AVA in search of a movie
Time for Mendocino’s moment in the sun?
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
California, like New Hampshire, has several landscapes.
And it also has a Route 1 that runs along the seacoast. If you blindfolded someone and put them in the middle of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region the only way they could correctly tell whether they were in Mendocino County or the Lakes Region is by the trees. Redwoods don’t grow in New Hampshire.
For many years Mendocino was known as the Hippy Napa, better known for marijuana cultivation than grape growing. Most of that’s changed. In 1983 the cool climate Anderson Valley got its designation as an American Viticultural Area, which means it can be listed on wine labels to denote the geographic location of where the grapes were grown as long as 85 percent or more of the grapes inside came from that Anderson Valley. For a long time the wines from Anderson were considered a little below Napa, The Carneros and Sonoma designations. That too has changed. Today Anderson Valley is one of the more distinctive and sought-after designations.
My interest in Anderson Valley was piqued this weekend when I opened a bottle of 2006 Migration, an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Goldeneye. Goldeneye is part of the Duckhorn Winery and they also have a third label, Paraduxx. These wines are pricey, as you would expect from a small family-owned boutique winery, running from $29 to $100 a bottle. And I had to chuckle because of the Duckhorn name. To me it sounded made up, but sure enough it was the name of the winery owner who founded Duckhorn in 1976 in Napa. I seem to keep running into that name thing. Once I ordered environmentally safe exterior siding. It was called Hardy Plank from the Hardy Company, as in safe, sturdy, hardy and solid. But no, it was Hardie Plank as in James Hardie. Sometimes a last name just fits perfectly.
One can just imagine the 1970s in Napa, after Californian wines reached the inner circle of renown, beating the French in Paris. A valley filled with grapes and orchards, old local ranchers on generations-old family estancias. Newcomers with money and a taste for grape fleeing the wackiness of Disco Frisco. Hippies forced by crime and inflation to move from the Haight Ashbury, Mission and Castro districts, for a life as country bumpkins.
In 1978 the Duckhorns made 800 cases each of merlot and cabernet sauvignon. It must have been good because they’ve been at it ever since. In 1994 they started the Paraduxx winery to explore the use of the native zinfandel grape by blending, zin, cabernet, merlot and petite sirah.
Goldeneye came about in 1997, as the Duckhorn’s interest in pinot noir grew. While Duckhorn’s winery is only 10 miles north of the Paraduxx Winery, Goldeneye is 94 miles northeast of St. Helena. It makes for a long commute, but in the little landlocked valley it means a micro climate that’s perfect for pinot noir. Higher in elevation and plenty of cool evenings and foggy mornings. And it’s dry enough so the grapes won’t rot.
Each winery is organized around certain varietals. The Napa sites grow cabernet, zinfandel and merlot and a little sauvignon blanc. Duckhorn calls its wine Bordeaux style. Paraduxx takes its cue from the Super Tuscans and the great Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blends of Australia. It also makes Paraduxx a little more experimental, as they fashion or try to fashion exciting new blends of grapes. Does anyone make a Barbera and zinfandel blend?
There are plenty of Anderson Valley wineries, but even some in Napa and Sonoma source their grapes from Anderson. The two most recognizable after Goldeneye are Roederer Estate and Schaffenberger Cellars. Two prime methode champenoise makers. This speaks to the quality of the Valley’s Pinot Noir crop. But because of the distance from San Francisco the Valley really isn’t a prime wine destination. Maybe someone will make a movie about the Anderson Valley and put it squarely on the map and into the hearts of wine lovers everywhere.
Here are this week’s wines I tasted.
• 2006 Migration ($30.99). It came on strong due to its youth, but settled down beautifully after 40 minutes. I did not decant it, which would have speeded the process. Plum and boysenberry with a touch of vanilla. A caramel rill running halfway through the sip. A strong finish with blueberry fruit and a firm structure, like perfectly ripe melon. The aroma was typical with a little bit of ammonia whiff almost always found in great Pinot Noirs. I will buy this wine again and found the lower price point (as opposed to the $54.99 Goldeneye Pinot Noir) very much a bargain.
• 2005 Dry Creek Vineyard Sonoma County Fume Blanc ($14.99). The label says both Sauvignon Blanc and Fume Blanc. Fume Blanc is American for Sauvignon Blanc and was invented by Robert Mondavi. The wine was nice with lemon and watercress but finished bitterly.
And the obligatory Champers:
• Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs ($17.99) One of my favorite everyday Californian sparkling wines.
• Moet & Chandon White Star ($31.99) Yummy and light with lemon, grapefruit and pear fruit in a zesty mix with just a touch of residual yeasty malt.