Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley’s Artisanal Wineries
Blue Rock Vineyard owner, Kenny Kahn, recently approached us about tasting his wines and those of other small, quality-oriented producers in Alexander Valley. We were familiar with the wines of some of the larger Alexander Valley producers but had not tasted those of smaller artisanal producers such as Blue Rock, Garden Creek, and Goldschmidt. Well, we accepted Kenny’s invitation and, as shown in our reviews below, are very glad we did!
First some brief background information. The Alexander Valley (pictured here by artist, Ann Rea) is located in the northeastern corner of Sonoma County and is home to more than 40 wineries. The Valley is 22 miles long, varies in width from two to seven miles, and includes some15,000 acres planted to premium wine grapes. Many of the wineries in the valley are situated on the eastern and western hillside slopes adjacent to the Russian River, which meanders along the valley floor. The warm climate and alluvial soils that characterize much of the valley make it an ideal growing area for big fleshy reds. Chardonnay, Viognier and other whites also do well in selected microclimates.
Historically, the region’s production consisted primarily of mass produced bulk wine. But, beginning in the late 1960s a new era of modern high quality wine production was ushered in by producers such as Jordan, Chateau Soverain, Robert Young and others. The three wineries reviewed here are a relatively new generation of small artisanal producers making high quality ultra premium Bordeaux varietal wines. While each winery is distinct, their owners share a commitment to quality, and their wines exhibit the ripe flavors, suppleness, power and balance that are often found among the wines of Anderson Valley.
Blue Rock Vineyard
Blue Rock was purchased in 1987 by Cheryl and Kenny Kahn, who were attracted to California because of their passion for wine. Originally from Memphis, where Kenny was a stockbroker, the Kahns fell in love with and purchased an old abandoned stone house and winery (built in the 1880s) and 100 acres in Alexander Valley that they have converted into a first-class wine estate. Blue Rock currently has 40 acres of vineyards planted with five Bordeaux varietals and three acres of hillside Syrah. Kenny Kahn’s goal has been to create a self-contained European style estate to produce high quality premium Cabernet Sauvignon on a par with Napa Valley. Blue Rock’s vineyards are today densely planted with low yielding vines and are managed following sustainable agricultural practices. Beginning with its first commercial vintage in 1999, the wines at Blue Rock have been made by the talented New Zealand winemaker, Nick Goldschmidt, who has had extensive experience in Anderson Valley. Nick also has a small estate in the Valley.
Winery Telephone: 415-435-1946
Blue Rock 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($47) 93
Blue Rock’s Cabernet Sauvignon is this winery’s flagship. A wine of power and elegance, it exhibits a dark ruby color and aromas of pure black currant fruit with notes of blueberry, violets and light sweet oak. On the palate, it is velvet smooth revealing an elegant texture with beautifully integrated black fruit, spice and toasted oak. Aged for two years in barrel and one year in bottle, it has round firm tannins and a long finish. The wine is tight out of the bottle and would best be decanted before serving. It should reach its peak after four to five years in the bottle but could easily last another decade or more.
Blue Rock 2007 Baby Blue Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($30) 90
Baby Blue is Blue Rock’s second Cabernet Sauvignon and is also deserving of serious attention. Released for the first time in 2006, Baby Blue is somewhat lighter and less concentrated than the regular bottling. It offers a dark ruby color with ripe black fruit aromas and flavors with excellent purity and extraction. It is velvet smooth on the palate with delicious fruit, sweet toasty oak, and a long finish. Baby Blue is a terrific Cabernet Sauvignon for the price.
Blue Rock 2006 Estate Syrah Alexander Valley ($30) 89
Blue Rock grows about 2.5 acres of Syrah. This estate bottling has a dark ruby color and offers fragrant aromas of dark berry fruit, toasted oak, and a touch of coconut. It is soft and smooth on the palate with lingering smoky blue fruit flavors and a long finish. This is a big wine that needs time to integrate and for the tannins to soften but will likely improve with age. Only 200 cases produced of this exceptional Syrah.
