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Wines of the Heart [Vol.3]: California

Written by Simone Popov · 4 min read >

You know what they say… “California [Wine] knows how to party.”

On this journey of exploration, we dive into my home state and just barely scratch the surface of the incredible diversity of wines made here.

 During my stint as a Harvest intern in Napa, I have tasted/drank a lot of different Cali wines. While many were an alcohol-soaked punch of French oak and black fruit, some of them- often made from less common varieties planted here- really stood out.

Four wines are featured (and one honorable mention). One white wine and three red ones. Two wines from Mendocino County and two from Napa Valley.

Here are the highlights:

Rootdown Cellars Savagnin, Cole Ranch, Mendocino

2021 Rootdown Cellars Savagnin

Average Price: $34 [Rootdown Cellars]

What do you do if you purchase Cole Ranch up in Mendocino County, California’s (and the U.S.) smallest AVA with only 55 acres under vine? If you are Mike Lucia, winemaker and owner of Rootdown Cellars,  the answer is simple: you plant Alpine varieties of the Jura and Savoie! Trousseau? You bet. Poulsard? Of course. Altesse/Jacquere? Maybe later. Savagnin? Amazing. And why the hell not? The AVA lies at elevations of 1,400 feet (430 meters), which-while not exactly “alpine,” can certainly be suitable for great expressions of these varieties. Rootdown’s “monopole” ownership of Cole Ranch is only two years old, so who knows what [metaphorical] heights Mike’s Alpine varieties can climb?

What I do know is that simply speaking, the 2021 Rootdown Cellars Savagnin is delicious. Ripe and full of citrus and orchard fruit, complemented by a refreshing acid, and texturally underpinned by a touch of phenolics that is classic of a thick-skinned Savagnin. A very approachable wine in its youth and a pleasure to drink. Not the most “complex” rendition of the grape but a perfect gateway into exploration for the wonderfully unique grape that is Savagnin.

Not a bad bottle lineup (read about the Spring Mountain below)

Vigneron Style:

I could not find a tech sheet for this wine. However, I found this article where Mike Lucia describes his “Rootdown” project.

“We’ve grafted 6 acres at Cole ranch to Rootdowns future. In a few years, Rootdown will solely be a Jura-inspired brand. Varieties will be Trousseau, Poulsard, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Savagnin. I want these wines to be affordable, serious, but with some gems in there that will be a playground for some winemaking experiments.”

In my best estimation (and a loose one at best), the Savagnin had some minor skin contact- enough to draw out aromatics and give the wine some fullness but not enough to alter the lemon color. Fermentation is likely done in stainless steel, though concrete is not out of the question. No oak flavors indicate no new oak used, but larger, neutral oak wouldn’t be out of the question. If you have more knowledge regarding winemaking or are Mike Lucia and want to correct what I said, reach out here.

R1 Riesling

Honorable Mention: Cole Ranch R1 Riesling:

Also from Mike, from his Cole Ranch series, which produces more classic varieties planted in the area. I had to throw this one in because it was just a terrific representation of Cali Riesling. Like, the best parts of Clare Valley Riesling and Mosel Riesling came together to become this superb wine.

Matthiasson Pinot Meunier, Yount Mill, Napa Valley

2021 Matthiasson Pinot Meunier

Average Price: $58 [WineSearcher]

A Meunier in Napa? In Yountville, of all places? Yes. Leave it up to innovator and perennial gardener Steve Matthiasson to make something so bizarre and create a delicious wine. Pinot Meunier- widely grown in Champagne…and nowhere else- is a less obscure offering in a portfolio that includes Ribolla Gialla, Refrosco, and Falanghina. And while I hope to one day- get a chance to try all of Matthiasson’s wines, the Meunier blew me away on this occasion.

Reminiscent of a classic still Meunier (rare, even in Champagne) but even more so of an Alpine red variety like Trousseau, this wine is red fruit, herbal, faintly earthy, and funky in the best ways possible. Best of all, the wine is low in alcohol, clocking in at around 11%. So after a long day of tasting 14.5% Cabs, the Matthiasson Meunier presents a much-needed reprieve for your palate and sanity.

An icon among other icons.

Vigneron Style

From Yount Mill vineyard, one of the first certified [and continuously] organic vineyards in the Napa Valley. Vines are mainly dry-farmed due to the vineyard’s deep soils and proximity to the Napa River. Cool up-valley breezes allow the grapes to retain acidity and slow the ripeness.

[The wine is] fermented with 50% whole clusters in a small open-top tank, with two manual punch down per day (very light extraction). Pressed after 14 days and aged in neutral puncheons for ten months before bottling unfined and unfiltered. 168 cases made

Filaments Red Wine, Alder Springs, Mendocino

2017 Filaments Red Wine

Average Price: $30 [BottleBarn]

I initially wrote about Filaments after discovering them entirely by accident in a closet full of samples at Bottle Barn. Honestly, I wasn’t enthusiastic about tasting the wine from the start, but it impressed me. Even at higher levels of alcohol common to California, the wine was incredibly balanced. The red wine specifically (I have previously mentioned the Mourvedre in an Instagram post ) is a blend of 50/50 Grenache and Mourvedre from Alder Springs vineyard, one of my favorites in Mendocino.

 The flavors are robust, fruity, red, and black together (due to the flavors of the two dominating grapes). But most importantly, the wine is balanced. The tannins are kind and elegant, the acid is fresh, and the oak adds to the texture rather than the flavor. So it’s not shocking that I immediately had Filaments brought into Bottle Barn, hoping that at least someone would appreciate this wine as much as I did.

Vigneron Style

Just a single barrel produced, with a 50/50 Grenache Mourvèdre blend (which means about 60 gallons, or 25 cases total of this wine). Grenache was made via a whole cluster method (allowing for a fruitier expression via semi-carbonic maceration), while Mourvèdre was completely destemmed. Each variety is picked separately at ideal ripeness.

2014 Spring Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Average Price: $98 [WineSearcher]

2014 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Of course, an O.G. from the valley had to make it onto this list. I would be lying if I said Napa Valley doesn’t produce shockingly good wines. But, in my opinion, you have to know where to look. This wine is still pricey but- in my opinion- worth every penny.

Spring Mountain Vineyards is a historically significant estate located in the district of the same name. They were among the few selected in the famous Judgement of Paris tasting, the sounds of which still echo through the walls of many a wine establishment. They have kept a library of vintage wines that still amaze and delight with their freshness. Spring Mountain is one of the few who still hold Bordeaux as the standard bearer of their wines in the world of standardized, carbon-copied, fruit and tannin-heavy Napa wines. The old school/old world approach did show in this Cab, with restrained fruit and herbal, earthy, and graphite characteristics. A highly rated Cab from a highly rated estate, at a bit of a premium, but worth the price.

Vigneron style

From the 850-acre Estate (with 226 acres planted) on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain. Vineyards lie approximately 250 ft(76m) above sea level. Densely planted and goblet trained to maximize sun exposure while reducing yields.

[The wine was] aged in French oak barrels for 18 months, 60% of which were new. Minimal sulfur use.

So there you have it…

A little patriotic tribute to the wines of California, yet still with a certain European flair. Drop a comment if you have had any of these fantastic wines, and tell me what you think.

Check out the Wines of the Heart Series

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