Friday, June 29, 2018

BRAMBLES: On the Way

Down the road and On the way. In the soft afternoon light, meandering thru a bucolic Russian River Valley lately dressed with opaque evergreens and plumed golden grasses, it presents itself, a strikingly varied and unfolding viticultural edge landscape.  Drawn around the next curve, its multitude of coastal hills surround that lazy serpent of a river, with ever changing pockets of flourishing orderly expanse. This region provides a mild maritime-influenced climate, filled with even smaller micro-climates; offering a long agricultural history that had once celebrated hops and prunes, peaches and apples among its rich bounty. But, it is premium winegrapes that drive its agri-commerce now, and with that predictable summertime Pacific fog lurking; you can feel and smell its chill, posed to advance inland. Sea breezes introduce that regular summer evening cooling here, allowing for an inspiring ride in the late lazy day's decline. It is on the way.

Across its more than 16-thousand bearing acres, the waning light highlights the vines developing fruit set, now cooling down to signal time to end the cycles work day.  These acres of mostly pinot noir and chardonnay(about 2/3rds of all) will rest at night and their un-ripened acid strength will reserve into the evening.  Tomorrow will introduce another day, like the one before and those that will follow, to continue its adolescent photosynthesis. Benefiting from millions of years of geologic shift and upheaval created here its many varied soils with exotic names like: Goldridge sandstone loam, Arbuckle, and Huichica. Add fanned alluvial's and volcanic to the undulating landscape mix and you have some of the most diverse regional grape growing soils in the entire world.
More brands, more choices, more consumers
Pinot noir likes these conditions of freely draining soils, rapid evening cool-downs and regular ripening sunshine. Its invigorating adaption in this unique environment had attracted pinot visionaries and artisans to the region, perhaps beginning with Joseph Swan and Joe Rochioli back in the early '70s.  The regions established pastoral attributes were recognized by immigrant farmers back in the late 19th century, with names like Foppiano and Martini&Prati, and Kanaye of Fountain Grove. Local pinot noir's consumer market, too, has grown rapidly over the last few generations, introducing an increasing range of varietal products and a variety of price points to trending neophytes.  More vineyards get planted to the numerous clones of pinot year after year, and its county-wide average price per ton now has ballooned to over $3600(that's about 60 cases of wine).  Neighboring chardonnay is lucky to break $2000. on average. Established as an American Viticultural Area(AVA) in 1983, the Russian River Valley today supports around 1800 growers and producers, most of whom are small family enterprises. They are either artisan or commercial, and some with the prestige/notoriety to be occasionally both.

Of Sonoma counties 17 AVA's, the Russian River Valley is among the most widely planted.  Even with some of its definition sub-divided over recent decades, it remains quite varied, rising from almost sea level to above 1000 feet; encompassing the fanning plain, the reach, the ridges, the hills and the river valley itself.  There is such diversity of not only soils and micro-climates here, but also grape varieties, with zinfandel, savignon blanc and other 'interesting' varieties added to the end of cycle harvest.  Those supporting and artisinal varietals, however, can't compare to the fame and fortune brought to the Russian River Valley from its current signature varieties of chardonnay and pinot noir.
Consumers flock to new brand introductions
Even with no two vineyard settings exactly alike here, pinot noir needs only a few essential nutrients: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.  To thrive, it also requires visionaries and risk-takers along with a little sunshine at the proper times.  And to be successful, it needs a character reflection of the uniqueness of its special environment.  The French would call it 'terrior', everything that goes into making it noteworthy.  Now further down the RRV's sustainable road, passing one after another boutique producer, the cool down accompanies the fading light.   For those past few generations, pinot noir and chardonnay have brought limelight notoriety to this alluring landscape, and as our standards remain high and consumers are drawn to the next turn in the road there will be more on the way.

Balletto Estate Grown Pinot Noir, 2015 Russian River Valley; bright, balanced and length, oh my!
Bogel California Zinfandel 2015; air out its red fruit nose, and a blackberry, casis and spice weighted palate of balance and length.

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