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California - Top Producers of North Coast California

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Beringer’s Nightingale wine © Provided by DKBooks Beringer’s Nightingale wine

Fetzer

Photo: Duckhorn’s estate in St. Helena © Provided by DKBooks Duckhorn’s estate in St. Helena

Gloria Ferrer’s Royal Cuveé

Photo: Kenwood’s tasting room in Sonoma © Provided by DKBooks Kenwood’s tasting room in Sonoma

Kenwood’s tasting room in Sonoma

Duckhorn’s estate in St. Helena

Beringer’s Nightingale wine

Top Producers of North Coast California

Araujo - Napa Valley

location: 2155 Pickett Rd., Calistoga
telephone number: 707 942 6061
website: www.araujoestatewines.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994
recommended wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah

Known as the Eisele Vineyard in the 1970s and 80s, this estate was the source of outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon for Ridge and Phelps. In the early 1990s it was bought by Bart and Daphne Araujo, who added Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah to the range. Although the Araujos are typical of the new generation of rich entrepreneurs buying vineyards in Napa, they have firmly set their sights on making superb wines from this exceptional site. The wines are consistently outstanding, especially the reds, with typically Calistogan flavors of black currant, chocolate, and black olives.


Beaulieu Vineyards - Napa Valley

location: 1960 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford
telephone number: 707 967 5230
website: www.beaulieuvineyards.com
wine styles: red, white, sparkling
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994
recommended wines: Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

This legendary property was founded by Frenchman Georges de Latour in 1899. Its equally legendary winemaker André Tchelitscheff crafted some magnificent Cabernets in the 1950s and 60s. Quality plummeted in the 1970s, but today, under corporate giant Diageo, things have improved substantially. The basic varietal ranges are correct if unexciting, but the Signet Collection series offers Rhône-style blends and Sangiovese of real character.


Beringer - Napa Valley

location: 2000 Main St., St. Helena
telephone number: 707 963 4812
website: www.beringerblass.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: North Coast Zinfandel, Private Reserve Merlot

This historic winery dates from the 1880s and has been owned by a succession of corporations, most recently the Australian Beringer Blass group. Ed Sbragia has been chief winemaker throughout, retaining a rich, generous, oaky style for all the wines. Although Beringer buys fruit from all over California, it owns substantial holdings in Napa. The finest wines are the Bordeaux-style blends known as Alluvium, and the Private Reserves, which have excellent aging capability. A curiosity here is Nightingale, a sweet wine made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes artificially induced with botrytis.


Château Montelena - Napa Valley

location: 1429 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga
telephone number: 707 942 5105
website: www.montelena.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2000, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Calistoga Cuvée, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel

This 19th-century winery was restored by James Barrett, whose son Bo has been winemaker since 1981. The top wine is the intense, magisterial Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, while the cheaper Calistoga Cuvée is made from bought-in grapes. The atypical Chardonnay sees hardly any new oak, and though austere when young, it can age well.


Dominus - Napa Valley

location: 2570 Napanook Rd., Yountville
telephone number: 707 944 8954
website: www.dominusestate.com
wine styles: red
best vintages: 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Dominus, Napanook

Dominus stands in the middle of a historic vineyard that was once a source of legendary Inglenook Cabernet. In 1982 it was acquired by the Moueix family, owners of Château Pétrus. At first the top wine, made in Bordelais fashion, was tough, but the team soon adapted to Napa conditions, and today the wine is better balanced, showing great power and depth. The second wine, Napanook, is intended for earlier drinking.


Duckhorn - Napa Valley

location: 1000 Lodi Lane, St. Helena
telephone number: 707 963 7108
website: www.duckhornvineyards.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Paraduxx, Three Palms Vineyard Napa Merlot, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

Long before Merlot became fashionable in California, Dan Duckhorn was producing rich, powerful examples with imposing tannic structure. He also invented a style he calls Paraduxx, an appealing blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Merlot. In recent years, he has expanded operations by buying land in Mendocino, from which a fine Pinot Noir, called Goldeneye, is produced.


