Sonoma Discoveries Spring 2015

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We traveled the Wine Road ( during Winter WineLand to discover new releases for our readers. The experience engages your senses in many ways and offers the opportunity to talk with owners and winemakers working in the Dry Creek, Russian River and Alexander valleys. Nearly 140 wineries open their doors to the public so this is just a taste of the bounty of our region.




2014 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 13.2% alcohol 25,000 cases, $19

2012 Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley 15% alcohol 300 cases, $32

2012 Alioto Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 14.6% alcohol 45 cases, $33

Sauvignon Blanc is Hanna’s best-known wine. Released in mid-February, Vintage 2014 caps three good growing years of consistently warm but never too-hot temperatures, resulting in steady ripening and good acid retention to produce this perennial favorite. Winemaker Jeff Hinchliffe has been making Sauvignon Blanc for 30 years and has been crafting award-winning wines for Hanna since he joined the winery in 1998. He aims to produce Sauvignon Blanc wines that are very crisp, cool and vibrant with a rich texture and evocative of the grapes themselves. He achieves that, once more, in 2014. “There are multiple ways of getting flavor but essentially it is about picking the site and then trying to outsmart the grapes. It’s fun because you get these vibrant flavors—and for this wine, it’s about vitality, freshness and balance.” Hinchliffe examines the grape’s naturally derived flavors, like pyrazine, and minimizes those green flavors (or bell pepper aromas), starting in the vineyard. “We open the canopy above the fruit zone so every leaf is photosynthetically active, keeping the fruit covered and cool,” he explains, of the technique they developed in the last five years. “This also pushes biosynthesis of the varietal thiols (grapefruit, passion fruit), which are the Holy Grail of Sauvignon Blanc winemaking.” The wine is bottled/kegged from January to June. “We keep it fresh (on the lees 3-4 weeks before bottling) and bottle it every other month. To me, it’s perishable, like milk,” says Hinchliffe. Hanna uses tin-lined screwcaps as a closure. Starting with the 2014 vintage, 5-gallon kegs are available for the first time.

Kokomo Winery has been making Petite Sirah since its second vintage in 2005, and it’s one of their most popular wines. The 2012 Petite Sirah was bottled just days before fans converged upon Kokomo Winery’s hip tasting room for Winter WineLand. It was their biggest seller that weekend. “I would describe it as the darkest color of any wine out there, but still not overly tannic, and a balance of dark berries and a good acidity, which can be cellared for 10 to 15 years,” owner/ winemaker Erik Miller says. “I love the way this wine sticks to your ribs! It is a deep, dark wine that should be enjoyed with a hearty dish next to a fireplace.” When making the wine, “We try to make sure the vineyard is evident primarily,” Miller says. “To achieve that in Petite Sirah you sometimes need to press it off with a little bit of residual sugar and let it finish fermentation in barrel. We do not crush the fruit, only gently de-stem it, and we keep a cool fermentation that does not exceed 75 degrees. These measures are taken to make sure we do not get too much tannin in a variety that already has plenty of tannins.” Miller named the winery after his hometown of Kokomo, Indiana. Miller started in 2004 with the production of a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and today focuses their terroir-driven philosophy on Sonoma County and its distinct appellations. Joined by his best friend from Purdue, Josh Bartels, as Kokomo’s assistant winemaker, Erik partnered with grower Randy Peters, who has more than 40 years of winegrape growing experience.

The 2012 Alioto Zinfandel is one of Pech Merle’s black label wines, described on the back label as being distinguished by “limited production, superior pedigree and the diligent obsession to each and every detail.” Sold first to wine club members, it became available in the tasting room in January of 2015. Winemaker John Pepe has more than 30 years of wine production experience, mostly in Sonoma County. He has a background in viticulture, too, making his gig with Pech Merle a perfect fit and bringing pride of ownership to each bottle. “I get to do everything—pruning, green-work, harvesting and making the wine. It is very satisfying to be able to tend the vineyard in a very personal and hands-on way and also get to make the wine out of the grapes,” Pepe says. The peppery raspberry character of this wine is typical of the grapes grown in the Walling Road/Canyon Road area of Dry Creek Valley, Pepe explains. “I like the mixed black vineyard taste because they do not fall into any one category of typical Zin flavors since their composition can change from vineyard to vineyard. This wine is dark with rustic edges starting to soften up with bottle age and with raspberry fruit showing more depth,” he adds. On your visit to Pech Merle (pronounced Pesh Mell), named after a prehistoric cave in France, be sure to taste their other wines, too, like the Laguna de Santa Rosa Pinot Noir. The tasting room is located in downtown Geyserville and winery plans in Dry Creek Valley are progressing with projected groundbreaking in 2016.

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