ON THE WINE ROAD: Mountain memories

In 1964 the folk trio of Peter, Paul and Mary recorded a mid-19th century African-American spiritual song titled “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” Celebrating the birth of the Savior Jesus, it became an anthem for freedom during the early days of the American Civil Rights Movement.

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By Michael Venezia
Photography by Kathryn Ingall

In mid-July I escaped hot and humid Atlanta for warm and dry Northern California wine country. From the verdant carpet of the valley floor in Napa and Sonoma, to above the fog line mountain ridges where vines cling to the 55 degree slopes, Vintage 201 is well on the way to the anticipated fall harvest.

The days and nights where the labor is nonstop and the rewards are uniquely magnificent, my winemaker friends only have one chance to produce wine from grape juice and the environment makes for exciting variables.

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On July 21, as I stood on a ridge line at 2,000 feet, looking west toward the fog-shrouded Pacific Ocean this uplifting tune played in my mind. Hundreds of acres of vineyards lay before me in the tucked away mountain valley.

The viticultural landscape is embraced by nature, the wild mountain vista is preserved to allow the native flora and fauna to thrive and flourish while men and women nurture the vines planted to maximize their character in this extreme and harsh environment.

I have edited the song’s words to fit the circumstance.

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain, to let my vineyards grow”.

Black Mountain is located in the famed Mayacamus Mountain range in the Alexander Valley region of Northern Sonoma County. Formed 35 million years ago, the Stonestreet Estate and Vineyards, one of the most extensive mountain estates in the world, covers approximately 5,000 square miles with only 900 acres planted to vines.

Straddling the Monument and Couger Ridges, 14 vineyard parcels are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Showcasing a complex array of more than 25 soil types (more than all of France) the extreme topography and altitude force the vines to compete and struggle mightily for the nutrients to sustain their health and happiness.

These microclimates result in much smaller clusters and berry size with much thicker skins, while producing grapes with more intense flavors. Taming the harsh environment and managing the plant materials with site specific clonal selections are key in producing magnificently concentrated varietals.

Only wild native yeast is used to ferment the Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon is fermented in upright French oak tanks which helps tame the mountain tannins. Harvests are labor intensive, with skilled vineyard teams hand picking the entire estate.

Much of the property has been left in its natural state and boasts an enormous wildlife habitat for bears, owls, raptors, cougars, and hawks. Madrone Trees, Bay Laurels, and Live Oaks adorn the landscape in stark relief against the green leafed vineyards and azure blue sky.

Above and below the fog line the pure mountain climate produces grapes of distinct flavor. Warm days and cool nights assure a slow and steady ripening over a long growing season, successfully achieving phenolic ripening.

To make a great wine one needs a madman to grow the vine, a wise man to watch over it, a wild poet to make the wine, and a lover to drink it”.
-Salvador Dali

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