Out of the Fires: Wildflowers and Pink Wine

Beltane bounces back with rosé release, Pangloss follows, and Paradise Ridge rebuilds.

Story Chris Sawyer   Photos Steven Krause

As a wine writer and sommelier, I’m always eager to explore the new, young, and elegant styles of dry rosé wines hitting the market in springtime. Beyond dazzling the senses with refreshing flavors, zippy acidity, fragrant aromas, and pairing perfectly with a wide range of fresh cuisine, the best of these classy pink wines allow you to explore the flavor profiles from a specific vintage long before the red and white wines aged in barrel are released.

With that said, the new wines coming out over the next couple of months are already special. I say that because 2017 was a very unique vintage—especially when you consider the year was marked by the largest amount of rain on record; summer heat spikes that caused the ripening process to accelerate at a very fast pace; and the widespread series of catastrophic wildfires that swept through Sonoma County, Napa Valley and the prominent winegrowing regions in Northern California this past October.

This was particularly true in Sonoma Valley, where many of the homes, schools, businesses and wineries on the Valley floor and along the wooded hillsides of both the Mayacamas range and Sonoma Mountain were threatened. The fast-moving Tubbs and Nuns fires collectively burned 93,363 acres over a 12-day period.

Therefore, beyond the wineries and vineyards, these soulful new wines from 2017 also represent the story of the community as a whole, including first-responders, firefighters, ambulance drivers and brave individuals who committed themselves to helping others in need. Much as the wildfires have been replaced by wildflowers, and the destruction is now being replaced with renewal, the same is true with new 2017 wine releases from Sonoma Valley that can easily be looked upon as flavorful forms of a phoenix rising from the ashes.

One of the vineyard sites affected by the fires is Beltane Ranch. Located between Highway 12 and the west-facing slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains south of Kenwood, this iconic landmark of Sonoma Valley has a rich history traced back to the Wappo Indians, who occupied the territory before it became part of the Rancho Los Guilicos land grant in 1837. After taking over the property in 1878, pioneer viticulturalist John Drummond became one of the first to graft vines with chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon cuttings he brought to California from some of the finest wineries in France.

Mary Ellen Pleasant, the African-American abolitionist who purchased the property in 1892, designed and built the ranch house that now serves as the signature B&B on the estate. In 1936, the ranch was purchased by Ralph and Effia Heins, who went on to establish fruit trees and gardens before their niece, Rosemary Wood, restored the ranch house and planted new vines in the 1960s. Much of the 1,300-acre property has been deeded to the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District as permanent open space. But the vineyards, orchards, pastures and ranch structures are still owned and passionately cared for by the Wood/Benward/Krause branches of the family, who oversee the B&B and the Beltane Ranch Winery, founded in 2010.

While the most historic buildings survived the blaze in October, seven perished, including outbuildings that contained 40 percent of the current estate wines, library wines and priceless archive material. Still, the show must, of course, go on. So, with the warm months of spring quickly approaching, Lauren Benward, of Beltane Ranch Winery, is already busy getting ready for the release of her family’s new dry rosé to members of the Beltane Ranch wine club in May. Crafted with a classic field blend of zinfandel and smaller portions of petite sirah, alicante bouchet and carignane, the wine was made by veteran winemaker Kevin Holt with grapes picked just before the Nuns Fire began spreading to the property on the night of October 8. New offering of the sauvignon blanc from the Drummond Block and the Heins Block of zinfandel will be released later this year as well.

“It’s a wine that makes us grateful for what we have,” says Benward, while describing the crisp, refreshing, and very food-friendly profile of the salmon pink rosé.

Another upcoming release is the Pangloss 2017 Rosé. Crafted by talented winemaker Erich Bradley, this special Rhône-style blend is composed of cinsault grapes from Bradley’s parent’s property in Kenwood, grenache grapes from the Moon Mountain Vineyard on the Mayacamas Mountains and from the Steel Plow Vineyard owned by Landmark Vineyards on the Valley floor. Once blended and bottled, Bradley says the high-quality fruit created a lively pink wine that is tart, tangy and complex.

While the red and white wines Bradley makes for the Pangloss, Texture and Sojourn labels were safe during the wildfires, the fate of the estate blocks of cabernet sauvignon grapes grown at the Moon Mountain Vineyard was dicey. He typically uses those grapes for the high-end wines he bottles under the Repris Winery label on Moon Mountain Road near Agua Caliente. But thanks to the heat spike over Labor Day weekend, Bradley and his team had already harvested 100 tons before the fires started. The remaining fruit that did not meet the high-quality standards at the winery will eventually be sold on the bulk market.

“Even if an insurance agency writes you a check, devoted customers still want our wine to live up to their expectations,” Bradley says.

And despite having no electricity for eight straight days, the Repris cold room remained at 58 degrees. And, the naturally formed caps inside the small-lot tanks he worked with in the cellar helped protect the fermenting grapes from the smoke. As a result, there were no issues with volatile acid or smoke taint in the wines Bradley will be working with from this point forward.

“We have nothing to complain about,” says Bradley. “For some reason, it all went our way.”

Furthermore, as the new pink, red and white wines hit the market in 2018, the more pressing matter to deal with is to let the general public know that the wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants and other great Sonoma County attractions are once again open for business.

One of the strong promoters of this message is Rene Byck, co-owner of Paradise Ridge, a popular winery and hospitality center in Santa Rosa, which was destroyed when the Tubbs Fire devastated the Fountaingrove and Coffey Park districts. Therefore, while a new winery is being built, most of the wines are currently being sold at the winery’s second tasting room in Kenwood.

To aid the Byck family through these difficult times, generous vintners have provided high-quality juice and donated space in winemaking facilities to ensure they have wines to market from the 2017 harvest. Local restaurants and retail shops are purchasing additional cases and running specials to keep Paradise Ridge in the public eye. And the iconic LOVE sculpture, located on the Fountaingrove property and purchased by the Byck family in 1994, has become an inspirational symbol of the resurgence of the local business community and a powerful image used in the new Sonoma County “Love Is in the Air” ad campaign launched in early November.

“The best way to support us is to buy our wines and Sonoma County products right now,” says Byck.




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