Exploring Sonoma’s Alexander Valley AVA (Week 1)
by Stephen Sherrill, C.S.W., A.W.S.
As an American Wine Studies certificate holder, a native Tennessean, and a lover of all things vino, I love to explore different wine regions within the United States. Whether visiting a well-known producer, or discovering an off-the-beaten path vigneron, each visit helps to solidify a deeper understanding of wine culture around this great—and vast—country.
Sonoma County, with its lengthy history of viticulture and winemaking, is often the victim of Napa’s marketing prowess, relegated to the position of being a less worthy wine region in the minds of many amateur wine drinkers—those who are all too familiar with big-name producers from Napa. The truth however, is clear, once you get out there and taste. Sonoma County producers turnout out bold Cabernets, elegant Chardonnays and undeniably gorgeous and beautifully textured Pinot Noirs.
Over the course of my meanderings through Sonoma, I’ll be traveling through the county’s 17 AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) and reaching out to some of the more well known, signature wineries and producers that go out of their way to represent this beautiful region to the best of their abilities. I’ll be writing about what I discover, from differences in terroir and biodiversities to winemaking philosophies and production—as well as providing some tasting highlights.
Snapshot: Alexander Valley AVA
Acres under vine: Over 15,000
Principle grape varieties: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel
Number of wineries: ~50
Standouts: Alexander Valley Vineyards, Beringer Vineyards, Peter Michael Winery, Knights Bridge, Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Silver Oak, Simi
Source: American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States. © Octopus Publishing Group, Ltd, 2013.
The Alexander Valley AVA was established just 31 years ago and within its 51 square mile area are several notable wineries. I had the opportunity to visit Jordan Vineyard & Winery, a producer that has set the bar high for quality, value and style by focusing production on just two wines a year—a chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
After a pleasant winding road, pulling into this nearly 1,200 acre estate, it’s almost as if you’ve been transplanted to some surreal château in France, ivy covered walls and all. Walk through the doors, and you’ll be warmly greeted by a team that is focused on unyielding hospitality and showcasing the quality and consistency of their wines, which, stylistically, are heavily influenced by Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Touring the facility with Whitney, my hostess, we explored the winery’s organic garden, natural water reservoir (used to keep the grounds and garden green and lush) as well as acres dedicated to cattle grazing down the hill from the winery. The sights were as worthwhile as the glass of Jordan 2013 Chardonnay I was toting around in hand.
After a quick walkthrough of the production facility, we settled into a vertical tasting of several Cabernets, ending with what I was most interested in: the most current release of the 2012. Winemaker Rob Davis, celebrating his 40th harvest with Jordan this year, can most definitely tack on another successful vintage (2012) to his already long career with this iconic company.
Jordan 2013 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, USA ($30) (purchase)
A nice change from some heavy, buttery chardonnays, this wine was crisp and elegant – showing bright green apple, lemon pith, melon fruit, and a beautiful note of toasty French oak and baking spice.
Jordan 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, USA ($52) (purchase)
A beautifully lean, old world style Cab exhibiting red currant, dry cocoa, earth, light herb, with a firm, age-worthy tannin structure.
Learn more about the American Wine Studies program here at the Napa Valley Wine Academy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Sherrill, C.S.W., A.W.S. began his wine endeavors in the humble state of Tennessee as an all around “cellar rat” and wine educator, combining his love of people, food, wine and art. With an exciting genesis of scrubbing tanks and cleaning the crush pad, Stephen quickly began building upon his wine knowledge, seeking out courses and certifications through the Court of Master Sommeliers as well as the Society of Wine Educators, the world renowned Wine and Spirits Education Trust based in London, England and the Napa Valley Wine Academy, where Stephen earned the post nominal Certified Specialist of Wine as well as passing the American Wine Studies™ course with distinction. He hopes to one day be a full time educator, writer, and consultant for any and all things vino.