Rough and Ready Reds from Rockpile

There’s a rugged stretch of land rising hundreds of feet in the hills above Lake Sonoma called Rockpile where the tough terrain produces some of the most sensational zinfandel wines in California.

Mauritson Wines is one of the most successful wineries using Rockpile fruit to craft  incredible wine. The Sonoma County winery grows grapes on 40 acres in the Rockpile appellation.  Zinfandel rules the roost but they also farm cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite sirah and malbec from these hillside vineyards.

Three Generations of Mauritsons - Glendene, Thom and Clay

Three Generations of Mauritsons - Glendene, Thom and Clay

The Mauritson family have been farmers for more than a century, but it’s only in the last decade that winemaking became part of their operation. Clay Mauritson, whose father, Thom, heads the farming operations, is the winemaker.

Production for each special lot of Mauritson zinfandel is limited to only a few hundred cases. Most goes to wine club members, but you can get a pretty good idea about just how good the small production wines are by sampling the 2007 Dry Creek Valley zinfandel ($27), which includes about 40 percent Rockpile fruit.

It’s a fruit forward wine with raspberry overtones and a nice broad finish that makes it a good choice for drinking right now or perhaps holding for a short while to let the minor tannic bite relax just a bit.

The Rockpile area — now its own appellation which is about 700-800 acres in size — had been five times bigger before the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed Lake Sonoma. The lake covers what had been vineyards first planted in 1884 by some of the Mauritson forefathers.

Cemetery Vineyard Produces Heavenly Fruit

On a recent visit to the Mauritson tasting room — open since 2004 near the intersection of Dry Creek and Lytton Springs roads in Dry Creek Valley —  I  sampled  the current lineup of wines, including the 2006 Rockpile Cemetery Vineyard zinfandel ($39).

Mauritson Winery

Mauritson Winery

This is a big, dense, darkly colored wine that needs more time to develop. One taste showed it had the right touch of oak plus a nice vein of minerality and tannins that should push the wine to even higher levels over the next several years. Noted wine critic Robert Parker gave the 2005 vintage of Cemetery — named for the tombstone shaped rocks that ring the area —  a 90-point rating and  it wouldn’t surprise me if the 2006 version surpassed its sibling.

Summer Solstice Sipping

Get a head start on the official arrival of summer and help a good cause, too. The Napa Land Trust is holding a special tasting at the Bardessono resort in Yountville on Saturday (June 20) to recognize the Summer Solstice and promote a growing trend of solar-powered wineries. The Solarbration event runs 6-9 and features wines from Flora Springs, Larkmead Vineyards, Honig, LMR, Oakville Ranch, Peju, Saintsbury, Silverado, Trefethen and ZD. FYI, Bardessono opened in February and touts itself as the “greenest”  luxury resort  in the country. Tickets are $50.

Howell Mountain – Above the Fog Tasting

Taste a selection of wines from the Howell Mountain appellation of Napa at Charles Krug in St. Helena on Saturday (June 20). Thirty area wineries will pour samples alongside hors d’oeuvres at the Taste of Howell Mountain event.

Randy Dunn

Randy Dunn

There will also be  silent and live auctions of special bottles and wine-related packages like a do-it-yourself winemaking adventure with master winemaker Randy Dunn, special dinners, vertical and horizontal collections and overnight stays hosted by participating wineries. Proceeds benefit the Howell Mountain Elementary School. Tickets are $95.

Make Dad Glad at Crushpad

If there’s a wine-loving dad in the family, celebrate an early Father’s Day on Saturday (June 20) with a visit to Crushpad, the “make-it-yourself” winemaking facility in San Francisco. The open house event is free, and several wines from the 2007 and 2008 harvests will be available to sample, but you must register in advance. Crushpad provides winemaking equipment and storage facilities for individuals and groups interested in making their own wines from premium grapes trucked in from California’s top vineyards.

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2 Responses to “Rough and Ready Reds from Rockpile”

  1. New Faces in Familiar Places « Wine Country Insider Says:

    […] The wine was smooth and full of zinfandel character, tasting of blueberries with an edgy spiciness flanking finely integrated tannins. (To read my blog about Mauritson, click here.) […]

  2. 2009: A Good Time for Wine « Wine Country Insider Says:

    […] Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek Valley also makes several good wines from Rockpile vineyards fruit. Check out the 2006 Cemetery Vineyard ($39) or just click on my blog about Mauritson. […]

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