Alquimista Cellars

La Follette Cellars

Some winemakers and winery proprietors are born into the business. Some buy into the business. And some evolve into it. Greg LaFollette of Alquimista evolved quite successfully. He has been called a “vine whisperer,” a “cellar magician,” and a “tireless coaxer and protector of handcrafted wines.” He is one of Sonoma’s most revered winemakers, and was honored as Winemaker of the Year in 2010. He has also been tagged “Prince of Pinot” by the website of the same name.

first, a career in science

La Follette’s early years were spent as a musician. At 17, he became the bagpiper for the Queen Mary berthed in Long Beach, California. (And he plays the bagpipes to this day.)  “I wanted to be a winemaker since my teens,” admitted La Follette. “But who in Los Angeles becomes a winemaker?” Eventually he decided that neither music nor wine offered a viable way forward, and after earning degrees in Plant Biology and Chemistry, La Follette started his professional career in 1984 at the University of California, San Francisco, as an Infectious Disease  researcher specializing in HIV suppression. While there, he co-authored over a dozen papers in the field. But, he was also still feeling the pull of his early interest in the wine industry.

While taking his masters degree in Food Science and Technology at U.C.Davis, he became fascinated with “mouth feel” and started dissecting wines to determine their components of taste and texture (especially of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).  His particular interest in the Burgundian techniques of sur lie aging and bâtonnage coincided with an interest in new production techniques in California.

And then, a career in wine

Leaving academia behind, in 1991 he joined Treasury Wine Estates and held various positions at Beaulieu Vineyard, beginning with late-shift Harvest Winemaker and ending with Research Viticulturist/Enologist. He worked closely with winemaker Joel Aiken and the legendary wine master Andre Tchelistcheff, who exhorted La Follette to “live the wine,” which is to say to become totally immersed in both the science and art of winemaking.  He began to  increase his knowledge of Bordeaux varietals and production techniques. He also started traveling throughout the U.S. and Australia to further broaden his skill set.

In 1994 he began toiling for the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates empire. Owner Jess Jackson enticed him to assist in lifting La Crema out of bankruptcy (that worked out well, for sure!) and starting the Hartford Court label. La Follette helped Hartford Court to win “Winery of the Year” and “Best Pinots of the Year” from Wine and Spirits magazine. His travels continued as he assisted in  establishing new wineries and vineyards in South America and the U.S. Drawing on his training as a researcher, he wrote numerous technical papers during this time, including “Designing Wineries for Maximum Quality Output with Minimum Cost Input,” which is still used by Napa Valley College in their winemaking syllabus.

In 1996, La Follette moved on to the Flowers Vineyard & Winery. His work there resulted in the establishment of a cult Pinot Noir (“massive” as he has characterized it; quite an unusual descriptor for Pinot Noir) and elevation of a previously little-known area that later became known as the Ft. Ross/Seaview AVA. The winery he built at Flowers during his tenure is still considered one of the best gravity-flow, gas-assist green wineries in the world. He reestablished 73 acres of Flowers’ vineyard using the best clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay he could find, while simultaneously reducing farming costs by over $4,000 per acre and increasing quality. He had just recently written an influential paper on that very subject, after all.

By 2001 he was partner and co-owner of Greg & Greg Inc., a custom crush facility which became an incubator for small, high-end brands such as McPhail, Londer, Holdredge, and Radio Coteau. That same year he launched the first winery of his own, Tandem Wine Co. These projects overlapped with his stint at Chile’s Viña Casa Marin as Consulting Winemaker, advising on viticulture, winemaking, and facility design. By 2004 he was also consulting with Boisset Collection, pulling yet another label, DeLoach, out of bankruptcy. And, he established La Follette Winegrowing Inc., his on-going wine consultancy that helps establish, resuscitate, or enhance new or struggling wineries.

Alquimista Cellars, perhaps the final stop on his wine journey

Today finds him as winemaker at Alquimista Cellars, in partnership with co-winemaker Patrick Dillon. Alquimista is Spanish for alchemist, a name selected for its history of fusing science, art, spirituality, mythology, the elements, and enlightenment. La Follette said, “Our passion in wine is to capture both magic and your imagination. Imagine winemaking built on science, spirituality, boundary-breaking artistry, and risk. Imagine experiencing wines that inform a new generation of discovery, while, at the same time, venerate old world tradition.”

