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McDowell Valley, a Chance Discovery

“The climate of the valley is delightful, being almost that happy mean where summer’s heat and winter’s cold are unknown. It’s certain that the extremes of temperatures are not found here. The summer’s sun is robbed of its fierceness by a gentle bracing breeze that always finds its way up the river from the ocean, making the days very mild and even in temperature. The fogs that infest the coast do not reach this valley often. To sum the matter up in a few words, the climate is all that can be desired.”

Lyman Palmer, ‘History of Mendocino County’, 1880

Hidden within the rugged Mayacamas Mountain range of southeastern Mendocino County, McDowell Valley sits atop a sloped benchland at 1,000ft above sea level, entirely enclosed by steep cliffs, and cut through on its western flank by the Russian River. In springtime, the mountains provide warmth and reprieve from early frost, and in the hot summer months, they create a deep, round ‘cold-sink’ that provides the tiny valley with significantly cooler nights than the surrounding area. Here, nestled in the mountains, you’ll find the towering ancient vines of McDowell Valley’s famed Gibson Block. Planted in multiple rounds dating back to the 1880s, these dry-farmed vines are known to be among the oldest in the western world, and have continually produced ethereal wines for nearly a century and a half. 

STRIKING OUT, AND A CHANCE DISCOVERY

McDowell Valley’s story is one of chance and luck. Like so many others of the time, Paxton McDowell came to California in the mid-1800s with hopes of gold—and just like so many others before and after, the quick fortunes of precious metal eluded him. A farmer in his previous life, McDowell set out on foot looking for farmland to homestead. When he came upon the town of Hopland, he met Fernando Feliz, who at the time owned most of the area from an old Spanish land grant. In 1852, with a sturdy handshake, the two struck a deal whereby Paxton McDowell would pay 1,200 gold pieces for a section of land defined by how big of a loop he could ride his horse in one days’ time. 

It was McDowell’s descendants however, the Buckman family, that first began cultivating wine grapes in the area; planting Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, and Petite Sirah beginning in the 1880s. Alfred Buckman, born 1899, recalls the early years of wine growing in a 1980 interview, “At harvest time, the wineries would come and test the sugar and tell us when to pick—they wouldn’t take grapes lower than 23 Brix. The Native Americans from the adjoining rancheria would join our family and neighbors and assist with the picking, where we’d earn 5 to 10 cents per 50lb box of grapes. The boxes were hauled by a four-horse team and wagon to the railhead in Hopland where they were shipped down to Asti.”

Buckman recalled life during harvest fondly, working daily from “when we got up with the lantern, and ending when we went to bed with the lantern. On Saturday nights we were too tired to do anything but fall into bed. The vineyards were cultivated by horse and plow, sulfuring was done by hand with gunnysacks, and as for frost protection… we prayed a lot.” Buckman continued, “nothing else does too well in McDowell Valley but wine grapes, and they’re the best in the whole darn country.” For decades into the early 1900s, the vineyard thrived and was a prized source of grapes for many of California’s top winemakers. 

ENTER THE CRAWFORDS

At the turn of the century, McDowell Valley was a bustling tourist destination, hailed for its breathtaking scenery, and sought after by the masses for its incredible air quality. A redwood resort hotel opened on the east side of the property near the natural soda water spring in McDowell Creek, and at the height of its popularity, the resort saw thousands of visitors every year—the roads into McDowell Valley constantly busy with freight and passenger wagons traversing from Lake County and Mendocino. To many in California and beyond, this little valley was paradise.

Then came the Great Depression, Prohibition, the second World War, and the eventual collapse of the American wine industry. The resort closed and was dismantled, the travelers stopped coming, and McDowell Valley faded out of time and memory, once again reclaimed by the rugged mountain wilderness. 

Chance and luck. In the 1960s William and Karen Crawford often piloted their private plane over McDowell Valley as they were coming and going from family-owned timber mills and cattle ranches—always marveling at the wild beauty of the area as they flew overhead. With the timber and livestock industries entering a tumultuous period, the Crawfords began looking for ways to diversify, and a surging Californian wine industry caught their attention. By 1970 the Crawfords had purchased a majority of the valley and aptly named their new venture ‘McDowell Valley Vineyards’. 

Tragically, William Crawford died a year later while piloting his plane over the northern California mountains. Karen Crawford kept the dream alive, however, remarrying to Richard Keehn and working tirelessly to establish McDowell Valley Vineyards as one of the top wine grape producers in Mendocino County. In 1979 the couple established the winemaking side of their business—making history as the world’s first solar integrated winery by utilizing state-of-the-art passive and active solar technology to conserve energy and water—the blazing sun logo on their wine label commemorating the significance. The inaugural bottling in 1980 of their star varietal, Syrah, was met with instant critical success, winning 6 gold medals in 8 competitions entered, and once again casting the nation’s attention on the long-forgotten, hidden valley. 

