POSTED ON July 19, 2008 | IN Russian River Wine Country - Sonoma Cty. | BY joe

Ever hear of the Rockpile AVA? This wine appellation is one hot AVA. Ever since the Wine Spectator named Rosenblum 2003 Rockpile Zinfandel as the number three-rated wine of the year in 2005, wines from this region have been in huge demand. When a winery puts the Rockpile name on its label, it almost an instant sellout. So is this AVA worthy of all this attention?

We have visited the Rockpile region on two occasions and found it to be a very intriguing and somewhat mystifying place. There are no wineries to visit along the rather barren and austere Rockpile Road that runs for 12 miles along the ridge of Lake Sonoma. Who would think of planting grapes on the rocky soil hills of this area? Well Rod and Cathy Park in 1992 did and now there are some 148 acres of mostly Zinfandel but there is also Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Merlot, and a small amount of Tannat.

Here is what makes this AVA unique. The Ridge area is 800 to 1200 feet high. The morning fog that is the norm during the summer months of this area is always below this altitude and that means the vineyards have a long day of sunshine. The afternoon winds that whip from the Pacific Ocean about 12 miles away can be fierce. This can cause evaporation in the vines as well as provide comfort from the heat. The hillsides can be steep and rocky and seemingly unfit for growing anything but the endemic vegetation. The vines are stressed and this results in grape clusters that are small, thicked skin, with a small amount of intense juice. This coupled with only 148 acres of vines means a very small supply of this mysterious and rather illustrious wine. We have tasted several Rockpile wines and they are intense, bold, with highly concentrated flavors. These wines go best with grilled red meat. They are big! We recently tried Mauritson 2005 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel and Stryker’s 2004 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon. These two wines are absolutely amazing in my estimation.

Here is who makes Rockpile wines. This is close to a complete list but we may be missing a few. Mauritson Wines owns the most acreage of Rockpile wines, about 34 acres and they make various Rockpile vineyard designated Zinfandels such as Cemetary, Westphall, and Buck’s Pasture. Mauritson will be introducing a Bordeaux Blend and Malbec soon from Rockpile. Other wineries that make a Rockpile wine are Carol Shelton, Valdez, Rosenblum, Branham, JC Cellars, Stryker-Sonoma, Segeshio, and Hobo. Try a bottle and expect to pay about $35 or more, that is if you can find it.

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