The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 14 of 108

14 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2016 { appellations } THEY ARE THE PEOPLE YOU KNOW but didn't know that you knew them. In the wine industry, they are the farmers, viticul- turalists and vineyard managers in charge of growing high-quality grapes that make wine- makers and wineries look like superstars. For Cabernet Sauvignon fans, a great concentration of these high-quality grape growers can be found in the pristine region of Alexander Valley in northern Sonoma County, which became an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1984. Stretching along Highway 101 between Healdsburg and the area north of the quaint town of Cloverdale, this charming agriculture region is 22 miles long and two to seven miles wide. Currently there are over 75 vintners and growers and 15,000 acres of vineyards planted—double the amount planted 20 years ago. Highlighted by a unique mixture of sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic soils, warm days and cool nights, the region is ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon, which is planted on the benchlands, valley floor and higher-elevation sites. These special condi - tions allow the fruit to fully ripen and pro- duce a wide spectrum of complex flavors that often include red and black fruits, wild herbs, mineral, earth and balanced tannins. This spring a lucky group of sommeliers and wine professionals will get to taste these flavorful wines and see the natural wonders of this region at the Cabernet Academy, an annual wine education program devel - oped by members of the Alexander Valley Winegro wers. (This year's event, which is already full, is sponsored by The SOMM Journal and hosted by Sommelier Fred Dame, VP Prestige Accounts, American Wine & Spirits). A Rich History The rich history of the valley can be traced back to Cyrus Alexander, an early West Coast pioneer who planted the first vines in 1841. By 1875, there were 230 acres of vineyards and the plantings continued to increase before Prohibition thanks to the success of the historic Italian Swiss Colony started by San Francisco banker Andrea Sbarboro in the 1880s. But it wasn't until 1963 that the first Cabernet vines were planted by local farmer Robert Young, who began converting his family's prune orchard to grapes. As interest in the special Bordeaux variety grew, more pioneers moved to the area. One was Harry Wetzel, who purchased 162-acres from the heirs of the Alexander family, and began planting Chardonnay and Cabernet in 1963. Wetzel produced Alexander Valley Vineyard's first wines in 1975 and the wine world quickly took notice of the elegant Cabernet Sauvignons from the southern end of Alexander Valley; forty-two years later they are still known for the flavor profile that made the valley famous. Another pioneer was Texas oilman and geologist Thomas Jordan and his wife Sally, who began devel - oping land on the southern end of the From Farms to Sips Northern Sonoma's Alexander Valley. EXPLORING THE FINE NEW CABERNET SAUVIGNONS FROM ALEXANDER VALLEY by Christopher Sawyer

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