Frog’s Leap - Napa Valley

location: 8815 Conn Creek Rd., Rutherford
telephone number: 707 963 4704
website: www.frogsleap.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Rutherford

John Williams turns out elegant Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel, as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend called Rutherford. The wines are often undervalued because Williams aims for style and balance rather than power and overt oakiness. The result is a range of eminently drinkable, as well as serious, wines that are made from organic grapes.


Joseph Phelps - Napa Valley

location: 200 Taplin Rd., St. Helena
telephone number: 707 963 2745
website: www.jpwines.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, rosé
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1992, 1991
recommended wines: Viognier, Syrah

Phelps made its name with sweet Rieslings and was one of California’s earliest producers of Syrah. Although it has a fine reputation for Cabernet and its prestigious Insignia, winemaker Craig Williams has continued to develop Rhône-style wines including an excellent Viognier, a juicy blend called Le Mistral, and a delicious Grenache rosé.


Merryvale - Napa Valley

location: 1000 Main St., St. Helena
telephone number: 707 963 2225
website: www.merryvale.com
wine styles: red, white, fortified
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994
recommended wines: Silhouette Chardonnay, Carneros Merlot, Profile

Now owned by Swiss and Californian partners, Merryvale has benefited from excellent winemakers and the advice of consultant winemaker Michel Rolland. Substantial volumes of wine are made here, all to an impressively high standard. The top ranges, Reserve and Prestige, are outstanding, but Profile, an elegant Bordeaux-style blend aged in new oak, is usually the best wine.


Robert Mondavi - Napa Valley

location: 7801 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville
telephone number: 707 226 1395
website: www.robertmondavi.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Pinot Noir Reserve, Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon

Robert Mondavi is such a California institution that it is hard to believe that he only founded his winery in 1966, and went through many tough years. His secret is simple: indefatigable curiosity and steely determination to excel. He created the Fumé Blanc style of oaked Sauvignon Blanc and pioneered research into oak aging and vineyard density, sharing the results with other wineries. Fanatical about education, he was also the major financial backer of Napa’s Copia Center. Mondavi’s extensive vineyards in the Central Coast and Santa Barbara mostly provide fruit for the less expensive blends. The wines from the Napa vineyards are of high quality, in particular those with subregional designations from Oakville, Stags Leap, and Carneros. The Reserve wines are significantly superior to the regular bottlings.


Spottswoode - Napa Valley

location: 1902 Madrona Ave., St. Helena
telephone number: 707 963 0134
website: www.spottswoode.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2000, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon

Since the death of founder Dr. Jack Novak many years ago, his widow Mary and daughter Beth have run this outstanding organic estate. Despite the renown and consistency of its wines, Spottswoode still has a family atmosphere, with no pretensions to grandeur. Consultant winemaker Tony Soter established a reputation for immensely stylish Cabernet and lively Sauvignon Blanc. Current winemaker Rosemary Cakebread has maintained this approach since 1997.


Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars - Napa Valley

location: 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa
telephone number: 707 944 2020
website: www.cask23.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Sauvignon Blanc, SLV Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon Cask 23

Warren Winiarski’s famous winery produces a wide range of wines, but made its name with its sumptuous Cabernets including a Napa appellation wine from bought-in grapes; the SLV from the estate vine-yard; and the often sublime reserve called Cask 23. They are quintessential Stag’s Leap reds—rich but elegant, supple, balanced, and age-worthy. Prices are high, but Winiarski also offers a range of sound inexpensive wines under the Hawk Crest label.


The Judgment of Paris

In 1976, British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a blind tasting at which the best wines of California were pitted against the top growths of Bordeaux and Burgundy. The mostly French team of tasters discovered that they gave pride of place to a Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet and a Château Montelena Chardonnay. The French were mortified when the story hit the international press. The comparison was unequal, since only recent vintages were tasted and French wines are generally less open and expressive in youth than their California rivals. Nonetheless, the tasting showed that Napa wines are serious contenders in the world of wine.


