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Lake Sonoma as viewed from Upper Pond Vineyard.
Straddling the ridge between the two arms of Lake Sonoma is Rockpile AVA. One of the newest appellations in California, Rockpile's location and history can be described in one word: DRAMATIC!
Our great-great-great grandfather S.P. Hallengren first planted vines on the Rockpile valley floor in 1884, shipping every ounce of his wine back to Sweden. Our family's Rockpile homestead and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960s when all but 700 ridgetop acres was taken by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to develop Lake Sonoma. The vineyards shown in many of our historical family photos are now under water!
For the ranch families left on "the Ridge," the steep hillsides and rocky terrain seemed mainly suitable for sheep grazing and wild pig hunting. It was not until the early 1990s that the first acres of modern-era vines were planted and thrived. Brothers Thomas and Chris soon followed suit, developing 45 acres of vineyards between their Rockpile Ridge Vineyards and Rocky Ridge Vineyards and discovering that Rockpile held great potential for ultra premium mountain fruit.
What makes Rockpile so unique? The appellation is located at the Northwest edge of Dry Creek Valley where the two appellations actually overlap. All of the vineyards within the Rockpile AVA range from between 800 2000 ft. in elevation. Although Rockpile is located just 13 miles from the coast, Lake Sonoma provides an inversion layer that prevents the heavier fog that typically blankets other Northern California appellations, allowing for longer, more consistent sun exposure. Moisure and daytime temperatures are regulated by howling coastal breezes, and in many cases, steep slopes and rocky terrain require non-motorized vine management. Running through our Rockpile Ridge Vineyards is the HealdsburgRogers Creek Fault, a dominant earthquake fault in Northern California, and you can see why the story of Rockpile is pure geo-political drama!
We are thrilled to manage the development of so many different varietals and clones and also be able to make wines with such complexity from this truly unique appellation.
Buck Pasture Rockpile
Some of the historical names of our property are of the colorful type, and some are more practical. The Buck Pasture definitely fits the second category. Back in the old days, when you wanted to find a big buck, this is the area of the ranch you went to. Its not hard to imagine why the deer congregated here. There was always plenty of feed, it was extremely steep, which discouraged unwanted visitors, and it has the best views on the property.
Located between 1,000 and 1,300 ft elevation and with sweeping sun exposures from South to Southwest, this block is ideally suited for BDX varietals. The thin gravely loam provides the perfect balance of stress and sustainability. The stressed environment gives us extremely small yields with incredibly concentrated fruit, yet there is a richness and soft round tannins that comes from the soil and increased sun. With a slope up to 30 degrees, we never have to worry about too much water retention in this soil. The resulting wines have amazing intricacy. They are at the same time: rich and tannic, bold and understated, fruit forward and complex, youthful yet age worthy. This vineyard is planted to: Malbec, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Tannat.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD:
Buck Pasture Malbec
Sonoma County Cabernet
No need to worry, there is no one buried beneath the vineyard. This block is so named due to the extremely unusual outcropping of rock at the bottom of the vineyard. Though the terrain in Rockpile is very extreme, there are not a lot of sedimentary rock formations on our ranch. This particular rock formation is eerily similar to giant tombstones. Jacks Cabin may have been haunted, but trust me, the hair stands up on the back of your neck every time you walk through the Cemetery.
Comprised of serpentine and shale, this block straddles the Rogers Creek fault, one of the more active earthquake faults in Northern California. With a southwestern sun exposure, 15 to 20 degree slope, and the previous mentioned soil, the wine is everything you might expect; intense, powerful, and complex. Year after year the Cemetery yields Zinfandel with amazing black fruit and unbelievable tannins. These wines will have the greatest longevity of any of the Rockpile Zinfandels.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD: Rockpile Zinfandel, Cemetery Ridge
Owned by the brother and sister tandem that is Robert Gloeckner and Jean Turner, this piece of land is as much a part of my familys history as our own land. The Gloeckner family, like ours, has been farming in Rockpile for decades. They began as sheep ranchers, just as my family did six generations ago. When we needed help herding or sheering sheep, the Gloeckners were always there and vice versa. The best thing about those hard days work, was it always led to a great meal, plenty to drink, and lots of story telling; not necessarily in that order.
