Dozens of new wineries emerge from California each year, and many deliver exciting wines. Every once in a while, though, a new winery appears that somehow sets itself apart from the field.
This year, one winery that stands out is Bedrock. The new releases from this small Sonoma winery are among the most impressive new wines I've tasted in a long time.
What makes Bedrock so exciting is a combination of things, starting with its winemaker, Morgan Twain-Peterson, and his choice of wines and the quality.
Twain-Peterson is a natural. He's the 29-year-old son of Ravenswood's founding winemaker, Joel Peterson; his mother Madeline Dirninger also worked at Ravenswood and then enjoyed a career in wine sales and marketing.
Under Peterson, Ravenswood helped define a modern era Zinfandel. Many winemakers who share a passion and respect for that grape went to school on his portfolio of wines, many of which were from old vines. Peterson sold Ravenswood years ago, but still represents the winery, spending 180 days a year on the road. Morgan grew up in a wine family, surrounded by parents who knew and drank wine, walked vineyards and tasted in cellars.
Morgan's focus on reds, including what he calls Heirloom reds, are anchored by Zinfandel, a passion he inherited from his father, who is 63. When I asked if his dad pokes his nose into his cellar, Morgan said, "He can't stop himself," he laughed. "My dad gives me advice whether I need it or not. Hanging around with winemakers "was one of those benefits of growing up in the business," he said. "I've always had lots of counselors."
Twain-Peterson's dad is less sure of Syrah, the other main portion of his portfolio. "He doesn't get my fascination with Syrah," said Morgan, confidently and with a smile, "but he will."
The mix of wines reflects Morgan's range of tastes. He has worked in Bordeaux and Australia and enjoys the variety of wines and styles available to wine lovers today. "You can find any kind of wine or style you want to," he said, dismissing claims that the wine industry is too narrowly focused on a select group of wines. "The idea [at Bedrock] is to experiment," he said, and working with 22 vineyards and making 22 wines reflects that diversity. "I want to make wines that offer a broad palate—the way I drink." Most of the wines are made in small quantities, of 50 to 200 cases.
He likes wines with high acidity and produces a distinctive Graves style white. Cuvee Caritas 2009 comes from 120-year-old Sémillon grown on Monte Rosso in Sonoma Valley, and Sauvignon Musque, from Kick Ranch in Rincon Valley, a small winegrowing area near Santa Rosa bordered by Chalk Hill and Russian River Valley. The Sémillon is barrel-fermented and undergoes malolactic fermentation, making it rich and fat; the Musque is crisp and flinty. Combined, they offer a wine of deep, lively flavors, complex aromas and a smooth texture.
Those who appreciate a well-made rosé will marvel at the complexity and vivid fruitiness of the 2008 or 2009 Mourvèdre Sonoma Valley Ode to Lulu Rosé (90 points, $22), reviewed by Tim Fish. They capture the summertime freshness of ripe watermelon with Asian spices.
Bedrock produced five 2008 Syrahs, including three from Hudson Vineyard in Carneros, and two Heirloom reds (most of these wines are in this past week's Wine Spectator Insider); all are distinctive and built for cellaring. The five Hudson Syrahs ($45) reflect Northern Rhône rusticity, dense berry and loamy earth flavors. The Pleine de Chene is rich and layered, with classic Syrah flavors of dried currant and sweet berry, herb and hot brick; the Co-fermented has a splash of Viognier, more spice, espresso and hot brick notes; the Old Lakeville veers into a tasty cigar box groove; Kick Ranch is tight, with roasted herb and dried dark berry fruit; Hudson Whole Cluster has a jalapeño pepper note that makes it unique.
The Heirloom reds ($35), though, excel at a level achieved by the likes of Carlisle. The 33-acre Bedrock Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, owned by Morgan, dates to 1888; the vines from Dry Creek Lorenzo's are also 100 years old. Known as Italian field blends, they were planted by immigrants, likely Italians, who often planted vineyards without knowing what all of the grapes might be; Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah and Cinsault anchor most of these vineyards, but there are also surprises and mysteries. At Bedrock, there are some 30 different varieties, including perhaps 10 types of vines with no varietal DNA. Experts haven't figured out what they area.
The aim for the Heirloom is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style, said Morgan, "we have a richness in our vineyards [soil] that they don't have."
The only wine that struck me as off-key was the 2008 Russian River Pinot Noir Rebecca's Vineyard. It tasted as if it had a splash of Syrah. "That's a result of the 2008 vintage," he explained, a difficult year for many Pinot vineyards. The 2009 will be better, he smiled.
He has avoided working with mainstream grapes such as Chardonnay. "I can't beat the likes of Kistler or Mark Aubert," he said, referring to two Chardonnay producers who make that wine in a style he likes. "There's not much value in my making another Chardonnay [like those]."
No, what makes Bedrock so exciting is the authenticity and individuality of its wines. Twain-Peterson has a vision and experience with wine that few people his age or any age has. He is able to articulate what he's trying to achieve and the wines reflect that strength of character.