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8 January, 2019

A Winter Wineland Field Guide for Field Blends

Posted in : Bars and Tasting Rooms, Dining in Healdsburg - CA, Dolcetto, Other Red Blends, Pinot Noir, Primitivo / Zinfandel, Tasting Rooms in Healdsburg - CA, Tasting Rooms in Sonoma - CA, Travel Guide for Sonoma - CA, Travel Sponsored Stays and Tours on by : The Gourmez

It’s time for a midwinter trip on the Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County! Once a year, the Wine Road puts on the Winter Wineland celebration, a delightful invitation to hit up as many of their boutique, family-owned wineries and/or major label, large-scale producers as you desire along this beautiful stretch of wine country. The Wine Road, a tourism association of the wineries and nearby lodgings, has them all.

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Armida Winery View

Obligatory disclaimer: The Wine Road hosted me on a two-day media tour this last fall, which included tastings, meals, and my hotel stay. That’s why I can recommend exceptional wineries for your own Winter Wineland agenda, should you choose to attend. The event lasts January 19-20, 2019, and for about $50, you’ll have free reign to visit any of the 100+ participating wineries over the weekend and sample their featured wines, each of which is detailed on the Winter Wineland’s program guide. Simply buy tickets, select a starting winery destination, and you’re on your way!

But what should that way be with so many options? Beth Costa, the Wine Road’s executive director and co-host of the award-winning Wine Road podcast, rightly assumed that I would be interested in the rebirth of field blends and highlighted them on our tour. I am assuming, hopefully also rightly, that you will be too after I recommend a few wineries offering intriguing ones along the Wine Road.

First things first: What’s a field blend?
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Field blends come from field friends!
(I crack myself up)

Eater has a great article that goes in depth into field blends. The quick answer is that a field blend is a wine made from vineyard sections that are planted with multiple grape varietals. The varietals are typically greatly intermingled, and this co-habitation often arises in vineyards with deep historical roots. Different farmers at different times have planted different grapes, and over decades or even centuries, they’ve all come up together. Often a winemaker doesn’t even know what all the grape varietals are on that same plot of land. The grapes are harvested together, with educated guesses made as to what percentage of each makes it into the final blend.

Field blends can be exceptional by this happenstance of existence, and they can change quite a lot year to year. So who on the Wine Road does them well?

1. Acorn Winery

12040 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg

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There’s no question that Acorn Winery and its Alegria Vineyard should be your first stop if field blends intrigue you. Owners Bill and Betty Nachbur are huge believers in their worth, and Winter Wineland is the perfect time to ask them about it.

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Bill Nachbur showing off the white grapes in his field blend fermentation.

Indeed, all the wines Acorn makes are field blends. As Bill explained, “It’s easier to harvest together than to separate” out the 70+ varietals growing in the vineyard. And Alegria is a prized vineyard, selling a third to a half of those grapes to other wineries.

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Here’s a breakdown of most the grapes that appear in the current 2013 Acorn Medley blend, to give you an idea of the variety to be found in each glass.

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While some of Acorn’s other blends maintain more of the varietals’ individual personalities, I most appreciated the Medley, rating it 4/5 for its multitude of grapes that functioned as a collective, a true democracy of its 50+ varietals in which none stood out. They brought notes of dried strawberry, fresh bing cherry, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, anise, cocoa, and milk chocolate. All were mellow and eager to please.

Even the single varietal wines made at Acorn, such as dolcetto and sangiovese, still have two or more additional grape types in their blends. I enjoyed the 2014 Acorn Dolcetto most of the all Acorn wines we tried, giving it a 4.5/5.

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Dolcetto grows along with barbera and freisa grapes in the vineyard, and the end result of their combination reminded me of friendly teasing exchanged among siblings while playing a board game. The field blend’s cranberry and mild strawberry notes brought plenty of fun to this interplay.

The next stop on this wine journey brings plenty of fun wine country history.

2. David Coffaro Estate Vineyards

7485 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville

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In addition to trying David Coffaro Estate’s French-style wine blends, you should visit so you can report back to me how their new tasting room came out! When I visited in October, it was still under construction. But going by the beauty of the winery’s gardens–

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–and the assured, rollicky nature of David Coffaro himself, owner and chief winemaker, I’m certain it’s a wonderful locale for wine tasting.

