Wines of the Month
Throughout the Northern hemisphere at this time every year, dormant wine grapevines are slowly awakening from their long winter sleep. And like all of us here above ground, who’ve had it with being polar vortexed into submission, they’re also hoping for a warmer sun and a longer day. Not always, but typically towards late March, such changes occur. And in the wine grapevine world, this marks a gloriously natural event known as bud break.
Now, the full lifecycle of both grape and vine will be defined by many stages; by name, they are flowering, fruit set, veraison, harvest, leaf fall and, of course, dormancy. And each of these junctures will contribute their own necessary influence to every grape that ultimately makes its way to any given bottle of wine. But, bud break is where it all begins; and with about 600 to 800 grapes in a bottle, about 8 to 10 clusters, that’s a lot of nature coming together at once, offering the world something beautifully unique…and vice versa.
Much in the way wine grapes and vines cycle through life’s phases, so, too, do wine producers and companies. Labels come and go, companies get bought and sold. And while many manage to stick around for a few harvests, there are the select few that survive the challenges of staying in a tough, competitive business and making wine that people actually want to drink.
Gehricke Road (rhymes with Cherokee) is located just outside the town of Sonoma, California and passes by some of the old vineyards that Samuele Sebastiani made famous. If that name sounds familiar, it should. The Sebastiani family has been making California wine for four generations and is considered by many to be the founding family of the town of Sonoma.
Now helmed by Samuele’s great-grandson August, the Sebastiani legacy continues through a collection of wine labels produced under the parent company name 3 Badge Beverage, an homage to the historic downtown Patten Street Firehouse that Samuele helped build in the 1940’s. That building is now home to their entire wine operation.
Of their stable of labels, one of my absolute favorites is Gehricke. A new addition to an established collection, Gehricke wines are made, as August says, “To enhance the little moments that become epic memories. Wherever the road takes you, your journey should make the destination worthwhile”.
To help navigate the Gehricke journey, Sebastiani has turned to esteemed winemaker Alex Beloz, of Poseidon Vineyards and Obsidian Ridge Wines fame, as well as harvest work for the world class MacRostie winery. Additional stints in Bordeaux, New Zealand and Chile round out Beloz’s already outstanding body of work, and he brings that global wealth of knowledge to the Gehricke wines.
Beloz and his team are focused on selecting the best fruit from the top vineyards throughout Sonoma County, including sites located in the Russian River Valley, Carneros and Knight’s Valley. And the wines are as true as the lifecycle of the grapes used to produce them.
The Gehricke Russian River Chardonnay 2016 is a beautiful wine, expressing in complete form the marvelous characteristics of the Russian River Valley. On the nose, it greets you with vibrant scents of lemon meringue, contrasting with lime reflections and a floral grace note. Just behind that, tropical tones of pineapple and mango emerge, filling the glass with endless aromas of varying elements. Sharp, bright acidity define the palate, and there’s a juxtaposed balance of both crispness and roundness. A subtle creaminess extends through the finish, suggesting that indeed this wine spent about eight months in French oak barrels. And proving the quality of the fruit, its production yields are a very modest 862 cases. Priced around $26, it’s a great selection for the money.
If the Russian River Valley is your preferred place to stay, but you’re in the mood for a delicious red wine, then you can’t overlook Gehricke Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2016. Take it from someone who lived in California for a long time and drank a lot of red zin, Russian River zinfandels are jewels. This particular wine is a blend of old vine zinfandel (95%) and a 5% splash of petite sirah, another great ‘California-only’ (these days) grape. Gehricke Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2016 hails from the orange, iron-rich soil of Ponzo Vineyard, and is marked by its power and spice. Yes, it’s fruity and maybe even a touch ‘jammy,’ but not in an intrusive way; and the petite sirah quietly adds its own presence to the wine, bringing in complementary dark fruit flavors and density, resulting in a blend that is full-bodied and well-structured. Throughout the glass, you’ll both smell and taste glorious combinations of cinnamon sticks and black peppercorns as well as ripe plums, cherries and cocoa. The finish is long and persistent, leaving echoes of dark fruits and baking spices. Also French oak aged for 17 months, it does come in at a ripe 15.1% ABV, but it’s still very balanced and not an alarming level for a wine of this stature. Only 1,835 cases were produced and at $32, it’s a must-have for true zinfandel connoisseurs.
If you head about an hour or so southeast of the Russian River Valley, you’ll find the first California AVA (American Viticultural Area) ever defined by its climate characteristics rather than its geopolitical boundaries. The Los Carneros AVA is where the Gehricke Los Carneros Pinot Noir 2015 is produced. Wines from Carneros are known throughout the wine world, and are highly touted for their intense aromatics and palate expressions. And the Gehricke Los Carneros Pinot Noir 2015 certainly satisfies both of those senses. The color is a deep garnet hue and is complemented immediately with aromas of blood orange, red plums, rhubarb and sage. Within a few minutes, hints of cherry pie and vanilla arise, as well as clove spices of cinnamon and nutmeg. There’s also an evolution to the palate, as assorted red fruits surround a racy acidity, which is born of the cooler Carneros climate. This ‘terroir’ influence also allows for a more modest 13.8% alcohol level, very balanced. The French oak is well integrated and effectively used, aged 20 months. And though more of this wine was produced than the Chardonnay, it’s nowhere near being a mass produced wine, and it certainly doesn’t drink like one. Also priced around $32, you just can’t beat it.
Finally, no great family of wines would be complete without a signature cabernet sauvignon. And make no mistake, Gehricke Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley 2016 is a signature wine. Knight’s Valley, one of Sonoma County’s original 5 AVA’s is the county’s easternmost designated wine region and also has the warmest climate in the county. Bordeaux varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot all flourish here. Also grown here are sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier and even syrah, all the warmer climate grapes. For Gehricke Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley 2016, it’s all about elegance and delicious fruit. The color is a deep, hypnotic garnet. Aromatically, you’ll quickly find ripe, black cherry aromas that are complimented with clove spices and a touch of earthy bark. The wine is soft and supple upon palate entry, then explodes with flavors of cherry filling and ripe red plums. As the wine opens up, black and blueberries soar, with a near hint of cocoa powder. The tannins are firm, but forgiving and there’s enough acidity to keep the wine fresh and inviting. While it doesn’t meet the required percentage criteria to be called a ‘Meritage’, this wine is a blend of small sorts, with 84% cabernet sauvignon, 14% malbec, and 2% petite verdot. It’s been aged 18 months in French oak, comes in at 14.2%, and there were 4,695 cases produced. Priced at $40, it’s worth every penny.
I hope you take the opportunity to enjoy these wines, and experience a journey that reflects not only a family legacy of historical wine importance, but a single bottle that tells a story of how a grape and its vine live their life…for you and all of us to enjoy. Until next month, Happy Vino’ing!