Dillon also evolved into the world of wine, after wearing many hats: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writer, author, editor [Forbes], web content director, strategic consultant, vice president of a software firm, executive producer at a web-based data visualization design firm, and co-author of the Open Range cookbook.

In 2000 Dillon and his wife Anne bought a small farm in Sonoma County, where they met Eric Sussman, who had just launched his Radio Coteau label. Leveraging Dillon’s growing interest in winemaking, Sussman recruited him for helping with a variety of chores in the cellar. “He kept telling me how romantic winemaking was,” Dillon recalls. “And I kept reminding him of what a great sense of humor he had.” But the hard work and mentoring paid off, leaving Dillon with an understanding of the need of maintaining great grower relations and enforcing unwavering fastidiousness in both the vineyard and winery. He gained further experience with Marimar Estate in Sonoma County, and later ADAMVS, the high-end Cabernet Sauvignon producer on Napa County’s Howell Mountain. “I saw in Patrick a world of experience that really rubbed off in working with growers even during the toughest harvests and in our winemaking,” reminisced La Follette.

Always the iconoclast, La Follette believes that “balance” is more important than low yields in producing  higher-quality wines. “A broad generalization” he said, referring to the low yield maxim. “It is more likely that high-end wines from vines that are cropped too low are actually worse than if the vine has a balanced crop. This leads to runaway alcohols. If the vine isn’t balanced, it will pay no attention to ripening its grape tannins. Then you must pick the grapes at higher sugar percentages to produce flavor-ripeness and that leads to higher alcohols, lower acidity, and jammy flavors. Balanced vines mean balanced wines, it’s as simple as all that.”

Alquimista’s focus is on vineyard-designated cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnays. La Follette strives for minimal filtering and fining (so usually some cloudiness is to be expected), but all of the wines I was able to sample, at least, were crystal clear. To achieve that, the red wines are settled carefully and turbidity (cloudiness) is monitored before bottling. The white wines are cold-stabilized at 28° F for two weeks, and then racked cleanly off of the settling lees.

All of the wines are made from native yeasts carried from the vineyards on the grapes themselves. Sometimes this can lead to unpredictable results, but La Follette and Dillon fully embrace that possibility. The grapes are sourced from vineyards located in Lodi, the Russian River Valley, and Mendocino.

That little “4” or “A” like symbol on Alquimsta’s labels is the alchemy symbol for maceration, the time grape juice spends in contact with the skins and seeds.

The vineyards

Haiku VineyardThe 141-acre Haiku Vineyard lies at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains in the Sanel Valley of Mendocino County.  Centuries of floods have left a cobbled and stony soil, in which every block has been organically farmed since  being  planted more than 25 years ago. The Fetzer family has worked it since 2005, using canopy and water management, organic compost, and natural habitats that encourage raptors for rodent control and songbirds for insect control. Cover crops that attract beneficial insects are utilized instead of pesticides, and to  prevent erosion, retain moisture, and add organic matter to the soil. Weeds are mowed rather than killed by herbicides.

Chuck and Gail Jones  purchased a half-acre adjacent to what would become their nearly eight-acre Hawk’s Roost Ranch in west Sonoma County in 1968. “The place had an absentee owner. There were some unkempt zinfandel vines on that land but it appeared to be propagating more weeds and poison oak than wine vines,” Chuck recalled. Eventually building and living on their half acre, Gail grew weary of the eyesore next door. “I’m tired of looking at weeds. Let’s buy the place,” she declared in 1992.

Hawks Roost Ranch

After stripping out the existing vegetation, the first plantings were pumpkins and cut flowers.. “Neither of us knew anything about farming grapes, much less what rootstock was and what it should be for our particular growing area,” Chuck said.  Jim Pratt, one of the area’s most respected vineyard managers, analyzed the soil, finding it consisted of alluvial clay-loam with hardpan about 18 inches beneath the surface. Pratt suggested a hearty rootstock and an equally virulent clone, known for its strength and boldness.  By 1998, more than 5,000 vines had been installed.

