Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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Cold Climate California:
The Wine Chill Factor

by Jonathon Alsop
January 2002

Dutton-Goldfield Winemaker Dan Goldfield was getting passionate about topography. He had the maps of the Russian River out, and they were taking up our restaurant table, and a good bit of the next.

Dan pointed to the Pacific and then to the California hills. "Cold air comes off the ocean and east up the Russian River," he said. "And down here's something called the Petaluma Wind Gap, and cold air flows east through it." He pointed at the map. "Right here where they come together," he said, "the Green Valley. Our grapes and our winery."

Steve Dutton's family at Dutton Ranch -- or Ranches actually, since there are many more than one -- have been providing top-quality grapes for years. Now that he and Dan are in business together, they have a seemingly perfect symbiotic relationship. "I'm a farmer, not a winemaker," Steve supposedly declared at the beginning, and Dan said "my dream was to spend my life on my bike or on my skis. I never thought I'd be a winery owner."

Dutton-Goldfield Winery sits in the western end of the Russian River Valley nearest the cooling ocean. Russian River is already rightly famous for creamy full-bodied Chardonnay that has the crisp snappy finish of a lighter white wine. Dutton-Goldfield fruit from Green Valley exploits the cold of this valley to get a unique finish in the Chardonnay, one that's good and distinct enough to be a signature.

1999 Dutton-Goldfield "Dutton Ranch" Chardonnay (about $30) Gold, bright, a little silver tinge. Smells creamy and spicy. Well water aromas, tastes like caramel, almost sweet. Round, ripe, tropical flavors. Then the finishing balance of citrus and crisp acidity is just perfect. Super value for around $6 a glass, great with food like shellfish or freshwater trout, even a roast chicken.

1999 Dutton-Goldfield "Dutton Ranch" Pinot Noir (about $30) Super aromas of fresh cream and spicy white pepper and black pepper lead off. Tastes superbly smooth and round, light tannin and acid, very bright cherry flavors.

2000 Dutton-Goldfield "Morelli Lane Vineyard" Zinfandel (about $30) Subdued for a Zinfandel, but full of super-concentrated red fruit. Normally, 14 percent alcohol is high for a wine, but in a Zinfandel these days, this D-G comes off almost modest. The juice is dense and dark and black. It's got an earthiness like old-world Syrah, but ripe bright fruit that's perfectly California.

Morelli Lane is the western-most vineyard in the Green Valley, and thanks to being closest to the ocean, it's also coldest and breeziest of the neighboring hillsides. This accounts for some of its restrained personality: these grapes grew old in one of California's coolest climates.

According to his own legend, Dan Goldfield was on a mountain-bike adventure one day, turned a corner, and stumbled upon 1 and 1/2 acres of pre-Prohibition old-old-vine Zinfandel that might be as old as 120. According to Dan's research, the remaining plot was part of more than 100 acres what was well-established long before the turn of the previous century.

In addition to tasting simply delicious, the pedigree goes a long way toward making this wine what it is. Even at 120 years old, "I like to release Zinfandel early," Dan said. "Zinfandel is best drunk right out of the barrel."

(NOTE: Dutton-Goldfield wines are available through Arborway Imports in Massachusetts, 781-862-0515.)

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