Unique and Delicious Field Blended Wines
This post is a 5-minute read.
Before heading out to California for our wine excursion, I researched wineries that I wanted to visit. ACORN Winery caught my attention because they specialize in field blended wines. I was so excited that they made it onto our itinerary. Yes, I really geeked out on this post. But this is what I love about wine. It can be so much more than fermented juice.
Side Note: Field Blend
Field blend means that the vineyard from where the grapes are harvested includes multiple grape varieties interplanted together. The various grapes are grown, get picked, and co-fermented together. For thousands of years, grape growers did this to ensure a harvest each year regardless of climate and weather conditions. Additionally, the grapes were grown for specific characteristics; some for ripeness, some for acidity, and others for color. By doing so, the winemaker could also maintain a more consistent quality standard.
Today, field blends are harder to find as science and technology have advanced so far that those farming practices are no longer necessary. In modern times, the wine blends of today, the grapes are grown and vinified separately and then blended to achieve the desired wine profile.
ACORN Winery is all about Field Blends
Over 100 different varieties grow in Alegría Vineyards.
When Bill and Betsy Nachbaur purchased the property in 1990, the original 1890 vineyard was already inter-planted to make a Zinfandel-based field blended wine. In 1950, the famed Rafanelli family planted a second block of Zinfandel and Sangiovese along with Freisa and several Muscat varieties. It was not until Bill, and Betsy added several more inter-planted vineyards in 1991 and 1992 with blocks of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Barbera, Cinsault, Dolcetto, more Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah along with smaller amounts of Viognier, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and many lesser-known varieties. In 2017, they added two white field blends – An Austrian block with 80% Grüner Veltliner and 22 lesser-known Austrian and central European varieties. And a Portuguese block with 80% Alvarinho and at least 17 different lesser-known Portuguese varieties.
Oy! Reading the above paragraph makes my head spin. I imagine the same for you.
A Walk Through The Very Unique Alegría Vineyard
So that we fully understood how they make ACORN wines, Bill took us on a vineyard walk. We started at the map in the tasting room. And while this was helpful, it really came together once we were in the vineyard.
Making small-batch, quality boutique wine is labor-intensive. At Alegría Vineyards, workers perform canopy management on each and every vine at least 12 times throughout the growing season. This may include leaf pulling, shoot thinning, dropping excessive bunches, etc.
I found it amazing that Bill can walk through each row and identify each vine. EVERY vine! What a mind! This is what I call “Organized Chaos Field Blending.”
Now I admit this is going deep into a rabbit hole and is “over-the-top” wine nerd stuff, but we all found this fascinating. As we walked and talked, Bill would point to a particular vine and say, “Oh, this one is (XYZ variety).” You can tell by the leaf shape and the amount of fuzz (or lack thereof) on the underside of the leaf.
We did this for about an hour. You would think that we were sitting around a campfire mesmerized by the ghost story being told. Yet, it was about interplanting and needing to know which vine is what. But I will stop here, so I do not lose you.
ACORN Winery Wines Are Different
As if the above did not already clue you into what sets ACORN Winery apart from any other winery. Take a look at the wine they make here – Alvarinho, Grüner Veltliner, Cabernet Franc, Dolcetto, Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel as well as ACORN Hill and Medley. Each of the varietal wines must be at least 75% of the named variety. This is California law. ACORN Hill is their version of a “Super Tuscan,” primarily using Syrah and Sangiovese with small amounts of Viognier, Mammolo, and Canaiolo. Medley, however, is a blend of every grape variety grown in the vineyard.
If the named variety wines from a field blended vineyard are confusing, go back up top and look closely at the vineyard map. You will see that the various blocks within the vineyard are “Zinfandel with…” or “Cabernet Franc with…”, etc. The primary varieties are planted with complementary varieties that make the wine shine. Even when a tiny amount, say 1% of a variety, is used, there is always a reason for it.
The wines of ACORN Winery include:
Alvarinho 2020 Alegría Vineyards – A field blend of 80% Alvarinho, with 6% Arinto, 3% Louiero, 3% Malvasia Fina, 3% Verdelho, 2% Greco,1% Gouveio; the remaining 2% includes Tamarez, Farana, Jampal, Moscatel Galego, Treixadura, Trincaderia, Pargo,and Azores White.
Rosato 2020 Alegría Vineyards – A field blend of 20% Cabernet Franc, 19% Sangiovese, 19% Dolcetto, 19% Zinfandel, 6% Syrah, 3% Merlot, 2% Cinsaut, 2% Blue Portuguese, 2% Petite Sirah, 2% Viognier, and the remaining 4% includes seven other grape varieties.
