Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

Cool Climate Wines from the Anderson Valley

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

Without asking family members and best friends, you could easily imagine that Allan Green is an independent thinker. His Greenwood Ridge wine estate is located at 1400 feet above sea level. The altitude alone sets him apart from other wineries in the Anderson Valley appellation. In fact, he’s off the grid up there and generates all of his energy with solar panels. In Napa, a winery could be located at an elevation of 1400 feet without being off the beaten path. But in Anderson Valley, that altitude is an entirely different marker. This coastal valley is accessible only over Highway 128, a scenic but narrow and winding, 28-mile road that no one travels accidently. “A lot of people are afraid of that curvy road,” Allan says.

Anderson Valley is one of the coolest appellations in California. The area was known mostly for its sparkling wine production until interest in Pinot Noir exploded. Most of the wineries are small and family-owned, but the appellation also has its share of big names, like Roederer Estate, Cakebread, Sattui, Duckhorn, Williams Selyem, Goldeneye, and Ferrari-Carano. Roederer has been in the area for decades, but the others are more recent arrivals, drawn by the lure of Pinot Noir. Wine tasting is relaxed and friendly, and the little towns of Yorkville, Boonville, Philo, and Navarro offer restaurants and accommodations to people who want a break from urban stress. Many of the people who stop in the tasting rooms are on their way to the coastal resort Town of Mendocino, 45 minutes north.

The big-name wineries are good neighbors just like the smaller ones, Allan says, and have been generous with their facilities for events that benefit the whole wine community. “Every February, we host The International Alsace Festival, and the dinner takes place at Scharffenberger [owned by Roederer] almost every year because they’ve got the best facility. The Pinot Noir festival, our big event in May that we’ve been doing every year for 17 years is at Goldeneye because that’s about the only place that’s big enough to do it. And they have man power and resources to help with it. They also have advertizing budgets that bring attention to Anderson Valley. The number one wine in the top 100 wines at the Wine Enthusiast this year was Roederer L’Ermitage, and of course they advertise and all their ads say Anderson Valley.”

Since Greenwood Ridge is located on a mountain above a valley that is already remote, it is doubly isolated. The valley has the cooler weather that Pinot Noir requires, but at an elevation of 1400 feet above the coastal fog belt, Greenwood Ridge is hospitable to Merlot and Syrah and even Cabernet Sauvignon in a warm year. But only the most intrepid would go looking for Merlot and Syrah on that ridge. Even Allan’s Pinot Noir is different. “You’re familiar with Pinot Noir from the valley, but our Pinot Noir on the ridge is a little spicier and minerally and doesn’t have quite the straight forward fruit that you get in a lot of Anderson Valley Pinots.” Allan Green is fine with all that. “The beauty,” he says, “is that everybody’s wines are different.”

While Allan was in college, he fell in love with this ridge top after his father bought the property for a vacation home in 1972. An open sky above the rugged, forested hills and a blanket of fog below compelled him like nothing else. There were only three wineries in Anderson Valley when he first began to visit. “I wanted to stay up there and got interested in the grape growing aspect. I started hanging out with the three winemakers that were here because we had a softball team called the Philo Winos. I hung out with them and got more interested in wine and thought, ‘Well okay, I can do this.’”

Allan’s father, Aaron Green, was an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright and designed the buildings on the property. Altogether, the scene is a Shangri-La, surrounded by vineyards and wooded hills in the distance, the buildings organically fitting into the landscape. Today, he grows 16 acres of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling. He buys Sauvignon Blanc from an Anderson Valley vineyard in Boonville and some Zinfandel from a hundred-year-old vineyard in Sonoma County.

Until Allan had an epiphany, he was making 7,500 cases of wine. Standing in his bottling line for three days in a row, he realized that he would just break even on most of the wine that he was producing as long as he continued to give it to a distributor to sell. “A little winery can’t really compete with the bigger wineries that a distributor might have in its portfolio because the distributor gives its attention to its big producers. Even if you get into the portfolio, you sort of get lost, and they want you too fly out and work with them and basically sell the wine. And when you leave, the sales fall off. So you can’t afford to do all that traveling and still make any money when you’re selling to distributors at half of retail. And then they want additional discounts on top of that. It finally occurred to me that this was crazy. So we’ve been selling some of our grapes and are now making less wine, about 2,500 cases a year.” Allan sells his production locally through his tasting room, to his wine club, to restaurants and wine shops in Mendocino County and to several in San Francisco.

Over time, the wines have improved enormously, he says. “Number one, the vines are older. Number two, we’re so much more familiar with them and know what they’ll do and how to make wine out of those grapes from our vineyard that we’ve been working with for 30-something years as well as the vineyards that we buy grapes from that we’ve been working with for 20-something years. And we’re not very experimental. We don’t try different things every year. If our customers are happy, we want to keep them happy.”

Because the climate is cool and doesn’t ripen grapes to high sugar levels, Anderson Valley wines have maintained a more classical style and balance. Winemakers there would find it largely impossible to make the big, high-alcohol wines that have overtaken the marketplace in the last 10 to 15 years unless they were willing to dramatically manipulate their wines.

“I don’t feel the need to do that. And I don’t need to submit wines to Wine Spectator for big scores to be successful. So that has not occurred to me, no. Everybody’s wine is different, and every region is different, and that’s the beauty of it. To try to bend your wine to match somebody else’s palate, even if they’re giving out scores, doesn’t make sense to me. We’re small enough that we don’t have to do that.” In other words, Greenwood Ridge wines are an honest expression of the vineyards, and because Allan’s production is small, he can reach out to those people who appreciate the classic style of his wines and ignore those who are looking for something different. His goal is to be faithful to the vineyard and to the wines that it produces, not to be a crowd pleaser like large wineries inevitably must be.

