Most of us are familiar with, if not dedicated fans of, California’s Sonoma and Napa Valley regions. But is there California wine outside of these famous regions? You bet there is and many go unnoticed or consumers simply forget the Golden State is known as the quintessential arena for some of the world’s most respected agriculture, including grapes.
Mendocino County is a foggy and cool region that is home to some of the world’s tallest living trees (370 feet). Though much of the county is covered in redwood forest, there are pockets of vineyards producing excellent wines. Vines make up about 17,000 acres, with chardonnay being the lead grape followed by pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon with most of the vineyards in the inland valleys of this mountainous region. Vineyards growing white wine grapes are generally located on flood plains along the Navarro and Russian rivers while most of the reds are grown on the bench lands above.
- 2016 Parducci Pinot Noir (about $13 retail)
- NV Scharffenberger Brut Sparkling (about $21 retail)
Santa Barbara’s geography allows for ocean breezes to blow eastward, channeled by the mountains and hills that surround the region. This creates a valley funneling cool air and fog directly in from the Pacific Ocean. Because it has a more maritime climate it offers dramatic changes in climate from the cool, wet and windy coast to the warm, dry inlands. The unique climate coupled with diverse soils ranging from ancient beach to limestone makes for a near perfect place for grapes to grow. This range of microclimates allows for a gamut of fine wine grapes from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and even some Rhone varieties (grenache, syrah) and Bordeaux varieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot) to excel.
- 2016 Santa Maria Vineyard and Winery Sauvignon Blanc (about $13 retail)
- 2015 Presqu’ile Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir (about $42 retail)
North of Napa Valley, Lake County is a fast-growing wine region with some areas expected to double in the next few years as many new vineyards are being planted. Cabernet sauvignon is the most planted grape followed by sauvignon blanc. The Lake County region surrounds Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California. Grapes are planted in many places from the rich soils of the valley (lake level) to the rocky volcanic soils at more than 2,000 feet elevation around Mt. Konacti, a dormant volcano. The higher elevation, cooler winter conditions and later start to the growing season mean few grape pests so sustainable farming practices can occur almost year-round.
- 2016 Shannon Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (about $15 retail)
- 2016 High Valley Zinfandel, California (about $20 retail)
Call me a romantic but I have a weakness for old-vine zinfandels. I am not sure if it is the humble respect for the twisted, awkward growing vines or the diligent mission in proving this grape’s finest incarnations are not sweet and pink.
I recently tasted a zinfandel from H. Mynors, that was one of those finest incarnations of the amazing zinfandel grape.
If you are a regular Uncorked reader, you are probably familiar with the wines of Sean Minor, because I continue to be a fan of this family winery. H. Mynors is a brand made by Sean Minor Wines. It’s a reference to Sean Minor’s ninth great-grandfather, who encouraged his family to venture to the new world from England in the early 1600s. The original spelling of their last name was changed to Minor after arriving in America. The timing was around the same as the establishment of Vinifera grapevines being used for wine production on the West Coast.
Zinfandel showed up in U.S. vineyards around 1850. By the 1880s it was the most extensively planted red grape in California. It was not until French grape varieties such as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon took to the soils of America in the early 1960s that zinfandel plantings started to dwindle. These new grapes flourished in America’s soil and the timing was ideal, as the American wine-drinking market continued to grow. To keep up with demand, many growers grubbed up the zinfandel vines and planted the newcomers.
If not for the loyal producers of zinfandel dedicated to the future of this grape, we may not have the vigor of the zinfandel today. Zinfandel is the third leading wine grape variety in California.
The grapes used for H. Mynors Zinfandel are a combination of fruit grown in Sonoma, Amador and Lodi counties. All three of these areas are world renowned for growing exceptional zinfandels, some of the most acclaimed in the world. The H. Mynors zinfandel showcases the differences in cultivation, terroir and winemaking that combine to give zinfandel its distinct flavor profile, a truly distinct name, ties to the Mynors’ family history and exceptional style.
- 2014 Sean Minor Four Bears Winery Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
- 2013 H. Mynors Old Vine Cuvee Zinfandel, California (about $19 retail)
In California vineyards, a rising star is joining two classic dry whites. Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc have long been the most popular wines in America but the new marvel is pinot grigio (sometimes called pinot gris).
In the past decade, California has seen plantings more than quadruple — from around 2,500 acres in 2000 to almost 13,000 in 2010. That’s a lot of producers banking on the popularity of this charming yet undemanding grape.
Over the years, Americans began turning to pinot grigio to satisfy the desire for a white wine that is not as rich and oaky as chardonnay but a little softer and fruitier than sauvignon blanc. Pinot grigio fits this bill perfectly with its gamut of flavors and variety of styles.
The versatile grape will grow almost anywhere, but the cooler coastal regions of California are ideal. The cool growing season produces a wine that showcases the zesty acidity that is the hallmark of its clean, crisp style.
Even with summer winding down and the flavors of our hearty reds around the corner, there’s still time for a refreshing engagement with this delightful grape.
- 2010 Mirassou Winery Pinot Grigio, California (about $13 retail)
- 2010 Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Grigio, California (about $12 retail)
- 2010 Concannon Vineyards Pinot Grigio, California (about $12 retail)
- 2010 Tamas Estates Pinot Grigio, California (about $12 retail)
- 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Pinot Grigio, California (about $10 retail)
- 2010 Sterling Vineyards Vintner’s Collection Pinot Grigio, California (about $16 retail)
- 2009 MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris, California (about $28 retail)
- 2010 Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio, California (about $26 retail)
- 2010 Coppola Diamond Pinot Grigio, California (about $16 retail)