What To Drink Now: Sonoma Valley

Monte Rosso Vineyard 100+-year-old vine Zinfandel
Just a baker’s dozen long from north to south, Sonoma Valley delivers diversity producing everything from classic Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties, to wines made from vines brought over generations ago from Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Rhone Valley, and Spain.

Annually the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers join together in celebration of this diversity, showcasing their unique story, immersing guests into their vineyards and wineries with a Signature Sonoma Valley weekend.

Today on KXAS-TV/NBC DFW I’ll share a little more about a handful of these special wines. Below is a snapshot of last weekend’s immersive, elegant, unique experiences surrounding the Cabernet Sauvignon variety. I will have more on the wines and weekend in subsequent posts. A link to the segment is here.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Valley Chardonnay

As Signature Sonoma Valley welcomed early arriving guests on Thursday, they opened the event featuring a handful of first draft AVA maps detailing region crafted under the direction of Antonio Galloni of Vinous and Italian cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti. Their goals is to highlight every vineyard of record, even down to those that are no more than 1/2 of an acre, to accurately reveal the varying elements of the valley from elevation to variety to age, to name, as Galloni is also working towards measures to lock vineyard names into stone as they define the sense of place that is being lost as land changes hands, and new owners look to rebrand story-filled vineyards.

Resting between the Mayacamas Mountains and Sonoma Mountains, Sonoma Valley established California as a wine producing area in 1824 when Sonoma became the last and most northerly link in a chain of 21 Californian missions built by Franciscan monks. Sonoma’s mission was the only established under an independent Mexican government.

Vineyards were first planted by Franciscan missionaries 183 years ago, but the region was established over 12,000 years ago when America’s indigenous tribes named the area “Valley of the Moons” as legend says Sonoma derives from the indigenous word “many moons.” The first noted winery of the region, still producing today, was Buena Vista in 1857, followed by Gundlach Bundschu a year later. The Bundschu family still runs the winery today producing beloved international varieties as well as incredible Gewurztraminer displaying both classic wildflower and rose perfume notes, as well as a clean, distinct line of minerality.

The historic Buena Vista Winery was purchased by French wine bon vivant Jean-Charles Boisset in 2011, reestablishing it as a quality producer of robust red blends and refined sparkling wine.

Seeking adventure, and “purple gold” Count Agoston Haraszthy left his life as a part of the Hungarian nobility to venture to California to find the ideal place to plant vines. Along the way, he was also elected Sheriff of San Diego County in 1850. Buena Vista “The Sheriff” honors that story and legacy, creating a robust blend of Petite Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Mission, and Merlot, delivering blackberry, black plum and a touch of baking spice.

Monte Rosso Vineyard in the Moon Mountain District
One of Sonoma’s newer sub-AVA (American Viticulture Area) is the volcanic rock filled Moon Mountain District. Some of the oldest vines rest comfortably nestled on the western slope of the Mayacamus Mountains, including the historic Monte Rosso Vineyard. Benefiting from elevations of 400 to 2200 feet, red, iron-rich soils, western exposure to the sun, and a direct line from San Pablo Bay to receive cooling afternoon winds ensuring that even on the hottest summer days, Monte Rosso fruit shines with acidity and freshness.

Starting with 75 acres in 1886, Monte Rosso has been the prize of Sonoma Valley for generations, rivaling not only the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines of Sonoma and Napa, but the world. In the early 1930’s, just after prohibition ended, Louis M. Martini saw the protentional of the place, with it’s key similarities to Napa’s mountain regions, purchasing the property and expanding to it’s current 250ish acres planted to Cabernet and Bordeaux varieties, while keeping blocks of old vine, sprawling Zinfandel and a varied field blend of Old World Portuguese and Italian varieties traditionally planted in California by European immigrants in the late 1800s.

Gallo purchased the property in 2002 when Louis M. Martini was acquired, bringing in sustainable farming methods. Under the guidance of vineyard manager Brenae Royal, the essence of the terroir speak through the Martini, Mount Peak and Orin Swift’s new Eight Years In The Desert wines. Louis M Martini Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon has a concentration that you don’t find in many wines, thanks to 130 years of farming. But with the bold palate layering highly structured fruit comes a focused freshness, with energy, vibrancy, and tension.

The Moon Mountain Vineyard, which for the past decade has been owned by Jim Momtazee producing his Repris Wines, highlights the complexity the place delivers, creating wines with energy and power, along with an overall feeling of grace. Momtazee, and his team including esteemed organic vineyard manager, Phil Coturri, and winemaker Erich Bradley, believes his role is to be a steward of the land to usher in the next generation of the vineyard, honoring what has been done in the past, while looking towards the future.

Tasting wines produced 30 and 40 years ago from fruit off the vineyard, as in some of Richard Arrowood’s earliest single vineyard bottlings of Moon Mountain fruit for Chateau St. Jean in the 1970’s, surprises the palate as though fruit has moved from fresh to dried flavors, there is still freshness in the wines, with softened, but present, tannins. The 1974 wine still had years of enjoyment ahead of it. I have much more to come in a subsequent post on the beautiful wines of Moon Mountain.

Similarly, moving to the central part of Sonoma Valley, in the high elevation slopes on Sonoma Mountain, the 16 acre Laurel Glen vineyard was first planted in the late 1970’s, with 1981 being the first vintage. Organically farmed, showcasing the natural floral and forest areas that surround the vineyard, Laurel Glen wines reveal red fruit, tobacco, savory olive and balsamic, and woody garrigue filled herb.

Through a retrospective tasting of the past almost 40 years the progression of the wines became obvious, as youthful vines came in to their own, delivering textured, well-rounded fruit that is beautiful to enjoy upon release, as is evident with the current release 2015 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon, but also ethereal decades later.

For years many have only looked to Napa Valley to find the noteworthy Cabernet Sauvignon wines of California. Of everything this Signature Sonoma Valley weekend delivered, it’s highlight was the deep appreciation for Sonoma Valley’s unique story, and the simply stellar Cabernet Sauvignon wines produced for over 100 years. I will have more on the other varieties that shine here, particularly cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Carneros favorites like Ram’s Gate, Sangiacomo, Landmark, Anaba, and Gloria Ferrer bubbles. Cheers and aloha.

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