It’s been nearly 200 years since Russian colonists planted and cultivated grapes at Ft. Ross in 1812, an early settlement in what is now Sonoma County (aka Sonoma AVA – the appellation we celebrate 6/9/11). Then it was those Franciscan Friars who got busy with winemaking at the northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, in 1823. Jump forward two centuries and we’ve got some fantabulous Sonoma County wines to show off Thursday!
With more than 55,000 acres now under cultivation in the county, Sonoma’s wine industry is so revered it’s generated upwards of 13 sub-appellations – all highly coveted for their unique terroirs and contributions to building fine wine brands — and it commands impressive prices for the fermented juice of the vines.
In but two short hours this coming Thursday, we’ll sample from three of the best. Here are their stories:
From their own websites: Roessler Cellars began in 2000 when long-time restaurateur Roger Roessler and experienced winemaker Richard Roessler merged talents to produce their first vintage of Pinot Noir. Inspired by a winemaking friend to “buy a few grapes” and “make a little wine,” the brothers sourced Sonoma grapes from the celebrated grape-growers, the Sangiacomo family. Over the years, they added new vineyards to their portfolio and grew from 225 cases of the original Sangiacomo fruit, to over 7,000 cases of 17 single-vineyard and appellation designated Pinots and 4 single-vineyard Chardonnays. The simple idea to “buy a few grapes” and “make a little wine” snowballed into the creation of a truly diverse and quality-focused enterprise.
The map of Roessler Cellars’ select growers stretches from the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara to northern Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Though our label’s wide assortment of vineyards reflects our passion and commitment to the Pinot and Chardonnay varietals, our company was born out of a gamble.
Having spent over 40 years in the restaurant business, Roger Roessler had a natural attraction to winemaking. His restaurants’ wine lists resembled this interest, increasingly emphasizing high-end, single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 1993, his newest location, the Swiss Hotel, was situated in the heart of wine country on the Sonoma plaza. While managing the restaurant, the local Pinot fruit and scenery captivated him, so much so that Roger made Sonoma his permanent home.
Richard Roessler’s business career was in Southern California, but he frequently made trips to Sonoma after his brother’s move to wine country. The culmination of Richard’s regular visits occurred in 1999, when his brother suggested crafting premium wine under the Roessler Cellars label. Richard shortly followed Roger to Sonoma and the work of creating fine wines began.
After their first vintage, Roessler Cellars quickly evolved into one of the premier producers of handcrafted Pinot Noirs in the U.S., sourcing fruit from many of the finest coastal vineyards on the continent. The gamble of relocating and investing in premium grapes was not a timid wager. However, the result of the work, patience and investment has been the cultivation of a library of first-rate Pinots and Chardonnays. The story of their beginning is similar to the story of their outlook toward the future. They have invested heavily in a variety of high-quality grapes to create the best wines possible. But more than anything, they hope your enjoyment of their wine exceeds the pleasure they had creating them!
2008 Griffin’s Lair Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($46) – Griffin’s Lair is located in the Sonoma Coast appellation, a few miles north of San Pablo Bay in the Lakeville area. Concentrated and complex, this wine is a blend of Pommard, Swan and Dijon 115 clones, and is a great expression of the unique character of the vineyard. Complex and dark, our Griffin’s Lair Pinot Noir shows off the classic character of this Sonoma Coast vineyard. The aromatic profile is full of dark, foresty scents and a meaty, savory character with just enough eucalyptus, fennel, and mint to add lift. Bright fruit on the palate joins the darker tones from the nose, providing a broad mouthfeel that stretches through a lingering finish of currant, earth tones, and leather. 269 cases.
2008 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($46) – Gap’s Crown sits high up on the slopes of the Petaluma Gap, where cool ocean breezes blow inland from the Pacific to create a terrific climate for growing Pinot Noir. Roessler harvests a classic combination of clones from different sections of the vineyard, with the fruit character of Dijon 667 and the structure and depth of Dijon 115 coming together in a complex expression of the site.
Starting out with low, creamy tones and woody, dusty notes, our 2008 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir opens into a dense, rich nose full of berry-fruit. Deep, dark flavors mingle with a brightening streak of black cherry and raspberry as subtle hints of violets and bay laurel build towards a finish laced with picholine olives. The wine continues to open up over a few days, maintaining its richness and depth with balanced fruit. 248 cases.
2008 Shea Williamette Valley Pinot Noir ($50) – Originally planted in 1989, the Shea Vineyard holds 135 acres of some of the finest Pinot Noir in Oregon. Dick and Dierdre Shea farm the vineyard with an eye toward sustainability and take great care in providing remarkable fruit that is a pleasure to vinify. At 400-600 elevation in the heard of the Yamhill-Carlton district, the vineyard boasts sedimentary soils, sloping terrain, and a variety of clones, all contributing to the final complexity and nuance of this wine.
A layered perfume of red raspberry, violet and rosemary leads to an interweave of ripe red fruit, earth, mineral, and spice. The generous mid-palate surges within a balanced frame, transcending to a long finish of vanilla and black cherry. 143 cases.
Great interview with Roger Roessler on YouTube.
Review here and here.
P.S. The Tasting Room was built in the 1920s by the Sebastianis.
Renowned sports car racer and entrepreneur Kevin Buckler and his wife, Debra, own adobe Road Winery. Adobe Road Winery produces award winning Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Meritage, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel and Dessert Wines exclusively from Sonoma and Napa County sources. The tasting room is located in Sonoma, California.
