This Thursday, Thank a Farmer

The Good Stuff 

November 23, 2022 

Virginie Boone 

 This Thursday, Thank a Farmer  

This time of year is full of advice for what’s best to eat and what’s best to drink at Thanksgiving. 

Whether you’re enjoying the traditional set-up of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes or going off script with something entirely new, there are farmers to thank for the meal. That includes the people behind the wine, beer and cider you might choose to enjoy. The pumpkins and pecans, too. 

Here in Sonoma County we can grow pretty much anything, and we do. We also used to grow a lot of turkeys. 

Max W. Poehlmann is credited as one of the first commercial turkey farmers and a pioneer to boot. Born in 1890 in San Francisco, Poehlmann’s family moved to Petaluma in 1900 to set up a tannery business.  

After a stint as an Alaskan fisherman, miner and prospector, then service in World War I, Max came back to Petaluma to help his parents run their new hatchery business on Petaluma Boulevard North.  

When Frank Poehlmann passed away in 1922, Max took the business over with his mom, Bertha. In 1930, Nathan Thompson and Bill Warner took over Mrs. Poehlmann’s interest, becoming Max’s partners in the Poehlmann Hatchery. 

With the advent of commercial air transportation, hatcheries were able to sell products to Asia and South and Central America in addition to throughout the western United States. Poehlmann also ran a hatchery in Salt Lake City. 

According to research done by the Sonoma County Library, by 1937 the hatchery was producing one million chicks a year. That same year Poehlmann expanded by buying a 650-acre ranch to specifically raise turkeys in El Verano, a ranch once owned by the Carriger family.  

By 1941, hatcheries were considered the Petaluma area’s most important industry, with turkey eggs for hatching accounting for more than $100,000 a year alone. With no intense heat during the growing months of July, August and September, Petaluma’s climate was considered ideal for poultry of all kind.  

The Petaluma Argus-Courier from December 1952 stated that 15,000 turkeys were raised at the Poehlmann Hatchery’s Yulupa ranch in Sonoma Valley that year. About 1,000 birds were sold at Thanksgiving; another 1,000 at Christmas and another 3,000 selected as breeders. 

That year, Poehlmann’s birds won 10 awards at the Far West Turkey Show in Turlock. 

Around that time, replenishment of the stock came by way of George Nicholas’ turkey breeding farm, which provided 12,000 eggs to hatch at the Poehlmann Hatchery in Petaluma. 

In the 1950s, Nicholas perfected the breeding of broad-breasted, white-feathered turkeys (known as the Mae West), which soon surpassed the bronze turkey as the industry standard.  

Nicholas soon became known as the father of the modern turkey and operated Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms in Carneros, where Scribe Winery is located today. He sold the business in 1978 to outside interests and the entire operation moved to West Virginia in 2004. It is now called Aviagen Turkeys. 

Poehlmann’s operation persisted until 1970 when he retired to Oakmont with his wife Nell. He died in 1980 at the age of 90. The Poehlmanns had two sons, but it was his nephew, Nathan C. Thompson and his wife Lois, who took over the operation and changed the name to their own. They also converted the historic family home on Petaluma Boulevard North to a restaurant called 610 Main.  

Today, nearly all commercially sold turkeys harken back to the broad-breasted white. A movement exists to bring back heritage turkey breeds via Sonoma County 4-H and Slow Food Russian River. 

So this Thanksgiving, raise a glass to the turkey farmers that contributed to Sonoma County’s agricultural legacy, a long-gone moment in time that changed the face of turkey farming forever.  

 

Cricklewood, A Sonoma County Institution

The Good Stuff

November 16, 2022

Cricklewood, a Sonoma County Institution

For nearly 42 years along Old Redwood Highway, in the heart of Larkfield, there was only one place to be, a true locals’ hangout for business lunches and cocktail lounge gatherings with juicy prime rib, piping hot French onion soup and ice-cold Lemon drops from the bar: Cricklewood.

Tragically it burnt to the ground in the 2017 Tubbs Fire. Owners Lynette McGee and Michael O’Brien didn’t even have the chance to grab the reservations book on the way out to let their patrons know. Their art-filled apartment upstairs perished as well. The location remains unbuilt.

But for four dynamic decades, Cricklewood rocked the local restaurant scene.

O’Brien fell in love with steakhouses in the late 1960s while living in Alameda as a Navy man. A decorated Vietnam War combat pilot, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other honors for all his missions.

From Alameda he’d cross the Bay to dine at the Victoria Station in San Francisco, which became his inspiration for getting into the restaurant business.

A stint at the Miami outpost of the chain followed, where he happened upon the Cricklewood name, a suburb of London that adorned some of the British boxcar memorabilia the restaurant used. He soon transferred back to California to work at a Victoria Station in Sunnyvale.

