Although Cline Cellars certainly doesn’t expect to end the reign of Cabernet Sauvignon in California’s vineyards, they are certain that they’re at the forefront of the state’s viticultural future. Ex-surfer Fred Cline is riding the Rhône wave. The courageous flavors, spicy overtones and richness of fruit that is typically associated with the classic Rhône varietals are truly the perfect complement to the boldly flavored food that Americans favor. Their incredibly concentrated and highly idiosyncratic wines have garnered enormous acclaim.
Drawing upon extensive vineyard holdings in the Contra Costa AVA (Approved Viticultural Area) —planted to a diverse and truly remarkable collection of old-vine Rhône varietals — Fred crafts wines of breathtaking concentration and purity of fruit. Because of Cline’s dedication to those unique Rhône varietals—such as Mourvèdre, Carignane, Syrah, Cinsault and Alicante Bouschet—they’re known as pioneering Rhône Rangers—outlaws living at the fringes of the dominant Californian viticultural paradigm. Cline’s decision to focus on these more esoteric varietals is twofold: First, they have little competition in a market glutted, they say, “with hack Cabernet and Merlot”; second, they have ready access to several of the state’s oldest and most historic vineyards, planted “long before Merlot ever became fashionable”.
More recently, Cline Cellars has dropped jaws with its Zinfandels. While the origins of this unique varietal remain largely obscure, if ever there was a wine to think of as native Californian, it would invariably be Zinfandel. In the flavor spectrum, Zin tends towards the extremes; when vinified in a sensitive fashion and lavished with care and attention, it produces a wine of uncommon richness, depth of blackberry aromas and flavors and a take-no-prisoners type of concentration “that often leaves tasters with purple teeth and wonderful, life-long memories of greatness”. Their Contra Costa vineyards, dry-farmed in extremely sandy soil, produces their Zinfandel and Mourvèdre wines from 80 to 110 year-old vines.
Their Sonoma ranch, chosen for its cool climate, is planted to Syrah, and the white Rhône grapes Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Cline Cellars is at the cutting edge of Californian wine—ironically, with some of the state’s (and world’s) oldest and most historic vineyards.
Fred Cline--owner of Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and Cline Cellars in Sonoma, California--talks about getting his start wine making, his grandfather Valeriano Jacuzzi of hot tub fame, and how you can start a successful winery with $9,000.