In 1992 Kevin founded The Racer’s Group (TRG) and grew it into an internationally prominent manufacturer and distributor of performance Porsche parts, while simultaneously building a career as a successful endurance sports car racer and team owner. Kevin’s accomplishments as a driver include class wins at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (2002) and the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans (2002), an overall win at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (2003), and the title of Porsche World Cup Champion in 2002. As a team owner, Kevin has directed the growth of The Racer’s Group into an internationally acclaimed racing team.
With friends, the Bucklers started making “garage wine” which, after prodding from enthusiastic friends, started commercially bottling under the Adobe Road label in 1999. Through Kevin’s good connections, he has acquired grapes from some very prestigious vineyards, which he handcrafts into extremely limited-production wines. The awards that followed inspired the all out effort to make Adobe Road Winey the premier small lot winery of Sonoma County. With the goal of producing exceptional wines by handcrafting small lots of red and white varietals exclusively from Sonoma and Napa Counties, the Bucklers have dedicated themselves to seeing their vision through to reality, and the results are paying off.
2006 Cabernet Franc Knights Valley Bavarian Lion Vineyard ($40) – The Knights Valley has always produced a classic, velvety varietaly correct Cabernet Franc and this was achieved again for this vintage. True to form, this well-balanced wine is loaded with earth tones and bright cranberry on the nose. The cigar box base with nutmeg tendencies will echo on the palate. 275 cases.
Complex and inviting, with a generous mix of ripe plum, black cherry and berry fruit that’s supple, balanced, deep and persistent, picking up a nice black licorice note. There’s wonderful persistence on the finish, with firm, integrated tannins.
- Jim Laube, Wine Spectator, 10-7-09; Wine Spectator – 91
Video here on their website, and a review here.
The Hawkes family has been growing grapes in the Alexander Valley for more than 30 years. Today they own and farm three vineyards, all planted on sparsely soiled hillsides, and all yielding small amounts of highly intense fruit. When launching the Hawkes label, their aim was to translate their extraordinary standards for the quality of the grapes into extraordinary wines.
Their newest vineyard, planted on Chalk Hill Road in 1996, is named the Pyramid for the extremely sharp, often terraced hills on which it grows. The entire Pyramid Ranch is nearly 120 acres, only 18 acres of which are planted, all in Cabernet Sauvignon. By having chosen and developed this ranch for the sole purpose of producing Cabernet Sauvignon, and by limiting cultivation to such a small area, not only are they able to guarantee ideal conditions for farming, but are also able to leave the vast majority of the ranch as wild land.
The Home Ranch Vineyard, which is bordered to the north by a forest of Douglas Fir and oak, and to the south by a tributary of the Russian River, is planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.
The Home Ranch itself takes the shape of a small valley, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot planted in the thin chalky soils of its surrounding hills and Chardonnay growing in the slightly richer soils of the foothills below. As a result of this layout, the Cabernet and Merlot receive the benefit of greater exposure to the elements and exceptional drainage, while the Chardonnay often spends much of the day shrouded in the fog flowing off the Pacific Ocean and through the Russian River Valley.
The Home Ranch Vineyard’s unique geography, together with minimal irrigation and a program of aggressive thinning in the Spring, ends with the red grapes in loose clusters of thick-skinned, densely flavored berries. This is particularly true of the Cabernet Sauvignon, where the upper hills often yield less than two tons to the acre.
In 2002, when they decided to launch their own label, they asked Herman Froeb, an old family friend who has been making wine from our grapes since the early 1980s, to be their winemaker. He accepted. Herman’s intimate familiarity with our farming philosophy and the character of our grapes produce wines that show a knowledge and respect for the particulars of each vineyard and variety. Each year they choose a small percentage of the grapes they grow for their own wine. They preserve the quality of this fine fruit by harvesting it when it is ripe, not over-ripe, and by giving it the oak aging it demands to be its best, no more. Hawkes wine is made exclusively from fruit they grow, with both farmer and winemaker involved in every stage of the wine’s evolution, from the vine, to the barrel, to the bottle.
2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) – Estate grown and produced in the Alexander Valley. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in barrel for 20 months, 40 percent new French oak. A blend of fruit from two hillside vineyards: 40 percent from our Pyramid vineyard, 30 percent from our Stone Vineyard and 30 percent from our Red Winery Road Vineyard. Black Cherry. Plum. Currant. Elegant. Balanced. 800 cases. 14.1% ABV, bottled June 2008.
The Red Winery Road Vineyard, 22 acres in all, is planted in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is a long, narrow rectangle, running from the floor of the Alexander Valley, up to the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. The Hawkes Family have been working this farm for more than 30 years now, searching for root stocks to match the field’s unusually varied soils. That they chose the Red Winery Road Vineyard for the source of their inaugural vintage is a testament to the fine results of this long effort.
2006 Hawkes Pyramid Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) – Volcanic soils. Dark Fruits. Showy. Huge. Estate grown and bottled in the Alexander Valley. 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in barrel for 30 months, 50 percent new French oak. From the best of fruit on our rugged Pyramid Vineyard, located in the hills between Chalk Hill and Knights Valley. Just 150 cases produced. 30 Cases available.
2003 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Library Wine ($40) – Leather and spice aromas give way to blackberry flavors, along with balanced tannins and acidity. The fruit is ripe enough for instant gratification, but the wine’s structure makes it suitable for aging. Yum.
Learn more from this YouTube video on Hawkes.
Reviews of their tasting room here and here. (Click logo above to visit Hawkes’ website.)
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