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Why Bennett Valley Is Cold + A Fire Update

PWR Syrah from Bennett Valley

The fires continue to ravage wine country in northern California.  Containment is still only about half done, here’s hoping for a spot of rain coming through as forecasted later in the week.

Video Transcription:

Hi, guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. We’re still digging out a little bit. There’s been a lot of fires in and around northern California. We had to leave for a weekend. We weren’t evacuated, but we had some breathing issues in our house. That required some cleaner air than what we were getting, which was considered hazardous for much of the East Bay. Winemaker friends are still counting their losses. I think current count we know at least 10 people have have lost homes. They have a number of vineyards that have been lost.

Signorello, my wife and I spent an anniversary lunch there one year, seems to have lost most of their winery property. The vineyard survived. Kunde seems to have lost almost everything. Korbin Kameron, somebody who’s been included in Wine Club shipments here as recently as a year ago, December, or somewhere around then, seems to have lost most of the winery structures, including most of the vineyard space.

It’s a natural disaster on level with at least the worst hurricanes that we’ve ever seen in the United States and I hope you will keep wine country, especially those folks in Santa Rosa, in not only your thoughts and prayers, but to see if there’s a fundraiser or anything that you can do. As you’re aware, most people are going to be insured, but the way fire insurance works, and we know this from having something similar happen to us in San Diego back in ’03 and ’06, there are usually fairly high deductibles on most fire insurance. That’s out of people’s hands what those deductibles are, for the most part.

They seem to be somewhere between 10% and 20%, depending on your policy. Obviously when you’re talking about $500,000 or more homes, that’s a big chunk of cash, especially if you are a recent purchaser. In any case, I thought it was appropriate to talk about an area that was affected by the fire. Bennett Valley’s Sonoma County AVA, it’s actually one of the newer AVAs. To give you some idea, the Bennett Valley is one of the coldest growing environments of Sonoma and that seems backwards at first, ’cause we think of valleys as being warm. Usually they are.

But in the case of Bennett Valley, it sits almost on high ground. It is surrounded by higher mountains, but it is higher ground than most. Santa Rosa sits on the north, Bennett Valley is this one-mile-long stretch of land between what is the city of Santa Rosa, where it was worst hit by the fire, and then the Cotati Valley, which is where Sonoma State is located.

Bennett Valley, why is it cold if it’s at high ground? It all comes down to a small quirk of geography, and that’s the Petaluma Gap. If you go straight west of Bennett Valley, you hit this small gap in the mountains that allows cool air to come straight in from the coast. That’s why when we have shipped People’s Wine Revolution, Matt Reid’s friend, who lives up in Calistoga, he’s evacuated for a few days, I believe. The winery where he makes his wine and where he stores his wine all seemed to make it just fine, which is good news.

When we’ve shipped this in the past, people have said, “Hey, that’s a lot more like a pinot than a Syrah that you usually would ship.” That’s definitely true. The coldest climate Syrah is in mouth feel. Do you feel more like a pinot? That’s definitely something that I think if you’re new to the wine club that’s, I think, hopefully something that you find interesting. Too often, I think, we’re led to believe that mouth feel is dependent on grape. That is partially true and that’s partially true on tannins, but it’s also perhaps more dependent on growing conditions.

For this case, this is a cool-climate Syrah. It’s a place where you would typically plant pinot as far as the number of degree days. You get something that feels similar to that with the different flavor profile. I think it’s one of those reasons why when you look at pinot noir regions, winemakers have this incessant need to be able to do something different. It’s partially due to tank space. If the pinot comes in in the middle of August, say, by the first week in October they have all this tank space sitting available and they would like to put something in it so they can sell it.

A cool-climate Syrah might ripen three weeks after pinot noir and give them something that is reminiscent of it so it’s stable for their brand, but allows them to not only increase production but keep something true to themselves. Once again, People’s Wine Revolution, Matt seems fine, production space for Matt seems fine, and the Bennett Valley is cold-climate Sonoma vineyard location if you’re looking for one. It sounds like most of the folks that live in the Bennett Valley escaped the worst of the fire damage and should be getting back into their homes either yesterday or today. That’s good news.

The real issue’s, of course, with the fires are going to be those northeast Sonoma neighborhoods and they’re just starting to be let back in now to survey what is going to be, I’m sure, some horrific damage. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope everybody’s having a good one and I’ll talk to you soon.

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