The five-acre Jessie’s Grove vineyard near Lodi has endured for 128 years. Originally planted by pioneer Joseph Spenke, and named for his daughter Jessie, the property is now farmed by Greg Burns, Spenker’s great great grandson. The gnarly vines are 86 percent head-trained Zinfandel, with the remainder a motley crew of Black Prince, Flame Tokay, Mission, and  Carignane vines. Says La Follette, “Each contributes a distinct element for the alchemy we strive for. This is our first project [in Lodi] and we are honored to work with arguably the most cherished vineyard of a region already renown for its ancient vines.”

Lorenzo VineyardOwned and farmed by John and Phyllis Bazzano and named for John’s Italian grandfather, the 10-acre Lorenzo Vineyard might have become a golf fairway instead. “My father and some of his friends got wind that the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club was considering expanding. So, being pretty shrewd, they purchased land that would be in the way of the expansion, hoping for a nice sale,” recalls John. “Well, the expansion never came our way. We ended up with a bunch of oak trees and an old orchard.”

After some false starts in farming the property, the Bazzanos realized their ground possessed just the right amount of Russian River loamy clay to foster wine grapes.  They planted Chardonnay vines in 1974 and 1975; these are now some of the oldest in the appellation. La Follette has worked with the Bazzanos for more than 10 years.

Manchester RidgeManchester Ridge lies about one hour west of Boonville  on the Mendocino coast, 2000 feet above Point Arena and the Pacific.   The vineyard’s 30 acres of weathered soil are routinely subjected to wind, rain, and temperature swings. Since the late 1990s La Follette has partnered with vineyard manager Martin Mochizuki to coax the vines into producing the best grapes they can.

Mes FillesIn 1998, La Follette began working with the owners of the Mes Filles Vineyard  located in the Russian River Valley.  He supervises viticulture to his own specifications on the 10-acre site, which is perched above the fog line atop a hill southwest of Sebastopol. The area is made up of Goldridge soil, a fine sandy loam left from an inland sea that drained into the Pacific more than two million years ago. This soil is known for excellent drainage and good fertility. The sloping vineyard sees long hours of sunlight, and cool coastal evening temperatures are created by marine air moving through the Petaluma Gap.

The Oppenlander Vineyard occupies land cleared 160 years ago by Danish immigrant Charles Oppenlander near the hamlet of Comptche in northern Mendocino County. Bill and Norman Shandel, Oppenlander’s great grandsons, farm the land now along with their wives, Kitty and Wanda. The 20-acre vineyard, first planted more than 100 years ago, and replanted in 1998, is hosted in heavy, clay loam, surrounded by redwoods. Just eight miles from the coast, the property holds cool marine air that fosters long hang time and slow ripening.

a selection of the wines

Before I get to the wines, a note about the cork: for many of their wines, Alquimista is  using a new closure product. Called “UNiQ”, from Ganau,  It  is made from finely ground natural cork that has been put through a high-intensity steam-cleaning process at 180° C.  Although in my experience the overall risk is overstated, this eliminates any trace of TCA (the chemical compound that causes wine to be characterized as “corked”), and guards  against undesired aromas and flavors.  Because of the possibility of cork taint, as well as the increasing cost and scarcity of all-natural cork, we can expect to see more and more producers migrating to these types of products, as well as the useful screw-caps and far less desirable artificial plastic plugs.

Alquimista Chardonnay Manchester Ridge 2016

Because of the challenges Pinot Noir presents to even talented winemakers, La Follette likes to call his Chardonnays his “anti-crazy” wines.

This wine reflects Alquimista’s singleness of vision, and won’t be for everyone.  It is a bright, clear lemon yellow, with aromas of melon and honeysuckle. There is grapefruit and a distinct  grapefruit pith (albedo) bitterness on the tongue, underlain with lemon curd and a hint of white peaches, all supported by crisp acidity.  The ABV is 14.9%, and 100 cases were made.

The bottle art is by Sonoma artist Sandra Rubin.

Alquimista Confluence Pinot Noir 2016

This wine is sourced from three estates, Mes Filles Vineyard, Hawk’s Roost Ranch, and Lorenzo Vineyard, all in the Russian River Valley AVA. The juices from these vineyards were separately aged in French oak for 18 months before being blended.  This Pinot is a medium purple in the glass.  It has a big nose of ripe cherry and spices.  The palate features tart cherries and dark fruits, mainly blueberries.  There is a snappy acidity that may be too intense for younger or more sensitive drinkers.  It all wraps up with a long finish.  The ABV is 14.2%, and a mere 67cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by San Francisco Bay area artist Mandy Bankson.

