Tag Archives: 2013 Limerick Lane Syrah/Grenache

Tasting “Sonoma Strong”


Sonoma County has experienced tragedy from the recent fires.  There was loss of life and property and we all see areas of scorched earth where beauty once prevailed. The land will recover and the community has begun the healing process with an outpouring of community support.

Staff at Merry Edwards Winery

Thanks to the efforts of firefighters and other public service personnel, most of the landscape remains unchanged, including our famous vineyards.  Sonoma County is open for business and the experience of great wine, food and natural beauty is very much intact. The following recommendations are intended to deliver it all for a memorable day-trip.

The first stop is a late morning reserved tasting at Limerick Lane Cellars, named for their street of origin, on property south of Healdsburg.  Since the Limerick Lane

Limerick Lane Winery

Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2012 (94-pt) placed #12 on Wine Spectator’s 2015 Top 100 list, their wines have become recognizable and highly rated. Currently, visitors can enjoy the 2015 Russian River Valley Zinfandel, the 2015 1910 Block Zinfandel (94-pt),a specialty field blend and the wonderful 2015 Syrah Grenache, a Rhone blend with a pinch of petite sirah added.

There are a plethora of good lunch opportunities in trendy Healdsburg, a few blocks north of Limerick Lane  Two of my favorites are The Shed, offering a delightful farm to table menu and Barndiva, with aesthetic patio dining.

Leaving town and traveling west, Healdsburg Road, passing over  Highway 101, soon intersects with the iconic Westside Road that weaves through the heart of the Russian River Valley.  Not all estates along Westside Road are open to the public,

Patio tasting at Gary Farrell

but MacRostie Vineyards, Gary Farrell and Thomas George Estates offer special tasting experiences that focus on cool climate chardonnay and pinot noir.  All of their single-vineyard releases feature noted local vineyards like Olivet, Durrell and Wildcat Mountain

They all offer a broad menu of tasting experiences, held in modish settings, that are

Gary Farrell Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard 2013

both exceptional and pricey.  Indulge yourselves while enjoying fine wines like the 2014 Gary Farrell Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Valley (94-pt). Reservations are required at each.

The continuing drive along Westside Road is a virtual feast for the eyes, passing through gorgeous redwoods, oaks and vineyards like Allen, Bacigalupi and Bucher that source grapes to many of the valley’s producers.  As with previous vintages, the medium-bodied 2015 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir, sourced from these and other nearby vineyards, has a rich mouthfeel with berry and spice flavors that pair well with my palate.

Hacienda Bridge

Driving south along Westside Road requires crossing the one-way Hacienda Bridge that affords splendid views of the Russian River. Soon, Westside becomes Wohler Road moving south to River Road, toward the Highway 116 wineries.  This is a good time set your GPS for Merry Edwards Winery on Gravenstein Highway North (116) near Sebastopol.

With consistent great releases from an iconic winemaker, poured in a private setting,

Merry Edwards Winery is unsurpassed. The free tasting treats you to more highly-rated single vineyard pinot noir, chardonnay and something more.  The 2016 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley, as well as previous vintages, is arguably the best sauvignon blanc in California. Stable ratings in the mid-nineties and multiple appearances on Wine Spectator magazines Top 100 Wines List substantiates it’s reputation. Several lees-stirrings and the addition of sauvignon musque adds richness to the complex flavor profile of stone and tropical fruits with expressive mineral notes on the finish.  The golden color and floral aromas alone earned a reserved place in my small cellar.

Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

Another nearby option is Dutton-Goldfield, serving more chardonnay, pinot noir and the rich, balanced 2014 Dutton-Goldfield Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah, using forty-percent whole cluster grapes from a warmer vineyard to create a soft, velvety texture.

Zasu at the Barlow, featuring pork dishes, Jamaican food at Revibe or seafood at Handline provide options for an early dinner in Sebastopol.

