The SOMM Journal

October / November 2015

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Page 40 of 132

40 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2015 { appellations } THE PINE MOUNTAIN–CLOVERDALE PEAK AVA'S SOUTHERN boundary looks like the work of a drunken cartographer. But that squiggly line separating it from the rest of northern Sonoma County's Alexander Valley highlights the AVA's greatest distinction. Its entirety is above 1,600 feet. At that altitude, vineyards are ensured long, fog-free days with strong sun but daytime temperatures well below those on the valley floor. Nights are warmer than the valley, yet low enough to preserve acidity. High winds, well- drained, volcanic gravelly loam and rainfall 30 to 60 percent greater than on the valley floor are also common denominators. Still, a multiplicity of altitudes, facings and grades give the various vineyards unique personalities. The AVA, approved by the TTB in November, 2011, is 4,750 total acres but only 300 are planted. The latter may double, but 20+ degree grades and tight legal restrictions on new plantings won't allow much more. Steep, winding, dirt roads present a challenge too. "Grape grow - ing here isn't for the faint of heart," says Barry Hoffner of Silverwood Ranch. His Upper Ridge Vineyard, leased to Imagery Estate Winery, is the highest in Sonoma County at 2,600 feet. About 96 percent of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA's grapes are for red wine. Among them is a smattering of unexpected varieties belonging to Imagery Estate Winery*: Lagrein, Tempranillo, Grenache, Teroldego, Tannat, Sangiovese and Barbera among them. I've wondered about this assortment in the past. "It's not an experiment," Joe Benziger assures me. "We planted them based on a viticultural report by Mark Greenspan. It's 40 percent of the Imagery Winery production and always sells." The majority of the AVA's vines, though, are Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon (79 percent), followed by Merlot (six percent) and Malbec (three percent). The Cabernet grapes are small, dark and thick-skinned. Phenolic ripeness is achieved at relatively low Brix levels. These wines are dark and intense with structural, yet approachable, tannins. Flavors show black fruit plus aspects of savory herb and min - eral, but neither pyrazines nor raisin. Alcohol, ranging from moderate to borderline-high, is well-balanced by fruit. The best of these Cabernet Sauvignons are world class. Among them are the Captûre 2010 Alliance and 2010 Respite—both savory, mascu - line, Bordeaux-inflected wines made by May-Britt and Denis Malbec— and the rich, lively and fruit-forward Ampère 2010 by Thomas Brown. *The purchase of Benizger Family Winery and Imagery Estate Winery by The Wine Group was announced on June 9, 2015. Scaling the Heights THE PINE MOUNTAIN–CLOVERDALE PEAK AVA DELIVERS DARK, DISTINCTIVE REDS by Fred Swan Barry Hoffner, proprietor of Silverwood Ranch, which includes Upper Ridge Vineyard, the highest- altitude plot of wine grapes in Sonoma County. Joe Benziger, winemaker at Imagery Estate Winery, has found Pine Mountain–Cloverdale Peak to be an excellent area for grape varieties not often grown in California, from Tempranillo to Teroldego. Part of the Mayacamas range, Pine Mountain is the highest mountain in Sonoma County, keeping vines relatively cool but above the fog. PHOTO COURTESY OF PINE MOUNTAIN– CLOVERDALE PEAK WINEGROWERS PHOTO COURTESY OF PINE MOUNTAIN– CLOVERDALE PEAK WINEGROWERS PHOTO COURTESY OF PINE MOUNTAIN–CLOVERDALE PEAK WINEGROWERS

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