California Wines of the Month


Artisan Series

Greenwood Ridge – 2012 Pinot Noir

Winemaker Allan Green’s Notes

Our estate bottled Pinot Noir blossoms into a bouquet of spices, starting with clove and ginger, anchored by sweet leather and supple black cherry. The texture is pure cold climate Pinot Noir, sensual and slinky. If you’re not thinking grilled salmon, spinach quiche, or sautéed mushrooms covering a rare steak, you might not be hungry (alcohol 13.5%, total acidity 0.63, pH 3.76).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Pinot Noir expresses itself in many guises from light and fruity to dark and spicy. Aged for eight months in French oak barrels, this Greenwood Ridge version tends towards the dark and brooding end of the spectrum. Allan Green is not kidding when he suggests that it be paired with steak. The wine will definitely hold up to bold flavors. Serve at cool room temperature.

Greenwood Ridge – 2012 Riesling

Winemaker Allan Green’s Notes

Varietal purity is the key to Riesling. It can only be achieved in a very cool climate. Our site atop Greenwood Ridge, just six miles from the Pacific, allows full flavor maturity while retaining sufficient acidity to push the fruit forward, framing its freshness. Steely apricot, hints of pineapple and mango make this wine ideal with spicy Indian, Asian, or Southwestern cuisine, nearly any chicken dish, fruit and cheese, or sipped by itself. (alcohol 12.6%, total acidity 0.81, pH 2.96).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Don’t chill this wine too much, or you’ll miss the spice and citrus combination of flavors and aromas. This is a versatile wine, crisp and refreshing and easy to pair with food. Serve slightly chilled.

Winemaker Series

Greenwood Ridge – 2010 Merlot

Winemaker Allan Green’s Notes

Merlot comes into its own atop Greenwood Ridge, showing off lush ripe plum, cherry, and black currant aromas with notes of blackberry, dark chocolate, cedar, and French oak The wine rounds out with a florid finish that lingers languidly in the mouth. It’s robust enough for a hearty stew, yet silky enough for a New York cut (alcohol 13.5%, total acidity 0.65, pH 3.59).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Greenwood Ridge wines, whether red or white, have a distinct spiciness, and in the case of the reds, a pleasant texture, which is very smooth. Allan Green made just 200 cases of this Merlot, aged for 20 months in French oak barrels.

Greenwood Ridge – 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Winemaker Allan Green’s Notes

The challenge of Cabernet on the Ridge is to get it ripe. But when it does mature, it is glorious, flush with vine-ripened blackberry and black current, herbal green olive and tobacco, incisive cedar and menthol, and an elegant suppleness that dazzles. Juicy prime rib, leg of lamb dusted with rosemary, pasta in tomato sauce, you’ve got the idea (alcohol 13.9%, total acidity 0.72, pH 3.52).

Anna Maria’s Notes

When was the last time you tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon with alcohol at 12.5%? Probably never if you haven’t been drinking wine for more than ten years. Yet here’s proof that such a wine can be fully ripe yet elegantly restrained and appealing. Alan Green made just 150 cases of this wine, which he aged for 20 months in French oak barrels.

Greenwood Ridge – 2003 Riesling

Winemaker Allan Green’s Notes

Varietal purity is the key to Riesling, and it can be achieved only in a very cool climate. Our site on top of Greenwood Ridge, just six miles from the moderating influence of the Pacific, allows full flavor maturity while retaining sufficient acidity to push the fruit forward, literally framing its freshness. Steely apricot, hints of pineapple and mango make this wine ideal with spicy curry dishes, Asian, or Southwestern cuisine, nearly any chicken dish, fruit and cheese, or sipped by itself (alcohol 13.1%, total acidity 0.81, pH 3.30).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Golden yellow in color, this ten year old Riesling is vibrantly alive with fruit and spice. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, “Riesling is the great white wine grape variety of Germany and could claim to be the finest white grape variety in the world on the basis of the longevity of its wines and their ability to transmit the characteristics of a vineyard without losing Riesling’s own inimitable style.” Enjoy this now uncommon grape variety in California.

Menu of the Month


 

Let the North Wind Blow

First Course

Grilled pear crostini with goat cheese, garnished with chopped chervil

Main Course

Organic linguini & clams in garlic and wine broth, served with fresh crusty bread

Salad

Radicchio and coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley with fresh orange juice and extra virgin olive oil dressing

Dessert

Almond and polenta cake, drizzled with Vin Santo and topped with crème fraiche

Recipe of the Month


Organic linguini & clams in garlic and wine broth

For this wonderful Venetian dish, we adapted Patrick Barlett’s recipe in the current January/February 2014 issue of Tastes of Italia magazine. Patrick Barlett recommends Razor Neck clams although you may not be able to find them in your local markets. Even with different clams, the dish will be deliciously satisfying on a cold winter evening. Patrick Barlett suggests that we pair Prosecco with it as the Venetians would. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1 pound organic linguini

6 pounds clams

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 cups dry white wine

A pinch of red chile flakes or pepper to taste

Directions

Soak the clams in cold water for 30 minutes. Clean off any beards. Discard any with cracked shells. In the meantime, boil salted water in a pasta pot. Before you put pasta into the boiling water, combine olive oil, garlic, parsley, and chile flakes or pepper in a large skillet. Cook briefly on medium heat. Add pasta to the boiling water. Add wine and clams to the skillet. Cover and cook about 5 minutes until clams begin to open. Discard any that don’t open. Taste the broth for salt and add if necessary. Cook pasta until chewable but not soft, drain, and distribute among 8 bowls. Transfer clams to pasta dishes and distribute broth among them.