It was supreme pleasure to plant the Gloeckner-Turner vineyard for these old family friends back in 2000. Not only were they able to realize the dream of farming the family property again, but because I knew it would produce some of the best cabernet and merlot grown in California. Planted on what can only be described as a bench at 1,350 ft elevation, the result of a massive landslide some time ago, this small 11 acre vineyard is separated to four different blocks. Three blocks are planted to Cabernet, and there is a 3 acre block of Merlot. Though the soils, or lack there of, and sun exposures are very uniform throughout the vineyard, the slope varies greatly and is the catalyst behind the separate blocks. Rich and robust, the wines from this property are not for the faint of heart. The lack of water retention leads to extremely small berries which translate to intense flavors, incredible color extraction, and phenomenal tannins. This fruit forms the backbone of our Reserve Cabernet and the Buck Pasture Bordeaux blend.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD:
Sonoma County Cabernet
Not only is Independence one of the younger names on the property, it is also one of the most colorful. The story goes like this: in typical Ed Mauritson fashion, he had waited until the last minute to secure a wild boar for the Fourth of July barbeque being held later that day. A scolding from Grandma sent him off on an early morning hunt. After an unsuccessful start, he encountered a group of young boars in a remote area of the ranch. There must have been something in the numbers that day because my grandfather came home with four wild boars on the fourth of July and that area of the ranch has been known as Independence ever since.
In 1999 when we started planting our Rockpile vineyards, I seized the opportunity to fulfill one of my lifelong wine dreams: to make a true vintage port, using the authentic Portuguese varieties. We planted four of the Big Five varieties that make up port: Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Sousão, Tinta Madeira as well as taking some creative liberty in planting Tannat. We have exhausted every effort to make this wine as true to a vintage port as possible, all the way down to stomping the grapes with our feet. The incredible color and viscosity of this wine are apparent from the second you pour it into your glass. Rich aromas of chocolate and vanilla are complemented by the fragrance of dark fruits. Full and gluttonous in the front palate, phenomenal tannins lay just below the surface of the heady flavors of coco and truffles.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD:
Jack's Cabin Rockpile
Named after one of the original inhabitants of this area, Jack Ireland lived in Rockpile in the early 1800s. Jack was known as a crazy old hermit. He spent his days girdling trees, cutting a ring around a tree trunk and removing the bark and underlying tissue in order to kill the tree. This was done to clear land for grazing. It goes with out saying that is was lonely work in a forgotten corner of Sonoma County.
There are plenty of colorful stories about Crazy Jack, many of which involve moonshine, guns, jail, an insane asylum, and public nudity. Well, when my dad, and his father before him, was growing up on the property all that was left of Jack was the remnants of his cabin. It was widely believed that the cabin and this area of the ranch was haunted by none other than Jack. This was a good threat to a child; If you misbehave, we're going to leave you at Jack's Cabin. Needless to say, no one misbehaved. Being the rebel and connoisseur of distilled spirits that Jack was, Im sure hed approve of the Mauritson Jack's Cabin Zinfandel.
The Jack's Cabin Vineyard is the proverbial last piece of the puzzle in our quartet of single vineyard Rockpile zinfandels. We make four Rockpile zinfandels for a reason, the incredible diversity of terroir. This vineyard may be the most unique, for Rockpile that is. Containing primarily loam soils, the vineyard has a southern sun exposure and is planted at roughly 10-15 degrees slope. Relatively hidden from the costal breezes that howl through Rockpile, this vineyard is definitely the least stressed of all the blocks, and the wine reflects it. Rich in the mid-palate, this is about as close as you are going to get to a jammy zinfandel from Rockpile. The flavors are pure, showing both raspberry and strawberry fruit, finishing with soft velvety tannins.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD: Rockpile Zinfandel, Jack's Cabin
Lower Pond Rockpile
As the name suggests, this block is located directly below the pond. It actually is the convergence of two other Rockpile blocks: Jacks Cabin and Water Trough. The rows bend around the pond, giving this vineyard two very different sun orientations. Half of the rows run westward, while the other half bends toward the North. One of the heartiest of the Rockpile vineyards, it has the advantage of spanning a small trough. What little water there is collects in the low spot, giving the vines great vitality. One of the last blocks harvested, the strong vines yield surprisingly supple fruit. Unlike its neighbor to the North, this wine exhibits more spice and exotic fruit characteristics versus minerals. Always full in the mid palate, the supple tannins provide a good backbone to all the wines it is blended into.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD:
Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel
Dry Creek Zinfandel
Madrone Spring Rockpile
Another one of the more un-original names on the property, the Madrone Spring block is so named for the year round fresh water spring that runs out of the roots of the most beautiful Madrone tree that you have ever seen. The irony is that there is virtually no ground water on our property. We drilled six wells, only finding water in one of them, and the spring produces more water than the well. The tree is situated at the intersection of the three varietals planted in this vineyard.
