Internationally-renowned sommelier, Christopher Sawyer, with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers hosted an evening of Single Vineyard splendor at the General’s Residence (Fort Mason, San Francisco). As a native of Sonoma County, Christopher was the consumate host for this appellation in the heart of Wine Country. Christopher described Sonoma County as a little Europe, the land of promise, and everything you could ever want as far as a great place to live. The European analogy seemed to be a perfect introduction to the extraordinary variety that was to exemplify the Russian River Valley Single Vineyard wines.
The Russian River Valley (RRV) American Viticulture Area (AVA) encompasses more than 15,000 acres of winegrapes and approximately 100 wineries. Although world-class Pinot Noir is grown in abundance in the RRV, it not alone in the vineyards. The RRV is incredibly diverse consisting of five distinct growing neighborhoods or regions – Middle Reach, Laguna Ridge, Green Valley, Santa Rosa Plain, and Sebastopol Hills. The westernmost vineyards lie among hills on California’s coastal range sometimes within 8 miles of the Pacific Ocean. These areas are cool-climate vineyards with the climate strongly influenced by the ocean and fog and focus on Pinot, Chardonnay and cool-climate winegrapes.
Further north in the RRV, the vineyards enjoy a milder influence from coastal breezes and oceanic fog; the relatively warmer climate finds Zinfandel winegrapes. In the RRV’s northeastern corner it is at its warmest; the vineyards include winegrapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many varietals florish within the RRV from Chardonnay to Gewurztraminer and present themselves as a reflection of the place in which they were grown by Winegrape Growers and Winemakers that are working to be 100% sustainable and protect this incredible valley for many generations to come.
What does ‘Single Vineyard’ really mean? The RRV Winegrowers defined a single vineyard wine as the “grand cur” of grapes – the highest quality and most sought after. Most winegrowers nuture a vineyard for years and then only in the best vintages do they single out those grapes for a vineyard designate wine – a year where the concentration, depth of flavor, balance, and complexity of the harvest results in an impeccable reflection of the terroir on that vineyard. This gives you an idea of the quality of the wines presented at this signature RRV event.
To exemplify the terroir diversity in this region, Christopher Sawyer along with an expert sommelier panel of Ian Burrows, Mauro Cirilli, and Michael Ireland selected four wines to discuss – a Bacigalupi Vineyards Estate Chardonnay (middle reach – Westside Road); a Dutton-Goldfield Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Freestone – southwestern RRV); Martinelli Bondi Home Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir (Green Valley of the RRV); and Novy Papera Ranch Vineyard Zinfandel (Santa Rosa plains). As host, Christopher began with the Bacigalupi Chardonnay describing the old vine patch to the right of the family home that was planted in the mid 1960’s with an intimate knowledge of the winegrapes and wine produced there. This white wine had a natural minerality with aromas of peach and mango followed by hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. The medium acidity and citrus on the mid-palate created a well balanced wine.
Ian Burrows (formerly with FarmHouse Inn) continued with the Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir which displayed a good natural stucture that Ian felt would fully develop within 1-2 years in the bottle but would cellar well for 8+ years. The Pinot Noir displayed blackberries with a coriander/white pepper spice (called “Freestone spice”), some tobacco in the mid-palate and medium acidity. Ian recommended pairing this Pinot Noir with tuna tatare or duck. Michael Ireland presented the Martinelli Pinot Noir which displayed dark cherries, plums, cardamon, cloves, cinnamon in a much riper wine than the Dutton Goldfield. This wine also requires a little age to come together, but was an excellent historical representation of the Green Valley of RRV and showed a very different style of Pinot Noir. Mauro Cirilli finished with the Novy Zinfandel. Papera Ranch is an old-vine Zinfandel vineyard, located on the eastern side of the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Planted in 1934, after the repeal of prohibition, the wine from this vineyard showed aromas of red raspberries, mint, wild flowers and sage with the silky tannins of an old vine winegrape. This seminar’s prelude of diversity introduced the audience to the variety of amazing wines that followed in the grand tasting.
I started off my journey through the Russian River Valley Single Vineyard wines looking outside my standard favorites (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) for those wines that would show the diversity in this truly rich agricultural region. Here are just some of the wines I tried. I hope they give you a small taste of the wonderful choices that you can experience exploring the high quality wines produced from vineyards in the Russian River Valley AVA.
Cartograph‘s 2013 Floodgate Vineyard Gewurztraminer a pale yellow Alsace-style bone dry white wine with aromas of lemon and mandarin orange. DRNK Wines 2013 Catie’s Corner Viognier a crisp white wine with aromas white peach, melon and guava, a mineral driven structure, light tannins and a fresh finish. Gordian Knot Winery 2012 Elieo Vineyard Albarino a tangy mix of white peach, grapefruit with firm acidity. Valdez Family Winery 2012 U.V. El Diablo Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc a zesty white wine with aromas of lemon grass, green apple, and subtle notes of honey. J Vineyards 2013 Cooper Vineyard Pinot Gris a tropical white wine with aromas of oranges, apricots, and honeysuckle; a crisp acidity and distinct minerality. I would drink all of these wines now.
Mueller Winery 2012 Block Eleven Syrah a fruity red wine with aromas of blackberry, black cherry, oak and vanilla; complex with a smooth finish. Viszlay Vineyards 2009 Five Vines Bordeaux Blend a fruit-forward ripe red wine with aromas of blackberry, currant, vanilla, and caramel; a medium acidity and fine tannins. Y. Rousseau 2012 Tannat, Matthew’s Station a rich dark red wine with aromas of black cherry, cassis and licorice that turns into a juicy cherry pie on the palate. Acorn Winery 2012 Sangiovese, Alergria Vineyards a red wine with aromas of cherries, plum and oak that add mocha on the palate; slightly chewy with youthful tannins. Bacigalupi Vineyards 2012 Petite Sirah a big, bold red wine with earthy aromas and flavors of pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon which dominate a boysenberry jam and typically firm tannins, cellar to enjoy later. Most of these red wines would benefit from a little patience in the bottle/cellar.
Okay, I can’t help myself – one Pinot Noir. First, I must say, there are too many great Pinot Noirs in the Russian River Valley to try them all in one sitting, but maybe one Pinot Noir to start your journey would be TR Elliott 2009 O’Connell Vineyard Burgonet a selection of three barrels from the two-acre vineyard atop a knoll on Vine Hill Ridge in western Sonoma County that is planted exclusively to the Pommard clone. The O’Connell Vineyard has a long, cool growing season and Gold Ridge sandy loam soils. The aroma of this wine is cherries, raspberries, and cinnamon that waifs into tobacco and forest floor on the palate. A beautifully complex wine that will make you want to take a life-long journey through Russian River Valley wines. So whether you choose to explore new varietals or some of the classic grapes plan to fall in love with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers and Winemakers.
If you missed the Russian River Valley Single Vineyard Night, they also host Russian River Valley Passport to Pinot coming in June 2015. Join their mailing list and you will always know when these two classic events go on sale.
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