AVA STATUS ACHIEVED, A DREAM REALIZED

“When you leave Sanel Valley, the highway goes up a rocky gorge. In the spring, when the grass is green and the moss is on the rocks, they show off their dark green coats to any travelers who may come by—and it will surely make you glad you came that way. The gorge is full of ancient oak trees, and, if there is water in the creek that comes down through the big rocks, it sings as it splashes along, for the creek bed is steep—no murmuring brook to this stream. Then you come out to the valley itself, where nature placed it as if on a hilltop. The steep brushy mountain for a background makes the valley seem so big.”

‘McDowell Valley’, Ray Schultz, “Valleys of Mendocino County” 1981

“Whether viewed by auto or air, the valley is quickly perceived to be visibly contained by the surrounding mountains. The soils of the valley are unique in that they are mainly fertile terrace types that produce well-balanced vines and excellent quality wines. In my opinion, McDowell Valley is unique among the wine-growing areas of Mendocino County, and is deserving of a distinct area appellation.”

Bruce Beardon, Farm Advisor, ‘Petition for McDowell Valley AVA’, 1984

“Enthusiasm, not controversy, accompanies this petition.”

Karen Keehn, VP McDowell Valley Vineyards, ‘Petition for McDowell Valley AVA’, 1984

In 1982, fresh out of college, Karen Crawford’s son, William ‘Bill’ Crawford became involved with the winery, adding new momentum to the already thriving business. The Crawford’s knew that what they had was something special, and through their perseverance and commitment, along with the full support of the winemaking and agricultural communities, McDowell Valley petitioned and officially achieved AVA status in 1987. AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) are distinct geographical regions that allow winemakers to convey the pedigree of their wines by labeling them from specific areas. 

In the late 1980s, led by the then notorious ‘cowboy winemaker’ Bill Crawford, McDowell Valley Vineyards refocused, making the decision to concentrate on Rhône varietal wines. Bill understood how close the climate and mood of McDowell Valley compared to the French vineyards along the Rhône River as it met the Mediterranean. To him, the decision was obvious. “We just looked at our company and at how many medals our Syrah had won over the years.” 

Syrah is undoubtedly the noblest and most well-known of the Rhône varietals, and the towering ancient vines of Gibson Block in McDowell Valley are among the oldest known in the western world. With vines dating back to the 1880s, this block contains multiple varietals that all contribute to a beautiful Syrah-based field blend. These deep-rooted, chance-discovered vines combine to produce silky smooth, rich wines with intense, concentrated flavor. “The real quality difference among wines is a direct result of the caliber of grapes,” said Bill. “We believe the right conditions exist in McDowell Valley to make America’s best Syrah.”

THE RHÔNE RANGERS

In a continued effort to establish his beloved varietals as a centerpiece in American wine culture, Bill Crawford joined the likes of Joseph Phelps of Joseph Phelps Winery, Fred Cline of Cline Cellars Winery, and Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, among others, founding the Rhône Rangers in the late 1980s—a group devoted to promoting the planting and use of grape varietals from France’s Rhône Valley region. Their success helped revive many traditional Rhône varietals that were dying out in California, such as Grenache, Mouvedre, and Viognier. 

Syrah, however, always maintained its position as the star varietal. “Syrah is really leading the way for us,” said Bill Crawford in his cowboy directness. “People who drink Merlot will like it, and people who drink Cabernet feel it’s sophisticated enough for them to drink as well.” Bill shrugs, just another day at the ranch. 

Marietta Cellars, A NEW ERA

The McDowell Valley always had a special place in the heart of Chris Bilbro, Marietta’s founder. In Billy Crawford he also found a kindred spirit who loved the outdoors—from the mountains in Montana, to fishing and diving all over the world. Chris had a habit of dropping off an abalone now and then to folks he cared about… It may have been those very abalone that moved Billy to call Marietta when he decided to sell his vineyards. In any case, it led to a sweet, friendly transfer of responsibility for those ancient vines and beautiful property between two like-minded families. 