This block is the most diverse of all the Rockpile blocks. It has three distinctly different sun exposures, a menagerie of soil compositions, and is planted to three different varietals. In the upper portion of the vineyard, at nearly 1,500 ft elevation, it is not uncommon to have sustained winds of 20-30 miles per hour, while the lower portion is completely shielded from the coastal breezes.
ZINFANDEL The zinfandel is planted at a Northwestern sun exposure with primarily red loam soils. One of the steepest blocks on the property, the slope often exceeds 30%. The fruit from this block is the primary ingredient in our Rockpile Ridge zinfandel and it is everything that you would expect given the conditions. The late afternoon sun exposure leads to incredible hang time. The Madrone Spring zinfandel is typically harvested two to three weeks after all of the other Rockpile zinfandels have been picked. The extended hang time provides great structure in the wine with amazing complexity of flavor. The steep slopes force the roots deeper to find water which is reflected in the great mineral characteristics. It would be easy to argue that this is the most balanced of all of the Rockpile zinfandels.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD:
Rockpile Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel
Dry Creek Zinfandel
PETITE SIRAH The Petite Sirah is planted with a Southeastern sun exposure with soils ranging from chalk to loam to serpentine. The varied soil types provide an array of flavors in the fruit. Protected form the fierce winds, and planted at a relatively slight degree of slope, this block has proven to be one of the most consistent producers. This vineyards average yield is less than 2.5 tons to the acre, ensuring that each bunch of fruit is as perfectly ripened as the next. Black as midnight on a moonless night and as big as you could ever dream of, we make no apologies for our Madrone Spring Petite Sirah. This is what Rockpile Petite Sirah is all about.
SYRAH -The Syrah has the most uniform environment of all the varietals grown in the Madrone Spring, having an Eastern sun exposure with red shale and serpentine soils. We planted this block specifically because of the minimal sun exposure. It is the last block that we pick off of Rockpile and it shows in the complexity of flavor. We envisioned this site yielding a Northern Rhone style of Syrah and we have not been disappointed. Meaty and floral in the nose, the wine has a luscious mouth feel. The depth in the palate is only surpassed by the surprising complexity of tannin. Though it is not what you would call a huge wine, I think it will surprise you and age very gracefully, like a good Rhone wine should.
Our Family's Rockpile Ridge Vineyard is located at nearly 1,200 ft elevation in the Rockpile appellation. This vineyard has sweeping sun exposures from Southeast to Northwest.
In 2005 we harvested fruit from all nine blocks of Zinfandel in the Rockpile Ridge Vineyard. We pick the blocks at different times, and ferment these separately to insure the integrity and uniqueness of the individual blocks.
Working with nine amazingly distinct blocks is a winemaking dream come true, and is what makes our 2005 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel so spectacular.
The Westphall Ridge Vineyard is located at nearly 1,250 ft elevation in the Rockpile appellation, the highest in elevation of all of our single vineyard wines. Owned by the Gloeckner family, the vineyard sits at the top of Rockpile Ridge with views of both forks of Lake Sonoma, truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. This vineyard is characterized by its perfect western sun exposures, red soils, and steep slope. Not only did we plant this vineyard for the Gloeckners in the late 1990's, but we have farmed it every day of its existence.