Alquimista Convergence Pinot Noir 2016

The 2016 is the initial offering of “Convergence,” a blend of three different vineyards in Mendocino County: Manchester Ridge is the anchor, with support form the Oppenlander Vineyard and the Haiku Vineyard.  The Manchester Ridge juice fermented on Chardonnay lees in its two barrels of new oak. The 18 remaining vineyard-designate barrels were once- and twice-used French oak, and the juices were separately aged for 19 months before being converged.  Like the Confluence, this Pinot is a crystal-clear, medium purple in the glass, with a similar nose of ripe cherry and spices.  The soft palate features zippy tart cherries, cranberry, and cinnamon, with a hint of cocoa.  It too all wraps up with a long finish.  The ABV is 14.2%, and 168 cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by San Francisco Bay area artist Mandy Bankson.

Alquimista Hawk’s Roost Ranch Pinot Noir 2016

100% sourced from the Hawk’s Roost Ranch, this Pinot is a clear, red garnet.  You are greeted by aromas of sweet dark berries, plum, and strawberries.   Remarkably, there is also just the slightest hint of smokey bacon.  These are followed by flavors of sweet cherries, cranberry, and fruit compotes.  The mouthfeel is round and soft, and the pliable tannins and acid are in perfect balance.  Definitely not your average California Pinot Noir.  The ABV is 14.1%, and 125 cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by Santa Rosa artist Mary Blake.

Alquimista Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir 2016

This wine was barrel aged on the lees for 16 months in only 15% new oak plus 85% once-used wood.  It is is the palest of these four Pinot Noirs, but with no reduction in flavor.  It starts with aromas of violets and blueberries, which also flow onto the palate with additional flavors of dried fruit, bitter orange, and a bit of cocoa.  It ends with a medium-long finish.  The ABV is 14.6%, and 150 cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by Point Reyes Station artist Toni Littlejohn.

Alquimista Jessie’s Grove Ancient Vine Zinfandel 2016

This selection is primarily Zinfandel, but is blended with the Carignan, Flame Tokay, Black Prince, and Mission grapes that Jessie’s Grove offers.  The black cherry color continues on as aroma to the nose. Then comes the flavors of plum and tart cherry, with just a bit of Zinfandel’s characteristic black pepper spiciness.  It has a long finish.  The ABV is 15.1%, and 65 cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by Sebastopol artist Carol Rae Watanabe.

You can find these and other selections at Alquimista Cellars’ website:

Visitors are welcomed to Alquimista, but strictly by appointment only, Covid or not.  Contact Alquimista through the website for more information.

NOTE:  There is a La Follette Winery in Healdsburg, which grew out of Tandem Wine Co. (it’s complicated), and although Greg La Follette was a part of its establishment as the founding winemaker, he departed soon after over “creative differences,” and no longer has any involvement.

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7 Deadly Wines

7 DeadlyThe Phillips family has been farming in Lodi since the 1850s, and cultivating wine grapes since the early 20th century. The founders of Michael David Winery are brothers Michael and David Phillips. They released their first commercial wine in 1984 under the Phillips Vineyards label after years of growing grapes for other wineries on over 800 acres of vineyards in the Lodi AVA. The brothers are fifth-generation farmers who “raised their families in the vineyard,” and they have been joined by Mike’s son Kevin and daughter Melissa as the family continues to thrive. “We, more than most, understand the importance of leaving it better than you found it for future generations. Our family legacy and love of Lodi drive our focus on sustainability,” declared Michael Phillips.

7 Deadly Zins was named one of Wine Business Monthly‘s Hottest Small Brands in 2004.  It grew to more than 250,000 cases annually in its first 10 years, and now annually sells some 300,000 cases. “It appealed to all demographics, young people and old people,” David Phillips said. “It was just one of those brands that took off and we got lucky with it.”

The operation was sold to The Wine Group in late 2018. You can learn more about their extensive holdings here.