Château St. Jean - Sonoma

location: 8555 Hwy. 12, Kenwood
telephone number: 707 833 4134
website: www.beringerwineestates.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay, Cinq Cépages

In the 1970s, this property’s first winemaker, Richard Arrowood (who now has his own winery), produced dazzling dry and sweet white wines from individual vineyards. Today, Château St. Jean is part of the Beringer Blass empire, and the range is no longer so extensive, though the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are still impressive. Present wine-maker Steve Reeder has also introduced some excellent reds: Merlot and the Cabernet-dominated Cinq Cépages.

The style is richly fruity and the emphasis is on wines that are best drunk young.


Cline - Sonoma

location: 24737 Hwy. 121, Sonoma
telephone number: 707 963 4310
website: www.clinecellars.com
wine styles: red, white, sparkling
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1994
recommended wines: Sonoma Viognier, Ancient Vines Mourvèdre

The Cline brothers come from Oakley, in Contra Costa County, where they still own a splendid old vineyard planted with traditional grapes, notably Mourvèdre, Zinfandel, and Carignane (Carignan). In 1991 they moved to southern Sonoma and planted Rhône varieties. Anyone weary of Chardonnay and Cabernet should try their sensibly priced Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Viognier, as well as Carignane and Marsanne.


Ferrari-Carano - Sonoma

location: 8761 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg
telephone number: 707 433 6700
website: www.ferrari-carano.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Fumé Blanc Reserve, Siena

The Caranos are hoteliers from Nevada, and their showmanship is fully in evidence at this lavish Dry Creek estate, which is enjoyed by visitors as much for its gardens and hospitality center as for its wines. Nonetheless, the wines are among Sonoma’s best, thanks to the skill of long-term winemaker George Bursick. At first, the winery was known for its elegant, oaky Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but now the reds win equal acclaim. In addition to standard varietals, there is a fine Cabernet-Sangiovese blend called Sienna and a rich Bordeaux blend called Tresor.


Gallo of - Sonoma - Sonoma

location: 3387 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg
telephone number: 707 431 5500
website: www.gallosonoma.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Laguna Chardonnay, Frei Ranch Zinfandel, Stefani Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

To the astonishment, and even irritation, of small-scale Sonoma growers, the powerful Gallo family came out of its Central Valley lair in the mid-1980s and bought 1,200 ha of land in Sonoma. Since the first releases in 1991, wine critics have been surprised by the high quality of the wines. In addition to the single-vineyard labels, the Gallos released very limited quantities of varietal wines known, confusingly, as the Estate Range; although expensive, they are not significantly better than the well-priced regular bottlings.


Gary Farrell - Sonoma

location: 10701 Westside Rd., Healdsburg
telephone number: 707 433 6616
website: www.garyfarrell.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Dry Creek Zinfandel

Since 1982, the self-effacing Gary Farrell has been the winemaker fashioning some of the finest Pinot Noirs for Russian River wineries such as Davis Bynum. He has also produced a range of wines under his own label, and in 2000 set up his own winery. Best known for elegant, restrained Chardonnay and Pinot, he also makes other varietal wines.


Gloria Ferrer - Sonoma

location: 23555 Hwy. 121, Sonoma
telephone number: 707 996 7256
website: www.gloriaferrer.com
wine styles: red, white, sparkling
best vintages: 1998, 1997, 1994, 1992, 1991
recommended wines: Royal Cuvée, Carneros Cuvée

A few European sparkling wine houses set up wineries in Carneros in the 1980s, and this one was established by the Ferrer family, which owns the Freixenet cava business. Some of the simpler wines are a touch broad and too overtly fruity to attain real elegance, but the top cuvées are impressive. The crisp Royal Cuvée spends six years on the yeast before disgorgement, and the more toasty Carneros Cuvée is aged for even longer. Sparkling wines remain hard to sell, so like other producers here, Gloria Ferrer has been increasing its output of still wines. As well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Ferrer also offers Merlot and Syrah.