The sun exposure provides phenolic maturity without over ripe flavors, but the soil composition and extreme slope are what really set this Zinfandel apart. Easily confused with a Southern Rhone varietals, this wine has an amazing range of flavors. Minerals, meat, and spice dominate the bouquet. The initial flavors in the palate bring you back to the heady land of zinfandel; ripe cherry, raspberry, and dried apricots. Superbly balanced, this wine will taste as good tomorrow as it will in five years
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD:
Westphall Ridge Zinfandel
Dry Creek Zinfandel
Upper Pond Rockpile
The smallest of all of our Rockpile vineyards, this block of zinfandel is less than 200 vines. Affectionately named for the small pond that it overlooks, we had no choice but to make it a separate block. This vineyard exemplifies the diversity of terrior and swiftness with which it changes in Rockpile. With its Northwestern sun exposure, and steep slope, it was just too unique to be included in the lower pond block. One of the only blocks not planted to the St Peters Church zinfandel clone, the DuPratt clone has done extremely well here. Having long bunches and full berries, this fruit is big and round with hefty tannins. The mid palate shows great minerals, an effect of the steep slope and red soils. Its only too bad that the block wasnt bigger, or we would definitely make an Upper Pond zinfandel.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD: Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel
Mauritson Dry Creek Zinfandel
Water Trough Rockpile
The original, 100 year old, claw foot bath tub still serves as a water trough for the livestock in Rockpile. Before there were pumps and automated water lines, there were natural springs. One would channel the water from the spring to a collection point, and that was your watering hole, or in our case, water trough. The bath tub is still fed by the original spring that has been used by Mauritson livestock for generations.
The Water Trough block is the lowest in elevation of all of our Rockpile vineyards. Sitting at 890 ft, it is only 30 yards above the fog line. Not extreme by Rockpile standards, this vineyard still produces fruit that only comes from stressed vines. The typically full Southwestern sun exposure is tempered by the low elevation, large surrounding oak trees, and gentle slopes. The fruit lends itself to bright red flavors and is balanced with bright acidity. Not the most tannic of Rockpile zinfandel, it is the perfect blending component in our Rockpile Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel.
WINES FROM THIS VINEYARD: Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel
Mauritson Dry Creek Zinfandel
Our Familys Rockpile Ridge Vineyard is located at nearly 1,200 ft elevation in the Rockpile appellation. We pick the blocks at different times, and ferment these separately to insure the integrity and uniqueness of the individual blocks. Working with nine amazingly distinct blocks is a winemaking dream come true, and is what makes our Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel so spectacular.
In a vintage like 2010, you truly get an understanding of just how special Rockpile is. With its proximity to the coast, moderate temperature, and influence from Lake Sonoma, our Rockpile vineyards did not experience any of the devastating sunburn and desiccation that is so commonly associated with this vintage. Quite the opposite, the cooler than average summer gave us incredible hang time and a chance to develop well structured tannins and the complex flavor profile that Rockpile is so well known for.
On the nose, red fruit is complemented by earthen minerality and nuances of sweet oak and spice. Raspberry and baked fruit dominate the front palate giving way to a broad mouth feel. The tannins are supple and well balanced, exposing the richness of this wine. The finish is prototypical of Rockpile: long and focused. Full bodied with balanced acidity, this wine will age gracefully for the next 5-7 years.
This vineyard is characterized by its perfect western sun exposures, red volcanic soil, and steep slope. The sun exposure provides phenolic maturity without over ripe flavors. The soil composition and extreme slope are what really set this Zinfandel apart. The result of deep root systems and stressed vines, the nose is blend of minerals and spices. The tannins are very well integrated, allowing you to appreciate the full array of flavors being set forth by this wine.
Opulent and lush, the Jack's Cabin Zinfandel is definitely the jammiest of all the Rockpile zinfandels. Theres no mistaking the raspberry and blackberry in the nose, but its the subtle hints of chocolate, vanilla, and black pepper that heighten your senses. The mouth is big and round, full of soft velvet. For all of the ripe fruit, this wine still exhibits the Rockpile signature of great intensity and full tannins. This goes to show, there is a Rockpile Zinfandel for everyone, and some of us, there may be four.
