consideration of balance in relation to Zinfandel, read Talia Baiocchi on the Wine Spectator blog: http://www.winespectator.com/blogs/show/id/47616?icid=em_com

For more on Dry Creek Valley: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/11/28/touring-dry-creek-valley-sonoma-california/

***

Thank you to Paul Draper for taking so much time to meet with me. I am deeply grateful, and blessed.

Thank you to Sue, Sam, and Amy.

Thank you to Michelle McCue.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.