Wanting to go into business for himself, he found a vacant restaurant in Larkfield owned by Rico and Mary Venturi that they had previously operated as Marico’s, a favorite Italian spot of the 1940s and 1950s. Marico’s often hosted a “Parade of Talent,” on Friday nights, a chance to hear Sonoma County entertainers compete for cash prizes.

In between the location had served as a smorgasbord, a trendy signature of the post-World War II boom years of the 1950s and 1960s, when plentiful buffets became all the rage. In 1976, O’Brien took over the space, opening Cricklewood steakhouse.

He aimed to create a “rustic, country feeling,” as he told The Press Democrat in a story from July, 1979. To that end, he procured 103-year-old wood from a torn-down house in San Anselmo. The dining room’s walnut tables were made by a local gunstock carver. The booths were partitioned by old prune tree props.

O’Brien noted in the PD that his most steady customers were business people who considered Cricklewood “an office with food,” and who came for lunch on corporate credit cards and back in the evening with their families.

In 1985 a PD story detailed how O’Brien let his customers put together the wine list.

“’They invariably select more Riesling and Gewurztraminer than I would,’ said the Zinfandel lover,” he told the paper.

Every October O’Brien would look through the Harvest Fair gold medal winners to determine which ones he could sell for $15 a bottle or less, tasting through the wines and selecting five or six of each variety. Those would then be tasted by 300 of his customers to get to a top 50 for the wine list for the next year or so.

Local wines, prime rib, French onion soup, Liar’s dice and the fireplace bar were all a part of its enduring charm for power lunches, prom dinners and quick bites before events at the Luther Burbank Center. At one point it even had a literal watering hole for horses.

Along the way, local celebrity chef Guy Fieri even recommended the Cricklewood French Onion soup as not only his favorite hometown food, but the best French Onion soup he’s ever had on the Food Network show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

He praised O’Brien’s version as “Vesuvius-hot” and “just a hair under the temperature of the sun,” and acknowledged how the Cricklewood chef took his time to make it perfect. See the video about it here.

O’Brien passed away in 2021 from cancer at the age of 76. In his later years he became a student of Buddhism. His widow McGee keeps a Facebook memorial page going to keep in touch with patrons of the past. Have a memory of Cricklewood?

Sonoma County’s Biodiversity

The Good Stuff 

November 9, 2022 

Sonoma County’s Biodiversity 

In addition to being an abundant place to farm, Sonoma County is also biodiverse, able to support a wide range of agriculture while also sustaining forests, woodlands and pasture, not to mention plenty of people.  

The 76 miles of coastline that border Sonoma County to the west add to the formidable range of life that is supported here and helps to balance the region both economically and environmentally. 

A way to encapsulate all living species, including plants, animals, bacteria and fungi, the term biodiversity was coined in the mid 1980s, though it’s probably fair to say that the concept of valuing variety – genes, species and ecosystems – is as old as earth itself. 

It was Edward O. Wilson (1929-2021) who first amplified the term and as a result he is often referred to as the father of biodiversity. An American biologist born in Alabama who helped found the field of sociobiology, in addition to being a naturalist, Harvard professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction writer, Wilson’s first area of specialty was ants. He is credited with discovering the first colony of fire ants in the United States when he was just 13. 

Ants and insects later evolved into the study of animal and human behavior in his first book, “Sociobiology.” His later work, “The Diversity of Life,” in 1992 connected humans and the Earth’s biosphere. To create an “Encyclopedia of Life,” he was given $20 million from the MacArthur Foundation; it is hosted today by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. 

As a visiting professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Wilson would tell students to “Be an ‘ologist.” He believed strongly that scientific discovery is an important element of biodiversity, that humans have so far discovered and documented about 2 million organisms but, he estimated, there are probably a much bigger number of 8 or 9 million on the planet.  

You can’t protect what you don’t know. Wilson felt strongly that new generations of young scientists were absolutely necessary to discover what else was out there. 

While biologists like Wilson thought about biodiversity from a macro perspective, here in Sonoma County it’s good to think of it from a micro, or regional perspective. While we are a deeply agricultural place, and wine grapes are currently our most viable crop, the 59,000 acres of grapes grown take up less than 6% of the total 1.1 million acres of land mass that is Sonoma County. 

Additionally, over 95% of the farms in Sonoma County are family owned and relatively small, with 80% consisting of 100 acres or less and 40% less than 20 acres.  

Most of these grape growers have farmed other crops over the years and have transitioned to winegrapes so they can afford to keep farming. Today many still grow and farm other things like apples, hay, poultry or dairy and in addition to orchards, farms and nurseries, Sonoma County is home to livestock ranches, coastal fisheries/oyster farms and cannabis. It is estimated that for every 1 acre of vineyards, Sonoma County farmers grow 2 acres of something else, diversifying the landscape through these efforts.  