7 Deadly Wines are sourced from the vineyards near Lodi, located in California’s Central Valley. The soil here is mineral-rich, free-draining, and sandy. The warm days and cool nights of this Mediterranean-like climate are considered ideal for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Key to their commitment to sustainability, 7 Deadly has met the Lodi Rules™ certification, based on grower farming practices that benefit the environment, community, and local economy. Launched in 2005, this was California’s first third-party-certified sustainable winegrowing program. By 2014, over 20,000 acres were “Certified Green” in the Lodi appellation. Lodi Rules is among the most rigorous and comprehensive sustainable winemaking programs in the country. It dictates over 100 sustainable vineyard farming practices across six areas, including:
• Water Management to conserve water use for the vines’ water needs.
• Integrated Pest Management to maintain a natural habitat for enemies of pests.
• Air Quality Control to minimize dust, reduce air pollution, and conserve energy.
• Soil Fertility to maximize soil nutrition for more concentrated fruit quality.
• Land Stewardship helps to preserve native plants and protect wildlife habitat.
• Human Resources programs provide comprehensive employee training for job safety, efficiency, and advancement opportunities.

7 Deadly Zins Old Vine Zinfandel 2017

This wine, 7 Deadly’s main selection, was first released in 2002, starting with 700 cases of the 2000 harvest.  According to the winery, “7 Deadly was born from a Catholic school upbringing, and our winemaker’s lust for hedonistically seductive wine.  Seven certified-sustainable vineyards were chosen for the inaugural vintage.  The Seven Sins were related to the seven old vine Zinfandels blended to create 7 Deadly Zins, now America’s favorite Zinfandel.”

Clear and dark purple in the glass, this wine starts with aromas of dark stone fruit and leather.  There is plenty of traditional zinfandel pepper on the palate, abetted by tart cherry and racy acidity.  It ends in a medium finish, with a bit of cardamom bitterness.

7 Deadly Cab Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

That “Zins” pun just doesn’t work when you replace it with “Cab,” does it?  A peril of trying to overextend a clever marketing concept.  Regardless, the wine itself works pretty well.  It has the same dark purple color of the Zinfandel, with plum, vanilla, and a bit of marshmallow on the nose.  Flavors of blackberry and bing cherry follow.  It has a rather thin mouthfeel, but well-structured tannins and a moderately long finish. It is an approachable and easy-drinking Cabernet.  The 2020 is the first release of 7 Deadly Cab.

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Cline Cellars

Cline CellarsEverything Old is New Again

As you enter Sonoma county from the south on California 121, one of the first wineries you encounter is Cline Cellars, and there could hardly be a better introduction to the Carneros AVA.

Even as a young teenager, Fred Cline learned to make wine from his grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi (yes, he of the hydrotherapy tub, as well as many other innovations). With a $9000 inheritance from Valeriano, in 1981 Cline founded the eponymous Cline Cellars in Oakley, California.

The winery was relocated to its current location in 1991. The property is the original site of the Mission San Francisco de Solano, the 21st and final of the historic California missions. Although the mission was moved in 1823, the Cline tasting room is located in a rustic 1850s farmhouse that is original to the property, surrounded by spring-fed ponds and thousands of rose bushes. The vineyards also reflect this history, with vines ranging from 80 to 120 years old.
Cline is one of the first of the pioneering Rhone Rangers, a group dedicated to wines from the grapes of the Côtes du Rhône in France (ironic for a boy with an Italian grandfather, no?)

Cline also has been a pioneer in sustainable farming. It is the second-largest completely solar-powered winery in California. Natural cover crops are used to nourish the soils, sheep and goats roam freely as they graze on weeds, and compost teas are used as fertilizer. “We’d be considered ‘organic’ if we wanted to follow the rules of the government,“ said Cline. “We are actually more sustainable [than the law calls for] by not following their organic rules.“ He calls his methods “beyond organic.”

Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvèdre Rosé 2017

C’mon! Don’t be afraid! Summer’s here, and what could be better than rosé? There are all kinds of dry, crisp expressions available, absolutely none like the dreaded cloying White Zinfandel of days gone by. This selection is an excellent place to start.

Fresh herb and strawberry aromas are followed by tart watermelon and just a hint of lemon peel and thyme flavors in this medium-bodied, smooth, and rather soft-textured wine.

