Unveiling purple hues as deep as the Pope’s robe, this elegant wine echoes its lofty mountain origins with aromas of black cherry, crème de cassis, and honeysuckle as well as whiffs of dried cranberry, cigar box, campfire smoke, and herbs de Provence. The latter resonates on the palate with forward flavors of unctuous blackberry jam and a lingering finish of rich dark fruit and creamy toasted oak. With mature tannins, a hint of bright acidity, and a very plush mouthfeel, it will reward after 5–7 years of patient cellaring.
Clear Lake, the largest fresh-water lake within California, creates a specialized “lake effect” by mitigating temperature extremes. The Red Hills district is situated at the foot of the dormant volcano Mount Konocti and entirely within Lake County’s Clear Lake AVA.
The region is warmer and less foggy during the growing season than either Sonoma or Napa because those neighboring counties lie closer to the coast. Lake County also has the cleanest air in the state, and the unrestricted sunlight maximizes vine potential.
Grapes were harvested from Amber Knolls Vineyard where the textbook conditions of 2,200-foot elevations, signature red volcanic soils, and a warm dry climate were matched with Malbec Clone 4 on 110R rootstock in 2001. This 19-acre “all star” planting produces small early-maturing vines that transform stress resulting from minimal irrigation into small berries and loose clusters with favorable high skin-to-juice ratios and advanced flavor development.
Grapes were contracted by-the-acre versus by-the-ton, allowing Winemaker George Troquato the option of cluster-thinning down to two tons per acre from the projected five for a full expression of fruit.
Sporadic rain fell in early 2009 with 50% of seasonal totals occurring in March. It was the third consecutive drought year and temperatures were slightly below average. Budbreak was delayed until mid-March while April brought successful bloom and fruit set. April, May and early June showed foggy mornings and below average temperatures, but the latter reached triple digits in mid-June. The heat pike launched a repeating cycle of two scorching weeks followed by 7–10 cool days through most of July, August and September. Seasonable cool mornings and warm days returned in late September, but the remnants of a Japanese typhoon brought 3–4 inches of rain to some vineyards! We harvested most of our fruit before the storm, and were quite pleased with the results: small berries with good skin color that translates to dark, rich wines.