In 2012 Marietta purchased McDowell Valley Vineyards after working with the fruit over several decades. The conditions in McDowell Valley are perfect for a delicate balance of bright fruit, savory richness, and intensity in a finished wine—especially in the Rhône varietals grown there. Marietta’s commitment to sustainability and honoring the delicate historic nature of the valley has culminated in the most highly regarded wines ever produced in the AVA—and once again Syrah is leading the way

The 2018 Gibson Block Syrah has been praised by critics such as Robert Parker and James Suckling. Ancient vines translate into distinctive character with refined integrated tannins, crunchy graphite minerality, and an impeccably bright finish. In addition to the highly-acclaimed Gibson Block, McDowell Valley has provided the provided the core components to Marietta’s classic ‘Old Vine Red’ for a generation, gaining the wine wide-spread acceptance as California’s leading red blend.

While the 2018 Gibson Block is currently sold out at the winery, there are a few remaining bottles reserved for Marietta Cellars Wine Club Members during the upcoming Winter Club Release. CLICK HERE to learn more about the Marietta Wine Club. 

Gibson Block SYRAH

Gibson Block Syrah, made entirely from the towering ancient vines planted in the 1880s, has been praised by critics such as Robert Parker and James Suckling, and has gained a reputation as one of California’s top Syrahs. A profound and energetic red wine, the Gibson Block Syrah has dynamic dark fruit gaminess at its core. Black cherries and blueberries abound with crushed peppercorn structure with a hint of rosemary. 

2018 Gibson Block Press

96 POINTS  |  WINE ADVOCATE

“The 2018 Gibson Block Syrah comes from very old vines interplanted with other varieties like Grenache, Trousseau Noir and Mission. They are dry-farmed, picked together and co-fermented. It has a deep ruby-purple color and deep, layered aromas of tar, earth, blackcurrant liqueur, cast iron and dried violets. The full-bodied palate bursts with juicy acidity, sparks of Luxardo cherry and a silky, rounded mouthfeel. It finishes very long and perfumed.” – E.B. 

94 POINTS  |  JAMES SUCKLING

“Blackberry, black-licorice and tar aromas follow through to a full body with round, soft tannins that are reserved and focused. Fresh finish. Rich and spicy at the end with a slight meatiness. ” – J.S.

Learn more about the many benefits of Marietta membership.

Springtime at McDowell Ranch

Each year, as winter’s chill recedes into Spring’s sun, our vineyards come alive with a dazzling display of color as the wildflowers and other cover crops come into full bloom. But this incredible display isn’t just for show; it’s an integral component of organic farming and sustainable viticulture.

Magic in the vines

Wildflower season in Wine Country is nothing short of pure magic, and no matter how many times you experience it, the sheer beauty always takes your breath away. Whether purposefully planted or growing wild, mustards, wildflowers,  and other cover crops thrive in the late winter months when rain and sun are abundant. They blanket our vineyards in a vibrant show of yellows, whites, pinks, and oranges before they are tilled under to mulch, providing valuable nutrients to the vines and limiting the need for pesticides or artificial soil amendments. 

The practice of planting cover crops can be traced back thousands of years throughout Europe. In California, it’s said that Franciscan monks were the first to spread mustard seeds while landscaping missionary properties during the 17th and 18th Centuries. The monks would slowly walk the fields with a bag of seeds slung over their shoulder, a small hole in the bottom allowing the mustard to scatter as they moved about. Over the years, the seeds, which travel naturally via wind, water, or bird, slowly began to dominate the landscape. 

So what exactly is a cover crop?

And mustard is a condiment, right?

The simplest answer is: Cover crops provide a valuable service to grapevines, facilitating viticulture and supporting long-term vineyard health. Grown in the winter months when grapevines lie dormant, cover crops prevent erosion and naturally aerate the soil as their roots take hold. Also, cover crops recapture nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the atmosphere as they grow. They are eventually tilled back into the soil, providing a nutrient-rich feast for the budding vines and supporting the microbiological activity that comes from increased aeration. 

A variety of cover crops are employed by thoughtful vineyard managers, such as legumes, cereals, grasses, and wildflowers—each lending a specific contribution to overall vineyard health. Mustard, in particular, is a traditional favorite among farmers. In addition to providing valuable phosphorus and nitrogen, it brings high levels of biofumigants to the soil, drastically suppressing the nematode (microscopic worm) population that can damage vines. Advances in agroscience have led many vineyards to devise their own variety of cover crops, such as the “extra spicy” variation of mustard, an even more potent nematode deterrent. 

As for the condiment, it’s one and the same. To create a classic mustard sauce, grind the dried seeds from the mustard plant and mix with vinegar, water, and any other variety of spices, and it’s ready for your favorite meal.

Organic Farming at Marietta

At Marietta Cellars, mustard and other cover crops have always been a core component in the organic farming of our estate vineyards. As stewards of these historic sites, promoting vineyard health and longevity is among our greatest responsibilities and honors, and we’re proud to utilize these age-old techniques to ensure our vineyards will thrive for centuries to come. 

