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Bedrock a New Star in Sonoma

Son of Ravenswood's Zin guru is off to a great start
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Sep 27, 2010 12:29pm ET

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.

Sam Chen
East Bay, California, USA —  September 27, 2010 9:40pm ET
Jim,

I am glad that Morgan is finally getting all the recognition that he deserves. There is one more thing that you forgot to mention. It is how reasonable Morgan priced his wines. His 2008 Heirloom Red retails for $35.00 a bottle. What a value!!

Sam
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  September 28, 2010 2:19pm ET
I would not call $35 a value but the wines are uniformly excellent and worth seeking out. Its interesting that he is a 2nd generation winemaker--common in Europe (where many estates are run by multiple generations of the same family) but not so much here (that I am aware at least). One wonders, as the children of the curent winemakers grow into the business (assuming they are crazy enough) -- will this "generational experience" improve the quality of the wine here?
Jordan Horoschak
Houston, TX —  September 28, 2010 7:26pm ET
I was thinking of writing the same comment as Sam until I read (with shock) Andrew's comment. Is $35 really not a "value" for this level of quality?? It's funny how we all can view the same thing differently based on our relative experiences. Admittedly, I tend to buy high-end wines, so $35 to me is not a value... it's downright cheap! But if we objectively look at the random sample of the prices of California wines listed in the Insider that scored equal to or less than Bedrock's Heirloom, we see prices like $175, $52, $195, $75... or an average price of $104 for all 22 of the wines. I'm pretty sure that makes $35 a relative value (if not a "screaming value"). Bedrock should be applauded for delivering such quality at that price point. Customers should enjoy it while it lasts, because consistent quality will ultimately (and deservedly) increase the price.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  September 29, 2010 1:45pm ET
I would define a "value" as a very good to outstanding wine (85 to 95pts) at less than $10-15---something I would not think twice about to purchase a case or 2 for everyday drinking. others, with more or less financial means, might push the number/score lower or higher. With my budget, his wines represent an excellent QPR and I love them but they "ain't" cheap! I know this because when I purchase a case of his wines it elicits the frown-y face from my wife :(
Jordan Horoschak
Houston, TX —  September 29, 2010 2:04pm ET
See, Andrew, that's where you're going wrong. I don't tell my wife anything... that way EVERY wine is a "value"! ; )
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  September 29, 2010 2:33pm ET
Value considerations aside, I'm concerned that Bedrock is putting out 22 wines from 22 vineyards. I've never run a winery, but it's my understanding that at Bedrock's size it's difficult to market and differentiate that many and still keep your eye on the ball of making fine wines. I know it's only one example, but look at Pax. They had a boatload of different bottlings and found out the reality was that there were few consumers who had the time/cash/cellar to try each one in each vintage. It caused a lot of tension and was partially the reason for the split between the partners. Donelan, the surviving partner, has trimmed the number of bottlings way back and seems to be doing quite well with the new approach.
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  September 30, 2010 11:19pm ET
Individuality and distinction of style are great. Now I hope he has the presence of mind to embrace alternate bottle closures to avoid the "1 out of 3" bad cork trap that Ravenswood has fallen into.

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