As a participant in the Third Annual Alexander Valley Cabernet Academy, I went to California with the notion that I knew a thing or two about the region. Some of my favorite wineries had always been Rodney Strong, Ferrari Carano, and Alexander Valley Vineyards. However, as we sat at the top of Hawkes’ Pyramid Vineyard at our first seminar, it became apparent that I was in for a joyride of geeky wine knowledge driven by some of the most passionate and learned winemakers and growers in the state, and I was going to soak up as much as humanly possible.
They talked about how, for a long time, Alexander Valley Cabernet was known for being spicy and peppery. They were striving to change that. I found this truly interesting. The winemakers of Alexander Valley were listening to their consumers’ complaints, assessing the problem together with the wine growers, and hence, producing a better product. If all businesses worked like this, the world would be a better place.
The long, hot days, sometimes reaching 99 degrees in great vintages, and cool mornings, evenings and nights are key to good grape growing in this region. It’s much like an athlete who works hard all day training. Without proper rest, his performance will be sloppy and fall short of his potential. If Alexander Valley had warm mornings, nights and evenings, the grapes would end up overripe and taste cooked and flabby. The temperature there can range from 50 degrees in the morning to 95 by mid-afternoon and back down to the 50s for the evening.
When it comes to soil type, grape growers aren’t backing into Nino’s for mulch and vitamin-rich soils. I always think of it like this: the best wines are much like the most interesting people. People who are born and raised amongst hardships, turbulence, and strife, working hard to overcome, thrive and become legends. Think Andrew Carnegie, Oprah Winfrey, and J.K. Rowling. They all dug down deep and found the strength to not only survive but also shine. Vines in the best regions in the world, such as Alexander Valley, have to work hard to find water sources, digging themselves through different layers of dirt, rock and clay, adding complexity to the flavor of the grape as they go. When water is easily attainable, the grapes become plump and diluted.
Over two days of seminars, I tasted over 30 different Alexander Valley Cabernets. They rival, or in some instances beat, any of the Cabernets that I have had from Napa or Bordeaux. From soft elegant Arbios to the layered and intense Trione, the Cabernets of Alexander Valley are world class. Did you know that Jordon and Silver Oak Alexander Valley are the most poured wines in restaurants? It is because of the balance found in this region’s wines. The alcohol and sugar levels are moderate, the acidity is fine, and the flavors are rich and complex.
In 1840, Cyrus Alexander was hired by Captain Fitch–think Leese and Fitch–to find land suitable for ranching. The 48,000 acres he found is now known as Sonoma County, California. As payment, Cyrus was given a parcel of that land, and through much trial and error, this piece of land has become the best place in California to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. The growers and winemakers of Alexander Valley have made their case for why their wines are the best, and I have become a believer.
This was just a snippet from my trip. If you would like to know more about the wines I tasted, or share stories about your trips to California, tweet me at @ninoswineexpert.