Amazing wine starts in the vines, and in turn, this magic shines throughout every bottle of Marietta. Pair our Old Vine Riesling or Old Vine Red with your favorite mustard dish this Spring, and be sure to give a special tip of the glass to everyone’s favorite cover crop.

Grilled Sirloin with Smoked Cauliflower Purée and Roasted Fennel

Grass-fed beef sirloin is marinated with rosemary and garlic, then seared and roasted to medium-rare perfection and served with smokey, creamy cauliflower puree, and crisp roasted fennel. Herbed butter along with shallots cooked in red wine add fat and freshness to the warm flavors of beef and smoke. Finish with a reduction sauce of beef bones, broth, and wine.

Pair with: 2019 EX MARIETTA Syrah

Ingredients

1 top sirloin roast; trimmed and trussed
1 branch rosemary; stripped and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 head white cauliflower
2 cups heavy cream
2 1/4 cups water
6 cloves garlic; pounded smooth in mortar and pestle
1 sprig thyme
4 heads fennel
1 lb. unsalted butter; room temperature
1 shallot
5 cups red wine (Christo or Old Vine Red)
One bunch parsley; picked and finely chopped
1 Eureka lemon
2 carrots; peeled and cut into 1” pieces
2 stalks celery; cut into 1” pieces
2 yellow onions; peeled and diced into 1” pieces
3 lb. beef bones
1 gallon gelatinous beef stock
2 bay leaves
black pepper
salt

Preparation

Sirloin 
Marinate roast with rosemary, half the garlic, and olive oil, then season generously with salt and coarse ground black pepper, and leave at room temperature for one to two hours before cooking. Sear on all sides on a grill or in a cast iron pan, then remove to a sheet tray lined with a wire rack. Set into 350° oven and cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast reads between 128° and 132°. Rest 15 minutes before carving.

Cauliflower
Discard leaves and the stem end from the cauliflower. Cut the head into small pieces and set aside. Use a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid and perforated insert or steam tray to create a stovetop smoker. Using aluminum foil, create a palm-sized pouch and fill with about a quarter cup of hickory chips. Place the pouch directly on the bottom of the pot, then heat on high until the pouch begins to smoke. Reduce heat to medium-low, then add cauliflower to perforated insert or steam tray and set into the pot above wood chips, covering tightly with the lid for 10-15 minutes or until wood chips appear burned out.

While the cauliflower smokes, heat cream with thyme, garlic, 2 cups water, and a few pinches of salt in a medium-sized pot. When cauliflower is smoke-tinted, add to the cream mixture and simmer until fully tender, then purée until smooth in a blender. If too thin, reduce the purée over low heat until desired consistency is achieved.

Fennel 
Remove tough outer layer from fennel bulbs. Trim root end slightly, then cut fennel into wedges no more than an inch in width. Lay out onto parchment lined sheet tray and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt then roast in a 450° oven until tender and lightly browned, flipping over halfway through the cook time.

Compound Butter
Dice shallot into 1/8” cubes then cook in 2 of cups red wine until the wine is completely cooked away and the shallots are tender. Squeeze shallots in a length of double-lined cheesecloth to remove any excess wine and set aside. Combine shallots with the butter, parsley, pounded garlic, zest and half of the juice from one lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly.

Beef Sauce 
Brown beef bones in a 450° oven until fully browned but not burned. Sauté celery, carrots, and onions over medium low flame until fully tender and lightly caramelized. In a large pot, combine stock, browned beef bones, caramelized vegetables, 3 cups of red wine, and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Let mixture gently simmer for 4 hours, adding water to keep the bones submerged if necessary. After 4 hours, strain broth and reduce until the sauce lightly coats the back of a wooden spoon, skimming as needed. Season with salt.

To Serve:
Place a large spoonful of purée on the plate with a few pieces of roasted fennel and thin slices of sirloin roast. Spread the room temperature compound butter across the sliced beef and spoon the beef sauce over the butter.

Pair with: 2019 EX MARIETTA Syrah

More Spring Recipes:

Casarecce with Wild Mushrooms + 2018 Game Trail Cabernet

Citrus & Spiced-almond Salad + 2020 Román Zinfandel

Little Gem Salad with Citrus, Spiced-almonds, and Mint

Crisp Little Gems are dressed in a zesty citrus and green garlic vinaigrette and accompanied by vibrant Cara Cara and blood oranges. A generous topping of almonds toasted with Aleppo pepper and smoky paprika add a contrasting spice element to the dish that balances out the acidity from the citrus, as well as the cooling freshness of the mint and radishes. Serve individually plated, or as a show-shopping platter. 