Excellent as a well-chilled aperitif, or pair it with raw oysters, lobster Newburg, or planked salmon.

Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2017

The grapes for this Zin were planted by Italian and Portuguese immigrants in the sandy, phylloxera-resistant soils of Oakley, California, more than 100 years ago. Ancient, indeed. This dusty-ruby colored wine is lively and supple, with raspberry and baked stone fruit aromas. Tart cherry predominates on the medium-full body, complemented by medium tannins, moderate vanilla oak, and just a hint of pepper.

Serve this up with venison sausage and smoked gouda pizza, Kentucky burgoo, or barbequed duck.

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BACA Wines

BACA WinesThe eponymous Kathryn Hall Wines are known for their Cabernet Sauvignons. A second label, WALT Wines, specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnday. In 2016, Ms. Hall’s daughter, Jennifer Brown,  launched a third winery for the family named BACA Wines. Latin for ‘berry,’ BACA’s focus is on California Zinfandel. According to Brown, “When we set out to create the BACA brand, we had one mission in mind: to produce luxury Zinfandels that are nuanced, honest, current, and fun. We saw a gap in the market with the Zinfandel varietal, so we decided to craft a luxury Zin brand aimed at the curious and the adventuresome – while focusing on quality.”

Brown is joined at BACA by winemaker Alison Frichtl Hollister, who notes, “I grew up in a creative household and I’ve always viewed the world through an artistic eye; I draw, paint, and make prints. That way of looking at the world, fresh, new, and intuitive, directs and focuses how I look at this project. At a basic level winemaking is chemistry and microbiology, but it takes someone with an ability to find beauty in the organic, chaotic part of the process. And that’s where my growing up with an eye for art and my degree in biology just made a good synthesis.”

BACA Wines director Jennifer Brown (L) and BACA Wines winemaker Alison Frichtl Hollister (R).

For many years, Zinfandel’s origins were quite mysterious. Then research indicated a relationship with Primitivo from Italy’s Puglia region. But in 2001, DNA fingerprinting directly linked Zinfandel to an obscure grape from Croatia. Aside from Italy’s Primitivo and isolated plantings in South Africa and Australia, almost all other Zinfandel wines come from California, where growing started in the 1850s.

HALL President, Mike Reynolds, in talking about BACA, stated, “We are excited about making Zinfandel that is diverse, from different places. We are fond of these wines in that we like to show off the differences in terroir, which is the essence of what our winery is all about. We thought that the Zinfandel grape was a great medium to do that with.”

BACA sources fruit from Calistoga, Russian River, Rockpile, Howell Mountain, and Paso Robles, all from prominent vineyards. Using winemaking techniques that include optical sorting, exacting fermentations, and aging in French oak barrels, BACA aims to craft wines that reflect their place and climate. The BACA wine portfolio includes these five Zinfandels: Double Dutch, Cat’s Cradle, Marbles, Tug O’ War, and I Spy. In addition, there is a four-pack canned wine, Ring Around the Rosé, also made from Zinfandel, of course.

BACA Double Dutch Zinfandel Dusi Vineyard 2017

The wine is sourced from the esteemed Dusi Vineyard which is located on the southern end of Paso Robles, just on the west side of Highway 101. This is a dry-farmed vineyard that was planted first in 1945. Soils are rocky at the vineyard site.

This Zin starts out ruby red in the glass, with a nose of cherry and blueberry. Next comes plenty of tart cherry on the palate, with touches of smoke and milk chocolate. It is all supported by good tannins and bright acidity. There is little black pepper, often a characteristic of Zinfandel. The finish is luxurious and long.

BACA Cat’s Cradle Zinfandel Rockpile AVA 2017

Rockpile AVA is an American Viticultural Area located in Sonoma County, northwest of the town of Healdsburg. Established on February 28, 2002, Rockpile AVA was Sonoma County’s twelfth designated wine appellation. The wine region consists of approximately 15,400 acres, with about 160 acres of planted wine grapes. All of the AVA has an elevation in excess of 800 feet above sea level.

This big wine is dark brick red. Leather and stone fruit are the initial aromas. It is racy in the mouth, with puckering (in a good way) acidity, and flavors of sour cherry and that typical black pepper. Well-built tannin carries through the lengthy finish.

