There is something about Sonoma County that has always endeared it to me. A strong sense of authenticity, a place where people farm. A diverse and sprawling land that is home to some of California's oldest bush vines. Having visited the area a number of times, it was with great pleasure that I recently met with Scott Adams, owner and winemaker at Bella Winery, whose wines reminded me why I love wine so much.
People often refer to Sonoma County as the Garden of California. In terms of winegrowing areas and grapes, it certainly is a veritable Garden of Eden. Within the overall area there are several designated American Viticultural Areas, known as AVAs. The Western AVAs, within the county, which includes the well know Russian River Valley AVA, all share some cooling ocean influence from the Pacific. In contrast the Eastern AVAs share a mountain influence, which protects them from the cooling ocean. Bella Winery is located in the heart of one of these mountain protected AVAs – namely Dry Creek Valley – an area synonymous both with old bush vines and Zinfandel.
Scott and his wife Lynn, along with a small team of three, run Bella Winery. As well as Zinfandel, they also focus on Rhone varieties and blends such as Grenache and Syrah, as well as the dark and brooding Petite Sirah – varieties and styles eminently suited to the warm dry climate of Dry Creek.
As we tasted through a selection of the wines, we discussed in fascinating detail the virtues of their 80+year-old vines, the subtle soil and micro-climatic differences between the different vineyards and how they manifest themselves in the wines, the challenges of cultivating Zinfandel – a variety known for irregular bunch ripening – and how Scott likes to craft his wines, in a more elegant, restrained style.
As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Personally, I tend to be wary of many Zinfandel wines, often finding them overly alcoholic and extracted. Not so here. As I read back over my notes, certain phrases repeat themselves such as big, but still elegant; warm, generous, but balanced: complex, juicy and refreshing; precise and focused, and I think I noted the word delicious at least ten times with an add-on 'note to self' – perfect for Thanksgiving this year.
• 2007 Bella Winery Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, $26 – A blend from several vineyards and from their younger vines. Refreshing, vibrant and packed with ripe forest fruit. Notes of clove, licorice and spice add complexity. Smooth, easy drinking. Really delightful wine.
• 2008 Bella Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, $40 – Intense aromas of black and red fruits, nicely perfumed with hints of baking spice, leather and clove. Full-bodied, but juicy and refreshing. Precise, focused with subtle elegance. Very long finish. Absolutely delicious and with lots of personality.
• 2008 Bella Maple Vineyard Zinfandel, Dry Creek valley, $40 – Much more of a red fruit focus – plums, wild strawberry, cherry. Notes of smoke, prune and spice. Supple tannins with just enough grip. Full-bodied, generous mouthfeel, well balanced.
• 2008 Bella Belle Canyon Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, $40 – Warming, spicy red and black jammy fruits with spice and earthy notes nicely interwoven. Smooth, full-bodied, big, but retains a delicious juicy texture. Persistent and well-focused.
• 2007 Bella Big River Ranch Syrah, Alexander Valley, $40 – A big wine, powerful, warming yet retains a strong underlying freshness and juicy texture. Nicely layered flavors of blackberries and raspberries with freshly cracked black pepper, smoke, leather and earthy notes. ,
• 2007 Bella Big River Ranch Grenache, Alexander Valley, $40 – Another fairly powerful wine, spicy, warm but balanced and persistent. Predominant baked red fruit – plums, strawberries and dried cherries mingle with sweet baking spices, coffee and warm tar. Smooth, gentle tannins and fairly long length.
Note: Prices are approximate and vary by state.
Until next week.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
Related: Winemaking 101: How White Wine Is Made
(Images: Mary Gorman and Bella Winery)