Pair with: 2020 Román Zinfandel

Ingredients

3 heads Little Gem lettuce
1 Cara Cara orange
1 blood orange
1 watermelon radish
1 cup whole almonds
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Aleppo pepper
1 Eureka lemon
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 stalk green garlic; chopped fine
1 spring onion; cut thin on bias
2/3 cup olive oil
salt
sprig of mint leaves

Preparation

Little Gems 
Remove leathery or damaged outer leaves as well as the root end. Separate leaves, then wash in cold water and dry in a salad spinner.

Vinaigrette
Combine green garlic, spring onion, white wine vinegar, Dijon, lemon juice with the zest of all the citrus, and a pinch of salt. Let soften for 15 minutes then whisk in olive oil. Adjust by adding more vinegar or olive oil depending on your taste.

Radishes
Remove skins from radishes and slice into 1/8” rounds, halving each round.

Almonds
Toast almonds in a 350° oven until centers are tan. Cool completely then chop into halves and quarters and toss with 1 tsp olive oil, smoked paprika, Aleppo pepper, and a pinch of salt.

Citrus 
Using a sharp knife, trim stem and opposite end of oranges, then lay flat and cut away the remaining rind. Slice peeled oranges into 1/4” slices, removing any seeds.

To Serve:
Gently toss lettuces in a large bowl with vinaigrette and a pinch of salt, taste for balance, then set out onto plates and tuck radishes and orange slices about the lettuce. Sprinkle with almonds and torn mint leaves.

Pair with: 2020 Román Zinfandel. SHOP NOW>

More Spring Recipes:

Grilled Sirloin + 2019 EX MARIETTA Syrah

Casarecce with Wild Mushrooms + 2018 Game Trail Cabernet

Casarecce with Wild Mushrooms, Pecorino, and Gremolata

The season’s best wild mushrooms are cooked in an abundance of California olive oil, garlic, and thyme before being tossed with al dente Casarecce pasta. Little jewels of English peas pair perfectly with tangy and salty Pecorino Romano and fresh chopped gremolata. This earthy mushroom pasta will stand up to almost any Bordeaux-style wine with its green notes, fatty sauce, and salty cheese.

Pair with: 2018 Game Trail Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Ingredients

1 lb. Caserecce pasta
1 lb. wild mushrooms (morel, king trumpet, hedgehog, chanterelle, etc.)
5 cloves garlic
1⁄2 bunch thyme; picked and chopped
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1 yellow onion
2 bay leaves
1⁄2 cup English peas; shelled
1 small wedge Pecorino Romano
1⁄2 bunch parsley
1 Eureka lemon
2 cups water
salt
olive oil

Preparation

Mushroom Ragu:
Peel carrot and onion, then dice into 1/4” cubes along with celery. Sauté in large pot over a medium-low flame with bay leaves until fully tender. While the vegetables sauté, clean and wash mushrooms and cut into bite-sized pieces. Season with salt and sauté in olive oil until cooked through and lightly browned, then add to vegetables.

On the side, sizzle 4 cloves of garlic that have been chopped fine until very fragrant. Add thyme and cook briefly, then stir into mushrooms and vegetables, add water, and simmer together until the water has reduced most of the way and the mixture is juicy and flavorful. Remove and discard the bay leaves.

Gremolata:
Peel the rind from the lemon and remove any white pith from the inside. Chop rind finely, along with parsley and one clove of garlic.

To Serve:
Heat ragu in a large sauté pan. Boil pasta in salted water until desired doneness, and when a few minutes remain, add English peas to the pasta water and cook together until tender. Remove pasta and peas from water and add to ragu.

Sauté together, adding pasta water as needed, until ragu forms a saucy consistency. Divide onto plates, grate Pecorino over the top, and sprinkle with gremolata.

Pair with: 2018 Game Trail Cabernet Sauvignon

More Spring Recipes:

Grilled Sirloin + 2019 EX MARIETTA Syrah

Citrus & Spiced-almond Salad + 2020 Román Zinfandel

2020 Román Zinfandel

Named in honor of our cellarmaster, Román Cisneros, who has worked at Marietta for over three decades, this Estate Zinfandel is a blend of fruit from our Angeli estate vineyard in Alexander Valley and our McDowell Valley estate vineyard. This wine captures the bright, juicy character of Zinfandel, hearkening back to an era before dark, thick and oaky styles of Zinfandel took hold. The Virgin of Guadalupe on the label is a nod to Román’s dedication, selflessness, and sacrifice, both for the Bilbro family and his own. It is also a nod to the Mexican-American heritage of Román and many of Marietta’s crew members.