Coffaro Estates produces blends routinely, with balance the goal. They are usually a combination of zinfandel, petite sirah, cabernet, carignan, and some lesser known grapes. Many of their vines date from the 1800s, and David has been growing grapes on this land since 1979. He has plenty of stories to tell from his 40 years in the business, having started before Dry Creek was a well-known appellation, and he played a role in the adoption of screwcaps and wine futures.

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Today, his vineyard’s Block 4 makes the truest field blend of the bunch: a mix of zinfandel, petite sirah, peloursin, carignan, syrah, and more varietals that grow together. I tried the 2017 Green Label David Coffaro Block 4 Red Wine Blend at only 3 months in the bottle and gave it a 4.5/5.

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It had a great perfume, minus a touch of acetone that time will likely burn off. Blueberry and raspberry stewed in my mouth into a luscious dessert crumble. Licorice, annatto, and cardamom accented. I enjoyed it most of the five Coffaro Estates wines we tried.

But I enjoyed the views most at our next field blend destination.

3. Armida Winery

2201 Westside Road, Healdsburg

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That fountain-fed pond sets the stage for a lovely view of the Russian River Valley and Mayacama mountains from Armida Winery’s beautiful deck not far from Healdsburg.  The tasting room is housed in a very cool geodesic dome dating from 70s’ hippie culture, and it’s there we met Brandon Lapides, Armida’s winemaker, to try their field blends.

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Brandon Lapides

Through Brandon, we learned that the Il Campo vineyard surrounding the tasting room and winery grounds was planted in 2000 with a hope to make Italian field blends from it. Most field blend wines arise from a happy vineyard discovery rather than an intentional plan to plant them, so Armida is unique in that regard. Zinfandel, petite sirah, and carignan are Il Campo’s primary grapes, and they are picked and fermented together. The resultant wine is usually about 80% zinfandel and a mix of the other two depending on the needs of the blend.

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I’ve tasted the 2015 Armida Estate “Il Campo” Field Red Wine Blend twice now and rated it consistently 4/5. The first sip goes down warm, the second cool, and it’s smooth all the way through. That day, it conjured images of a Spanish villa with a cool breeze blowing through the plaza. The blend brings a strong perfume of vanilla bean, violet, and reeds. Woodsy tannins don’t mask the blackberry and elderberry notes. Chilies rise fast into dominance: toasted and dried guajillo chiles, in particular.

The impressive 2015 Armida “Tina’s Block” Maple Vineyards Zinfandel is a field blend of the more traditional style, meaning the vineyard block was not designed to be one, but it has been carefully tended as such since Tina Maple recognized the hodge-podge of grapes growing within it.

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Per Armida’s website, Tina “loves to collect things and hates to throw anything away,” which applies to the block’s grape varietals as well. They are primarily zinfandel, but petite sirah, carignan, mission grapes, cinsault, grenache and some that have yet to be identified also join the blend. I gave the wine a 4.5/5 for its chalky, blueberry nose. It’s a soft wine, though its spice builds. Blackberry notes, with vanilla bean-flecked crème anglaise, are present along with a cherry undertone that brightens the fruit, like a melody seeking a reprise.

Don’t miss out on the 2015 Armida “Gap’s Crown Vineyard” Pinot Noir if it’s on offer to sample – while not a field blend, I absolutely loved the wine and its complex, yet mellow, notes of cigar, achiote spice, cinnamon, rhubarb, and cherry cider, granting it a 5/5.

Those three stops would make for a delectable day spent exploring the field blends of the Wine Road during Winter Wineland! I can say that confidently, because I’ve done it. And if you need a bite to eat afterward, make reservations at nearby Healdsburg’s Bravas Restaurant (420 Center St.).

bravas, tapas, healdsburg

Tapas and sherry flights are on the agenda here. Doesn’t that sound like a felicitous, hearty end to your Winter Wineland Saturday? The crispy pig ears are totally worth it.

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Sherry flight

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Pig ears


Now, go snatch some tickets to the Winter Wineland festival to take advantage of Northern Sonoma County’s drinks and eats! I hope you enjoy your weekend.

Wineries visited October 17-18, 2018.

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