I spent three days in Sonoma County in July and, on a tip from David Scheidt, was privileged to meet Jim Rickards at his Alexander Valley tasting room in Cloverdale, CA. My premise for the trip was to taste first-rate California Rosés and J. Rickards Winery made the list.
With the summer in full swing, I wanted to begin with J. Rickards aperitif-style Rosé; it was dry and rosy-pink. Perfect for the European palate, the slightly fruity wine is a sure “patio pounder.” The 2012 Bistro Table Rosé opens with fragrant rose petal and strawberry on the nose with a burst of watermelon and crisp, dry finish. The complex taste lingers and is versatile with food or by itself at poolside. Try this blend of 60% Aleatico, 40% Syrah (100 cases, $20).
Just off of California Highway 101 north of Geyserville near Silver Oak Cellars in Sonoma County, the family-run operation of both wine grape farming and wine production is owned and operated by Jim and Eliza Rickards. They planted the vineyards starting in 1976, augmenting the original 1908 Old Vine Zinfandel block planted using horse technology.
When Jim left the military in 1969 with his military cut and large mustache, his dream was to work and own a winery.
“I wasn’t born into the wine business,” Jim said. I didn’t get it for nothing. I have worked my whole life for it.”
As their property had been in disuse and very little left from the original land owners, except the 105-year-old vines of Old Zinfandel planted by the Brignole family, the Rickards had years of development ahead of them.
In fact, the dream was so strong, they passionately recreated the early 20th century winery. He was told there was no water on the 60-acre ranch and that the best land use would be a rock quarry. Today, there are two wells and two large ponds providing water for all irrigation. Jim revived the original Zinfandel vineyard, adding new Zinfandel vines and later added Cabernet and Syrah, grafting much of their new stock. Born out of the encouragement of friends who have enjoyed the small lots of hand-crafted wine, the couple has been making wine since 1991.
As Jim began to share his passion for his wines, it became evident he was gifting me a personal history of his love for hand-crafted wines. His story includes pioneering environmentally sensitive vineyard practices and a long-time proponent of sustainable farming techniques. He spoke of losing 20 acres of vines in the late 80s-early 90s and replacing them with new disease resistant root stock. Jim’s tale includes nearly losing the farm to now growing 150 tons of grapes per year on his 45 acres.
Land stewardship is extremely important to Jim. The planting and mulching of wild flowers and grasses and the planned introduction of environmentally friendly insects all help to create pesticides free vineyards for 20 years. He builds bird boxes which have attracted songbirds like the Western Bluebird and Tree Swallow. His use of manures and composts help add minerals and beneficial bacteria to the vineyards. From collecting rain water to the building materials his home and tasting room are made of, Jim has created a winery which is sustainable and suitable for the land he farms.
While J. Rickards is Jim and Eliza’s dream, they raised two daughters and a son who do not carry their parents’ passion into their adulthood. This Sonoma County winery remains under the zeal and spirited direction of Jim who almost always addresses his visitors with “Welcome to my house.” Jim’s warm, inviting personality soon wins over those who visit the tasting room to try some of his 15 varieties of wine. He truly has lived out the phrase, “Friends are the family you get to choose yourself,” welcoming folks from all over into his circle.
While I tasted through much of his wines, I do want to recommend visitors taste side by side the Ancestor Selections Zinfandel, Estate and the Old Vine Zinfandel, Estate. I loved the elegance of the 2009 Ancestor Zin. The ripe black cherry, raspberry and spicy pepper were balanced and smooth (658 cases, $24).
Yet I am old school. I preferred the rich, old-world full-bodied “field blend” of the 2010 Zinfandel, Old Vine. The boysenberry, plum and gingerbread were gorgeous. The mocha and juiciness lingered. Jim blended 80% Zinfandel, 10% Petit Syrah, 5% Carignane, 4% Mataro and 1% of Alicante Bouschet (515 cases, $25). This is a must-buy for those not yet familiar with J. Rickards.
I appreciated Jim sharing how he hand-crafts his wines while pioneering environmentally sensitive vineyard practices and sustainable farming techniques. Yet despite all the accolades his wines have earned, Jim is passionate, not pretentious, allowing the wine to speak for itself.
Before this gets too long, I also want to recommend J. Rickards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Five Sisters Blend. It is fruit forward but made in the Bordeax-style. He smiles and calls it an $80 Cab in a $34 dress (322 cases).
Finally, the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Croft Vineyard is a Gold Medal winner at the 2013 North Coast Wine Challenge. I could smell and taste grapefruit, white peach, floral aromas, leading to fig and melon. This is great for summer lighter fare as well as richer foods like roasted chicken (1150 cases, $19).
With over 450 Sonoma County wineries, including J. Rickards, be sure to visit as there is sure to be wine to fit all tastes, pocketbook and pairing options.
For a short VIDEO introducing J. Rickards Winery and 2012 grapes, check out Wine Oh TV’s
Wine Oh TV’s Monique Soltani as she interviews Jim Rickards.
For more information on J. Rickards Winery, visit them online at http://www.jrwinery.com or call: 707.758.3441. They can also be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/J.Rickards.Winery. J. Rickards Winery is on 24505 Chianti Road, Cloverdale, CA, 95425.
If you missed my last post, check out the South African Mulderbosch Rosé delivers superb summer value.
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