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The Vision Of Sonoma's Robert Young

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 23, 2009 12:01pm ET

Robert Young was 16 years old when he took over the family ranch in Sonoma's Alexander Valley following his father's death.

Wine drinkers associate his name with brilliant Chardonnays produced by Chateau St. Jean over the years; it remains a signature Chardonnay for Alexander Valley, with its purity of flavor, elegance, delicacy, vibrant fruit and ability to age.

But less well-known was Young's decision, in the 1960s, to pull out plum trees on the family's property and plant varietal wine grapes.

Young was the quintessential Sonoma gentleman farmer. Soft-spoken and self-effacing, he let his farming do the talking and by all accounts there were no finer grapes grown anywhere. He died June 19 at the age of 90, having lived his entire life on the ranch, which has remained in the family since 1858. His four children survive him.

His association with St. Jean and its first winemaker, Richard Arrowood, put Robert Young Chardonnay in the spotlight. St. Jean produced nearly a dozen different Chardonnays from Sonoma in that era, but through it all the Robert Young bottling stood out as the finest.

Young's vineyard was large, more than 300 acres in size, and he grew a variety of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, the first vine he planted. It's hard to imagine Alexander Valley without grapes, as vineyards carpet the valley. But in the 1960s, wine hardly had the allure it would later achieve. While there were old-vine Zinfandel grapes rooted there, Young's decision to convert his property to wine grapes signaled the beginning of a new era.

Grapes turned out to be more profitable than prunes, and in the ensuing years, others followed Young's path.

The Young family started its own label in the 1990s and named its flagship “Scion,” as a tribute to the family’s patriarch.

Jim Gallagher
Jim Gallagher —  June 23, 2009 3:57pm ET
Robert Young also grew Riesling from which a wonderful late harvest Botrytis infected wine was produced by Chateau St Jean. I remember their phenomenal 1978 and 1982 'Select Late Harvest'wines.
Andrew Alley
Burlington, NC —  June 24, 2009 1:17am ET
The St. Jean wines are nice but the wine the Young family make under their own label are the epitome of richness, depth and silkiness. You won't find better Chardonnay or Cabernet from anyone in the same price range.

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