The Man, the Myth, the Legend

Román Cisneros, Marietta’s first and oldest employee, is undeniably the backbone of wine production at Marietta Cellars. The Román Zinfandel is a salute to the man who built his legacy from the ground up through more physical work than anyone could ever match, and ultimate dedication to his family. Get to know Román through the video below. 

2020 Román Zinfandel

FAMILY SERIES

92% Zinfandel, 4% Barbara, 4% Petit Sirah. Estate grown, North Coast Appellation
A unique approach of cool fermentations and 12 months of neutral barrel aging emphasize freshness in Marietta’s Zinfandel. This varietally labeled Zinfandel is blended with a small amount of Petite Sirah to lend structure and a touch of Barbera to add a dimension of savory wildness.

TASTING NOTES

Lovely aromas of berry galette with a touch of crisped brown sugar are underscored by rose petal and orange zest. The broad, supple palate offers ripe grilled peach, finishing clean with lingering notes of black pepper and star anise.

VINTAGE NOTES

Fortunately, we were able to harvest optimally ripened fruit before the 2020 fires, right in the middle of a pandemic. Working through uncertain conditions, the vineyard and winery crews pulled through with beautiful grapes and subsequently gorgeous wines.

PAIRING SUGGESTIONS

The Román Zinfandel pairs well with pizzas, pastas, grilled foods, and tangy, smoky barbecue sauces

This wine is included in the 2022 Spring Club Shipment, along with the debut of Ex Marietta, the 2019 Angeli Syrah, and the 2018 Game Trail Cabernet Sauvignon. Learn more about the Marietta Wine Club here.

Vineyard Notes

The fruit for this wine comes from the Angeli Estate vineyard in Alexander Valley and the McDowell Valley estate. The Angeli Ranch, first planted to vines in the late 1880s, is a 35 acre vineyard connecting Zinfandel planted on gravel swales from the Russian River to terraced knolls planted with Cabernet. Foggy mornings along the Russian River burn off to hot afternoons followed by chilly nights, striking the perfect balance between warm days and cool nights. The McDowell Valley estate, situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, resides in a round “cold sink” that ensures acidity and freshness.

Scot & Brian Talk Wine

Marietta Owner and Winemaker Scot Bilbro talks Román Zin with VP of Sales and veteran of the vines Brian Lynch. 

Keep Exploring

Learn more about the 2022 Spring Club wines through the links below.

Ex Marietta Series 2019 Angeli Syrah. LEARN MORE>

Estate Series 2018 Game Trail. LEARN MORE>

2018 Game Trail Cabernet Sauvignon

The Game Trail Vineyard of Mendocino County’s Yorkville Highlands AVA is nestled in the rugged mountain pass between the north end of Alexander Valley and the west end of Anderson Valley. Our small block of Game Trail Cabernet is perched at 1400 feet on the ridge line facing south. Coastal influence and large diurnal swings create small berries, thick skins, deep pigmentation, and tons of structure. We find a purity in this wine: with more acid and fore-mouth focus than other Cabernet, it is tart, bright, perfumed and refreshing.

Game Trail Vineyard - Yorkville Highlands AVA
Ten Acres of Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon
Planted at 1,400 ft elevation perched on a south-facing hillside
Coastal influence lends a prevailing afternoon wind on hot days and extremely cold nights
The vineyard is surrounded by rugged land overrun with deer, wild pigs, wild mushrooms, and oak trees
This late—bordering on fringe—growing region produces dark, concentrated, intense wines with retained acidity and relatively low alcohols
Full sun, limited water and high shale and rock content lead to reduced yields
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2018 Game Trail

ESTATE SERIES

100%  CLONE 6 CABERNET SAUVIGNON, GAME TRAIL VINEYARD, YORKVILLE HIGHLANDS AVA
Fermented in stainless steel tanks and barrel aged in neutral French oak barrels for 20 months before bottling

TASTING NOTES

Red currant and blackberries jump from the glass and are balanced by supporting aromas of pinon pine and anise. This textural adventure moves from chewy to fine grained tannins to finish cleanly with a refreshingly focused fore mouth. The palate mixes the exuberance of blueberry jam with the mineral dustiness of crushed gravel. Evocative and ethereal while also structural and impactful, this is a Cabernet that develops in the glass and will yield years of beautiful expressions.