Sonoma wineries are surely open for business and many are dedicating profits to help fire victims.  Come enjoy some of the finest wines on the planet and help Sonoma County rebuild itself.  Your taste buds will thank you.


Ancient Vines Of Limerick


Ancient vines in Oakley, CA

“Old Vines” or “Ancient Vines” is an uncommon designation, often synonymous with rich wines with great texture and character.  Aside from some “old vine” designates in the Rhone Valley in France, the overwhelmingly vast majority appear in California with the zinfandel varietal.

Most research shows that vines of popular varietals like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc have a life span of approximately 50 years and the terroir, rather than the age of the vines, is what translates into quality.  However, leave no doubt that the ancient California zinfandel vines uniquely translate into a higher standard.

The distinct life of a zinfandel vine goes through several decade-long productive transitions until reaching maturity in 70-80 years.  This is when they begin to produce dramatically lower yields which as we know, equates to heavily concentrated flavors and overall high caliber wines.  We see this with many varietals during times of

Gnarly "Old Vines"

Gnarly “Old Vines”

destructive weather impacts such as a late frost when the damaged grapes must be sacrificed for the good of the others.  In these years, volume and profits are low but, as many wine makers have told me, it’s the time to submit wines for critical review.  With zinfandel vines, reduced yield, or lower tonnage, occurs naturally, appealing to those consumers who prefer big, luscious zinfandel releases and are willing to pay a premium price.

Ancient vines are as physically identifiable as the rich flavors they produce. In dormancy, they are thick and gnarly, looking like headless ogres waving their

Limerick Lane estate vineyard

Limerick Lane estate vineyard

arms in all directions, otherwise appearing lifeless.  They become more majestic in late spring, serving as a strong foundation for what is proportionally, moderate leaf and fruit growth.

France, Germany, Australia and other countries boast “ancient vines,” but old California zinfandel vines, from Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Lodi and Paso Robles afford us the opportunity, firsthand, to experience what the excitement is all about.

Cline Cellars produces a series of reasonably priced  “ancient vine” wines from their Oakley vineyards in Contra Costa County, first planted over a Century ago by Italian and Portuguese immigrants.  Among many consistent vintages, the 2013 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel Contra Costa County ($20) adds a combined 10% of petit sirah,

Cline "Ancient Vines" Zinfandel

Cline “Ancient Vines” Zinfandel

carignane and syrah to the blend that delivers ripe fruit flavors and a creamy mouthfeel.  Used primarily to add structure and texture to the Rhone Valley blends in France, the 2013 Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre Contra Costa County ($22) is a rare solo release with hints of chocolate and a luscious deep plum flavor.  Equally rare, the 2013 Cline Ancient Vines Carignane Contra Costa County ($23) adds a degree of spice to the rich flavors.

The iconic Napa Valley Rombauer Vineyards produces old vine zinfandel from a historic vineyard in the Sierra Foothills of Amador County.  The 2012 Rombauer “Fiddletown” Zinfandel ($43) comes from Gino Rinaldi’s 100+ year-old vineyard, located some 1,800 feet above sea level, producing very low yields and a wine both intense and complex.

For observing “ancient vines,” I recommend a drive along the Valley of the Moon Highway, connecting Sonoma with Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco.  A gorgeous site during any season, but the late winter vines, interspersed with yellow mustard plants, using the Mayacama Mountains as a backdrop, are breathtaking.  Tasting the fruits of these vines is available at a plethora of valley wineries along the road including Landmark Cellars and Ledson Winery.

The classic ancient vine zinfandel story comes from Geoffrey and Alison Wrigley Rusack of Rusack Vineyards in

Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

the Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley, north of Santa Barbara.  Geoffrey received permission to explore and excavate cuttings from some ancient vines discovered on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Ventura.  The University of California, Davis confirmed that the vines were zinfandel, most likely left by missionaries over a century ago.  The zinfandel vines have been re-planted on Santa Catalina, another of the Channel Islands, as part of Rusack’s Santa Catalina Island program that includes pinot noir and chardonnay.  Having recently enjoyed the rare 2012 Rusack Santa Catalina Island Zinfandel ($72)), these ancient vines certainly delivered a rich texture and complex flavor profile that will continue to improve with age.


