Everett Ridge Vineyards & Winery

A Look at the Science of Wine

Everett Ridge Vineyards & Winery

Stephen Sterling grew up with his three brothers on a cattle ranch in California’s Central Valley. During the summer, they worked from six-thirty in the morning until three or four o’clock in the afternoon, tending cattle and baling hay, Steve recalls. “My brothers and I were our father’s private labor pool. As long as we woke up in the morning, he never had to worry about a labor shortage for his ventures. Our father impressed on us that if we decided that we didn’t like school, we would be doing that kind of work for a long time.” The lesson was well taken. Steve has an M.B.A. His brother Eric is a physician. Brother Craig is an attorney with an M.B.A., and youngest brother Chris has degrees in agronomy. But regardless of their separate careers, working together seems to come naturally as does a love for the land, the same love that their father has even though he too followed other professional activities. Murio Sterling had a career with the U.S. Federal Housing Authority, and their mother Doris Sterling has multiple degrees in health science and was the director of health services at the University of Santa Clara and a member of California Governor George Deukmejian’s health advisory board.

Owners of Everett Ridge in Sonoma County and Esterlina Vineyards in Mendocino County, the family farms over 300 acres, including five different vineyards in five premium appellations. Originally from Louisiana, the Sterlings have been home winemakers for generations. Steve’s grandfather was a winemaker and learned from his French father, who also made wine. “Particularly if you lived in the country,” Steve says, “if you liked eggs, you better have chickens. If you liked milk, you better have cows. And if you liked wine, you better know how to make it. You couldn’t just walk to a 7-Eleven and grab a bottle in the price range that you needed.

Before they established their own winery, the Sterlings sold grapes from their vineyards to other wineries but made wine for their own use like they had always done. “That was one of the first lessons that we understood,”Steve says. “When we had our own premium vineyards in the Alexander Valley and Sonoma, the quality of our wines went up dramatically from the home winemaking that we had previously been involved with. And more importantly from vintage to vintage, the wines were much more consistent because the grape source was consistent.” In other words, if a winemaker has access to great fruit, even without a lot of training, within two or three vintages that winemaker will make quality wines if he or she is paying attention. “And that was really our start, how our brands came to be what they are today. All of our brands are mostly single vineyard expressions. Estralina and Everett Ridge wines are expressions of our single vineyard sites. They’re vineyards that we have cultivated and manicured for over 15 years or so now, and the wines are expressions of those sites. That’s what any given wine is.”

Science has come a long way in defining the components of a great vineyard site. Steve points out that an analysis of simple geological and weather conditions like soil make-up, soil condition, sun exposure, and average temperatures per year will create a basic definition of potential. “When you start to observe those things, whether you’re in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, it’s pretty remarkable if you look at the latitudes and the longitudes of some of those vineyards and you look at where your vineyard is and you look at the flavor profile, the similarities are pretty remarkable.”

A measurable component of quality vineyards is what the University of California, Davis has defined as degree days, which is the average temperature at a vineyard site over a 21-year period. “If you look at it over that long, then you see dramatic differences. You might see that there are five to ten days less of premium temperatures in one vintage, but if you look at that over 21 vintages, it’s a big difference. For instance, it can get to 85 degrees every day in Tuscany and to 85 degrees every day in Dry Creek Valley, but if Dry Creek Valley gets that 85 degree temperature for ten hours that day versus four hours, that makes a difference in ripening.” The 21-year period can describe temperatures not only from day to day but also from year to year, and they need to be consistent for vineyards to be considered viable. Too much heat can be a negative influence, too. If grapes ripen too quickly, they won’t have time to develop complicated flavors or to pull components out of the soil that render the characteristic flavors of that grape variety. So the balance is very sensitive.

“I know people who are consulting in China and India,” Steve says. “They’re looking for micro climates, where grapes can be planted, that have enough of the characteristics that are similar to known premium wine growing regions. They’re already experimenting with plantings. But the exciting thing about it is that you don’t’ know how accurate those guesstimates are until you start making wine from the vineyard and make a few vintages. It’s either an acknowledgement of what you guessed, or it refutes your hypothesis.”

