Seek Out These New Alexander Valley Wineries & Tasting Rooms
The media spotlight has been shining on Sonoma, Russian River and Dry Creek valleys for years, thanks to an ongoing stream of tasting room openings and new events. Alexander Valley, the less traveled wine trail north of Healdsburg that is home to cabernet icons like Jordan, Silver Oak and Robert Young, has often stayed out of the winery news headlines—until now. Four Alexander Valley wineries have either opened a new tasting room, built a new winery or both in the last year. They represent something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, at the time of year when brides and grooms begin arriving in Sonoma County to state their vows … or perhaps repeat them. There’s a lot to love about the mountain-hugged Alexander Valley.
New Alexander Valley Wineries and Tasting Rooms
Robert Young Estate Winery
Something old has become new, in the very best way, at Robert Young Estate Winery, one of the oldest and most historic Alexander Valley wineries.
A third-generation farmer with roots in the area back to 1858, Robert Young was the first to plant cabernet sauvignon vines in Alexander Valley in 1963. For decades, he sold his grapes, mostly cabernet and chardonnay, to wineries across Sonoma County. In the late 1990s, his four children decided to build a winery and began producing their own wines for the first time: estate-grown chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and a Bordeaux-style red blend, appropriately named Scion. Wine tasting at Robert Young has always been considered charmingly quaint—for 18 years, the tasting room has lived in a 140-square-foot corner of the white barn that houses fermentation tanks and wine barrels. Bring a party of six, and there’s a full house.
The family has taken on its most ambitious project since becoming winemakers—building Robert Young’s first hospitality center, situated on a hilltop above the winery with 360-degree views of Alexander Valley. Designed to feel like you’re walking into a home, the Scion House has been under discussion for years and under construction since December 2017. Guests will be welcomed by appointment only and greeted with a splash of white wine before entering the Scion House’s main room, which feels like a living room with a two-way fireplace, lounge areas and two booths. There’s a communal table for secluded tasting behind the fireplace, two private tasting rooms for 8-10 people, family artwork on the walls and two covered tasting spaces on a stone terrace with firepit seating and sweeping views of the valley floor below. Wine tasting offerings will include the RY Experience (five wines, $30), Scion Experience (six wines, $50) or the Library Experience (six older vintage wines, $75). Love to have a romantic, personalized picnic with incredible views? Check out the Picnic Experience ($50). Pick from three different picnic basket selections and order a bottle of wine (additional cost) and have your own secluded picnic location. Parasol, blankets and shawls included. Opening date: October 2018 (delayed twice since the projected opening of July).
Mike Mazzoni’s Alexander Valley grapes, grown on a benchland east of Geyserville, have long been an important part of the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Now Mike’s children, Lisa and Mark Mazzoni, have convinced their father to sell some of his prized cabernet and zinfandel fruit for their Zialena wine label, which debuted in 2014. (He also carved out a corner of his land for them to later build a modern winemaking facility in the middle of Alexander Valley grape grower country, which opened to visitors in 2017.) The sleek winery and tasting room is a far cry from the massive Italian Swiss Colony winery for which Italian immigrant Guiseppe Mazzoni grew grapes and made wine in the early 1900s. Guiseppe’s sons, Fred and Jim, carried on the tradition of wine production, in the iconic Dr. Pierce’s Medical Discovery barn on the west side of Highway 101 near Asti. While winemaking ceased there, Jim’s youngest son, Mike, expanded the grapegrowing business in east Geyserville. Zialena is named for Lisa’s and Mark’s great-aunt, Lena Mazzoni, known for her amazing raviolis, which took her three days to make.
In addition to two estate-grown cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels, Zialena also produces sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, a red blend and a sangiovese rose. The tasting room has a gorgeous patio with tables overlooking cabernet grapevines, and walk-ins are welcome for the 1897 Tasting (four wines, $15) and 1931 Tasting (six wines, $25). Private winery tour-and-tasting experiences are available by appointment, with six wines ($50).
Blue Rock Vineyard
Something blue comes from Kenneth and Cheryl Kahn, who moved from Memphis, Tenn., to Sonoma County in 1985, fueled by a love of French wine and a dream of growing grapes and making wine in California.
In 1987, they found a Cloverdale property with 1880s ties to the Italian Swiss Colony winemaking commune in Asti, which was in foreclosure after a series of owners. The Kahns bought the place, enchanted by the surrounding olive trees, cultivated from cuttings from Italy. The brand Blue Rock comes from the blue-ish serpentine rock that threads through the vineyard.
The original stone house at Blue Rock was once Villa Maria Winery, shuttered during Prohibition. Today it serves as the tasting room, updated and exclusive to guests with appointments since 2017. All wine tasting experiences are private and intimate. Visits include walking tours of the property, with a glass of Baby Blue Blanc in hand, plus seated tastings of red wines, such as pinot noir, syrah, merlot and Bordeaux-style red blends, served with a plate of cheese and charcuterie. Tastings, which last approximately two hours, are $45 per person, and complimentary to Ambassador Club members. Reservations are a must. The Vintner Cottage at Blue Rock Vineyard is available for overnight stays, and bookings are handled via Inspirato; interested guests should contact Blue Rock’s hospitality director, Carla Jeffries, for details.
Silver Oak Alexander Valley
One of the most well-known Alexander Valley wineries, Silver Oak was founded in Oakville, Napa Valley, in 1972, by Ray Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer, a winemaker and former Christian Brother. They aimed to produce only cabernet sauvignon: one from Napa Valley and one from Alexander Valley, using American oak barrels for the aging of their wines.
The Oakville winery suffered serious damage in a 2006 fire and was rebuilt from the ground up. In Alexander Valley, Silver Oak outgrew its winery and tasting room in Geyserville (the former Lyeth Estate) and purchased the old Sausal Winery near Jimtown Store in 2012. Over the last five years, the Duncan family enterprise has been building an entirely new sustainable-focused winery and vineyard from the ground up and just opened its “modern barn-inspired” tasting room in spring 2018. The stunning, platinum-LEED-certified winemaking facilities and tasting room are water and energy positive, meaning they produce more of these resources than they use. Seventy-five acres of estate cabernet sauvignon grapevines surround the buildings with a backdrop of oak-shrouded mountains. Visitors can enjoy walk-in tastings ($20 per person), and appointment-only walking tours of the vineyard and winery, private tastings and food pairings. Check the Silver Oak blog for more updates as they settle into their new home.