J Rickards Winery

by greg on September 13, 2009


J Rickards Winery

This article is one in a series of articles about our recent tour of California Wine Country. You can read about Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, the Summary, the Winery Dogs and the Restaurants as well.

J Rickards Winery
We decided to take the suggestion and make J. Rickards our next stop.  The winery is located in the Alexander Valley on the east slope of what is known as Chianti mountain.  The name gives you some idea of the history of the place.  The vineyard was first planted in the early 20th century by the Brignoli family, one of the many Italian immigrants that worked at the Asti Swiss Colony wine collective.  The original vines were a typical field blend planting of Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Carignane and small amounts of other grapes.  Jim Rickards bought the ranch in 1976, and since planted Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah, and Malbec.

Jim Rickards is a self confessed eccentric when it comes to wine.  The vineyards are managed in a low tech, labor intensive manner.  Vines are hand selected and “chip grafted” rather than nursery grown stock.  Pest control is handled by encouraging natural predators through planting wild flowers and grasses between the rows.  Bird houses are provided to get Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows to nest so that they eat harmful insects.  No insecticides have been used in 20 years.  This is sustainable farming taken to the limits.

From the outside, the winery doesn’t look like much more than an aging agricultural building.  As we got out of the car we were greeted by Alex Holman, the winemaker.  He has worked at a number of larger wineries over the years including a recent sting at Dry Creek Vineyard.  He definitely knows his business and is passionate about making high quality small lot wines.  We were escorted into what could accurately be described as a barn to taste.  The tasting room consists of a few chairs, a table covered with literature.  We sat down, and with the breeze blowing in through the barn door, began to taste while Alex gave us a running commentary of the wines, the grapes, his wine making philosophy and anything else that came to mind.  It was a pleasure and an education to be able to talk to someone so intimately involved in the winemaking process.

The tasting started out with the 2008 Azilex, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, followed by a Rose of Syrah, and a Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, before ending the whites with Twilight, a white dessert wine which is produced from 80% Sauvignon Musque and 20% Muscat Canelli.  We then moved onto the reds starting with the 2005 Brown Barn Vines Petite Sirah, described by Jim as a “Darn fine barn wine.”  We followed that with a pair of Zinfandels, one of grapes from the Voight family vineyard, and one from grapes from vines taken from many of the old vine vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley.  This was followed by a classic Bordeaux Meritage which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  The tasting was rounded out with a red dessert wine, Las Nino Perdidos (The Lost Children) made from the small clusters of grapes that are missed during the initial harvest and ripen for several additional weeks.  We were so taken with the wines that we joined the wine club on the spot and drove away with a bottle of each of the dessert wines.

Wines sampled:
2008 Azilex, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon
2008 Rose of Syrah
2008 Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains
2008 Twilight, a white dessert wine
2005 Petite Sirah, Brown Barn Vines
2005 Zinfandel, Voight Family Vineyard
2006 Zinfandel, Ancestor Vines
2006 Sisters Meritage
Las Nino Perdidos, a red dessert wine

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