Garden Creek Vineyards
Garden Creek Vineyards was started in the late 1950’s when Jim Miller purchased the original Upper Ranch of 52 acres in Geyserville. The vineyard was established in 1969 but had to be replanted in the 1980s after a bout with phylloxera. Today, Jim Miller grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay on the original Upper Ranch and on the newer Lower Ranch, an additional 42 acres located about ½ mile from the Upper Ranch property. Jim Miller’s son Justin Miller and wife Karin, who currently run the vineyard and winery, began producing wine in 2001and are committed to producing exceptional wine. They currently produce about 700 cases of top quality Cabernet Sauvignon. The Millers are deeply committed to organic and sustainable practices in the vineyard and winery.
Winery Telephone: 707-433-8345
Garden Creek 2004 Tesserae Alexander Valley ($70) 92
The 2004 Tesserae exhibits a beautiful opaque ruby robe with aromas of smoky oak, black currant fruit, black pepper and spice. It is soft and elegant on a medium weight palate and reveals great intensity of black fruit flavor, layers of lead pencil and violets, and a long finish. A juicy wine with real personality.
Garden Creek 2003 Tesserae Alexander Valley ($70) 92+
The 2003 Tessarae reveals elegance and breeding. It is a complex wine with ripe black currant fruit and smoky oak aromas followed by a spicy and velvet smooth palate of black currants and cassis. This is a gorgeous, medium-weight wine beautifully integrated with round tannins and a rich long finish. Absolutely delicious, and highly recommended.
Goldschmidt Vineyards was established in 1998 by Nick and Yolyn Goldschmidt. Nick Goldschmidt is originally from New Zealand and settled in Healdsburg in 1990 where he served as winemaker at Simi Winery, Allied Domeq Wines USA, and Beam Estate. Since 2007 he has been a consulting winemaker for several premium brands around the world and helps make the wines at Blue Rock in Alexander Valley. Goldschmidt Vineyards’ portfolio consists of single vineyard, handcrafted, small production artisanal wines. The Goldschmidt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon label is made from Sonoma and Napa Valley grapes; the International Forefathers label consists of a California Cabernet Sauvignon and other wines of Australia and New Zealand.
Winery Telephone: 707-431-8277
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Vyborny Vineyard Alexander Valley ($65) 91
The Cabernet Sauvignon Vybony Vineyard reveals an opaque ruby color and has ripe blackberry fruit and spice on the nose with notes of cedar. Soft and velvet smooth on the attack, it offers nicely focused black currant fruit, cassis and chocolate on the palate with excellent balance, ripe tannins and a long finish. The grapes for this wine are sourced from vineyard terraces on a small knoll in Alexander Valley. The wine is aged for 20 months in Allier oak barrels.
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Plus Vyborny Vineyard Alexander Valley ($140) 93
The Cabernet Sauvignon Plus Vybony Vineyard is produced from the five best Cabernet Sauvignon barrels of the Vybony Vineyard. This outstanding wine exhibits complex aromas and flavors of earth, saddle leather, violets, and oak. It offers great complexity and intensity of blackberry flavor with fine grained tannins, dark chocolate and a touch of coconut. The wine is aged in 100% new French oak for 24 months--two12 month periods, each in new barrels—and is hand bottled directly from the barrels, unfined and unfiltered.
2007 Forefathers Lone Tree Vineyard Alexander Valley ($50) 90
This bottling offers fragrant blackberry fruit and smoky oak on the nose. It has a soft attack of delicious ripe blackberry fruit and is nicely balanced with soft tannins and excellent concentration of fruit flavors. Medium weight, it has a long spicy finish with notes of black pepper. The grapes for this bottling are sourced from a well-drained 5.5 acre single vineyard with east-facing slopes situated east of Geyserville.
2006 Forefathers Lone Tree Vineyard Alexander Valley ($50) 91
The 2006 Forefathers, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, exhibits blackberry fruit on the nose and intense blackberry flavor on the palate with a round mouth feel and ripe supple tannins. The wine exhibits both power and focus and has beautiful balance.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Crazy Creek Vineyard Alexander Valley ($20) 87+
Light and earthy, the Katherine Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon shows modest blackberry fruit flavors and light oak. It is an easy drinking, straightforward wine with an up front fruit style and ripe tannins on the finish.
Written by Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler, April 2010