"It's atypical of what's being done in California," said Rosemary Cakebread of her latest release from Gallica, 2011 'Suzuri Shake Ridge Ranch Red'. "I prefer low alcohol wines from Côtes du Rhône and Côte Rôtie. We struggle with an abundance of good weather. There's a tendency in California to leave fruit on the vine for too long, but the pendulum is starting to swing back in the other direction, which is a good thing, propelled by 2010 and 2011, cooler vintages with longer growing seasons."
With the second vintage of Suzuri recently released, Cakebread, on a recent trip to the city, took some time to discuss how she came to Grenache from her years of making Gallica Cabernet. "In 2009, Ann [Kraemer] invited me to come take a look, as I'd been putting feelers out, looking for Grenache, but it [Shake Ridge] is a three plus hour drive from St Helena. As I was driving past Sacramento, I was thinking, 'This'd better be good,'" she said and laughed, "because during harvest you've got to be out there. Once past Sacramento, you lose NPR," she added and laughed again. "But once I got there, it was so beautiful."
Shake Ridge Ranch (photo credit)
Providing fruit to a host of other winemakers, including Forlorn Hope, Favia and Turley, Shake Ridge in the Sierra Foothills is planted to Rhone varietals (including head-trained Grenache), Tempranillo and Zinfandel. Dotted with oak trees, these 46 acres of quartz soil were planted pre-prohibition, when Italian immigrants seeking gold settled in Amador, California and planted vines. Abandoned during prohibition, the area has since become a tourist destination but just not for farmers. Kraemer, who had worked as a vineyard manager at Domaine Chandon, grows all of the fruit at Shake Ridge, a recently "rediscovered property" that was purchased by her family in 2003. "As of late," said Rosemary, "there's been intent in rediscovering that area." With a continental climate and an elevation that prevents the temperatures from getting too hot or too cold, it's the perfect area for the Rhone varietals that Ann planted. "I've been fortunate to work with Ann, she's one of the unappreciated farmers," added Rosemary. "She gets it because she'd worked for winemakers at Domaine Chandon. A special grower recognizes that you're growing fruit that will become something else." Knowing the importance of being in the vineyard, Rosemary consults with Ann at critical junctures. "I trust her. She lives on the property. She lives, breathes and eats there. [And while] I have appreciation and work with coastal fruit, but I keep telling people that it's not your grandmother's Amador."
Rosemary too lives where she grows, on two acres in St. Helena, where she harvests Cabernet Sauvignon (planted in 1990) and old, head-trained Petit Syrah (60+ year-old-vines). Organically farmed, the majority Cabernet Sauvignon for Gallica is managed by Phil Coturri at Oakville Ranch with its iron rich soils that are planted in the eastern hills of Oakville; while the Petit Verdot comes from Coombsville. And while Rosemary states that Cabernet Sauvignon is a more serious wine that takes time in the bottle, of the Suzuri she said, "It's so much fun to make. It's so different from Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a different intellectual challenge. I think it'll age but it drinks so beautifully now. It's been very good for restaurants," she added.
Oakville Ranch (photo credit)
Fermenting the Syrah and Viognier together, the remaining Grenache and Mourvedre are vinified separately, with manual punchdowns and neutral oak for aging. Of the 'Suzuri Shake Ridge Ranch Red' 2011, Rosemary said, "I really like this vintage. It's more of a people's vintage. They're getting what they want, wines that are more restrained with more acid and lighter alcohol." Receiving accolades that don't fall far behind the Gallica Cabernet, the 'Suzuri' received 92 Wine Advocate points for the 2010 vintage and 90 points for the same first vintage from Wine Spectator. Aromatically floral with red cherry and bramble berry fruit that's beautifully integrated, bright and lightly spiced, the Suzuri 2011 invites with its acidity that's accompanied soft and silky tannins. "The 2011 Suzuri is gorgeous today," writes Antonio Galloni on Vinous, "and should drink well nicely for a number of years."
A pleaser of many palates, the Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 received 94+ points from Stephen Tanzer, 94 points from the Wine Spectator and 95 points from the Wine Advocate. A blend of 83% Cabernet, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot, the Gallica 2010 is rich, warm, and darkly fruity with velvety tannins that are kissed by spice on the finish. "It combines power and elegance in a full-bodied style with good structure, sweet but noticeable tannin and authoritative flavor intensity (black currants, licorice, underbrush and unsmoked cigar tobacco). This deep, penetrating, intense Cabernet reveals admirably integrated acidity, tannin, alcohol and wood," writes Parker. And though a few years from release, of the 2013 vintage, we've much to look forward to. "In the  years that I've been doing this," said Rosemary, "it's one of the best. The quality, the beauty of the fruit...there's also been an abundance which people have been craving. It was so easy and problem-free that people are giddy." And so are we.
For more on the wines from Gallica, read here.