article and photos by Charlene Peters

As the largest AVA in Sonoma County, Alexander Valley is best known for its superior Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends grown in areas of Healdsburg, Geyserville, Cloverdale, Jimtown, and Maacama.

Recognizable wineries here include Silver Oak, Francis Ford Coppola, and Rodney Strong. But it’s the trajectory of history that ties the districts of this AVA together, which began in 1840 when Cyrus Alexander arrived in the northern end of Sonoma County.

Alexander worked on a cattle ranch for four years before being gifted a parcel of land and farming his own cattle, growing fruit, and milling flour at his grist mill. Following on the heels of the Mexican Revolution and the subsequent California Gold Rush of 1848, he established his fortune as the founder of Alexander Valley. Ten years later, thanks to the Gold Rush, Peter Young purchased a ranch in the valley—today known as the Robert Young Estate Winery. Fast-forward 50 years to the first vintage of Alexander Valley wine, celebrated by Shadrach Osborn of Lone Pine Vineyard—now Munselle Vineyards and of the same family tree.

By 1984, the Alexander Valley AVA was established. Since then, the nearly 15,000 acres have attracted visitors globally, and Healdsburg, in particular, has blossomed as a tourist region.

 

WHERE TO SIP

From its earlier days farming prunes, it wasn’t until 1963 when Robert Young of Robert Young Winery pioneered the first planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Alexander Valley. Where they once had sheep to graze the pastureland and a llama to protect the herd from coyotes, today’s guests might spot Angus cattle roaming the ranch while visiting this small production winery. It’s a certainty guests will stop to pose at the RY signage in front of the vineyard where Uncle Burns’ great oak tree marks the best soil structure and drainage (attributed from years of burning) and then be greeted by a family member in the tasting room. It’s all in the family, including 5th-generation Young, his father, uncle, two aunts, cousins, his grandfather, Robert Young, and his four kids—who all live on the property and work on-site.

Fifth generation Robert Young manages the tasting room at Robert Young Winery

The most popular taste in the Scion tasting room is the Melon, a muscat-like yet dry white wine accessible to its wine club members with first right of refusal. In fact, Robert Young’s estate wines are limited due to the winery’s use of only five percent of its harvest—before they sell the rest of the grapes. Their most significant grape is Chardonnay, of which many viticulturists use and applaud the Robert Young clone as a proven phylloxera-resistant rootstock. // www.ryew.com

At the southernmost tip of Alexander Valley, where it overlaps into the Russian River Valley, is Medlock Ames, where environmental conservancy comes first on Bell Mountain Ranch. Ames Morison created an Immersive Sound Experience that begins with Sauvignon Blanc in hand and headphones in place. Fun facts along the experiential trail include the Barn Owl’s home and what the markings on the entrance hole mean, and an explanation of how the 2017 Kincaid Fire destroyed 20 percent of the crop, prompting the use of burned wood as wood chips.

Inside the barn, the tasting experience continues with a crisp 2017 Lower Slope Chardonnay paired with Cypress Grove goat cheese and a creamy 2018 Lower Slope Chardonnay. Three tastings of Cabernet Sauvignons include the power and strength of a 2017 Fifty Tons paired with Fiscalini Farmstead Cheddar to enhance the complexities and acidity of the wine. // www.medlockames.com

Among a rustic yet upscale setting with panoramic views of the Alexander Valley bench, a tasting at Silver Oak is a memorable event. Founder, Ray Duncan, purchased his first land in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley in 1970 in partnership with Jack Novak (of Spottswoode fame). Today, 75 acres of vineyard are dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon to produce a premier product with a bit of aging in American oak. Notes of red currant, cassis, ripe plum, cardamom, and toffee are typical of this ruby-colored velvety Cabernet, and these wines are built to age with elegance. Look for the iconic Silver Oak water tower. // www.silveroak.com

When a young Jess Stonestreet Jackson watched the film Seabiscuit, he became obsessed with horseracing. As a longtime lawyer, he thought he was setting up a retirement hobby when he purchased land in nearby Lake County. Instead, his viticulture project evolved into viniculture and expansion to create the brand Kendall-Jackson. Then he bought land from Chevron, where second-generation Christopher Jackson serves as proprietor of Stonestreet Estate Vineyards. Here, guests can indulge in an elegant Alexander Valley Cabernet priced at $250 bottle—the 2010 Christopher’s Blend.

The horse statue at the entrance to Stonestreet Winery is an ode to Jess Stonestreet Jackson’s love of horses.

