We’ve been to Napa and Sonoma before and for sure, they’ve got the storied, now chi-chi vineyards – all buttressed by the legacy of that 1976 double blind Judgement of Paris tasting that introduced California to Europe. They have their place.
But, the Alexander Valley is still real. It’s dusty and quaint, friendly and down-to-earth. Things are changing (local Duckhorn Wine Co. was just sold to TSG Consumer Partners) and behemoths Treasury and Constellation are moving in. Alexander Valley wines are just too good to pass up.
But for now, it is still a gorgeous little wine region, located a bit to the northwest off that beaten Napa track. The other cool thing about the area is it actually has a bona fide second language – Boontling. Including “phonologically changed words borrowed from regional Appalachian dialect, Spanish, and the local Pomo Indian language; it later expanded to include invented figures of speech, nouns turned into verbs, onomatopoeia, and other neologisms.” It’s still used today – mostly to confuse outsiders.
Kendra McEwen, our gracious and thoroughly engaged guide, grew up local but was born just south of BC’s Okanagan Valley in tiny Tonasket, Washington. She actually came in to open up on what was her weekend just for us. And yes, Kendra is a boonter – she speaks the language – who seems to know virtually every single person in Philo and Boonville.
The wines are made by talented Stephanie Rivin and their marketing is done by a print maker – check out that gorgeous label. The norm at most wineries is to hire a big crew for harvest who then leave. However, Signal Ridge – as part of their local engagement commitment – has created opportunities for employees who stay and work full time to benefit the community on SR’s pepper fields, olive orchard, in a landscaping company and also the winery.
We started off with the delicately sparkling Chardonnay, 2015. Sourced from the deep end of the valley, they’re technically part of the Mendocino Ridge with vineyards at an astonishing 2700 feet (823m).
Next, the White Zin, 2015. I almost laughed out loud. And then Kendra did. Anyone who lived through the ’80s knows this is just not cool – which is exactly why they made it. Apparently some people see it on the counter, turn around and literally walk out the door. Judgey, judgey. The difference? This dry wine with its crisp watermelon and rhubarb aromas and flavours has been made on purpose – do not mistake it for the sweetened, crappy version of alcoholic fruit juice you drank in the school bathroom when you were 16.
The (traditional) Zinfandel 2014, is purple with saline and high blackberry notes. This vineyard is only 8 miles in from the cool coast which makes it hard to ripen the Zin. Despite dry farming and double pruning to force ripening, they’ve only been able to bottle two vintages.
We left with this Pinot Noir – the Princess and the Peasant. Grown up high on the Mendocino Ridge, all vineyard work has to be done by hand, it’s that steep. On a dry palate with high acidity and strained tannins, the flavours and aromas show ripe bing cherry, dried herb, Chinese allspice and pine tree.
The flavours, acidity and tannins complimented our pulled pork, pickles, red pepper bread and fresh picked corn-on-the-cob.
WSET Very Good– beautifully balanced and expressive, high altitude wine. Wish I’d bought a pile.
Bahl hornin’ as they’d say in Boonville.