VINTAGE NOTES

The 2018 Harvest was a grower’s dream, but it was not without its exciting moments. Spring rains encouraged healthy roots and set up great canopies. The fruit set and cluster development were flawless. Then August and September clocked in as mild, even bordering on cool. The crop’s development potentially started stalling out, but the vines kept working and the first lovely, perfectly ripe fruit was harvested in September. Early October rains soaked the second half of the crop and elicited fears of rot and fruit loss as more storms lined up. Miraculously, the storms failed to materialize, providing a long, dry October and November with beautiful sunny days which slowly ripened the remaining crop. Long seasons like these allow early tannin maturation while the cool weather protects the acid…. all leading to developed, powerful tannins with bright acid at lower than typical brix.

PAIRING SUGGESTIONS

This wine begs for grilled asparagus, roasted mushrooms, and blistered tomatoes with boar collar or a rib roast.

This wine is included in the 2022 Spring Club Shipment, along with the premier release of Ex Marietta, the 2019 Angeli Syrah, and the 2020 Román Zinfandel. Learn more about the Marietta Wine Club here.

From the Critics

94+ Points, Wine Advocate
“Medium ruby-purple, the 2018 Game Trail Cabernet Sauvignon has intense aromas of black fruits with accents of tar, earth, iron and leather. The palate is full-bodied and grainy with broody, still youthfully wound fruits and appealing hints of gravel, mint and spice that hint at more development to come with another couple of years in bottle.” – E.B.

94 Points, James Suckling
“A full-bodied red with blackberry, black-chocolate and walnut aromas and flavors. Bark and sweet tobacco. Mint, too. Flavorful finish. Cloves and black pepper to the fruit at the end.” – J.S. 

Scot & Brian Talk Wine

KEEP EXPLORING

Learn more about the 2022 Spring Club wines through the links below.

Ex Marietta Series 2019 Angeli Syrah. LEARN MORE>

Family Series 2020 Román. LEARN MORE>

Ex Marietta. Explore Possibility, Experience Marietta.

EX-
1. a prefix meaning “out of,” “from,” and hence “utterly,” “thoroughly”

EX MARIETTA is a series of exclusive wines that come from within Marietta—winemaker curated bottlings, rare in their production and unique in their expression. These are extracted, flavorful wines with great acidity, brightness, and a provocative balance of intensity and purity. We’re crafting wines within the realm of Marietta style while giving them a smaller stage, a tighter frame, and a chance to display the more intimate and playful facets of our vineyards and winemaking. 

YOUR INVITATION INTO THE WINEMAKER'S PROCESS

As winemakers, we often unearth something unique, beautiful, and true in our creative process. These are the wines we find along the way. EX MARIETTA offers a glimpse into our winemaking inspirations and intentions. Consider these the “artist’s cut” of our wines, a chance for us to capture an inner expression of Marietta, singular and, perhaps, a bit surprising.

Make time to explore

EX MARIETTA is intended for the curious palate, one that seeks nuance, tension, and atypical balance. We are capturing thrilling snapshots in the cellar, small lot wines that excite us as winemakers and artists. 

Given the limited production and personal nature of these wines, they’re made to share exclusively with our members. And, with our members, we can maintain an evolving, ongoing dialogue, release after release. With these wines we invite you to experience uncommon beauty through an inside lens. Come share a space within our winemaking process–a place of exploration and artistic play, a pursuit for the rare and inspired. 

Learn about the premier bottling of this new series, the 2019 EX MARIETTA Syrah here

2019 EX MARIETTA Angeli Syrah

EX MARIETTA is intended for the curious palate, one that seeks nuance, tension, and atypical balance. We’re capturing thrilling snapshots in the cellar, small lot wines that excite us as a winemakers and artists. The first in the new series is the 2019 EX MARIETTA Syrah from the Angeli Vineyard. Bright red, laser-focused on raspberry, tart, sexy, and rich, this wine is purity and elegance. Learn more below. 

Behind the Label

For a while now, we’ve been working on a series of small-lot wines that, at their very core, are meant to share experience and forge a connection. We’re calling the series EX MARIETTA, “ex” meaning from within or by the hand of. This curated set of bottlings is rare in its production and unique in expression. They are wines that evoke Marietta’s style yet are given a smaller stage, a tighter frame, and display the more intimate and playful facets of our vineyards and winemaking. EX MARIETTA is a chance to share moments of beauty in the cellar that may otherwise pass unrecognized.

At Marietta, we often get to experience such moments; luckily, they occur in a magical place, in the act of creating, and with like-minded people determined to work with Nature to make something exceptional. So much of what we do is transitory—these daily, fleeting experiences are what ultimately comprise our being—the personal, often ineffable instants that, when stitched together, define a season, a vintage, a life. 