Enjoy either of these selections with focaccia burger with tomato, arugula, and aioli; brine-cured port chops with balsamic glaze, or braised chicken with tomato, pancetta, and zinfandel.

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Federalist Wines

Federalist WinesWe the People
(Who Drink Wine)

The Federalist, later known as The Federalist Papers, is a series of tracts written in support of the ratification of our nascent nation’s Constitution. The Federalists believed in strong national government, supported modernization, manufacturing, and industrial development, and the use of a tariff to fund the Treasury. (That’s the IRS, folks.) They supported a national Bank of the United States, and funding national and state debts incurred during the Revolutionary War. In foreign affairs the Federalists opposed the French Revolution, and sought a strong army and navy. Noted Federalists were: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, George Washington, and John Adams, the only Federalist president of the U.S.

The Federalist wines are produced by the somewhat mysterious 2Sons Winery, which is owned and managed by the Terlato Family wine empire. The vineyards and winery were founded in 1981. Three friends, John Grace, Mark Rafanelli, and Philip Staley (so why isn’t the winery named 3Sons? See? Mystery.), joined forces and purchased the site that was formerly the Alderbrook Estate. In 2000 the Terlatos were asked to develop a long-range plan to produce world-class wines and market 2Sons throughout the U. S. The Terlatos later purchased a majority share, and invested in both vineyard sources and winery to provide the winemaking team with the best grapes and equipment available. This has helped position the winery to produce single vineyard and estate wines with an on-going focus on Zinfandel.

Federalist Chardonnay 2011

This golden Chardonnay hails from the Russian River Valley AVA’s northern end near Healdsburg, approximately 80 miles north of San Francisco. Things start out with aromas of lemon and green apple. The lemon continues on the palate, with the addition of lime and pear. All of this means a bracing acidity, of course. The oak is certainly present, adding to a round, rich mouth feel, as is just a hint of sweetness. The nicely long finish features hints of cinnamon and bitter almond.

Separate Chardonnay blocks were barrel fermented in 30% new oak and aged in barrel for nine months. 2500 cases were produced.

This food-friendly wine calls for an Artichoke and Leek Frittata, Dungeness Crab Risotto with Lemon and Parsley, or Steamed Mussels with Saffron Aioli.

Federalist ‘1776’ Lodi Zinfandel 2013

We now travel from 80 miles north of San Francisco to 80 miles east, to the vineyards near Lodi, which produce about 18% of California’s wine grapes, more than Sonoma and Napa combined. The area is particularly hospitable to Zinfandel, a uniquely American grape, and this wine is no exception.

The nose reveals red fruits: cherry with a bit of plum. This dark-purple wine features flavors of blackberry, plum, and cinnamon. It also includes Zinfandel’s characteristic pepperiness, which some winemakers are moving away from.

Enjoy this Zin with Bruschetta with Cherry Tomatoes, Wine Braised Short Ribs with Balsamic Glaze, or Grilled Rib-eye Steaks with Roasted Garlic Butter.

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Cline Cellars

Cline CellarsYes, We Have No Cabernet

As you enter Sonoma county from the south on California 121, one of the first wineries you encounter is Cline Cellars, and there could hardly be a better introduction to the Carneros AVA.

Even as a young teenager, Fred Cline learned to make wine from his grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi (yes, he of the hydrotherapy tub, as well as many other innovations). With a $9000 inheritance from Valeriano, in 1981 Cline founded the eponymous Cline Cellars in Oakley, California.

The winery was relocated to its current location in 1991. The property is the original site of the Mission San Francisco de Solano, the 21st and final of the historic California missions. Although the mission was moved in 1823, the Cline tasting room is located in a rustic 1850s farmhouse that is original to the property, surrounded by spring-fed ponds and thousands of rose bushes. The vineyards also reflect this history, with vines ranging from 80 to 120 years old.
Cline is one of the first of the pioneering Rhone Rangers, a group dedicated to wines from the grapes of the Côtes du Rhône in France (ironic for a boy with an Italian grandfather, no?)

Cline also has been a pioneer in sustainable farming. It is the second-largest completely solar-powered winery in California. Natural cover crops are used to nourish the soils, sheep and goats roam freely as they graze on weeds, and compost teas are used as fertilizer. “We’d be considered ‘organic’ if we wanted to follow the rules of the government,“ said Cline. “We are actually more sustainable [than the law calls for] by not following their organic rules.“ He calls his methods “beyond organic.”