Within the vineyard, the common grapevine (Vitis vinifera) is considered a major tree crop with high genetic and phenotypic diversity, with an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 cultivars (including those for table grapes) estimated to exist worldwide.  

Rootstock and clonal material are also diverse and varied within sites and across sites, another way to ensure biodiversity. Future rootstock breeding is looking to diversify even further as another way to fight a changing climate and pest pressure.  

Many growers also maintain native landscapes amidst a healthy mix of grazing land, orchards, wetlands and managed forests. This also maintains biodiversity.  

This both keeps the environment and the economy in better health – the don’t put your eggs all in one basket philosophy, the hedging of one’s bets. It’s smart business and important climate stewardship, valuable insurance against unpredictable conditions. 

Sonoma County’s Million Dollar Crops (2021 Sonoma County Crop Report) 

Grapes: $541 million 

Milk: $124 million 

Nursery: Ornamentals $26 million 

Livestock/Poultry products: $26 million 

Nursery miscellaneous: $22 million 

Cattle/calves: $21 million 

Misc Livestock/Poultry: $12 million 

Timber: $11 million 

Commercial fish: $11 million 

Vegetables: $8 million 

Cut Flowers: $6 million 

Bedding plants: $6 million 

Sheep/lambs: $5 million 

Apples (late varieties + Gravenstein, including canned juice, cider and vinegar): $3 million 

Rye/oat hay: $2 million 

Growing Leaders and Giving Back 

The Good Stuff 

November 2, 2022 

Growing Leaders and Giving Back 

 

November is national gratitude month, the American month of Thanksgiving of course, and a time to dive deeper into what it means to be thankful and not only give thanks but give. 

Studies around the benefits of gratitude call it a “gateway drug” to better mental health while statistics exist around how being thankful can have an impact in big ways and small. One statistic shows that 70% of employees would feel better about themselves if their boss were more grateful and 81% would work harder (Glassdoor Employee Appreciation Survey).  

On the other hand, lack of gratitude is a major factor in job dissatisfaction, turnover, absenteeism and burnout (Fast Company), while a study of 800 descriptive trait words rated “grateful” in the top 4% in likability (Positive Psychology). 

Gratitude month can be traced back to the efforts of Stacey Grewal, who proposed it as an official holiday in 2015. Grewal is the author of “Gratitude and Goals,” among other books. A timeline of National Gratitude Month’s creation also credits a World Gratitude Day held in 1965 in Hawaii, which led later to a United Nations resolution in recognition of the day and eventually Grewal’s success in taking it further. 

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of GivingTuesday, a global generosity movement created around the simple notion of getting people to do something good, whether it be donating money, time, a gesture of kindness or lending influence and power. 

Founded and incubated at the 92nd Street Y’s Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact in New York, whose motto is Ben Franklin’s “What good shall I do this day?” the movement spawned communities around the world around this common theme, from #NewsForGood to #NextGenGenerosity.  

GivingTuesday’s driving concept is one of radical generosity, that the suffering of others should be as intolerable to us as our suffering. But it also believes fiercely in the power of local action and in driving innovation around generosity. It is most importantly a useful tool for nonprofits to raise money for their communities and for global initiatives, leadership programs and civic movements. 

The GivingTuesday organization estimates that there are more than 260 community campaigns in the United States alone and more than 80 movements worldwide, representing millions of people doing good things. A nonprofit, its financial supporters include the Ford Fund and Ford Foundation as well as Google.org and MacKenzie Scott. 

GivingTuesday Communities, as one would imagine, most often center around a common geography or issue.  

Here locally, the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation was founded 20 years ago to support vineyard employees and their families, serving as a crucial lifeline during wildfires, floods and COVID-19. It has provided more than $1.5 million in direct support to those in need. 

Over the last four years, the foundation has also worked to show gratitude by recognizing individuals via its Vineyard Employee Recognition Program, a meaningful way to highlight the skills and commitment of Sonoma County’s agricultural work force with a show of gratitude and giving all year round. 

Every month, four employees are nominated by their employers around such themes as leadership, innovation, conservation or safety. A total of 170 employees have been so honored. 

An award celebration is also held to express gratitude to these employees in the presence of family, friends and peers. It is also at this time that from that group an employee of the year is named, the one person who most encompasses all the year’s themes and skills. 

In 2022 the employee recognition program spurred the launch of a Leadership Academy to create future leaders from this illustrious pool. In addition to the Leadership Academy, a Mentorship Program and Next Generation Program are planned in the coming year. 

NATIONAL GRATITUDE MONTH TIMELINE 

1965 

World Gratitude Day 

A Thanksgiving gathering at the International East-West Center in Hawaii marks the launching of the celebration of Gratitude Day on September 21. 

1977 

U.N. Recognizes Gratitude Day 

The United Nations Meditation Group requests a formal resolution to give recognition for World Gratitude Day. 

1998 

New Branch of Psychology 

The systematic study of gratitude within psychology begins, as Martin Seligman introduces positive psychology. 

