The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2013

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 45 of 149

"Dirt, Farming and Soul" story and photos by Randy Caparoso BIG-TIME SOMMS FIND THEIR WAY TO AMADOR COUNTY Ann Kraemer at her family's Shake Ridge Vineyard. Scott Brenner and Kelli White, of St. Helena's PRESS Restaurant, with Forlorn Hope's Matthew Rorick. O nce upon a time, Amador County was all about "rustic" wines: a nice way of saying rough or coarse—not exactly appealing to persnickety sommeliers. But no more. At least not since 2003, when Ann Kraemer and her family established their 185-acre ranch, called Shake Ridge Vineyards. The first commercial wine made from Shake Ridge was the 2005 Favia Amador County Syrah, which had two things going for it: First, it was made by the "cult" Napa Valley husband/wife team of Andy Erickson and Annie Favia; and second, it was really, really good—ferociously rich, zesty, silken and saturated with not just violet-like Syrah fruit, but also distinctively wild, scrubby, earthy sensations. This past May, the husband/wife sommelier team of Scott Brenner and Kelli White from Napa Valley's acclaimed PRESS Restaurant were among the visitors invited up to Shake Ridge Vineyards to walk the vineyard's rolling, rocky hills. Both White and Brenner make interesting stories of their own, having moved to St. Helena in 2010 to get closer to the winegrowing scene, after big time sommelier stints in New York's Veritas and Aureole. On top of Favia and Erickson, the winemakers sourcing from Shake Ridge reads like an A-list of cool or cultivated: Gallica (owned by Spottswoode's Rosemary Cakebread), Keplinger (by Helen Keplinger, former winemaker of Bryant Family), Jeff Cohn's JC Cellars, Matthew Rorick's Forlorn Hope, Hardy Wallace's Dirty & Rowdy, Turley Wine Cellars, Enfield, Newsome-Harlow, A Tribute to Grace, BellaGrace, Aratas, Tallulah, Ferdinand, Portalupi, Buccella and Kraemer's own brand, Yorba. Ms. White tells us, "You can't help being struck by the range of personalities that the ranch draws—largely vintners who are quite young, pushing the boundaries stylistically, increasing our perception of what is possible in California." Adds White, "We've been especially fond of Kepinger's 'Sumo' [a co-fermented field blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah and Viognier], but what we found especially exciting were the lighter reds—such as A Tribute to Grace's spicy and refreshing Graciano, Dirty & Rowdy's shockingly low-alcohol Mourvèdre and Forlorn Hope's Barbera, which was bottled in both sulfured and unsulfured lots. We rarely like American Tempranillo, but both the Enfield and the Ferdinand were delicious." For all the different grape varieties going into Shake Ridge wines, there is a common sensory theme running through most of them: a woodsiness laced with a rosemary, animal, almost garrigue-like earthiness, plus espresso roast/coffee ground notes, on top of sturdy, granitic yet giving tannin structures. Keplinger attributes this character to the warm yet moderated, high-elevation exposures and, as she puts it, "the myriad aspects to Shake Ridge's rocky soil, derived from ancient volcanics sloughed down and mixed in with an uplift of basalt, with soapstone, shale and quartz." Says Hardy Wallace, who put the commonality in simpler terms: "It's dirt, farming and soul that sets Shake Ridge wines apart." 44  /  the tasting panel  / july 2013 TP0713_034-65.indd 44 6/24/13 5:40 PM

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Tasting Panel magazine - July 2013