Viognier 2017

Ah, Viognier [vee-oh-NYAY], such an elusive and underappreciated wine. The grapes are finicky to grow, and once vinified exhibit a wide range of floral qualities, some more delightful than others.

This expression is pale reddish-golden in the glass, with a BAM! nose of honeysuckle. This is followed on the palate by the expected flavor of peach, as well as mango and sour orange. This unoaked wine tastes dry, but has a surprising, slightly sweet finish. To enjoy its nuance, do not overchill.

Drink this tipple with braised tuna in white wine, oven-braised halibut steaks, or Provençal seafood with aioli.

Heritage Zinfandel 2015

The provenance of this Zin are the 100-year-old Big Break, Live Oak, and Bridgehead vines in Oakley, which are dry-farmed in deep, sandy soil. It is crystal ruby in the glass. Flavors of cola, blueberry, and coffee greet you on the tongue. There is just a hint of Zinfandel’s characteristic pepper. The body has a nice satin quality, supported by nicely balanced medium tannins and acidity. An eminently drinkable wine.

Enjoy this red with braised pork with sweet and hot peppers, Niçoise chicken with tomatoes and black olives, or lamb with artichokes.

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Amapola Creek Winery

Born in San Francisco and raised in Santa Rosa, Richard Arrowood started his winemaking career in 1965 at Korbel Champagne Cellars, after earning a degree in organic chemistry at California State University, Sacramento, and completing graduate work in enology at California State University, Fresno.

From Korbel he moved on, first to United Vintners, then Sonoma Vineyards, and in 1974 was chosen by the founders of Chateau St. Jean Winery to become their first employee and winemaker.

Arrowood Winery opened in 1986 while he was still at Chateau St. Jean, and for the first three years his wife Alis ran the winery as Richard fulfilled his obligations at Chateau St. Jean. In April 1990 Richard joined Alis to devote himself full-time to Arrowood Winery.

The peripatetic Arrowood then moved on once again; he opened his newest winery, Amapola Creek, in June, 2010. The 120-acre ranch (purchased in 2001) that is home to Amapola Creek is situated on the western slope of the Mayacamas Mountains, which rise between and separate the Sonoma and Napa valleys. Although Alis envisioned the site as the place for a peaceful retirement, Richard had other ideas, and immediately set about selecting the best 20 acres of the property for use as the foundation for Amapola Creek Winery.

Arrowood claims he’s “saved the best for last.” Perhaps he’s right; after making quality wine for over 45 years, he says his quest now is to make his greatest wines ever.

In early December 2019, Richard Arrowood announced his retirement.

Amapola Zinfandel 2007

The grapes for this Zinfandel were sourced from ‘ancient’ 115-year old vines of Sonoma’s historic Monte Rosso vineyard. This high-elevation site features mineral-rich volcanic soils and cooling breezes from San Pablo Bay.

The gnarly old vines made for a truly distinctive Zinfandel. It is dark plum in color, befitting its nicely balanced flavors of dark stone fruits, black cherry, and blackberry. The taste is supported by supple tannins and good acid, as well as just a hint of sweetness. And, there is no pepper on the palate, which is just the way I like my Zins.

Serve this wine with Sweet Potatoes Topped With Black Bean Chili, Grilled Spareribs with Cherry Cola Glaze, or Apricot Glazed Chicken.

Amapola Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

The organically-farmed estate vineyard for this Cabernet borders the one from which comes the Zinfandel, so the soils and climate are nearly identical.

This is just the second Cabernet released by Amapola. The grapes were hand-picked, and pressed after fermentation. The wine was then aged for 26 months in new and seasoned French and American oak. It is neither fined nor filtered.

This elegant wine shows excellent harmony and structure. The taste features ripe blackberry, plum, and currant. The fruit is offset by a pleasing dustiness, and supported by restrained tannins.

This wine would pair nicely with Rib Roast with Thyme-Mustard Jus, Pork Sauté with Apples and Calvados Cream Sauce, or Herb Roasted Turkey with Shallot Pan Gravy.

Here’s another look at Amapola Creek:

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