After seeing Clay Mauritson on last week’s episode of The Wine Down (episode #38) I was inspired to travel to the Dry Creek Valley to visit the Mauritson Family Winery and sample the wines mentioned on the show. If you have not seen this episode you can check out here or on The Lip TV’s web site:
The Mauritson family has been growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley since the late 1800’s, initially selling their fruit to other wineries. Six generations and 130 years later, they decided to begin making wine under the Mauritson family name.
The current generation’s great-great-great grandfather S.P. Hallengren, a grape growing pioneer in the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884, and then shipped his wine back to Sweden which wasn’t a particularly profitable business model. But by the early 1960’s the family homestead and ranch grew to 4,000 acres when all but 700 ridgetop acres was “acquired” (stolen by the U.S. government under eminent domain) by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to develop Lake Sonoma. Those vineyards originally planted are now under water.
For the next 30 years, the Rockpile property was primarily used for sheep grazing.
Clay Mauritson and his brothers grew up on the family farm working around the winery. But unlike his brothers Clay had no desire to stay in the family business when he went off to college. However, after returning from college in the mid 1990s he had a revived desire to work in the wine industry and yet remain independent from the family business. So, he went to work for other wineries to learn the trade of winery operations by working for Kenwood (who was a client that bought fruit from his family), Taft Street and Dry Creek Vineyards.
Then Clay was ready to return to the family business and in 1998 he released the inaugural Mauritson Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. Clay's wife Carrie soon joined him, leading the family business’ marketing operations. Soon after that inaugural release, they then planted 34 acres of Rockpile vineyards in eight distinct blocks. The combination of low air moisture, poor soils, and moderate temperatures proved to be ideal for growing superior grapes which quickly began to be noticed by many wine producers. The Rockpile AVA was then established in 2002.
The family vineyard includes 120 acres in Alexander Valley, 110 acres in Dry Creek Valley, and 40 acres in Rockpile. They also have close relationships with longtime growers throughout Sonoma County, which enables them to source and manage their preferred blocks from each vineyard throughout the growing season and select the most premium fruit during harvest. Their wine portfolio includes Dry Creek Zinfandel, Grower's Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley Chardonnay, Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, Rockpile Zinfandel, Rockpile Petite Sirah, Syrah and Rockpile Port-styled wine made from the traditional Portuguese varietals.
While visiting the humble but inviting tasting room which was opened in April 2004 I sampled the following wines:
The first wine was the 2011 Rosé, Rockpile Vineyard. This wine is made in the Saignée method in which a red wine intensified by bleeding lighter juice from the grape must which is then made into a Rosé. This wine is a blend of 33% Cabernet, 31% Malbec, 25% Merlot, and 11% Cab Franc from the Rockpile “Buck Pasture” Vineyard and the “Gloeckner/Turner” Vineyard. It was fermented 100% in Stainless Steel and then aged 6 months in 50% Stainless Steel and 50% used French Oak. On the nose and palate I picked up fresh cranberries, strawberry candy and watermelon. On the palate the wine is dry and crisp with fairly high acidity and no tannins with a fairly lengthy finish. Rarely in California do wineries make Rosés from Bordeaux varietals so this is truly a unique wine that sells for $19 a bottle and if I didn’t already have a large collection of Rosés I would have brought one home.
The second pour was the 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, a blend of 97% Zinfandel and 3% Petite Sirah from both Estate and sourced vineyards. This wine spent 14 months in 80% French and 20% American oak barrels. On the nose it has aromas of BIG fresh black and red berries followed by Hawaiian Fruit Punch. On the palate it has more dried fruits, plums, blackberry jam and black licorice. The wine is dry but fruit forward with medium tannins and a fairly lengthy finish. Although it has 15.2 % alcohol by volume it is well balanced with no heat. This is a classic Dry Creek Zin and it sells for $29 a bottle
The third sample was the 2010 Rockpile Zinfandel, Rockpile Ridge Vineyard. A blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah this wine spent 15 months in 50% French and 50% American oak barrels. This Zin is distinctly different from the previous wine. Whereas the first Zin had a Fruit Punch character to it, this one displays a blend of black cherry pie, blackberries and spice. On the palate it is bigger, rounder and more full-bodied with drying tannins and a hint of vanilla on the tail end with a medium length finish. Although it is slightly higher than the previous Zin at 15.5% alcohol by volume, it is well balanced with no heat. Both Zins are really well made but I’ve got plenty in my cellar. This wine sells for $37 a bottle.
The fourth pour was the 2009 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon, Rockpile Ridge Vineyard. This wine is a Bordeaux blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 1% Malbec. It spent 22 months in 97% French and 3% American oak barrels. This wine is ruby red with dominant aromas of licorice and eucalyptus notes up front with delayed notes of black currants and dusty cocoa in the background. On the palate it has BIG mouth drying tannins, high acid with black fruits, black currants, and bitter chocolate dominating the palate. This wine seems WAY too young to be drunk now and needs more time for the flavors to develop and become more integrated. I have no doubt it will dramatically improve with age. This wine sells for $47 a bottle.
My final wine was the most unique in the line-up, the 2009 Rockpile “Independence” Red Wine, a blend of 25% Tinta Cão, 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Sousão, 25% Tinta Madeira. This wine was aged 20 months in 80% French and 20% American oak barrels. The grapes for this wine were crushed via being foot stomped in the traditional Portuguese fashion. It is ruby red and it stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it has black and red fruits, blueberries, blackberries, figs and vanilla. On the palate is only semi-sweet, with good acidity and it has a silky-velvety feel on the mid palate. They call this wine a “port” and yet other than a slight sweetness (3% R/S) and 18.3% alcohol by volume it doesn’t have the texture, viscosity or heaviness of traditional ports. If you’re looking for a sweeter red wine that isn’t as overbearing as many ports can be, this is a great wine for $35 a bottle. So, I took one home to share with friends.
To visit or for more information:
Mauritson Family Wines
2859 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, California 95448