Yet even if a particular site is appropriate for a vineyard, producing quality grapes there is a long-term project. Steve says that the family purchased some of their vineyards from people, who planted when they were 60 years-old or older and didn’t have the time to make the changes that were necessary to maximize grape quality. “It took them years to get where they were, but they didn’t have another ten or 15 years to get those vineyards to the next step and had to put them on the real estate market. We could see what they were doing wrong, and we used our hypotheses to create some new lines of grapes.”

“When we bought our 20-acre vineyard in Anderson Valley about 15 years ago, people were questioning the quality of grapes there. A few major wineries had no doubts about quality potential. The most notable would be the people from Cristal Champagne in France. They invested in Anderson Valley 25 years ago and planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, basically because a University of California, Davis study showed Anderson Valley had among the most consistent degree days for Pinot Noir in the world. So they rolled the dice, and today Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Robert Parker say Anderson Valley Pinots are among the best in the U.S. along with Russian River, Central Coast, specifically Santa Maria Highlands, and then Oregon.”

As any winemaker knows, no matter how precise science can be, nature is fond of contradicting it. Although it’s still a bit early, Steve thinks that this year is shaping up to be a perfect vintage, no frost in the spring, great weather through the growing season into an October without rain, and no serious cold snaps or heat spikes. The family still has some Zinfandel and Syrah on the vines and some Cabernet and Merlot in their cool Cole Ranch vineyard in Mendocino, which could be affected by early rain. But if not, those grapes will ripen into rich dimensions. “Like tomatoes, the more grapes stay on the vine and ripen naturally, the more balanced, natural quality you have. When you have to pick the fruit earlier because of weather, winemakers typically have to manipulate the juice more to get consistency with preceding years like we did in 2011. Some winemakers in a really bad year like 2011 would say ‘Winemakers have to do their job,’ have to do the things that they were taught in school in order to make qualitative wine. But 2012 is not like that. You don’t even have to talk about particular appellations or producers. For instance in some rough vintages, the best winemakers will make the best wine. But across the board, it would be hard to make bad wine in 2012.”

California Wines of the Month


Artisan Series

Everett Ridge Vineyards & Winery – 2008 Petite Sirah

Winemaker Lynn Krausmann’s Notes

There is nothing “petite” about the Everett Ridge Petite Sirah. Rather, it is all about masculine power and brawny structure. This dark and brooding Petite Sirah is so deeply colored that it is nearly opaque, like ink. Aromas of leather, cigar box, sweet tobacco and charred oak suspend over a dense backdrop of blackberry fruit. Layered and chewy tannins make a big textural statement in the mouth. The intensity of fruit is supported by mouthwatering acidity for a bright finish. Though bold, this wine is not rough or coarse. It makes its grand exit with a well-mannered display of subtle tannins. Try decanting Petite Sirah, to enjoy its full aromatic complexity. Will mellow over time and can age up to 10 years. Pair this robust wine with equally big foods: grilled steak, lamb sausages, blackberry-glazed baby back ribs, or the spit-roasted wild boar from your last hunt (alcohol 14.5%, pH 3.87, total acidity 6.06).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Now four years old, the Everett Ridge 2008 Petite Syrah is more a sleek house cat than the lion that Lynn Krausmann describes above. The wine is dark and deeply flavored but very smooth. It’s still a red meat wine though, one that will take the chill out of cooler weather.

Everett Ridge Vineyards & Winery- 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

Winemaker Lynn Krausmann’s Notes

The 2008 Everett Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley possesses density and weight on the palate without forcefulness of tannin. Its texture by mouth has the soft suppleness of suede. Black cherry and cocoa flood the aroma, giving way to cassis, ripe olive, dried herbs and cedar on the palate. Enjoy with Porterhouse steak slathered with tarragon butter (alcohol 14.5%, pH 3.89, total acidity 5.83)..

