The Alexander Valley wine region was first settled by the Wappos, a Native American tribe, in the 18th century. The first European settlers arrived in the 19th century, and the first vineyards were planted in the 1870s. The Alexander Valley then became a major wine region in the 1960s and 1970s, and today it is one of the most important wine regions in California!
Known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay wines, the Alexander Valley has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.
Our first stop of the day was at the Robert Young Estate. I had previous tasted some wines from Robert Young at the San Diego Bay Food & Wine Festival, so I was excited to actually go and see where the magic happens. And, it just so happens, the Robert Young Estate is a magical place on earth. A beautiful estate home and crisp white barn overlook the valley of vines that produce their wine as well as many other vintners in the valley. Robert Young Estate only use approximately 5% of their own fruit and the rest is sold to other high-end wineries in the valley.
As they are small production, the list of wines to taste is short but very worthwhile. They produce an excellent creamy fruit Chardonnay, and the red wines are bold and spicy. We especially loved (and took home) Bob’s Burn Pile. Huge plum flavors that are balanced with a hint of deep smoke. The Robert Young Estate is unique in that it’s still a family owned farm. Having started out as a plum/prune operation in the late 1800’s by Peter Young, it was not until the 1960’s that Robert Young decided to transition from plums to grapevines.
We were so excited to get a tour of the property with Robert Young himself. Actually, it was Robert Young (Robby) – the gracious Grandson of the founder Robert Young. Robby has grown up in the wine industry and has worked both the fields and tasting room. He said he preferred the air-conditioned wine room, which we readily agreed as we walked around the property on a warm day. Robby took us through the amazing hand-dug winecaves, cave tasting room and we even had a visit to see the rascally llamas.
Make sure to stop by Robert Young Estate if on the Alexander Valley side. There are shaded picnic tables, so bring some snacks, grab a bottle and enjoy the beautiful view of the farm that produces so much of the valley’s fine wines.
Our next stop was to Alexander Valley Wines. As a Wine Club Member here, I knew this would be a fun stop for my guests because they produce A LOT of different wines and you may taste them all! Alexander Valley grows Estate Merlot, Cab Franc, Syrah, Pinot Noir and more. In fact, as you drive up the hill to their tasting room, you’ll see marked rows of grapes.
One of the crowd favorites (and mine) is the Cyrus. Cyrus is an ongoing tradition at AV (17th year in production!) and is created from 10 distinctive lots of estate Bordeaux grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon adds a lush texture; Cabernet Franc adds finesse & depth; Merlot for texture & structure; Petit Verdot for vivid color & richness and Malbec for deep color & depth.Thankfully they too have picnic tables on the property, because after tasting about twelve wines or so, one simply needs to eat lunch and drink about a gallon of water. We upped our supply of Cyrus and our friends purchased a magnum of the 2011. AV creates many magnums, double magnums and a third size in which I would describe as ‘Huge Vat’. If you love having dinner parties, this is the perfect place to shop different format wines in huge impressive etched glass bottles.
Our final stop of the day was to Hawkes Winery, which I also just happen to belong to as a Wine Club Member. The valley gets increasingly hotter during the day, so three o’clock felt much hotter than noon. We were ready for something refreshing, and we were presented with a gorgeous rose’ that was bright in fruit, but not too sweet.
We then settled into tasting what the winery is best known for, their cabernets and merlots. I did learn an important thing that afternoon. I will receive a beautiful bottle of their Pyramid Cab or Alexander Valley Cab, and then I’ll drink it. I need to stop doing that! We sampled a 2008 AV Cabernet during our tasting and it was even more amazing! Hawkes produces wine that you can drink now, but if you’re patient (and smart), you’ll mark them with a posty note that says, “DON’T BE STUPID – SAVE THIS WINE!” As a realist, I know that some of those posty notes are going to go flying off and the wine will simply be consume. However, with the reminder, but now I just may pay attention and let these beauties do their thing over time as they really are amazing and will transform into a well-developed, balanced dynamic cabertnet that is well worth the wait of 7 years or so.
By the way, this is Capone and he’s the resident greeter and wine dog at Hawkes Winery. He is one of the many winery dogs that we met over the day, but just look at his silly grin! So adorable. And, to all the wine dog owners who found a gold medal award hanging around their dog’s necks at the end of the day, sorry that was me. I intended on using the gold medals to put on wines (impulse buy at Dollar Tree that morning), but the winery dogs are all so amazing and sweet – all winners!