Sonoma, in terms of micro-climates, reckons itself as committed to three distinct turfs; marine, coastal cool and coastal warm. Vines grow in all three spaces but it is only in the elevated mountain reaches upwards of the fog bank that the region considers itself anti-cool. Well, that’s just some people talking. Barometrically speaking, “coastal cold” is not on the radar.
Consider the moniker “cool-climate.” Can it mean one thing only? Is it to be labeled as a universal truth? Sonoma County can’t be compared to Niagara or the Okanagan Valley. That much we know. It’s no Prince Edward County. Chilling hours (below 45ºF) average approximately 1,300 per year but winemakers in Northern California are not “hilling up” or burying their vines to protect them from sub-20 degree zero Celsius temperatures in January and February.
Sonoma may not be the cool-climate region its winemakers and marketers make it out to be. To a true, we the north (verb-constricted) grape grower, Sonoma does not know from cold. But it’s really not a matter of direct comparison. Sonoma has a cool-climate bent no other geography can lay claim to. A fog bank all along the coastline blows in, accompanied by cold air capable of such rapid temperature shrinkage it can be measured by swings as much as 50 ºF. The manifest vital spark that runs through all of Sonoma County’s fiords and chords, spuming with an irrepressible puissance is that fog.
Sonoma Vintners passed through Toronto last month. These three producers and five of their wines must not move on to the next town without mention. Here are the notes:
Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Sonoma County, California (397521, $30.00)
Shyness or hidden meaning are not a part of the MV’s MO. This is not brain salad surgery. What you see is what you get. Pure, unadulterated, separately vinified, last-minute blended, red and black indications of clean Sonoma fruit. Varietal barrel isolations are the key to nurturing individualistic phenolic development. The final composition’s hue shows no lack of anthocyanin and though not overtly long on tannin, the phenols have been laid bare on the same page. The first vintage of this circumstantial blend was in 2008 and by now the GB estate provides 70 per cent of the produce, helpful neighbours the remainder, though only in Cabernet and Merlot portions. Forty parts equal of those two are joined by Syrah (nine per cent), Zinfandel (eight) and smatterings of other Bordeaux grape varieties. Floral, juicy, pentose tannic and flat-out delicious is the struck chord at the hands of winemaker Keith Emerson. Not the most complex arrangement in the County, nor is it top 40, but it is certainly penned with a catchy hook. “It will work for you, it works for me.” Tasted October 2014 @
Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (Agent, 0400051, $34.95) Ontario Release date: March 21, 2015
An intimately affordable Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast fashioned by a family in its 157th year of production is a rarity. Even more so from a cool-climate region oft-marred by the misperception that its Chardonnay are fat, buttery, over-oaked fruit bombs. From fruit grown on the Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard on southwest slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, eight miles north of San Pablo Bay. Consider the antonymous solecism of zero per cent malolactic fermentation and you will see where this (20 per cent new) barrel fermented Chardonnay has come from and where it is going. Weekly battonage compresses and stirs up texture. Fog plays its part on the cool slopes of Huichica clay loam soils mixed in with gravel deposits. Acidity is preserved, hitting a classic number on top of healthy (14 plus per cent) alcohol. This is not a small Chardonnay. It stretches its legs and walks like a giant but not in 80’s or 90’s acid washed jeans or big hair ways. This is Chardonnay that leads in style and confidence of a most modern vernacular and fashion. It’s also a steal. Tasted October 2014 @
Ramey Syrah 2012, Sonoma Coast (Agent, $47.99)
This is winemaker David Ramey’s sixth vintage composed from (91 per cent) Cole Creek Vineyard, with the rest coming from the Rodgers Creek Vineyard. Though not the first to draw roots and inspiration from a northern Rhône style, Ramey’s choice of co-planting five per cent Viognier is both curious and genius. The field blend supposition is gaining global traction and attraction, as witnessed by successes the likes we see with Marcel Deiss in Alsace. They are not just the rage; they are a philosophy and create a co-habituated/fermented energy. Though lifted by hedonism, this is a very pretty Syrah, yet it’s no timid lilac. A soft entry gives way to sharper tannins. The briny Mediterranean, smoked meat and roast pork belly notes arrive late, after the angles have softened and the integument has been cracked. There is much going on here, at once clear, other times in opaque fog, then back to blue skies. Follow this Syrah for five years to see the chains be connected by election. Tasted October 2014 @ @
A blend of three estate vineyards; Baker Ridge (49 per cent), Cresta Ridge (30) and Starr Ridge (21). Rigorous sorting, punch downs and the use of basket pressing combine for an all-out Pinot Noir expression of RRV’s diverse terrors, albeit within a framework outlined in smouldering charcoal chalk and coated with smooth sugars of inscrutability. Ranging in ways akin to Central Otago, this Pinot is bright yet earthy, intense and piercing. It combines cherries with ash and has got all the thyme in the world. Oak is not out of focus (the wine was aged for 11 months on lees in 100 per cent, 38 of it new, French barrels) but it still needs time to integrate. Two or three years will suffice and seven to eight more will turn a trick or two. Tasted October 2014 @
Thomas George Pinot Noir Cresta Ridge Vineyard 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, 729417, $60 US)
The Cresta Ridge is unique to the Russian River Valley and to the Thomas George Pinot execution as its soils at some of the highest elevation in the area are of the Goldridge series. Very deep and well-drained, its composition is of material weathered from weakly consolidated sandstone. Like all of their wines, the 100 per cent estate fruit from this particular ridge is a ream of pure silk, clean, pure and so much quieter on the brushstroke and basalt tendencies of the combined RRV bottling. The tannins truss the fruit to seek a low and slow rotisserie of development. Could drink a boat load of this refined Pinot Noir, now and for 10-12 more years. Tasted October 2014 @
Good to go!