Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Sparkling Wines of Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, California

Pictures: Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley

My daughter Katharina Schiller used to live for several years in the San Francisco Bay area and visited regularly wine regions like Napa Valley, Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley, but she never made it up to Anderson Valley in Mendocino County – “just too far away from San Francisco” she said.

For us, it was a different story. We drove all the way from Seattle to San Francisco. Coming through Anderson Valley on Route 138 and discovering the sparklers of Anderson valley was a wonderful experience.

Pictures: End of Route #1 and Pacific Coast of California

Starting Point: Mendocino Village

Mendocino village is a lovely seaside village we immediately fell in love with and decided to stay overnight at the very charming Mendocino Hotel. Constructed in 1878 and restored in 1975, the charming Mendocino Hotel offers two acres of botanical gardens with fireplaces, a spectacular ocean view, 2 fine restaurants and a very nice bar.

The name "Mendocino" comes from the family name of Mendoza in honor of the 16th century Spanish explorer Lorenzo Suárez de Mendoza, 4th conde de la Coruña who explored the Mendocino coast line and his cousin, Antonio de Mendoza the first viceroy of New Spain.

Pictures: Mendocino Hotel in Mendocino Village

Mendocino County

Mendocino Village and Anderson Valley are in Mendocino County, which is north of Sonoma County. The county is noted for its distinctive Pacific Ocean coastline, Redwood forests, wine production, and liberal views on cannabis. It is estimated that roughly two-thirds of the economy is based on the cultivation of marijuana.

Picture: Mendocino County and the Wine Regions of California

In the 19th century, the county witnessed many of the most serious atrocities in the extermination of the Californian Native American tribes who originally lived in the area, like the Yuki, the Pomo, the Cahto, and the Wintun.

The first vineyards in Mendocino County were planted by prospectors from the California Gold Rush who failed to find their fortune and returned to the area as farmers. 10 American Viticultural Areas have been designated within Mendocino County. One of them is the Anderson Valley AVA.

Mendocino is one of the leading wine growing regions for organically produced wine grapes. Nearly 25% of the acreage in Mendocino County is grown organically. We did not have a chance to visit Frey Vineyards – a pioneering organic winery. My wife Annette had met Paul Frey at the 2010 Millesime Bio in Montepellier, France.

Frey Vineyards was established in 1980 by the Frey family who pioneered organic winemaking in the US. In 1996 Frey Vineyards was the first American winery becoming certified by Demeter Oregon, USA for biodynamic wines. All of the Frey wines are made with no added sulfites. “Our innovative winemaking techniques compensate for the lack of this synthetic preservative” says winemaker Paul Frey.

Redwoods and Elchs

On our way, we spent some time in the impressive redwood forests and saw a group of elchs.

Picture: Elchs on the Way

Redwood grows in a very narrow strip along the coast of California from the extreme southwestern corner of Oregon to 150 miles south of San Francisco. This area is about 500 miles long and rarely more than 20 or 30 miles wide in a region of frequent thick -summer fog, moderate year-round temperature, and considerable winter rainfall. Redwood does not grow naturally beyond the belt affected by this combination.

Pictures: In the Redwood Forest

Redwood is a rapidly growing tree, and some individual trees have been measured at more than 360 feet in height, making it the tallest measured tree species on the earth. Exceptional individuals sometimes reach a height of 350 feet, a diameter of over 20 feet, and an age of approximately 2000 years.

Anderson Valley

The Anderson Valley is one of California's coolest wine growing regions being deeply influenced by the cool Pacific fog coming in off the coast. Since the 1980s, the area has been associated with sparkling wine production due to the success of the Champagne House Louis Roederer's California operation Roederer Estate. While other Champagne producers were planting in the Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma, Roederer identified the Anderson Valley as their ideal location. The success of Roederer's California sparkling wine soon led to extensive plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay by other sparkling and still wine producers. Additionally, the Anderson Valley began to develop a reputation for Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Picture: Anderson Valley Wine Makers

The Anderson Valley extends about 10 miles from end to end. The valley is a series of low, rolling hills which are in turn surrounded by small mountain ranges on three of four sides. Today, valley grape plantings stand at about 1,300 acres, or just less than 10 percent of Mendocino County's total. The Anderson Valley AVA is an American Viticultural Area centered around the Anderson Valley.

Roederer Estate

Jean-Claude Rouzaud, then president of Champagne Louis Roederer and fifth generation descendant of the founder, selected the 580-acre Anderson Valley vineyard and winery site in 1982. Rouzaud, who has since handed down the family tradition and position to son Frédéric Rouzaud, believed that estate-owned vineyards were essential to ensure top quality wine, and had searched California for ideal growing conditions throughout the course of several years.

Roederer Estate winery only uses Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown in its own vineyards, which is key in producing quality wines. As a result, the winery can be very selective, and generally uses only about 70 percent of the total cuvée pressed (the first 120 gallons/ton of juice), and none of the premiere or deuxieme taille (subsequent pressings of 16 gallons/ton each).

Pictures: At the Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley

The quality is also attributed to the addition of reserve wines which are selected from the best wines each year and aged in Center of France oak casks. Wines from this special reserve cellar are added to each blend, creating a cuvée in the traditional Roederer style, known for its body, finesse and depth of flavor.

Scharffenberger Cellars

The history of Scharffenberger Cellars begins in 1981 in the heart of California’s Anderson Valley. Originally founded by John Scharffenberger, the company has gone through many transitions, including a name change when it was formally known as Pacific Echo from 1998 until July 2004. Today, the name has been restored back to Scharffenberger Cellars under the new management of Maisons Marques & Domaines.

With the many changes at Scharffenberger Cellars, what has remained consistent is the quality and the original philosophy behind the winemaking. Tex Sawyer, winemaker since 1989 continues to manage the winemaking program and today works with the new ownership to restore the glory of the original brand name.

Over the years, Scharffenberger Cellars has built strong relationships with select vine growers in the Mendocino County appellation to source additional grapes for their sparkling wines.

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1 comment:

  1. Christian,

    Thank you for making Roederer Estate part of your Mendocino adventure!