Our family's Rockpile Ridge Vineyards are located at nearly 1,200 ft elevation in the Rockpile appellation. The Cemetery block gets its name from the unusual outcropping of rock at the bottom of the vineyard that resembles giant headstones. This area of the ranch has been called the Cemetery for over 140 years. The Cemetery Vineyard is planted in serpentine and shale based soils which is a result of straddling the Rodgers Creek Fault, one of the more active earthquake faults in Northern California.
In a vintage like 2010, you truly get an understanding of just how special Rockpile is. With its moderate temperatures, which are a result of its proximity to the coast and influence from Lake Sonoma, our Rockpile vineyards did not experience any of the devastating sunburn and desiccation that is so commonly associated with this vintage.
Quite the opposite, the cooler than average summer gave us incredible hang time and a chance to develop well-structured tannins and the complex flavor profile that Rockpile is so well known for.
The nose is quintessential Cemetery: dark fruit, hints of black pepper and sweet French oak. Broad on the front palate, the tannins are grainy and present throughout. Rich flavors of cobbler greet the mid palate, and the finish is characterized by spice and mineral notes. Typical of the Cemetery Vineyard, this wine will age beautifully for the next five to seven years.
2009 Petite Sirah Rockpile - Madrone Spring Vineyard
More often than not, Petite Sirah is done the disservice of being used as a blending wine. On the rare occasion that it is bottled as a variety, it usually has generous amounts of Zinfandel blended into it to make it softer. The 2006 Madrone Spring Vineyard Petite Sirah is 100% Petite Sirah, 100% from Rockpile, and there is nothing petite about it. Consider yourself warned!
The black and violet hues cling to the glass, not only showing off the color but also the viscosity. The warmer growing conditions of the 2009 vintage exhibits ripe black fruit on the nose with sweet oak, minerals and spicy herbs rounding out the complex aromatic profile. Flavors of blueberry pie greet the front palate, followed by notes of fresh ground meat, and velvety tannins coat your mouth from front to back. While 2009 was a warmer vintage, the unique site ensures that there is balanced acidity on the finish. There is no doubt that this wine that will age gracefully. Please enjoy for at least the next decade.
VINEYARD: Madrone Spring Vineyard
PRICE: $37 (4-bottle limit)
Our familys Rockpile Ridge Vineyards are located at nearly 1,200 ft elevation in the Rockpile appellation. The Syrah is planted in the Madrone Spring block which is named after a year round spring that flows out of the roots of an old Madrone tree. This block receives minimal sun due to its eastern exposure. It is the last block harvested year in and year out and it shows in the complexity of flavor. We envisioned this site yielding a Northern Rhone style of Syrah and we have not been disappointed.
In our quest pay homage to the great wines of the Northern Rhone Valley, 2010 marks the first vintage we co-fermented our Madrone Spring Vineyard Syrah with a small amount of Viognier. Typical of the traditional French producers, we only used one percent. Combined with the great growing conditions in Rockpile for the 2010 vintage, this Syrah could be our best ever.
The nose is a mixture of blueberry pie, earthen spice, and cola. Restrained, yet focused on the palate, complex flavors of Dr. Pepper and fresh meat embolden the senses. The tannins are full and lush and the acid is perfectly balanced. The finish is graceful, showing the benefit of the extra time in barrel. While this wine should age beautifully for the next 6-8 years, it is stunning now!
CASES: 295 VINEYARD: Madrone Spring Vineyard
Back in the old days, when you wanted to find a big buck, you went to the area of the ranch called the Buck Pasture. These days youll find more big wines than big bucks coming from the Buck Pasture.
A variation from previous vintages, we are extremely excited that the 2009 Buck Pasture has a generous amount of Merlot in the blend. One of the primary varieties grown in the Bordeaux region of France, it is a major component of some of the finest wines in the world. The use of the Merlot exemplifies the evolution and maturity of the block.
