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Terroir in Rockpile: Mauritson Family Winery

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In the late 1800s, ancestors of the Mauritson family planted vines in Rockpile, located just above Dry Creek Valley. Now, Clay Mauritson, winemaker at Mauritson Family Winery, is lucky enough to have an array of varietals planted in the Rockpile AVA: Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Mauritson says, “Rockpile is an incredible place to grow Bordeaux varietals,” and to prove it, their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Cabernet Franc—both of which are Bordeaux varietals—are well rounded, balanced, and complex wines that exude the terroir of their vineyards.

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The flavors of the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Cabernet Franc are directly influenced by the temperature, elevation, lack of fog, sun exposure, and soil composition in Rockpile. The temperature in Rockpile is very moderate. Mauritson explains, “Our average daily high is lower than that of our neighbors and . . . our average nightly low is higher.” This temperate climate, due to the “proximity to the coast” and presence of Lake Sonoma, creates herbaceous, earthy, and mineral notes in the wine—which are balanced against the delicate fruit flavors.

Additionally, the elevation and lack of fog—which results in excellent sun exposure—play a role in the way these varietals are able to achieve "physiologic and phenolic ripeness at relatively lower sugar levels, " Mauritson articulates. Proper physiologic and phenolic development, in addition to harvesting the grapes at appropriate brix level, results in "balance and varietal correctness," Mauritson states.

Soil composition is another factor that significantly affects the resulting flavors in the wines. Mauritson says, "Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vineyards are planted in gravely loam soil that is primarily derived from igneous rock." What this means for the grapes is that the soil has just the right balance between water drainage and fertility for optimal growth. The combination of gravel—loose, siliceous pebble—and loam—soft, fertile soil composed of sand, silt, and clay—grows lower yields, but more concentrated and intense fruit. Furthermore, the subtle notes of the minerals in the igneous rock are present in the wines.

Something else that significantly affected the 2011 vintages of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc was the heavy rainfall during harvest time. In 2011, “We got nearly seven inches of rain between October 4th and October 10th,” Mauritson shares. Typically speaking, harvest time is during September and October, which means that “if fruit wasn’t picked before the rain, winemakers were scrambling to get fruit picked immediately after the rain,” to avoid botrytis, Mauritson explains. He continues to say that because of the terroir in Rockpile, botrytis was not an issue, and this allowed them to "take advantage of some of the most beautiful weather of the entire growing season the last three weeks of October," after the heavy rainfall.

The only reason this was possible, was because the terroir of the vineyards helped drain the water, dry the grapes, and expose them to the sun so that they could develop perfect physiologic and phenolic ripeness, before harvest. The resulting wine, as Mauritson says, is "truly spectacular given the circumstances, but exactly what you would expect from vineyards in Rockpile."

The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Cabernet Franc are spectacular indeed. The Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits subtle gravel and mineral notes with a touch of smoke on the back of the palate, as the wine begins to open up. There is also a lovely earthiness which balances out the dominant bright red cherry and cherry cola flavors, alongside the more subtle nuances of blackberry and dark chocolate. The wine has chewy weight, meaty texture, and a round body that is followed by balanced tannins on the finish.

The Cabernet Franc, which begins with a raspberry and white pepper nose, boasts earth and mineral flavors in the taste, alongside brighter fruit at the forefront and darker fruit at the back of the palate. The wine starts with raspberry that slowly fades into subtle blueberry, dark chocolate, and cocoa. The mineral and herbal notes are balanced by hints of delicate maple at mid taste and overall, the flavors interact beautifully together. The taste of the wine is only further complemented by the luscious mouth feel and subtle tannins that give the wine excellent structure.

The way the textures, flavors, and tannins are balanced for complexity and delicacy in these wines, speaks very highly of Mauritson Family Winery's viticulture practices in the Rockpile vineyards, as well as Clay Mauritson and his team's vinification processes.

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