Tuesday, June 23, 2009

St Francis Sonoma Valley

On Friday June 19, 2009, I toured, tasted and lunched at St Francis Winery in Sonoma. My guide for the visit was Robert Aldridge, CFO at St Francis.

Our tour was up first. We made our way through the relatively new and expanded winery, which now includes state-of-the-art equipment and probably more room than they know what to do with. The storage areas are enormous and less than full - the idea is that they planned on giving themselves the ability to expand if the need arose. The advantage is that they can keep many smaller lots of wine, plenty of room for equipment for both larger processing and smaller batches, as well as endless barrels. There does not seem to be a lack of funding at St Francis. In fact, they have the ability to do some serious experiments and testing of things like new wood for aging, different varietals and blends, etc.
One of the things that has changed with St Francis over the past ten years has been the size of production at the winery. They have a program now to use as much as 75% estate grown fruit, which means less expensive (in the long run) production and much more control of quality. They have the luxury of a large lab to run tests on the vineyards and wines at all levels of maturation. The ability to control these factors is what give a larger winery such as this the ability to maintain its quality, whether that be in a $14 chardonnay or a $50 single vineyard Zin.

During our tour we stopped by Tom Mackey's office to look at some of these quality control measures and happened to meet with Tom. He was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time and explain some of the processes they are using. Tom has been with St Francis since 1983, and is pretty much the foundation of the winery. Our discussion got into a technique called co-fermentation, a process where different grapes are blended then fermented - not usually the norm as it can be challenging and there is no going back once done. St Francis is experimenting with a co-ferment of Petite Verdot and Malbec (called Verbec) to use in some of the blends - particularly their new wine called Anthem, a Sonoma County Meritage. Tom described the reasoning for the co-ferment as adding intensity to the flavors and aromas of the wines, allowing for more saturation and concentration of each.

After this we moved on to the tasting portion of the tour. Here is a run-down of what I tasted:

2007 Wild Oak Chard - mild oak, less ML feel, stylish and clean, minerals, touch of toast on the finish.

2005 Merlot Sonoma County - good, mild and smooth

2004 Wild Oak Merlot - more expansive, dusty cocoa flavors, supple tannins - really good

2006 RED by St Francis - a merlot dominant bland - this vintage is uite softa nd mild

2005 Wild Oak Syrah (500 cs production) - sappy, dry and dusty, good length and spice, balanced berry component

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County - "best of the blending" - partially from Nun's Canyon vineyard and partially from Russian River (north facing) vineyard - spice and blackberry tannins are balanced - slight vegetal tone of the finish, good tough.

2004 Wild Oak Cab Sauv - 20 mos in french oak, very similar flavor profile as the Sonoma County - weedy soft and juicy - very easy drinking

2006 Zinfandel Old Vine - 17 mos in American Oak, 25 different vineyards used for the blend, plus a few odds and ends of other grapes - juicy with white pepper and spices - quite good

2005 Wild Oak Zin - completely different fruit expression than the OVC - loads of lavender, mint and Eucalyp (lots of Bacchi Vineyard which has Eucalyptus trees around it) - quite good, soft and juicy.

2005 Zinfandel Pagani Ranch Sonoma Valley- from the famous vineyard planted in the 1890s (St Francis gets about 65% of the crop out of this vineyard now) concentrated, great length, structure with big dusty tannins

2004 Malbec McCoy Vineyard Sonoma County - mild and smooth

2005 Cab Franc McCoy Vineyard Sonoma County - leaner with blackberry and graphite tones

2006 Zinfandel Bacchi Vineyard RRV - 85 year old vineyard - quite polished and intense

2004 Mourvedre Pagani Vineyard Sonoma Valley - didn't know they had this there, but apparently there is enough to bottle - not sure if it is part of the original plantings or not, but this was quite interesting, meaty tannins with dark red fruits

2006 Zinfandel Tres Viejos Sonoma County - a blend from Pagani, Buccanani and Giovanetti vineyards - quite impressive, dark fruits, intense - I like them seperate, though - celebrate the differences, and all that...

2004 Anthem Meritage Sonoma Valley - big and brawny, but not all that distinguished, good drinking wine, just not as interesting as the single vineyard wines.

This was all followed by a delicious lunch and wine-pairing. Very interesting visit as I was expecting a more commercial approach. St Farncis may be relatively large, but their focus on quality shows through in all of their wines.

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