Anna Maria’s Notes

This is a ripe Cabernet although just 14.5% alcohol, which today is only a little on the high side of average for most reds. Steve Sterling had a great suggestion for preparing the wine. Uncork the bottle for at least a half hour before serving, or better yet, decant the wine or pour it with an aerator. Steve points out that alcohol is volatile and at least some will blow off if you expose the wine to air. We associate this technique with young wine to soften the tannins, but it serves to blow off alcohol as well. Another technique for serving higher-alcohol reds is to chill them a bit in the refrigerator or an ice bucket so that they are no more than 65 degrees. The chill, like aerating, will bring out varietal flavors that might be temporarily masked by alcohol. “I’ve had sommeliers give me that advice for some big Napa Cabs,” Steve says. I was tasting with a friend who is a sommelier, and he had three or four in an ice bucket to cool them down. It makes a difference.”

Winemaker Series

Everett Ridge Vineyards & Winery – 2011 Rosé, Dry Creek Valley

Winemaker Lynn Krausmann’s Notes

Rose petal pink in color and brilliant in clarity, this rosé is as attractive as it is delicious. The aroma is bursting with fresh strawberries and peaches. Citrusy and spicy in flavor, it finishes with zesty acidity. Made in the style of a Rosé of Champagne, with gentle pressing of Syrah grapes to reveal a pretty pale color yet maintain delicacy in texture, followed by a cool fermentation to retain fruity and floral aromatics. The Everett Ridge Syrah Rosé is a mouthwatering and refreshing wine that you may wish to quaff by itself on a hot afternoon. But you will find this Rosé to be so food-friendly that it can stand in on any occasion as the ideal match for whatever you serve. Try it with salmon tartare, fried calamari, white pizza, or grilled turkey burgers. Drink now, while young and fresh (alcohol 12.7%, pH 3.60, total acidity 6.37).

Anna Maria’s Notes

This is a great match for the Thanksgiving feast, a meal that requires a little creativity for wine pairing. Crisp with a small amount of residual sugar, the Everett Ridge Rosé will complement every dish on the table. Rosé equates with summertime, but Steve Sterling says that he drinks it nine month out of the year, spring, summer, and fall. During cooler months, he likes to start a meal with Rosé when he knows that big red wines will follow with the meal. “It’s a nice transition,” he says, “instead of starting off with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay all the time.”

Everett Ridge Vineyards & Winery – 2007 Ensemble, Cole Ranch

Winemaker Lynn Krausmann’s Notes

This Merlot-driven blend reflects our Cole Ranch Appellation’s unique character and distinctive elegance. The 2007 Everett Ridge Ensemble flourishes an extraordinary lushness in mouth feel. Its texture is so round, supple, and plush that it conveys the impression of velvet in the mouth. Evident ripeness gives the perception of sweetness and persistence to the generous red currant and black cherry fruit flavors. Highlight the seamless texture of this wine by enjoying with soft teleme cheese or ground veal and mushroom ragu over pappardelle (alcohol 14.7%, pH 3.74, total acidity 5.50).

Anna Maria’s Notes

This wine is a beauty. The fruit was harvested from high-altitude, cool-climate Cole Ranch in Mendocino County where grapes can stay on the vine and accumulate flavor without getting over ripe. Cole Ranch is its own appellation, the smallest one in the U.S. with about 150 acres, owned totally by the Sterlings. They have 80 acres planted so far. Three wines made from the appellation have been served at the White House. This is a proud holiday wine for your most celebratory meals.

Menu of the Month


 

October Fest

First Course

Roasted red pepper bisque

Main Course

Pan braised lamb chops, served with couscous

Salad

Shaved zucchini and pecorino cheese salad

Dessert

Apple-Brandy Crisp

Recipe of the Month


Shaved Zucchini and Pecorino Cheese Salad

This recipe is slightly adapted from the cookbook Organic Marin, Recipes from Land to Table, by Tim Porter and Farina Wong Kingsley. This wonderful cookbook is divided into the four seasons and features recipes from restaurants in the county, this particular one from Marche aux Fleurs in Ross about a mile away from where I live.

Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dion mustard

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Salad

3 zucchini or yellow squash

1 bunch baby arugula

½ cup shaved pecorino or Manchego cheese

¼ cup Spanish Marcona almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions

For the vinaigrette, whisk the lemon juice and mustard together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil and the salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the salad, shave the zucchini into thin lengthwise strips with a vegetable peeler, and place in a large bowl with the arugula and pecorino. Lightly toss the vegetables with the dressing and place on individual plates. Garnish with the almonds and serve. Serves 4.