2015 

National Gratitude Month 

November of each calendar year is proclaimed as National Gratitude Month, after submission by Stacey Grewal in August 2015. 

Where the Rhones Are 

The Good Stuff 

October 26, 2022 

Where the Rhones Are 

Wine drinkers who love Syrah keep waiting for it to have its moment of fame and fortune, but that moment remains elusive. A red grape native to the Rhone region of France, while California took many of its grape-growing cues from other parts of France – notably Burgundy and Bordeaux – for some hard-to-define reason, Rhone wine grapes remain a minority here. 

This is as true in Sonoma County as elsewhere, where Zinfandel has long had deep roots and varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are much more predominantly found. 

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some growers willing to fight the good fight. Sonoma is after all, a very diverse place when it comes to grapes. 

Nate Belden at Belden Barns is one of them. He and wife Lauren own Belden Barns on Sonoma Mountain Road, a vineyard originally established in the early 1970s by David Steiner. Once a Cabernet Sauvignon site too cool climatically to be consistent, it gradually transitioned over to Pinot Noir at the suggestion of winemaker Rod Berglund of Joseph Swan. 

When the Beldens came along in 2005, there was a small movement going on in the Bennett Valley area to plant cool-climate Rhone varieties like Syrah, led by Joe Judge at Judge Vineyard and Peter Young at Dry Stack. Conditions there were right for complex Syrah and there was hope that it might be the next big grape. 

But of course Pinot Noir exploded after 2004’s Sideways and well, in most cases, if a site was right for cool-climate Syrah it was probably right for Pinot Noir. 

The Beldens had to decide. 

“There was a lot of interest in our Pinot Noir, and it is why I was interested in the site in the first place,” Nate Belden says. “But we are farmers first and we also wanted diversity and variety.” 

The Beldens had to replant anyway and while they were able to keep 1.5 acres of the Pinot planted in 1998, they planted the remaining 18.5 acres to more Pinot Noir but also Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Chardonnay and three Rhone varieties: Syrah, Grenache and Viognier.  

Nate considers his a late-ripening site that even at elevation is relatively cool.  

“Syrah is a great grape to have right now,” he says. “It can withstand heat spikes and make a really good wine. From a farming perspective it’s a more forgiving grape, a more flexible grape.” 

While Belden produces its own wines from the Syrah, Grenache and Viognier, it also sells Syrah grapes to three Argot, Bevan Cellars and Enkidu. 

Other spots to find Rhone grapes include Carneros, where the Cline Family has vineyards devoted entirely to Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. 

In 2001, Durell Syrah was registered as its own clone by Foundation Plant Services. It had been a source of budwood since the 1980s to growers throughout the area. The story goes that shortly after the site was bought by Ed Durell in 1977, vineyard manager Steve Hill field budded 6 acres of vines with budwood he obtained from Linda Vista Nursery in Napa thought to be Shiraz 1 from UC Davis. 

The grapes were sold to both Kendall-Jackson and Edmunds St. John Winery for many years. The Durell Vineyard now owned by the Price family continues to grow a small amount of Syrah and a Durell Vineyard Syrah is made by Ram’s Gate 

Not far from Belden Barns, Four Brothers Vineyard grows Grenache that goes to Benovia and Greystack Cellars. On the other side of the mountain, Coursey Graves sits at 1,500-feet-elevation on a slope above Bennett Valley and grows Syrah in volcanic soils. 

Rossi Ranch closer to Glen Ellen was originally planted in 1910 and brought back to life by Phil Coturri of Enterprise Vineyards in 2013. It grows Grenache and Mourvèdre found in bottlings by Sixteen 600, Carlisle, Gallica and others.  

Also in Glen Ellen, Lasseter Family Winery has long been a proponent of Rhone-inspired wines, growing Grenache, Counoise, Mourvèdre and Syrah. It also grows Syrah on Moon Mountain, while Hamel Family Wines grows Grenache on its Moon Mountain Nuns Canyon estate and Syrah and Grenache at Armor Plate Vineyard on the Sonoma Valley floor. 

Dehlinger grafted a small part of its vineyard in the Russian River Valley to Syrah in 1990 and maintains 3 acres of it still. It makes a Goldridge Syrah and Altamont Syrah, named for the two soil types found on site. An East Face Syrah is also periodically made. 

At Acorn Winery in the Russian River Valley, Betsy and Bill Nachbaur tend to a sustainably-grown, field-blended vineyard that includes interplanted Syrah and Viognier that dates back to 1991. Across the highway Limerick Lane has 4 acres of head-trained Syrah, 2 acres of Grenache and 1.5 acres each of Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah.  

Catie’s Corner Vineyard was planted in 1995 by Saralee Kunde to a smattering of white varieties, including Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Other sites that date back to the 1990s include Timbervine Ranch (Russian River Valley), what DuMol dubs Wild Mountainside for a Syrah and Viognier, and Griffin’s Lair (Petaluma Gap). 

