Add Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Wines to Your List in the New Year

It’s that time of year again, where the calendar resets to one and people around the world make lists of new things to do, new things to try and resolutions on how they will spend the New Year. For wine lovers, Sonoma Discoveries suggests adding new artisan wines to that list. Out of one of the newest AVAs in our region, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak, come select wines that will be sure to add a few firsts to the 2016 rooster.

High above the town of Cloverdale, atop the steepest peaks of the Mayacamas Mountain Range, a new wine appellation was approved in 2011—Pine Mountain Cloverdale Peak AVA. This region has a rich history that includes more than 150 years of growing premium grapes on the mountaintop, but it wasn’t determined as its own AVA until just five years ago.

Back in 1855, during the time when the French government revealed its classification of Bordeaux wines, George Allen planted his first grapes on Pine Mountain. But, by the 1920s, prohibition forced the closure of more than 200 wineries in Sonoma County, causing the market for grapes to collapse.
Fast-forward 30 years: In the 1980s and 1990s, wine was again being produced from Pine Mountain grapes that were taking home Gold and Silver medals. In the early 2000s, mountain fruit begins to gain prominence as the essence of California’s artisan and cult wines and by 2011, the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA separates from the Alexander Valley AVA and is approved as its own region, recognizing the unique, high-elevation terroir.

Over the next several years, this designation would grow to become a premium winegrowing area, farming grapes between 1,500 and 2,600 feet in elevation.
“From the growers’ side, we were happy to sell grapes as Alexander Valley Appellation but from a winemaker’s perspective, they recognized that up here (on Pine-Mountain) is a totally different situation from the valley. It just happens to be in the valley when they drew the boundary,” said Barry Hoffner, president of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA and Winegrowers Association.

With the highest-elevation vineyards in Sonoma County at 2,650 feet, the small plots of grapes along rugged mountainsides receive the perfect combination of full sun and rocky soil for the predominant grape variety—Cabernet Sauvignon—to grow successfully. Growers have also planted some Malbec, Cabernet-Franc, Zinfandel and a few interesting high elevation European grapes like Tempranillo, Lagrein and Tannat.

“We farm smaller plots than in the valley because on the hillsides/mountains you rarely find large scale contiguous vineyard land… as an example, the average grower within the Pine Mountain Cloverdale Peak AVA owns 100 acres, with a number of properties much larger. Yet the average vineyard on Pine Mountain is closer to 15 to 20 acres, meaning that oftentimes less than 20 percent of the grower’s land is planted to grapes,” Hoffner said.

Growers within the AVA know that it costs more to farm there and that yields are less, yet what unites them is the secluded hills and beautiful nature where they farm. Also, given the small number of acres farmed, the grapes grown there have proved to be high-quality or ultra-premium winegrapes, and farmers on Pine Mountain are receiving prices in the highest 5 to 10 percent in Sonoma County for their respective varieties, Hoffner said.

One driver for the approval of the new 4,750-acre AVA was the difference in terrain from the rest of Alexander Valley. The mountain is at a higher elevation compared to vineyards in the valley and receives 3 to 4 hours more of sunlight than vineyards below the fog line on the valley floor. Currently, only roughly 310 acres have been planted on the peak.

“There will be some more vineyard development up here but it will never be crazy, because of the expense. First you have to find the scale block (a large enough area to plant) to have it make sense, and it’s not always easy on a hillside because of the topography, the slope and the permitting,” said Hoffner.

To add to the complexity of farming this region, Hoffner notes that growers in the region are also conscious of the environment in which they farm, tending to the soil in a way that allows for farming for generations to come.

“As growers, our AVA is incredibly supportive of the Sonoma County initiative to be 100 percent sustainable within five years… This related to the above point whereby not only are we winegrape growers, but passionate stewards of an amazing natural environment that is Pine Mountain. As an example, long before the name ‘sustainable’ for winegrowing came into being, being on steep hillsides, we were very conscious about hillside erosion, water conservation and other farming practices that protect our topsoil and saved water,” Hoffner said.

Although the farming of this area may be tough, its unique terrain allows for a longer growing season, and the region receives higher winds and more precipitation, producing grapes that are rich in color and flavor  and ultimately noteworthy wines at a select few tasting rooms.

BobDog Wines, Cloverdale
BobDog Wines is located 2,000 feet above the Alexander Valley and nestled in the middle of Sky Pine Vineyards. It is the only winery located within the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale AVA and the closest you will get to a tasting on the mountain.

It is best to plan ahead for a tour and tasting before trekking up Pine Mountain Road. Once you get there, not only will you get a glimpse at the AVA, but also this year there are several new releases being sold with special bottle limits. Try a taste of the 2013 Malbec, a fruity red with bursts of blueberry flavors, or the 2013 Petit Verdot, a 100-percent PV makes this a rare bottle to add to your collection.
Looking for the perfect weeknight red? Try the 2010 Mountain Merlot for just $20. It offers aromas of dried cranberries, has a dry and dusty finish and hints of mint. The winery recommends you pair it with New York steak, rosemary chicken or pasta with peppers and pecorino cheese.

Valdez Family Winery, Healdsburg
This family-owned tasting room is just off of the Healdsburg Plaza and a great place to start a day of wine tasting. Ask about the family’s story that led them to where they are today, and stop in on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and ask to try their 2011 Pine Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville
Everything about a visit to the movie-mogul Francis Ford Coppola’s winery in Geyserville is extraordinary, from its grand entrance to its manicured grounds, so it is no surprise that some of the sought-after Pine Mountain grapes would be featured in one of the winery’s flagship wines. Archimedes, the Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, is aged for 20 to 24 months in French Oak.

Miro Cellars, Cloverdale
Named after its winemaker, Miro Tcholakov, the art of winemaking has long been a family tradition. When Tcholakov is not busy making wine for Trentadue Winery, he is crafting them for his own label, including specialty wines like the 2010 Silverwood Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Silverwood Vineyard is located almost at the top of Cloverdale’s Pine Mountain, 2,200-feet elevation above the Russian River. This vineyard is above the fog layer and experiences milder temperature inversions—cool days and warmer nights. All of that contributes to abundant but soft tannins, deep dark color and pronounced fruity aromas in the blueberry-blackberry spectrum in their single vineyard 2012 Reserve Cabernet. Aged in 43 percent new French oak, the winemaker notes that it is toasty, with smoky aromas and a touch of cinnamon, dark chocolate and dusty cocoa.

For a full list of wineries producing wine from grapes grown in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA, visit pinemountainava.org. Here you can learn more about winegrowers in the region, such as Silverwood Ranch, Reichel Vineyard and Oak Ridge Ranch and Vineyards. Also discover wineries like Arbois Cellars, Murphy Goode and Edmeades producing wines from the area.
“The nice thing is that we are a combination of smaller growers and small wine producers. Ampere, Respite, Bob Dog Miro Cellars, they are all small and they are combined with a few big guys that are invested here, KJ (Kendall-Jackson), Coppola and Imagery,” Hoffner said. SD