An Inside Look – Alexander Valley “The Birthplace of Northern California’s Winemaking Tradition”

The Alexander Valley AVA is possibly one of the most overlooked appellations in California. As the appellation with the most grapes planted in Sonoma County, it has a lot of history, and was the birthplace of wine making in Napa and Sonoma. With perfect soils for ultra premium wine production, it has only recently made a large impact on the California wine scene, with it’s first 100 point wine. But some of these wines have been around since the early 60’s and are just now being discovered. Many wine drinkers see Alexander Valley and think immediately of Silver Oak or Jordan. These are just 2 wineries in an area known for its hundreds of small micro-climates, unique soils and legendary winemakers. If you have not discovered the beauty of a true Alexander Valley wine, well darn, it’s about time.

ORIGINS

The valley just north of Healdsburg was the birthplace of commercial wine production as well as vineyard designated wines. Alexander Valley was named after Cyrus Alexander, who discovered the area as well as the Russian River area in 1841, and chose to settle in Alexander Valley, claiming the area as part of his earnings for his expeditionary work. Cyrus, after a trip to Fort Ross on the northern coast of California in 1843, he took clippings from a grape vine and began planting them along the borders of the valley, establishing a small production of wine.

THE VALLEY SOIL

From the start, the valley was bred for wine production. The Russian River originally cut through Alexander Valley and then to the east through what is now Calistoga, St Helena, Napa, the Carneros and eventually the San Francisco Bay. The ranges the river cut through slowly began to rise due to tectonic pressure, slowing the pace and creating a large lake filling the entire valley. The Mayacama Ridge eventually rose high enough to block flow of the river enough to stop it’s flow all together. The lake remained there for hundreds of years until eventually during larger rains, the river cut west ripping through the softer volcanic soil to the west, spilling into the Santa Rosa valley and eventually finding a path through what is now the Russian River Valley to Jenner, where it dumps directly into the ocean.

During this same time, the mountain to the east, Mt Saint Helena violently erupted, spilling fresh volcanic soil over most of the Alexander Valley, the Russian River Valley, and much of Napa. This beautiful mix of older soils creating a great base for growth and volcanic soils that offer great drainage.

THE WINES IN COMPARISON

Many winemakers offer an Alexander Valley AVA designated wine in addition to the many Napa offerings. These wines are typically very enjoyable young, where their Napa counterparts may need more time to develope. Weather in Alexander Valley is typically suited for a longer growing cycle. They tend to be a bit softer on the palate and can be made to be very drinkable with less time in barrel. This offers the wine drinker a great wine that does not NEED to be cellared for decades. But don’t be fooled, these wines will hold up very well over time, and a well made bottle can hold for 10-15 years. One of the reasons for this quality is the ability for some of the best grape growers in the area to produce tiny berries on their vines. The smaller the berries the more concentrated the flavors will be. Winemakers do not have to go through an intensive flavor refining process to get the most from these grapes.

THE TASTE

Alexander Valley offers a very unique taste in its wines. In the Alexander Valley’s red wines, many enjoy the slight white pepper flavors that are inherent in wines made from the soil in the valley. These spice components make wine pairing very easy and also make them intriguing. Both French oak as well as American Oak can be used in the wines production. The use of American oak is a very controversial subject here in the valley. Some wineries, like Silver Oak for example, have made a name for themselves with the use of American oak to produce wines with MASSIVE amounts of caramel and smoke flavors. Many really love this type of wine while others believe that hides the true flavors of the wine. Others prefer the use of 100% French Oak to only compliment the natural fruit and spice components.

Recommended Wines- Obviously I’ll be a little biased here, but I’m pretty picky as you probably well know and out of what I have tasted…a lot….these still reign as champions. Also included is a winery I do not work with and have no affiliations to, but I’ve had nothing but great experiences with.

Adam’s Wineries**

Windsor Vineyards

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Carignane

These wines are very drinkable young and have a more food friendly approach. They have the ability to stand up to 10+ years of cellaring.

Simoneau Winery

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Fenceline Blend (Bordeaux)
  • Chardonnay

 These wines are the best of the best. Only 200 cases produced of this wine, so the attention to detail is amazing. Powerful and explosive and built for the long haul with longer barreling in top of the line French Oak barrels. Beautiful young but can handle 15-20 years of aging.

Other wineries**

Mercury Winery

  • Petite Verdot Blends
  • Cabernet Franc Blends

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AS ALWAYS : If you aren’t currently following THE VINTAGE….ya..just do that.

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