How Green was my Valley

Driving along highway 116 in western Sonoma County, you may have driven by the former River Road Vineyards, now the Rubin Family Wines complex – a sprawling, aging wood complex including a restaurant and bar patio, as you head towards Forestville.

This area of the Russian River Valley has been home to some of the world’s best pint Nor producers for decades, and while River Road Vineyards had been experiencing somewhat of an identify crisis in the mid 2000s,  in 2011, the Rubin Family of Wines tok over the property.

A particularly ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, the fog often lingers here beyond other area of Russian River, cooling down the vineyards and adding an earthy, acid driven profile to the wines.

The Rubin Family of Wines is committed to producing exceptional wines. Sourced from both the River Road estate and other local sources, the Ron Rubin brand includes a Pinot Blanc and two Pinot Noirs, as well as a Chardonnay and Syrah.

With specific attention paid to the vineyards and resulting wine, the dedicated winemaking team focuses on passion and precision.

2015 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Pinot Blanc

Stainless steel fermented with a touch of neutral barrel blended in, this is a classic Pinot Blanc in style and weight.  Ripe pear, juicy peach, crisp golden apples bathing in honeysuckle fields.  Finishes with tart lime and bright acidity.  A refreshingly low alcohol wine, it comes in at only 13.5% abv.  The early harvest of 2015 came from Dutton Ranch’s Shop Block a mere 1.5 miles from the Rubin Estate, and since Pinot Blanc is unusual for Sonoma County, this was a rare treat (only 3.5 acres are planted in Green Valley).

$30
2013 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

A bold Russian River Pinot Noir with brown sugar, black cherry, and Dr. Pepper notes layering on top of chocolate mocha.  Rich but still fresh with earth and wet leaves.  I really wanted this wine to have more acid, but this is a crowd pleaser to be sure and would be popular at any gathering.  Also low in alcohol, and unusually so given the region and the flavors, this clocks in at 13.7%.  With a long and slow ripening season in Green Valley, the estate Pinot Noir is a mix of hand harvested clone 667, 115, 777 and Pommard.  The Pommard adds a richness to the wine, with a soft and round body with the 9 months of French Oak give it the spice and vanilla backbone.

$40

Special thanks to Jo Diaz of Diaz Communications for the hookup!




Red, ruby, Garnet!

Garnet: -A semi precious mineral gemstone, often mistaken for a ruby.
-A middle English word meaning dark red.
-A wine producer that specializes in Pinot Nor from Carneros.
Recently, I was tretaed to a dinner featuring the wines of Garnet, hosted by winemaker Alison Crowe.
Once a lower brow brand of large California fighting varietal house Saintsbury, Garnet was sold to the grape supplier Silverado Winegrowers in 2011.
With over 11,000 acres of California vineyards, Silverado has been a longtime supplier of premium grapes to several brands. With the purchase of Garnet, they now focus on production of higher-end wines.
Creating wines that retail between $11 – $30, you can bet there is something in there for everyone. I was delighted by the quality of the lower price point Monterey Pinot Noir, which typically can be a bit off putting to me.  I just don’t personally care for the Monterey terroir in my pinot.
While most Garnet wines are sold at restaurants, they recently announced a partnership with Safeway to sell the Monterey pinot in stores, which means you can get a inexpensive wine for a steal.  The Garnet label has been around since 1983; in the mid nineties, the production swelled to 15,000 cases, which, while I don’t know for sure, probably lead to some degredation in quality.
Alison cut her winemaking teeth at Chalone, one one of the great family houses in Central California (ok that’s another story). From there, she move don to work with Randall Graham, and really honed her style with some of the world’s best renegade wine makers.  Now, she has the opportunity to build a brand in to one of Carneros’ finest.  It is her goal to ensure that each wine is a true expression of the terroir, and by selecting specific sights in the vineyard portfolio for each bottle, she can do this.
Before dinner, we were greeted by the 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonany.  Now, you know that I’m not the world’s biggest chard lover but this was a nice departure from the overly cloying, butter bombs that are typical of the region.  Filled with bright lemon and citrus, there was a lemon curd sprinkled with nutmeg hiding in there.  I loved the brightness with a hidden agenda.  The fruit is 75% Carneros and 25% Green Valley (Russian River).  It’s my personal opinion that the Green Valley fog brings an acidity and zip to this wine that you wouldn’t otherwise find in a Carneros chard.  The other quality that has promise in this is that it is 100% stainless steel fermented and is just kissed by oak barrels when the wine is finished, so you get very little of the oaky  butter bomb effect.  For $15, this is a great wine for your white wine sipping ladies on the porch.  A-

The 2009 Monterey Pinot was a sleeper hit.  As I mentioned, I don’t care for the flavor profiles I often find in Monterey Pinot.  There is an oddness in there, and something that doesn’t sit well with me, in the form of green sticks and odd leaves.  But this example has dusty dried cherries and strawberries, and while it was a bit tight at first, opened up to white pepper with a lot of floral influence.  Again for $15 it’s a crowd pleaser.  Solid B.