The 2009 Buck Pasture is a harmonious blend that epitomizes the brotherhood of the Bordeaux varietals. The Cabernet flavors of cassis, black cherry, cola and tobacco are complimented by the traditional Merlot flavors of red fruit and minerals. The palate is no less enchanting: supple and focused tannins extend from the front palate through the finish. The flavor profile runs the spectrum from dark fruit to earthy notes and everything in between. The herbal and floral characters of Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot are on display in the mid palate. The acidity is perfectly integrated throughout but is most notable in the long finish. The tannins are such that they will age gracefully for the next 8-10 years.
CASES: 157 - Wine Club Exclusive VINEYARD: Buck Pasture PRICE: $50 (Wine Club Exclusive)
Back in the old days when you wanted to find a big buck, you went to the area of the ranch called the Buck Pasture. These days the Buck Pasture is home to some of our Bordeaux varieties: Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. With an elevation of nearly 1,100 ft, an average slope of 25 degrees and sweeping southwestern sun exposures, you could not ask for a better place to grow Malbec. Comprised primarily of gravely loam soils, there is very little water retention which limits the vigor and yield of these vines.
Aromas of ripe strawberries and dark chocolate are complemented with hints of white pepper and mineral. The wine is fresh and vibrant on the front palate with loads of red fruit, yielding to exotic spices and rich oak flavors on the back palate. The tannins are velvety and round, giving the wine a lush mouth feel. It finishes with balanced acidity, making it a dynamic food wine. Though it is fabulous now, the 2010 Rockpile Malbec will age gracefully for the next six to seven years.
2010 Rockpile Cabernet Franc Rockpile Buck Pasture Vineyard
The Buck Pasture is home to some of our Bordeaux varieties: Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. With an elevation of nearly 1,100 ft, an average slope of 25 degrees and sweeping southwestern sun exposures, you could not ask for a better place to grow Malbec. Comprised primarily of gravely loam soils, there is very little water retention which limits the vigor and yield of these vines.
Aromas of ripe strawberries and dark chocolate are complimented with hints of white pepper and mineral. The wine is fresh and vibrant on the front palate with loads of red fruit, yielding to exotic spices and rich oak flavors on the back palate. The tannins are velvety and round giving the wine a lush mouth feel. It finishes with balanced acidity, making it a dynamic food wine. Though it is fabulous now, the 2010 Rockpile Malbec will age gracefully for the next six to seven years.
We grow all five Bordeaux varieties in our Rockpile Ridge Vineyards: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The fruit is all harvested individually and fermented separately to insure the integrity and uniqueness of the individual lots. Working with the different varieties, sun exposures, soil compositions, slopes and drainage is a winemakers dreams come true!
The nose is full of red fruit, earthen minerals, and sweet/spicy oak. Lush on the entry, the wine has great weight. Intense flavors of dark cherry and dried fruit give way to the more subtle nuances of chocolate, espresso and ripe olive. The depth of the 2010 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon is only overshadowed by its amazing balance, showing restrained acid on the finish. Prototypical of this appellation: broad and complex tannins give this wine the wherewithal to age gracefully for the next 9-11 years.
2010 Independence Red Wine 25% Tinto Cão, 25% Tinta Madeira, 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Sousão always been a passion of mine. Some of my fondest family memories revolve around the dinner table: great food, great wine and of course, finishing the evening off with a great bottle of Port. In 1999 when we started planting our Rockpile vineyards, I seized the opportunity to fulfill one of my wine aspirations: to make a vintage port using authentic Portuguese varieties. We planted four of the primary varieties used in the production of Port and we have exhausted every effort to make this wine as true to a vintage port as possible.
The 2010 Independence is a vibrant blackish, purple color. The viscosity of the wine is apparent from the second you pour it, the legs cling to the glass; further expressing its depth of color. Rich aromas of chocolate and caramelized maple are complemented by the fragrance of dark fruits. Flavors of blackberry and cherry reduction exemplify the fruit. Rich on the front palate without any sharp edges, structured tannins lay just below the surface. Complex flavors of tobacco, minerals and hints of freshly ground nutmeg compliment the ripe berry fruit. The great balance of this wine makes it enjoyable with sweets and aged cheeses. This wine should age well over the next 10-15 years.