Donelan Family Wines specializes in Rhone wines, particularly Syrah; its estate Obisidian Vineyard is in Knights Valley. It also sources from Richards Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, once a lavender farm; from Kobler Family, which farms Syrah and Viognier in Green Valley; and from Judge Vineyard in Bennett Valley, one of its coldest sites.  

Farther north, Quivira has estate-grown Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Counoise growing on its Wine Creek Ranch in Dry Creek Valley. Farther still, Ridge Vineyards makes a Buchignani Ranch Carignane from old-vine hillside grapes first planted in 1927 in the Alexander Valley, in addition to a Carignane-Zinfandel blend from Russian River’s Mancini Ranch. 

Lastly, no story of Syrah is complete without the mention of the magic David Ramey coaxes out of the Syrah and Viognier grown at Rodgers Creek (Petaluma Gap) and Cole Creek (Sonoma Coast) vineyards. 

Sonoma County’s Rhone Grapes  

(California Dept of Food and Agriculture Grape Acreage Report 2021 Crop) 

Whites: 

36 acres Grenache Blanc 

22 acres Marsanne 

4 acres Picpoul Blanc 

39 acres Roussanne 

206 acres Viognier 

Reds: 

159 acres Carignan(e) 

8 acres Cinsaut 

4 acres Counoise 

267 acres Grenache 

82 acres Mourvèdre 

677 acres Petite Sirah 

1,360 acres Syrah 

Another Harvest for the Record Books for Sonoma County Grape Growers

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (October 25, 2022)— A record early start on July 29 set a fast pace for the harvest season in Sonoma County and most of the crop is already in for the year. Traditionally, harvest season for grape growers begins in mid-August and runs through early November. However, like every year, farmers dance to the rhythm of Mother Nature and every harvest has its challenges. This year, a heat spike around the Labor Day holiday weekend and rain in mid-September kept farmers in the vineyards and on their toes.

“Mother Nature always promises a harvest dance and 2022 did not disappoint,” said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers. She added, As with every vintage, our grape growers manage an incredible logistical process, working with their winery partners to pick and deliver the grapes at their optimal ripeness and flavor. Overall, the crop is lighter than average across most varieties for several reasons—the ongoing drought, spring frost, a heatwave and then the mid-September rains—and we’re seeing smaller berry and cluster sizes, packing a stellar quality 2022 vintage.”

Given the ongoing drought, many growers implemented water conservation efforts to minimize their water use, which could also result in a lighter crop compared to past harvests. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, it’s the driest year to date in the last 128 years, based on data from January through August 2022.

As we head into the dormant season, our grape growers and talented vineyard workforce can pause to celebrate another great harvest, and then it’s right back to work, tending the vines for the next vintage.

Here’s a brief look at what growers are saying about the 2022 harvest from around the Sonoma County appellations:

Alexander Valley

“The 2022 Harvest has been challenging, but each harvest has its challenges, which is why they’re all unique,” said Justin Seidenfeld, senior vice president of winemaking and winegrowing at Rodney Strong Wine Estates. “This year was special because of the team that came together to make everything happen the way we wanted. So far, the wines are showing beautifully in the tanks. It’s still early, but we are off to a good start.”

Dry Creek Valley

“Mother Nature delivered another memorable harvest season in Dry Creek Valley —spring frost, a September heat spell, and drought-driven state-mandated restrictions of irrigation water use,” commented Duff Bevill, founder and partner of Bevill Vineyard Management. “But the 2022 vintage still delivered, and the winemakers were excited about the quality.”

Fort Ross-Seaview

“Exceptional quality, but yields are quite low,” said Jasmine Hirsch, general manager and winemaker at Hirsch Vineyards. “At Hirsch Vineyards, yields are about 50% of normal.”

Petaluma Gap,

“Similar tonnages to last year—30% lower than typical years, most likely due to the drought,”

said Scott Welch, director of farming at Jackson Family Wines.

Russian River Valley

“It was our earliest finish of harvest ever in 45 years on Sept. 17,” said Whitney Hopkins of Hopkins River Ranch and Sonoma County Board Alternate Commissioner. “The 2022 harvest was lighter than the past few years. Drought and spring frost may have been factors.

“The quality of the 2022 vintage is good,” said Mark Sanchietti of Sanchietti Farming, Inc., “There was a little rain on the 18th of September, but it didn’t have an effect on the quality. We also had a heat spike in September that expedited harvest.”

Sonoma Valley

“This is a great year,” said Taylor Serres, owner of Serres Ranch. “The heat and the rain were nerve-racking, but the vines held it together and are producing some of the best flavors yet.”

