The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2014

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Page 32 of 136

32  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2014 SAN FRAN INSIDER C M Y CM MY CY CMY K A s a deluge of new AVAs in Paso Robles, 11 to be exact, make their debut this month (see page 87 –Ed.), we're catching up with research that took place earlier this year in two mountain AVAs: Pine Mountain–Cloverdale Peak and Capay Valley. Day trips to each provided a firsthand look at the vineyards and chance to taste with the growers and winemakers who are putting their hearts and a lot of sole (as in shoe leather) in to the wines they're producing. After a morning ATV ramble over Silverwood Ranch with grower Barry Hoffner and fellow advocate John Compisi to view Sonoma's Pine Mountain–Cloverdale Peak AVA, it's apparent why producers like Kendall-Jackson are establish- ing a footprint here. Overlooking Alexander Valley from 3,000 feet, the AVA which was approved in 2011 straddles Sonoma and Mendocino counties and has been farmed for wine grapes since the 1850s. A patchwork of sites on alluvial fans and shallow volcanic soils are primarily planted to Cabernet Sauvignon; Hoffner's estate and the AVA are planted to 80 percent of the variety. He recently grafted a Merlot site over to Malbec with shining results. Benziger, Francis Ford Coppola, Murphy-Goode among others have been sourcing fruit from fewer than ten grow- ers here for their luxury labels, most notably Benziger's Imagery and consulting winemaker Denis Malbec's Respite and Captûre. According to Hoffner, Coppola's Archimedes 2012–2013 will carry the Pine Mountain–Cloverdale Peak designation which will bring the growing number of wines so labeled to seven. Coppola's cache should help further con- sumer awareness of the AVA's quality-for- value proposition. In addition to the round tannins and expressive black fruit that are typical flavor markers for the mountain's Bordeaux varieties, we also found plenty of patchouli spice in the Pine Mountain Vineyards 2010 Ampère Cabernet Sauvignon tasted that day. Approved in 2002, Capay Valley in Yolo County, north of Sacramento, is perhaps best known for its organic produce. The flavor-packed fruits and vegetables grown in the rich, loamy soils of the valley floor make a case for the extra spend on organic at Ferry Plaza Market Hall. The boundaries of the AVA are massive, spanning 110,000 acres, most of which are still primarily devoted to cattle ranching and stretch along the eastern side of the Vaca Mountains, reaching 2,400 feet at the ridge. The low-vigor, hillside vineyard sites at Casey Flat Ranch winery, the AVA's only high-elevation producer, demonstrate that the untapped region has merit. "The Ranch was origi- nally planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Grenache in 2004," says winemaker Laura Barrett "and now also produces musqué clone Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier." Farming for quality similar to that of Calistoga, vineyard manager Tom Prentice keeps yields low and care- fully manages canopies for what he terms "a site that initially required some experimentation." With additional ultraviolet and warmer night temperatures at 2,000 feet, Prentice noted that even in cooler years the red varieties lose any pyrazines. Barrett and Prentice have worked closely to capture the essence of the mountain in the Casey Flat Ranch wines ($18–$45) and a second label Open Range ($15–$18); both are reflective of the place. Getting there, however, requires a considerable amount of time on a switchback dirt road. As vintner Alison Morey Garrett refers to the less than one half of one percent of the family ranch that's under vine, "It's where Bordeaux meets Rhône and the cattle still roam." Casey Flat Ranch vintner Alison Morey Garrett with Thea Dwelle, who blogs at Luscious Lushes. Mountain AVA pioneer Barry Hoffner is an advocate for the close-knit community of winegrowers in the Pine Mountain–Cloverdale AVA. Winemaker Laura Barrett has been dialing in the wine styles from the ten-year old vineyards at Casey Flat Ranch. Her sold out 2012 Sauvignon Blanc won rave reviews. Mountain AVA Pioneers INSIDER TRAVELS NORTH TO VISIT TWO HIGH-ELEVATION APPELLATIONS story and photos by Deborah Parker Wong "Great things are done when men and mountains meet; this is not done by jostling in the street." —William Blake

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