Sonoma Valley, CA – Wines produced from mountain vineyards have received plenty of attention in recent years for their appealing combination of power and finesse. In truth, vintners have known about the quality of grapes from upland sites – be they benchlands, hillsides or mountains – for centuries. Among the first modern California wineries to give mountain-grown grapes their due, Kenwood Vineyards has produced vineyard-designated wines from Jack London Vineyard – which overlooks the Sonoma Valley – since 1976. The newly released 2009 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel and 2008 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon demonstrate the lure of the mountains, for vintners and wine drinkers alike.
The tradition of planting vineyards on high slopes may be nearly as old as wine itself, beginning perhaps 8,000 years ago. The Roman Empire established vineyards on hillsides throughout Europe for a practical reason; planting vines on elevated locations enabled them to survive the cold winters (cold air pools on valley floors, resulting in hard freezes). But as grape growing and winemaking became increasingly sophisticated in the succeeding years, the intense fruit character and fine natural balance of grapes – especially red grapes – from hillside and mountain vineyards were recognized in regions like Tuscany, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone.
When European winemakers arrived in California in the 19th century, they often sought out sites in the hills for their vineyards. The land that is now Jack London Vineyard was planted to vines in the early 1870s, 35 years before the famed author purchased it for his Beauty Ranch. Replanted in 1972, Jack London Vineyard – with its thin volcanic soils, temperate, marine-influenced climate and south-southeast aspect – produces small crops of full-bodied, structured Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah. Kenwood Vineyards’ meticulous winemaking, including slow aging in small French and American oak barrels, imparts subtle complexity and a measure of smoothness to these Jack London Vineyard wines.
The 2009 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel’s aromas showcase ripe plum and blackberry fruit together with mint and bay leaf complexity. Powerful blackberry, huckleberry and spice flavors are augmented by firm structure and moderate tannins. This classic, mountain-grown Zinfandel can be enjoyed now with robust fare, but should develop additional grace and complexity over the next few years. The 2009 Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel is available nationally at a suggested retail of $20. Approximately 5,300 cases were produced.
The 2008 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon displays complex aromas of cassis, black tea, mint and cocoa. Though still showing youthful reserve, the aromas blossom with aeration in the glass. The medium-bodied flavors are likewise complex; generous cassis fruit with complementary accents of cedar, mint and herbs. The palate shows impressive harmony of flavor, structure and balance, and culminates in a long, smooth finish. The 2008 Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is available nationally at a suggested retail of $30. Production totaled 11,700 cases.
Established in 1970 in the Sonoma Valley, Kenwood Vineyards produces premium wines that showcase the world-class quality and character of Sonoma County vineyards.