Axiom® Syrah 2017 Alegría Vineyards – A field blend of 98% Syrah (3 clones) with 2% Viognier.
Cabernet Franc 2017 Alegría Vineyards – A field blend of 92% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon & Tannat.
Dolcetto 2017 Alegría Vineyards – A field blend of 94% Dolcetto, 3% Barbera, and 3% Freisa.
Heritage Vines ™ Zinfandel 2017 Alegría Vineyards – A field blend of 78% Zinfandel, 11% Alicante Bouschet, 9% Petite Sirah. The remaining 2% includes Carignane, Trousseau, Sangiovese, Petit Bouschet, Negrette, Plavac Mali, Syrah, Tannat, Muscat Noir, Peloursin, Cinsaut, Béclan, and Grenache.
ACORN Hill® 2015 – A field blend of 49% Syrah, 49% Sangiovese, 1% Viognier, 0.5% Mammolo, and 0.5% Canaiolo.
Medley® 2016 – A vineyard blend of 20% Cinsaut, 20% Muscats, 18% Syrah, 14% Zinfandel, 4% Dolcetto, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Sangiovese, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Petit Sirah, 1% Mourvedre, and 12% other grape varieties.
They are currently bottling their 2020 Grüner Veltliner, so I have no data on that wine.
Side Note: What to know about Medley
Medley is a wine made from every grape variety they grow in the vineyard. Every single one. It was Bill’s idea, and Betsy thought he was crazy. Perhaps so, but to be made well, this wine uses both old-world field blending and new-world blending techniques. As such, they vinify a Medley base wine that includes all of the varieties that are not used in their variety-specific wines while making each of the other wines.
Starting with the Medley base wine, they pull out the graduated cylinders, beakers, and pipettes to determine how much of each of the named variety wine needs to be added to the base wine to create the balanced, superb wine for which they are known. I would love to watch this happen, but there I go, showing the nerd in me once again.
Tasting ACORN Winery Wines
First and foremost, you need an appointment to taste at ACORN Winery. This has always been the case because they are such a small producer that they need to allocate a staff person to the tasting. NOTE: Since Covid, most wineries now require appointments, so plan ahead because just showing up is no longer an option. The price for a tasting is $30.00 per person (waived with a bottle purchase). The tasting includes seven (7) wines. (Trust me – you will leave with many, many bottles)
Houston! We Have a Problem
As we worked through the tasting, you can see from my notes below that I really, REALLY liked these wines. You may also note that it says that we “had at Pedroncelli.” That is because Betsy and Bill co-hosted a dinner with Julie and Ed of Pedroncelli at the Pedroncelli property. (which you will learn about in another post).
As you can deduce from my tasting notes, they are experts in this winemaking style that truly pleases my palate.
So What is the Problem?
The problem that I allude to in the subtitle of this section is that I truly loved each and every wine. That makes it hard to choose what to purchase. Or it makes it easy and I buy some of each.
But herein lies the biggest obstacle of all – they do not ship to South Carolina. ARRGGHHHH! Now I could have brought it back on the plane, but I thought we kinda, sorta had a plan. Well, plans take time, and plans can change. I am not giving up hope just yet. And if my itch for ACORN wine gets out of control, I can always ship to friends in North Carolina, where they can ship and then I drive four hours each way to get it if they are not visited family here anytime soon. Drastic, perhaps, but until you taste this amazing and affordable wine – don’t judge.
They do ship to several states that have easier and less costly licensing requirements. Interested in trying their wine? Here are the states to which they currently ship: AL, AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IA, ME, MA, MI, MN, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, SD, OH, OR, PA, TN, TX, VA, WA, WI
In the meantime, I am not giving up on getting wine to me in SC.
Side Note: Direct shipping wine from the winery is a fricking nightmare for the winery.
Each state controls its own liquor laws and licensing which means that a winery has 50 different sets of rules and regulations and tax payment systems to manage. On top of that, we have the lobbying arm of the wine distributors trade association wanting to keep it difficult so you have to buy wines that they sell to wine stores. Sadly, most distributors do not work with these micro wineries because they are so small, or they do, but the bigger accounts get all of the attention banishing the little guys to special order only if you even know how to navigate that process.
ACORN Winery makes estate-grown field blended wines from the sustainably farmed Alegría Vineyards in the beautiful Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California. They offer tastings by appointment only at 12040 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, CA 95448. Phone: 707-433-6440 * [email protected]