Mountains of the North Coast

Susan Stout • Contributing Writer

Mountains of the North CoastHEALDSBURG, CA – A group of more than 60 wine industry professionals engaged in a discussion about the factors involved in the evolution of the style and quality of wines from the Clear Lake appellations.

This technical seminar, titled “Mountains of the North Coast – Climate, Viticulture & Winemaking in the Northern Mayacamas & Vaca Mountains,” was presented by the Lake County Winegrape Commission in partnership with Ciatti Global Wine & Grape Brokers. The event, which was hosted by E. & J. Gallo and held at Gallo’s MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg last month attracted growers, winemakers, winegrape buyers and brokers, as well as industry media representatives from across the North Coast region.

“Our intent was to bring knowledge about the climate, vineyards and terroir of Clear Lake appellation and layer it with information on a wide range of wines and the winemakers’ styles,” said Lake County Winegrape Commission Chair Peter Molnar.

Presentations included a focus on the changing climate of the North Coast by Dr. Gregory Jones, Southern Oregon University professor and research climatologist, and winemakers’ panel discussions on red and white “vineyard evolution, winemaking styles, and the emerging identity of Lake County wines.”

“We are looking at our region in a developing light,” Molnar said. “(The wine industry) knows about us, but we are definitely pushing the envelope. It’s good to get together once a year, at least, and taste these wines to see the collective direction we are going and gain an understanding about what the Clear Lake appellations can produce in terms of wines of quality.”

The in-depth panel discussions featured Virginie Boone, contributing reviewer for the Wine Enthusiast, as moderator. Both panels were “strong groups of winemakers,” said Molnar. Attendees were able to taste the wines as the panelists talked about the winemaking techniques and characteristics of the fruit coming out of Lake County.

For the white wine winemakers panel, Boone was joined by Neil Bernardi, Duckhorn Wine Company; Mark Burch, Chacewater Winery; Joy Merrilees, Steele Wines; and Ryan Zepaltas, Zepaltas Wines. While speaking about a range of styles in production of Sauvignon Blanc, the winemakers were “effusive” about the high quality of Sauvignon Blanc found in the Lake County region, said Molnar.

“One of greatest things about Lake County is the diversity we have there and the ability, as winemakers, to be able to have different expressions with a single varietal,” Burch told the seminar group tasting Chacewater’s Sauvignon Blanc. “Sauvignon Blanc lends itself to that, perhaps more than any other varietal in the region.”

Bernardi, speaking of Lake County’s Sauvignon Blanc, said, “We find the Sauvignon Blanc across multiple soil types is excellent and adds a lot to our overall complexity of our wines. It really forms, to a certain extent, the quality backbone to the wine.”

Discussing the reds were Lise Asimont, director of grower relations, Francis Coppola Winery; winemaker Alex Beloz, Obsidian Ridge Vineyards; winemaker Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery; winegrower David Weiss for Denis Malbec, Aliénor Wines; winemaker Hélène Mingot, Derenoncourt California; and Sam Spencer, director of winemaking, Cameron Hughes Wine.

Asimont spoke highly about the Clear Lake region’s quality of farming, about the range of fruit characters, and about the “very rich” phenolics (chemical compounds that affect wine taste, color and texture) of Clear Lake fruit.

The red wine panel as a group talked about the effects of elevation and getting desired phenolic qualities with lower Brix (level of sugar). The winemakers commented on the natural balance in vineyards due to soil and drainage found in the Clear Lake appellation, and each touched on the evolution of his/her winemaking style.

“Tempranillo has become a big deal for us,” Spencer said, as attendees tasted the wine made by Mark Herold Wines with fruit from the Madder Lake vineyard in eastern Lake County. “We get prices equivalent to Napa pricing for it because I have a good group of people who know what we do from a farming perspective and who also know the site and believe in it.” Saying it is a great site for Tempranillo, Spencer added, “It speaks of Spain.”

Jones provided information about his survey work related to the climate of the Clear Lake appellation. Speaking about the changing climate, specifically on the “spatial and temporal characteristics for wine production in the Lake County region of California,” he noted that his work focused on the higher elevation winegrape growing.

The climatologist has been working with the Winegrape Commission to continue to refine and understand climatic conditions in Lake County, said Molnar. “We have engaged him to develop a more detailed study of all the factors that effect appellations in Lake County.”

Attendees were welcomed to the seminar by Molnar and Jim Collins, senior director of coastal winemaking, E. & J. Gallo. During the seminar, attendees had an opportunity to taste 10 different wines provided by the participating wineries. Glenn Proctor, partner/broker of Ciatti Global Wine & Grape Brokers, provided a wrap-up of the morning’s discussion, which was followed by a picnic lunch.

For more information about the Lake County Winegrape Commission and its upcoming seminars, workshops and events, visit the Commission web site, www.lakecountywinegrape.org.

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