The 2010 Carneros Pinot was, as is expected, big and jammy with bright raspberry.  I personally thought it was a little hot, and bold but silky.  Even though it was big and jammy, the body was lighter, which was somewhat surprising for a Carneros wine.  There was a lot of darker fruit hiding in there.  Not my fave.  C+

My personal favorite glass was the 2010 Rodgers Creek Pinot.  This single vineyard designate is the only wine that is finished with cork and showed Earthy mellow mushroom, bark, sarsaparilla and spicy gingerbread.  In a way it reminded me of a Coca Cola cake (it’s a southern thing).  The foggy terrain of Rodgers Creek gives this a stunning baking spice palate that I just love.  I couldn’t quite believe that this was only $30, and it definitely gets n A in my book.

The moral of this story is that it pays to dig a bit under those big brands.  They often hide premium wines under their hats that you might not otherwise approach.  Since I prefer to dig under the vines for smaller, less well known wines, I am appreciative to find a larger production winery that is focusing on quality, even when quantity makes the bankers happy.

Thanks to Alison and Laura from The Barn Group for a lovely evening!

Bubbles bring me Joy!

It’s a terrible thing, be able to enjoy sparkling wines whenever I want to.  I personally love bubbles with potato chips, hamburgers, and at the ballpark, but that’s just me.  I’m a firm believe that wine (especailly sparkling wine) is made to celebrate life, and not just life’s special occasions!

In celebration of my life and my friends, Iwas invited crashed dinner with friends, including the venerable Chuck Hayward of JJ Buckley Wine, his Girl Friday Paige (also of JJ Buckley) and my sistah from anotha motha, as well as Joy Sterling, CEO of Iron Horse Vineyards, the far western Sonoma County bubble house.

Iron Horse was founded by Audrey and Barry Sterling in 1976, in a quiet corner of Green Valley, in the lush rolling hills of Green Valley.  This western Sonoma area is in the rainy side of town, and it’s a perfect place to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  So off they went, to grow grapes for still wine.

But why would a vineyard, known for creating delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, make the leap to sparkling?  It’s not exactly easy.  The answer is easy – necessity is the mother of invention.  In 1980, the first vintage of sparkling wine was made when there was an excess of still wine.  Since 1985, Iron Horse sparkling wine has been served in the White House continuously.  Not too shabby for a creative solution to a common problem.

Audrey and Barry passed on the Iron Horse legacy to their children, Joy and Laurence.  Joy, educated in paris and at Yale (yeah, she’s a smart cookie that one), is the face of Iron Horse and the CEO.  Her brother Laurence and his wife Terry live on property and he is the Director of Operations.

I was lucky enough to meet Joy through Paige several years ago, and it’s so much fun to drink with her!  But that’s enough about that.  Never one to say no to a glass of stars, we ran through all (oh yes all) of the  current releases at dinner.

2006 Ocean Reserve is a special bottling that was created in partnership with National Geogrraphic to help raise funds to protect marine areas.  This 100% Chardonnay is aged for 4+ years and has a briny flavor that actually does taste like the ocean.  There is a seaweed taste in there, with a creamy limestone and bitter lemon note that tastes of oysters and burnt toast.  So very interesting!

2006 Classic Vintage Brut is fresh and bright, and has a classic (no pun intended) flavor of freshly baked bread.  There is a ton of fresh lemon and bright crisp citrus as well.  With 68% Pinot Noir, it’s a great example of a Green Valley wine.

The 2007 Wedding Cuvee  has a lot more color than in most years.  The gorgeous strawberry and raspberry notes had a fresh floral feeling, with rose petals and cream.  Delicious!  This is probably my favorite Iron Horse sparkling wine.

The 2006 Brut Rose is a gorgeous deep salmon blush color.  With Blood orange and oom on the nose and almost a bit of tomato, this purpose made rose has a rich flavor that brings some thing different to the table.

The 2006 Russian Cuvee is another classic, with buttered popcorn flavors springled with fresh yeast.  It is slightly sweeter than the others and has delcious stonefruit falvors .  This is my other favorite!  Starting it’s life as the same base wine as the Classic Vintage Brut, the Russian is given a richer dosage (more sugar).  This makes the Russian more opulent, and fitting for any Czar.  It’s got a touch of sweetness, and was created for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit at the end of the Cold War.  Pretty cool!

 

Iron Horse Vineyards is located on Ross Station Road, just outside of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County.  If you go, make sure you you bring your four wheel drive and mud boots in the winter, and a hat int he summer!  Sitting on the top of a hill above the vineyards in the valley, you will be able to sip wine among the apple trees, in the outdoor tasting bar.  There is no table serviec here, just pure fun!