Kendall-Jackson - Sonoma

location: 5007 Fulton Rd., Santa Rosa
telephone number: 707 544 4000
website: www.kj.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1995, 1994
recommended wines: Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Reserve Pinot Noir, Verité Sonoma Merlot

Jess Jackson only started producing wines from his small Lake County vineyards in 1982. The company grew swiftly, acquiring enormous vineyards and making Jackson a billionaire, partly thanks to the success of his off-dry Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. Today his wines come from all over California, and his empire includes many other wineries that operate independently. The Sonoma properties are Hartford Court, La Crema, Stonestreet, and Matanzas Creek. From the beginning, Jackson used only coastal fruit, scorning grapes from the Central Valley. The winemakers blend in the Australian mode, taking components from various regions to make stylistically consistent wines.


Kenwood - Sonoma

location: 9592 Hwy. 12, Kenwood
telephone number: 707 833 5891
website: www.kenwoodvineyards.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1995, 1994, 1992, 1991
recommended wines: Jack London Zinfandel, Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc

For over 30 years, Kenwood has maintained its reputation for good-quality wines at all price ranges, from the basic Sonoma Series to the more prestigious Jack London and Reserve ranges. Sauvignon Blanc is not an easy grape to grow and vinify in California, but Kenwood has rightly enjoyed a high reputation for this wine. The top Cabernet Sauvignon is the outstanding new-oaked Artist Series, and other very good red wines are made from the Jack London Ranch, leased by Kenwood.


Kistler - Sonoma

location: 4707 Vine Hill Rd., Sebastopol
telephone number: 707 823 5603
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Vine Hill Chardonnay, Chardonnay Cuvée Cathleen, Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir

Collaborators Mark Bixler and reclusive winemaker Steve Kistler specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They own vineyards in the Mayacamas Mountains, but also buy fruit from top vineyards in Sonoma, all bottled separately. From the outset, Kistler wines have enjoyed a cult following, and they can be in a league of their own, showing a concentration and mineral complexity rarely encountered in California. Best known for its fruity Chardonnays, Kistler also produces Pinot Noir of remarkable purity and intensity.


Marimar Torres - Sonoma

location: 11400 Graton Rd., Sebastopol
telephone number: 707 823 4365
website: www.marimarestate.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1995, 1994, 1992
recommended wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Marimar Torres is a member of the renowned Catalan Torres clan, and she bought this property in 1982. The cool climate of its Green Valley vineyards makes it ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Production is set to expand with the acquisition of additional land along the Sonoma Coast. Torres aims for finesse and balance, and though she does not overtly aim to produce burgundy-look-alikes, her wines do have the elegance and length of flavor often found in fine burgundy. Since 2003 the estate has been organic.


Peter Michael - Sonoma

location: 12400 Ida Clayton Rd., Calistoga
telephone number: 707 942 4459
website: www.petermichaelwinery.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1995, 1994, 1991
recommended wines: Clos du Ciel Chardonnay, Les Pavots

English electronics tycoon Sir Peter Michael bought land in Knights Valley in 1981, and harvested his first vintage in 1987. The estate is noted for its range of single-vineyard Chardonnays, which can be remarkably intense and complex; the Sauvignon Blanc (L’Après-Midi) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Les Pavots) can also be first-rate. All are expensive.


Ravenswood - Sonoma

The Ravenswood story

location: 18701 Gehricke Road, Sonoma
telephone number: 707 933 2332
website: www.ravenswood-wine.com

Joel Peterson, an immunologist by profession, caught the wine bug in the 1970s. He produced 327 cases in 1976, and by 1991 his outfit, Ravenswood, had become recognized for its superb red wines. Production expanded and Peterson bought a defunct winery in Sonoma. The tasting room was soon packed with visitors, sampling wines and buying T-shirts with the Ravenswood motto: “No Wimpy Wines.” In the 1990s, Ravenswood continued producing single-vineyard wines, but prospered with a cheap, cheerful range called Vintners Blend, known by Peterson as Château Cash Flow. In 2001, the vast Constellation Brands bought Ravenswood. Peterson remained in place, and the folksy tasting room continues to be thronged. Few visitors realize that the annual production has soared to over 400,000 cases. It is a great California success, but no one knows what the future holds, now that a boutique winery has become a stitch in a corporate tapestry.


