About Laurel Glen Vineyard
The precious 3-acre parcel that gave birth to Laurel Glen Vineyard was first planted by German immigrants back in 1880. At the time, the vines were of several varieties, all red. In 1968, the vineyard was replanted entirely with Cabernet Sauvignon by Carmen Taylor. It would be her planting that had a lasting impact on the wines of today -- one particular vine was selected as the parent for the officially certified Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Clone. The story continues with Patrick Campbell, who rediscovered the plot atop Sonoma Mountain in 1974 and set to work expanding the vineyard to its current size of 16 acres. Campbell produced the first vintage of Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon in 1981, and 5 years later came out with the vineyard's second release, Counterpoint. The flagship Cabernets are powerful yet elegant wines characterized by brier-y mountain berry aromas complicated by minerals, flowers and dark chocolate. These are wines that repay extended cellaring, developing great complexity with bottle age. The Counterpoint, made chiefly from lots that miss the cut for the flagship bottling, is dependably a terrific value, and unlike the primary Cabernet, especially enjoyable when young. In 2011, with 30 vintages under his belt, Campbell decided to sell the vineyard to a group led by Bettina Sichel, formerly sales director at Quintessa winery. A new team, including David Ramey, and winemaker Randall Watkins now runs the show, although Campbell remains as a consultant. Sichel aims to revitalize the winery, which has come up short in recent vintages.
The Sierra Foothills region forms a long, thin band that runs for about 170 miles through 8 counties along the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Though the appellation is called "Foothills," this is mountain winemaking, with most vineyards located at elevations of 1,000-3,000 feet above sea level.
Thanks to its high elevation, this appellation enjoys long, sunny days and cool evenings during the growing season. Overall, the climate is cooler here than on floor of California's Central Valley. Not surprisingly, Sierra Foothill vineyards can be quite rocky and the soil is chiefly composed of granite. Vines shoot deep underground for much needed nutrients and water.
Wine making in this territory began in 1849 (a year before California joined the Union), when gold miners planted a number of vines outside the mouth of the mines. The end of the Gold Rush followed by the onset of Prohibition effectively put a stop to Sierra Foothills wine making.
The Sierra Foothills were rediscovered during the 1970s as real estate prices skyrocketed in Napa and Sonoma. Nowadays, the Sierra Foothills is planted to many different of varieties, from Sauvignon Blanc to Zinfandel.
It is remarkable that an industry essentially less than a half-century old could capture the attention of the American wine-buying public to the degree that California has. Powerful consumer interest in California wine is driven by two major factors. The more obvious reason is that California's best wines, which come from grapes grown in a benign climate featuring endless sunshine, very warm summer days, and generally dry harvests, and wonderfully fruity, full, and satisfying, and rarely too austere or tannic to be enjoyed from day one.
California is blessed with an extraordinary range of soils and microclimates, allowing for the successful cultivation of many varieties. In at least three out of four years, the best sites produce healthy, ripe fruits that are the envy of European producers in more marginal climates. The other reason Americans buy so much California wine is that California is the home team. Clearly, a high percentage of domestic wine drinkers are more comfortable buying American wines (and not just wines of California) than imports. Then, too, foreign bottles are generally identified by place name, rather than by the more familiar varieties that American wine drinkers have come to know and enjoy.
Moreover, in much of North America, outside the top 15 or 20 largest metropolitan markets, consumers have limited access to imported wines even if they wanted to buy them.
For many, Napa Valley is California wine, and Cabernet is king in Napa Valley. Meanwhile, the Burgundy varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have gravitated to cooler areas, generally closer to the Pacific, such as the western stretches of Sonoma County, the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, and the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez valleys within Santa Barbara County. Syrah vines have yielded interesting wines in a range of styles all over the state, in regions as disparate as Mendocino County, the Sonoma coast, Carneros, Paso Robles, and Santa Maria Valley. Very good Zinfandel similarly comes from multiple growing areas, although to date the age-of-vines variable has been almost as important as geography. Zinfandel, though its roots are in Europe, is a true California original and the only California wine imitated abroad. It's also a variety of which there are still significant plantings of very old vines, in some cases dating back to the end of the 19th century.
Bold, assertive red wines often showing jammy fruits and impressively high alcohol
Grilled meats and barbecue
Zinfandel is not the rage it was in the 1980s and early 1990s, as there are now too many wines made from overripe fruit or from young vines, or overwhelmed by excessive use of new barrels. Today's Zinfandel styles range from elegant, taut, and claret-like midweights to superripe and potty behemoths, with off-the-charts alcohol levels, distinctly exotic character, and, frequently, noticeable residual sugar. Classic Zinfandels are normally medium to full in body, with fruit-driven aromas and flavors of fresh berries, black pepper, and spices, sometimes with notes of citrus zest, chocolate, and briary underbrush; they are rarely overwhelmed by oak notes. Many of the best producers continue to work largely with very old vines (some-times with "field blends" that include other grapes such as Petite Sirah and Carignan), which give consistently low crop levels and make wines with atypical creaminess of texture, aromatic complexity, and aging potential.