 

About Sonoma County Winegrowers:

Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) was established in 2006 as a marketing and educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Sonoma County as one of the world’s premier grape growing regions. With more than 1,800 growers, SCW’s goal is to increase awareness and recognition of the quality, sustainability and diversity of Sonoma County’s grapes and wines through dynamic marketing and educational programs targeted to wine consumers and influencers around the world.

In 2014, Sonoma County’s winegrowing community embarked on a major initiative to have all Sonoma County vineyards certified sustainable. Today, 99% of the vineyard acreage in Sonoma County has completed certification by a third-party auditor making Sonoma County the most sustainable winegrowing region in the world.  In addition, in 2020, SCW was a pilot partner in a climate adaptation program to learn how local farmers could create custom farm plans to be part of the climate solution and leaders in this movement.  SCW’s sustainability efforts have been recognized with California’s highest environmental honor, the 2016 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA).  Learn more at www.sonomawinegrape.org.

CONTACT: John Segale | (916) 600-1081 

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Russian River Valley’s Pinot Noir Neighborhoods 

The Good Stuff 

October 19, 2022 

Russian River Valley’s Pinot Noir Neighborhoods 

The concept and exercise remain one-of-a-kind 

 In 2015, growers and wineries in the Russian River Valley undertook a curious experiment, the first, really, of its kind. They were not interested in creating new appellations, nor hardened border lines.   

They wanted to confirm what they felt they already knew: that Pinot Noir presented itself differently when grown in different sub-regions within the bigger area. That the Russian River Valley is uniquely diverse. Defining these neighborhoods was an exercise in historic memory as well as tasting. 

This was called the Neighborhoods Initiative and it led to six specific delineations within the Russian River Valley known more simply as The Neighborhoods. Working with Dr. Roger Boulton, a professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis, the growers and winemakers interested in the neighborhoods concept helped devise a series of characteristics for their wines that could be measured in a lab.  

Pinot Noirs from 18 wineries from the several vintages were analyzed. When the analysis was concluded in 2019, it confirmed that each neighborhood offered a fingerprint of its own – that there were indeed specific, consistently identifiable sensory characteristics that derive from grapes grown in those neighborhoods. 

The Russian River Valley became an American Viticultural Area in 1983, with expansions in 2005 and 2011. In total, it contains 13,896 acres of grapevines within a total acreage of 96,000 acres, or 150 square miles. It spans from Healdsburg to Sebastopol, so not only are there significant differences in soils, elevations and aspects, there are profound differences in climate and how the Russian River and Pacific Ocean impact growing sites. 

The Neighborhoods 

Middle Reach 

Located along Healdsburg’s western edge south of the Dry Creek Valley, the Middle Reach is considered one of the warmer neighborhoods and is also among the most historic. The heart of it is Westside Road, home to Bacigalupi, Bucher, Rochioli, Allen Vineyard, Williams-Selyem, Arista, DuMol’s Flax Estate, Ramey’s Westside Farms, MacMurray Ranch and Gary Farrell, among many others. With Pinot planted on benchlands and hillsides as well as the valley floor, it’s also where many of the oldest plantings in the appellation exist. The wines are typically defined by texture and length as well as ripeness, intensity and lush character. The tannins can be structured yet supple. Microclimates and soil variability abound, but the Russian River itself helps moderate the climate. 

Laguna Ridge 

Defined by the ridgeline separating Green Valley from the Laguna de Santa Rosa, this neighborhood lies south of the Middle Reach near Forestville. A narrow strip marked by deep, well-draining sandy Goldridge and Altamont soils, it overlooks the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Among its residents are Merry Edwards, Dehlinger, Lynmar and Joseph Swan. Swan was the first to plant Pinot Noir in the Laguna Ridge post-Prohibition on the advice of André Tchelistcheff, who referred to it as “Middle Cool.” The Pinots are characterized by sensuous mouthfeel and moderate acidity, with red and dark fruit flavors and a nice helping of baking spice, with ample tannin. 

Santa Rosa Plain 

A large stretch of flatlands on the east side of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, this neighborhood encompasses Olivet Road, and the larger Piner-Olivet area, with a deep concentration of vineyards and wineries, including Benovia, Inman, Pellegrini and DeLoach. This is also ground zero for old-vine plantings of Zinfandel at sites like Papera, Saitone and Montafi. 

Eastern Hills 

The northernmost neighborhood and last to be introduced to the neighborhood concept, the Eastern Hills designation acknowledges the western ridge of the Mayacamas Mountains east of Windsor, a warmish area only minimally touched by Russian River fog. The soils are considered quite diverse, volcanic and sedimentary. Most vineyards are planted toward the west, getting late afternoon heat and sun. The Pinots from here can be quite ripe and lush, butting up against warmer-loving varieties like Zinfandel and Syrah. 

