A recent excursion into the Alexander Valley provided five great reasons to include this northern Sonoma County American Viticultural Area (AVA) in any travel plans to experience the wine country of northern California. The Alexander Valley runs for about 18 miles beginning a bit east of the picturesque town of Healdsburg and running north through Geyserville and ending in Cloverdale just short of the Mendocino County border straddling US Highway 101 all the way.
The Valley is home to more than 40 wineries with such iconic and well known names as Alexander Valley Vineyards, Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Simi Winery and Silver Oak Cellars. These account for millions of cases of high quality wines that are widely distributed. The Alexander Valley is also home to many mid-sized and small boutique wineries making very limited production wines from ultra-premium grapes grown in the valley. These lesser known but very accessible wineries often do not work with a distributor and sell most of their production directly through their local tasting rooms and loyal wine clubs.
These mid-sized to smaller wineries are well represented by names like Medlock Ames, J.Rickards, Ramazzotti, Pech Merle, Icaria Winery and Quaking Hills. These wineries are all still very much family operations with hands on involvement in farming, wine making and tasting rooms. The intimacy one feels when you visit these wineries is very special and breeds a loyalty that is nearly impossible to achieve at the larger houses. Make no mistake, the quality of wine produced at the larger wineries can be exceptional, and should be, considering the enormous resources and investments they make. But its the feeling of family that sets these smaller houses apart when they can offer high quality wines and an intimate personal experience.
Among the many wineries in the Alexander Valley are Jordan, Simi, Clos du Bois, Francis Ford Coppola, White Oak and Robert Young. Some of these are larger well known wineries that are now owned by large beverage conglomerates.
AV Winery sign
Others are small to mid-sized family owned and operated wineries like J.Rickards, Alexander Valley Vineyards & Winery, Medlock Ames, Pech Merle, Icaria and Quaking Hills.
Alexander Valley Vineyard has been owned and operated by the Wetzel family since 1962 when Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a large portion of the Cyrus Alexander homestead, the valley’s nineteenth century namesake.
Alexander Valley Vineyards
The Weitzel family, now two generations later, remains the life force of this now historic winery whose premium grape vineyards helped establish the reputation of this Sonoma County AVA. They produce over 100,000 cases annually and use a fun naming convention for some of their wines. For example: Temptation, Sin Zin and Redemption.
AVV offered a food paring of Cajun Chicken Gumbo for their Estate Chardonnay or Sin Zin. The excellent food was prepared and served by KR Catering. KR is Ken Rochioli, another Sonoma County wine family member.
The Wine Carriage
The Wine Carriage is a very unique experience that is operated in coordination with Alexander Valley Vineyards, Hanna Winery & Vineyards and Soda Rock Winery. The carriage, pulled by two magnificent horses, travels through the vineyards and on private lanes connecting the three wineries. They offer a package including the wine tasting and a gourmet lunch.
Brett, our carriage driver, allowed us to pat the horses who seemed to be whispering to each other in this picture. They are huge. For reservations call 707-849-898 or visit their website: www.thewinecarriage.com
This tasting room on the corner of Hwy 128 and Alexander Valley Road is unique as it houses the Medlock Ames tasting room but also the Alexander Valley Bar. The bar has a full liquor license and is open from 5:00 pm, 7 days a week.
Medlock Ames Gardens
The gardens at Medlock Ames are amazing. Herbs, spices and vegetables seem to grow effortlessly and offer tranquil surroundings. There are picnic tables and they even have a outside wood-fired pizza oven for special events.
Inside Medlock Ames Tasting Room
The interior of the tasting room at Medlock Ames is the height of wine country style. Open beams, rafters and pipe racks of wine bottles and glasses surround you.
Vineyards along Hwy 128
Leaving Medlock Ames and proceeding on Hwy 128 to Geyserville there are nothing but gorgeous vineyards in all directions and as far as you can see. Breathtaking!
Geyserville Tasting Rooms
Icaria Winery and Quaking Hills Winery are two fairly new labels for the Alexander Valley. They share a tasting room in Geyserville on the 2nd floor with Locals, a cooperative tasting room, below on the first floor. Both of these wineries offer a very personal take on their wines with noteworthy varietals and styles.
Icaria and Quaking Hills
Icaria Creek Winery and Vineyard is owned by Jeff (winemaker) and Helen Smith. Their 50 acre estate is located in the Alexander Valley with twenty-six acres planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. They also have 10 acres of Chardonnay on the valley floor.
Keith and Joanne Collard have made small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Viognier from their 36 acre estate for their Quaking Hills Winery.
Jim Rickards and wife Eliza have been farming for over 30 years and selling much of their Cabernet Sauvignon to Silver Oak Cellars, their neighbor on Chianti Road near the old Italian Swiss Colony estates. Jim will gladly regal you with his experiences terracing his vineyards and making his wines.
Paired with Salmon Cakes
Jim started the winery in 2005 is the winemaker. He specializes in Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel (some vines from 1908), Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Jim’s wines are approachable and always fun to enjoy, especially with food. They offer reliable quality and solid value. We enjoyed a newly released 2012 Sémillon with these Wild Salmon Cakes. Yum!
Pech Merle Wines
Bruce and Cheryl Lawton are the owners of Pech Merle Winery (ask them why the name!). They share a tasting room at J.Rickards for now as they are in the middle of developing their own property. They offer Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Their wines are sophisticated and possess structure.
PM John Pepe
John Pepe is the winemaker at Pech Merle. He has offered management, training and development services to wineries throughout Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties over the past 20 years with stints at Kendall Jackson and Beringer Vineyards in Napa. John’s joie de vivre is evident in his wines.