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News: 02/15/2006

Sonoma County Wine

Mayacamas and Moon Mountain Vineyard

Perhaps I’m overplaying my hand going on and on about our idyllic Valley of the Moon neighbor, the Mayacamas Mountain range, but what the hell, it certainly isn’t the first time I’ve belabored a subject, especially one so indigenous to the Valley.

Mayacamas is a Spanish adaptation of a word from the Lokoya tribe meaning “howl of the mountain lion.” Cougars and bobcats still roam the area. Volcanic in origin and reaching heights of at least 2,500 feet, the range divides Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Early inhabitants were the Wappo (from the Spanish word “guapo” meaning “warrior.”) The Wappos used stone implements for hunting and gathering and discovered Calistoga’s famous hot springs. Sheepherders were the first white settlers in the 1860s.

The palatial Mayacamas that provides theatre for Sonoma Valley is endowed with Sonoma Volcanics, a soil consisting of rock, lava, red adobe clay, and volcanic ash complemented with warm sun and cool nighttime breezes. Indeed, it is this frugal, formidable morass that renders the soil a consummate bed for vines to triumph over these dicey, rugged conditions. The result: vines that have produced smaller grapes that labored their all to negotiate, ascend and mature to complex and richly concentrated flavors.

Add to this equation an organically farmed vineyard 2,000 feet up Mayacamas’ Mount Veeder and you’ll discover Moon Mountain Vineyard (Mayacamas Vineyards, a winery that was built in 1889, is on the Napa side of Mt. Veeder). The CCOF-approved application was guided by organic advocate Phil Coturri and allows balance and a complexity more intense than that provided by the parsimonious soil. These conditions are considered to be nearly perfect for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and other Bordeaux varietals.

Grape farming on this site dates back to the late 1800s by Goldstein, Mayacamas, and Christian Brothers Wineries. After a lapse in the early 1900s, the Louis Martini family re-established vineyards.

In the 1960s, psychologist Alex Horne established a retreat named Red Mountain Ranch where members studied the teachings of 19th century mystic, Gurdjieff. By paying $250 a week, the members were allowed the privilege of performing arduous manual labor. With only hand tools, they cleared the hillside to plant grapevines and by 1969 prepared 25 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 1972, the ranch was sold and Glen Ellen Vineyard emerged. Grapes were sold to Chateau St. Jean and Ridge and Kistler. These prized grapes resulted in “Glen Ellen Vineyard” labels. New investors took over and built a unique turreted winery and dug through the volcanic rock to create caves for barrel aging.

In 1981, new owners, Chalone Wine Group, changed the Glen Ellen Vineyard name to Carmenet to describe their Bordeaux grape varietals.

Moon Mountain Vineyards was one of three brands retained by Chalone. When the 73.5 acre vineyard was certified organic, Nick Frey declared “The addition of Moon Mountain Vineyard has increased Sonoma County’s organic winegrape growing by nearly 20%.”

Moon Mountain was recently taken over by Diageo. Formed in 1997, it is a leading premium drink business whose brands include Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Baileys, J&B, Captain Morgan, Cuervo, Tanqueray, Crown Royal, Beaulieu Vineyard, and Sterling Vineyards.

At the 2005 Harvest Fair, Moon Mountain won two golds for their Cabernet Sauvignon, and four silvers for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc (one of my favorites).

Santa Rosa resident and Sonoma County native Randall Watkins is General Manager and Winemaker of Moon Mountain. Married with two daughters, Randall worked at Buena Vista Winery, Hartford Court Winery, S. Anderson Vineyards, and supervised red wine fermentation at Carmen Vineyards in Chile before receiving his master’s degree in Enology from UC Davis. In preparation for his master’s, Watkins explained “I always knew what my career goals were. Working at wineries first motivated me to learn the wine chemistry and microbiology and helped me follow the professors because I’d done things hands-on.”

Moon Mountain Vineyard is six miles up Moon Mountain Road between Glen Ellen and Sonoma. Tasting is by appointment only by calling (707) 996-5870.

Grape Bits

• Hearty congratulations to Kunde Estate Winery on being named one of the ten hottest brands for 2005 by Wine Business Monthly.

• Dry Creek Valley’s Quivira Vineyards and family (Wine Creek Ranch and the Fig Tree Vineyard) have achieved the esteemed Biodynamic certification from Demeter Association. Anderson Ranch Vineyard, another Quivira vineyard, is expected to be certified this year.

• For locals dining at Glen Ellen’s Wolf House Restaurant, Chef and Partner, Jay Veregge, said that corkage fees may be waived upon request. I suggest that you offer to share a taste with your server.

Gesond Eyt (South African for cheers.)

Dick Starr is a Sonoma County free-lance writer and can be reached at


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Community Calendar

Blue Christmas church service
Holiday MarketPlace
Oakmont Farmers Market
Caroling with the Clydesdales
Celebrate the spirit of Sonoma Mountain
Santa Claus is coming to town
Free food available for those in need
Rotary Club of Glen Ellen-Kenwood meeting
Emmaus Inclusive Community service and potluck supper
Special candlelight Christmas Eve service
Rotary Club of Glen Ellen-Kenwood meeting

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