Green Valley 

Brimming in fluffy Goldridge soils, the Green Valley is the only neighborhood that is also its own American Viticultural Area, established at the same time as the Russian River Valley in 1983. Centered around the towns of Graton and Occidental and following the path of Atascadero Creek, redwood and fir trees surround many of the vineyards, some of which are planted at moderate elevation, where cooling winds from the Pacific Ocean have an influence on the grapes. The Dutton family, Iron Horse, Hartford Court, Marimar Estate and DuMol have considerable plantings here; some of the oldest Chardonnay in the region is at Dutton. Because of the cooling winds and elevation, many of the Pinots have a crispy red fruit character, more rhubarb and pomegranate than dark cherry, with beautiful aromatics and texture. 

Sebastopol Hills 

Set predominantly west and southwest of Sebastopol, the Sebastopol Hills is about as cool as it gets within the Russian River Valley. Balletto’s Burnside Road, Sexton Hill and Cider Ridge vineyards are here as is Pratt Sexton Road Vineyard. Goldridge soils dominate. The cool climate provides crisp red fruit characteristics alongside elements of dried herb and black tea. Much of it was planted to apples until vines began to be planted in the 1990s. Cold, windswept and unsheltered, it worries less about frost than other neighborhoods, providing plenty of time for fruit to hang. 

Protecting Cabernet Sauvignon

“The Good Stuff” 

Protecting Cabernet Sauvignon 

October 12, 2022 

There’s no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon is among California’s most important wine grapes. Across the state there are nearly 95,000 acres of it planted and the grapes that result produce some of the most collectible, sought-after and highest-quality wines of the world.  

It is also among the grapes that helped put Northern California on the map internationally after the Judgement of Paris Tasting in 1976. But its roots in Sonoma County go way farther than that. 

The year 1875 was a turning point in Sonoma County wine history, the first time it led the state in wine production. As detailed in Sonoma Wine and the Story of Buena Vista by Charles L. Sullivan, Cabernet Sauvignon was already in the mix.  

Around this time, the widow of William Hood, Eliza Shaw, began grafting Mission vines planted on her Los Guilicos land grant in Sonoma Valley to Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Semillon. 

John Drummond came along in 1878, buying a large piece of the Los Guilicos Ranch and planting 150 acres. The ruins located on the site of what is now the property owned by Kunde Family members under the original name of Wildwood Vineyards, Drummond’s Dunfillan Winery sourced from vines that had been imported by Drummond from Bordeaux, including Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Lafite. Before long, his grapes were commanding top dollar from area wineries, as sought after as those planted by H.W. Crabb in the 1860s over the mountain at To Kalon. 

Fast-forward to the 1930s and Simi Winery in Healdsburg, under the leadership of Isabelle Simi Haigh (who owned Simi until 1970), was earning a reputation for fine Cabernet Sauvignon.  

In the 1940s, Frank and Antonia Bartholomew paid $17,600 for the long-shuttered Buena Vista Winery, which was being auctioned off by the state. Professor Albert Winkler of UC Davis paid a visit and suggested they grow, among other varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon. Before long, the great wine consultant Andre Tchelistcheff was on board to consult after making his mark at Beaulieu Vineyard in Napa. 

Still, for a long time, Cabernet Sauvignon was nearly a specialty crop. In 1964 there were only 89 acres of it in Sonoma County; by 1971 it was up to 1,629 acres.  

The year 1972 is when the real post-Prohibition planting explosion began. By the end of that year Cabernet Sauvignon had grown to 2,469 acres in Sonoma County, 65% of which were still unbearing. Through much of the 1980s, 570 acres of grapes were added per year, and then between 1993 and 2012, Cab plantings grew another average of 1,300 acres a year. 

Today, Sonoma County has the third largest amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in California – around 13,000 acres – exceeded only by Napa and San Luis Obispo counties. But its long legacy here is clear and it is a resource that should be protected. 

Cabernet tends to thrive in the warmer reaches of plantable land. Here, a majority of the Cabernet is found in Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Dry Creek Valley and at elevation on Moon Mountain and Sonoma Mountain, all traditionally warm areas. 

What used to be considered warm is often now much warmer, and water resources are always of concern. So it was good to hear of a new UC Davis study published in Frontiers of Plant Science that looks at one way to grow Cab in warmer environments. 

The study maintains that single high-wire trellis systems allow vine leaves to shade grapes better than vertical shoot position, or VSP, trellises, where vine shoots are trained to grow up in vertical, narrow rows with fruit growing lower to the ground, allowing greater exposure to sunlight. How much sunlight depends on the site and the farmer.  

VSP trellises became popular during the boom planting years of the 1990s and allow more rows to fit per unit of land than many other systems. They were actually first used in cooler areas of Germany, France and New Zealand to ward off fungal diseases and maximize sun exposure. 

In California, this is less of an issue in many places. 

Examining six different types of trellis systems and three different watering amounts, the study also found that single high-wire trellis systems got a more marketable yield for the amount of water used. It also found that single high-wire trellis systems acted like a good shade cloth but didn’t negatively affect grape color or quality. 