Fetzer - Mendocino

location: 13601 Eastside Rd, Hopland
telephone number: 707 744 7600
website: www.fetzer.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995
recommended wines: Bonterra Viognier, Barrel Select Zinfandel

The Fetzer family no longer owns this winery, but even under the control of the Brown Forman corporation, it has remained true to its principles. Fetzer was a pioneer of organic viticulture in California, and the winery still produces 10 organic wines under its Bonterra label. Although many of the grapes come from Mendocino, some ranges are sourced elsewhere. Fetzer sells three million cases of wine each year, and the secret of this success is the outstanding value the wines offer. The basic range is called Bel Arbor; the Barrel Select and Reserve ranges are higher in quality. The white wines are lean and fresh, the reds packed with fruit flavor.


Greenwood Ridge - Mendocino

location: 5501 Hwy. 128, Philo
telephone number: 707 895 2002
website: www.greenwoodridge.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2000, 1999, 1996, 1995, 1992, 1991
recommended wines: Estate Merlot, Estate Chardonnay

Many of Allan Green’s vineyards are high in the hills surrounding Anderson Valley. He inadvertently became a pioneer of the Mendocino Ridges AVA, created to recognize sites at high elevations. Green’s Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and Merlot come from the ridges, and he buys in fruit from other Mendocino vineyards for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.


McDowell Valley Vineyards - Mendocino

location: 3811 Hwy. 175, Hopland
telephone number: 707 744 1053
website: www.mcdowellsyrah.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1996, 1995
recommended wines: Viognier, Reserve Syrah

The syrah vines planted here date from 1948 and 1959, making them among the oldest Syrah in California. These old vines are used for the superb Reserve, but the regular bottling of Syrah is also juicy and beguiling. All the other wines are from Rhône varieties, including an excellent example of the notoriously tricky Viognier, as well as an enjoyable Marsanne and dry Grenache rosé.


Monte Volpe - Mendocino

location: 1170 Bel Arbres Rd., Redwood Valley
telephone number: 707 485 9463
website: www.domainesaintgregory.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1996, 1995
recommended wines: Monte Volpe Pinot Bianco, Enotria Barbera

Greg Graziano’s ancestors were typical Mendocino immigrant farmers, and he honors their traditions by specializing in Italian varietal wines. It is impossible to replicate the hills of Piemonte or Friuli in the Mendocino highlands, so not every wine is successful. Overall, however, Graziano (who shows the passion of a missionary) does an excellent job, and has the courage to produce fine versions of wines that cannot always be easy to sell. He has two other labels: Domaine St. Gregory releases wines from the Pinot family, while Enotria focuses on Piemontese varieties such as Nebbiolo and Barbera.


Navarro - Mendocino

location: 5601 Hwy. 128, Philo
telephone number: 707 895 3686
website: www.navarrowine.com
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995
recommended wines: Riesling, Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne

In 1973, Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn bought a sprawling sheep ranch in Anderson Valley, and planted 34 ha with cool-climate varieties. Their Rieslings are among California’s finest, always backed with vivid acidity. The Pinot Noir is aged in small French barrels, and can be impressive.


Roederer Estate - Mendocino

location: 4501 Hwy. 128, Philo
telephone number: 707 895 2288
website: www.roedererestate.net
wine styles: sparkling
best vintages: 1996, 1994, 1993, 1991
recommended wines: Estate Brut, Rosé, L’Ermitage

Most French champagne houses looking for Californian vineyards choose Carneros or southern Napa, but Jean-Claude Rouzaud, head of Louis Roederer, chose Anderson Valley instead. The cool, even uncertain, climate gives the wines the acidic backbone needed for great sparkling wine, so his decision has been vindicated. The Estate Brut is the basic bottling, and it sometimes seems just as good as the more expensive prestige cuvée, the vintage L’Ermitage. Many Californian sparkling wines have fruit but lack finesse; the Roederer Estate wines have both.

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