The book, A Man and His Mountain tells the compelling personal and professional story of Jackson and his love of horse breeding, wine, and commitment to sustainability. Of Stonestreet’s 5,500 acres, grapevines thrive on 1,000 acres in the high altitudes along the oak-studded hill across the property and over the ridge. The secret to the grapevine’s success is largely due to the 23 soil types on the land (more soil types than all of France). //
www.stonestreetwines.com

Wine mogul Jackson curated a luxury portfolio of Old and New World wines meant to capture the global interest of collectors. The membership-based tasting experiences at The Spire Collection Field Stone Vineyard (another Spire Collection is based in Calistoga) includes established wine labels and emerging wine regions, such as Hickinbotham in Australia’s McLaren Vale, to Tuscany’s Arcanum Cabernet Franc and Captûre Rosé of Sangiovese of Alexander Valley, and more tastes of Oregon, South Africa, and France. // www.membershipbyspire.com

Seghesio Family Vineyards is the place to taste its flagship grape, the legendary Old Vine Zinfandel. Considered one of the oldest winemaking names in Sonoma County, Edoardo Seghesio was the first to plant Zinfandel in the Alexander Valley in 1895. Through earthquakes, Prohibition, the Great Depression, droughts, and fires, five generations of the Seghesio family stayed on course over a century of vintages later to establish themselves as Sonoma’s praised Zinfandel specialists. // www.seghesio.com

 

WHERE TO EAT

Sandwiched between the hills of Dry Creek and Alexander Valley in downtown Geyserville, Catelli’s third-generation Domenica once served as a personal chef for Oprah in her Montecito home. Subsequently, she partnered with her brother to run the restaurant that’s been in the family since the 1930s—the same clock ticks on the wall in this deceivingly enormous space. Al fresco dining is at its best seated at a table on the marble-floored patio to indulge in a plate of vegetable lasagna made with paper-thin homemade pasta. // www.mycatellis.com

The vegetable lasagna at Catelli’s in downtown Geyserville.

With his brother Aaron Garzini, Chef/Proprietor Dustin Valette opened Valette in 2015, where the “Trust Me” Tasting Menu is the right choice at this downtown Healdsburg restaurant. Guests can expect an unparalleled sensory experience of tastes and aromas—think fresh-harvested leeks inside an expertly crusted puff pastry with a prized and succulent scallop inside. // www.valettehealdsburg.com

Rolling vineyards and heritage oak trees provide the backdrop for brunch at Hazel Hill, one of three restaurants on the 250-plus acres of Montage Healdsburg that abuts the Alexander Valley. The view rivals the culinary experience of premier tastes that include a hearty plate of homemade rigatoni carbonara topped with a brilliant orange egg yolk and a dessert of Meyer lemon tart under a spun umbrella of toasted meringue. // www.montagehotels.com/healdsburg/dining/hazel-hill

Following an afternoon sunning by the Gatsby-esque pool surrounded by vineyard views, dinner at Rustic awaits guests who want to share Francis Ford Coppola’s favorite international recipes with a focus on Italian dishes and Argentina-inspired Parilla grilled meats. The memorable meal begins with a brown paper bag filled with warm garlic knots and Neapolitan-style pizza. Overhead, a view of suspended ceiling art displays an abundance of multi-colored corks as a reminder that this is also a winery. // www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com/dine-at-the-winery

The dining room at Rustic in Francis Ford Coppola Winery displays ceiling art of corks.

WHERE TO STAY

In the center of downtown Healdsburg, h2hotel is an Instagrammable modern luxury hotel. Its barn sliders serve as a bathroom door, its plantation-blind sliders open to a balcony, and a water filtration station on a counter in the hallway hydrates guests following a day of wine tasting, or time spent sipping craft cocktails with dinner at Spoonbar, where breakfast is also served. // www.h2hotel.com

The lounge area in h2hotel in downtown Healdsburg.

Off the beaten path on the banks of the Russian River in nearby Guerneville, the newly renovated Dawn Ranch is a 15-acre retreat with a luxury interior design in line with expectations of wine country yet tucked between towering redwoods that enhance healing energy. Forest bathing and meditation on the provided Infrared PEMF Go Mats are benefits that pair well with the birds and wildlife that casually make a regular appearance. The on-site restaurant, Agriculture Public House, serves a local-centric menu and wine selections such as Shypoke’s Rosé of Charbono.

At Montage Healdsburg

The most luxurious wine country spot is at Montage Healdsburg, set within a natural habitat just outside downtown. Guests will immediately imbibe the inside and outside beauty that surrounds them at every turn. Newly built bungalows with sustainability design features such as repurposed stone, wood, and copper create this hideaway. A luxurious submersion in the soaking tub or idyllic outdoor shower top the list of tough choices to make during a stay here. Begin the morning with yoga in the vineyard; later, call for a ride in the complimentary Cadillac SUV to head downtown for the evening. // www.montagehotels.com/healdsburg

FOR MORE INFORMATION 707-431-2894 // www.AlexanderValley.org