Whether or not this change in trellising makes sense for growers in Sonoma County remains to be seen. But it could be something to consider long-term. Given Cabernet Sauvignon’s long history in Sonoma County, it has a proven ability to survive. 

FIGURE 1 Illustrations for the Trellis Systems Established at the Oakville Experimental Vineyard: (A) Traditional Vertical Shoot Position (VSP); (B)Vertical Shoot Position 60° (VSP60); (C) Vertical Shoot Position 80°(VSP80); (D) High-Quadrilateral (HQ); (E) Single High Wire (SH); (F)Guyot-pruned Vertical Shoot Position (GY). “h” stands for the cordon height from the vineyard ground. 

Rachel Dickinson, Entrepreneur & Lifestyle Writer

Rachel Dickinson is an experienced luxury travel, food, and wine writer that creates content about the best places to #EatPlayStay around the globe. She founded rachelsstylishlife.com in 2010; since then she has traveled the world visiting wineries, distilleries, and interviewing industry tastemakers.

While attending college in New York City, Rachel interned at Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. She later enrolled in North London Wine School and received her Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 Award in Wines. In addition, she took classes at Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, Berry Brothers & Rudd.

With roots in California, Rachel is passionate about showcasing wineries and wine stays across her home state. Not only does she showcase the label, but the people and story behind it. Rachel has been featured in Jordan’s Wine Country Table magazine, the Huffington Post, Refinery29, and The Cut.

She has also collaborated with international brands such as Champagne Taittinger in France and Castiglion del Bosco in Italy. Having a passion for spirits, Rachel recently went on a road trip across Scotland visiting various distilleries and learning from master distillers. She has collaborated with renowned whisky and gin brands such as Glenfiddich, Talisker, and Hendricks Gin.

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Sonoma County Grapegrower Max Thieriot Debuts Fire Country TV Show 

“The Good Stuff “

Sonoma County Grapegrower Max Thieriot Debuts Fire Country TV Show 

October 5, 2022 

Max Thieriot grew up in Occidental the son of a prominent grape grower and vineyard owner.  

On Friday, October 7, he launches a new show called Fire Country, a firefighter drama set in Northern California in which he both stars and is executive producing, a passion project borne out of the fires he, his family and the community experienced in Sonoma County in 2017, 2019 and 2020. He is also one of the writers of the show, which will run on CBS.  

When he’s not filming, Thieriot remains a local. He is raising his own family and his own grapevines on a vineyard he planted in the hills of Occidental in view of Bodega Bay. 

In Fire Country he plays a parolee named Bode assigned to fight fires in his home town who is looking to turn his life around. The trailer promises plenty of drama, from saving a baby stuck in a burning car to being doused by a helicopter’s water drop.  

Thieriot said in a Paleyfest Fall TV Preview that the idea for the show came to him about two years ago, inspired by Cal Fire’s inmate firefighter program and the rigors of rural firefighting. He wants the show to have a blue collar, Yellowstone-like feel and not shy away from talk of climate change and mega droughts. 

Having grown up in the small town of Occidental, Thieriot also wants to mirror that feel of community. He remembers buddies from high school working as volunteer firefighters and learning by osmosis about the work they did and some of the terms and techniques involved in fighting fires. 

As a kid, Max modeled for The GAP, first appearing on screen in the 2004 film Catch that Kid, but gained greater fame in 2005 in The Pacifier with Vin Diesel. He’s been acting ever since, gaining television success most recently on SEAL Team. 

Thieriot grew up on the B.A. Thieriot Vineyard. The high-elevation vines sit in Goldridge sandy loam soils over fractured sandstone and were planted by Max’s parents, Cameron and Bridgit, who bought the property in 1988.  

Working with Warren Dutton, they planted the first part of the vineyard to Chardonnay and sold grapes to Landmark, Williams Selyem, Neyers, Littorai and Rivers-Marie. Pinot Noir was planted in 1991 and 1994. 

In 2011, while still in his early 20s, Max joined with childhood friends Christopher Strieter and Myles Lawrence-Briggs to create Senses Wines, hiring Thomas Rivers Brown as winemaker, with a focus on West Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (they also make an Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite of Max’s). 

Back to the firefighting theme, after the 2017 fires in Sonoma County, Max and his Senses co-founders, as well as general manager Chelsea Boss, launched Rebuild Wine Country, a crowdfunding outfit that partnered with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild homes. It operated through 2020. 

Max loves the farming side of the business most and has developed a vineyard of his own called Thieriot-Bodega on the hillsides of Occidental five miles from the Pacific Ocean, near Steve Kistler’s Occidental Vineyard, Platt Vineyard and de Coelo. Another Goldridge sandy loam site, it has 9 acres of Pinot Noir and should further add to the impressive reputation of the new West Sonoma Coast AVA.