My recent curiosity in “old vine” or “ancient vine” zinfandel was peaked when a small, little known Sonoma County winery with vineyards adjacent to the Redwood Highway, south of Healdsburg placed their vintage 2012 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley (94-pt/$32) in the #12 spot

Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley

Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley

on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2015.  A very high ranking of a zinfandel from a local winery within 10 miles of my home led me to investigate further.

The year 1910 was when the Del Fava family planted the oldest vineyard on the property in the northeastern Russian River Valley.  They saw potential in this site that has less fog and considerably warmer soils.  The family owned and farmed the original vineyards for over 65 years, sourcing grapes to many wineries before they sold it in 1977 to locals, Michael and Tom Collins.

The Collins operated the small winery on Limerick Lane for 34 years, making significant strides to improve the property, including the new dry-farmed, 25-acre Collins Vineyard, directly across the road.  Also, during their stewardship, the Limerick Lane Cellars label was created to produce estate wines.

When the Collins brothers decided to sell the winery in 2011, they rejected any corporate interest, handpicking local Jake Bilbro and his brother Scot as the best team to maintain the small family operation that had been productive over the past 101 years.  After some preliminary challenges, the sale was consummated and the Bilbro brothers sought out on a journey through Limerick’s most recent evolution.  We sought to taste some of their new 2013 vintages following up on the 2012 estate zinfandel that put them on the map.

With some mourvedre and petit sirah to provide complexity, the most high production 2013 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($36), with 1,900 cases, had a chalky, earth element, nice minerality and luscious mouthfeel, a good value.

From the original ancient plantings,the 2013 Limerick Lane “1910 Block” Zinfandel ($48) has a distinct

Limerick Lane Syrah/Grenache

Limerick Lane Syrah/Grenache

herbal nose with concentrated fruit flavors and a smooth, balanced finish.  Combining Rhone varietals, the 2103 Limerick Lane Syrah/Grenache ($36) offer healthy spice in the bouquet and does not disappoint mid-palate with berry pie, pepper flavors and evident tannins.

We finished the tasting with two very small production releases, one highly rated and another resulting from a unique process.

With 94-point ratings from both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker, the 2013 Limerick Lane “Head-pruned Block” Syrah ($48) is a full=bodied syrah with a fragrant bouquet and intricate white pepper, plum and blackberry on the palate with balanced tannins throughout.

Clearly the most unique wine of the day, the 2013 Limerick Lane “Hail Mary” Syrah ($48)uses carbonic maceration, where whole cluster grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide-rich setting, to create complex flavors and soft

Limerick Lane "Hail Mary" Syrah

Limerick Lane “Hail Mary” Syrah

mouthfeel.  Grapes, leaves and stems are placed in open top stainless steel tanks, layered with dry ice and gently walked on every few days.  With the exception of those on the bottom, the grapes are not crushed, oddly leaving the skins intact during fermentation.

Initially, the “Hail Mary,” with 94% syrah and 6% grenache, displays a beautiful deep ruby color, then earth and candied fruit on the nose followed by rich flavors and silky tannins.  This is the one I took home.

Producing quality juice for more than a Century, it took that 2012 vintage “old vine”zinfandel to uncover Limerick Lane’s wonderful wines and their story of handwork and commitment to the land.  All of the wines we tasted had high character and, although cost is relative to our personal budgets, all current releases are a value at their price.  This and the other small boutique wineries on Limerick Lane are definitely worth exploring on an afternoon.

As for these mature zinfandel and other varietals, look for the “ancient vine” or “old vine” designations on the labels of wines at all levels.  Your research will assure more expression of fruit and a softer texture in the glass.