With this in mind, we started consciously seeking out these moments throughout Marietta, exploring how they might be distilled and articulated. In the winemaking process, we often work with unique expressions, beautiful and true—the fleeting wines that exist in time between the wines that you already know. EX MARIETTA is our chance to capture these precious snapshots in the bottle. And given the very limited production of these wines, they are being offered exclusively to members of our wine club.

As winemakers we often unearth something unique, beautiful, and true in our creative process.
Discover an inner expression of Marietta, singular and, perhaps, a bit surprising.
Introducing EX MARIETTA
EX: 1. a prefix meaning 'out of," "from,", and hence "utterly," thoroghly
This is your invitation into the winemaker's process.
Make time to explore possibility.
Become a member and Experience Marietta like never before.
EX MARIETTA
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2019 angeli syrah

EX MARIETTA SERIES

100% SYRAH, ANGELI RANCH, ALEXANDER VALLEY AVA
Sourced from a single vineyard block comprised of shale and gravel soil. Handpicked, fermented at cooler-then-normal temps in stainless steel, and aged 20 months in neutral French oak barrels.

TASTING NOTES

Alluring, inviting, seductive and sensual, this inky bright Angeli Vineyard Syrah offers aromas of rose petals, raspberry liqueur and steeped plums, layered over a hint of iron and gunmetal. In the mouth the wine is deceptively weightless, carrying amazing brightness and energy while transcribing the aromatics precisely to flavor with the complement of a provencal-like garrigue and subtle notes of cocoa. The wine feels layered in waves, each one adding complexity and gaining in intensity. Hold on tight to that glass.

VINTAGE NOTES

The 2019 Harvest was the culmination of a stellar vintage and nearly ideal growing conditions resulting in bright, full-flavored fruit. Temperatures were slightly cooler than average, leading us to pick a week or so later than usual, but prior to late October fires. We’re grateful that our employees and properties stayed safe in 2019 and that our 2019 wines displays great depth, measured ripeness, and wonderful retained freshness.

PAIRING SUGGESTIONS

Pair this wine with hangar steak and Pommes Frites,  grilled peaches and smoky ribs, Osso Buco, grilled portobello, or breaded eggplant.

ACQUIRING THIS WINE

This limited production wine is available exclusively to Marietta Wine Club Members, and is featured in the 2022 Spring Club along with the 2020 Román Zinfandel. Learn more about Membership through the link below.

Angeli Ranch Vineyard

The Angeli Ranch was sold to Chris Bilbro in 1990 by Viola Angeli, whose family originally settled the land in 1886. When Viola was ready to sell the property, she offered it to Chris, someone she grew to know and trust over the many years of fruit buying and friendly visits. Thirty-five acres of vineyards connect gravel swales from the Russian River to terraced knolls invisible from the valley floor. 

Scot & Brian Talk Wine

Keep Exploring

Learn more about the 2022 Spring Club wines through the links below.

Estate Series 2018 Game Trail. LEARN MORE>

Family Series 2020 Román. LEARN MORE>

2022 Winter Menu and Wine Pairings

Gather around, friends; our winter menu is sure to warm both heart and home. Read on for inspiration from our table to yours.

OUR 2022 WINTER MENU AND WINE PAIRINGS

The Gibson Block is the heart of the McDowell Valley AVA and is planted with some of the oldest known Syrah and Grenache in California. This ancient, dry-farmed mixed block next to the original homestead has been producing grapes for nearly 150 years. As a result of the vine age and minuscule yield, Gibson Block Syrah is dark and intense, a heady mix of mulberry and lavender that dominates the nose, with an edge of cinnamon stick. Broad, mouth-coating tannins are tethered to a core of smooth, sleek, powerful texture that’s balanced by vibrant acidity. Delicious now yet built to age, pair with hearty fare such as cured meats and ripe cheeses, or duck with sage and cherries.

Roasted Duck with Wild Mushrooms, White Beans, and Escarole: A whole duck is seasoned generously with salt and coarse-ground black pepper and roasted until golden brown. To accompany this showstopper, Cannellini beans are soaked overnight then simmered in salted water until tender. Blanched escarole greens are stirred in with sizzled garlic at the end of cooking. To complete the dish, wild mushrooms are sauteed and finished with sizzled garlic and thyme. A sauce made from reduced duck or chicken stock, roasted bones, browned carrots, celery, and onion, and a few cups of Gibson Block Syrah brings the whole meal together.

INGREDIENTS 

1 whole duck
1/2 bunch sage
1 cup dried Cannellini beans
1/2 head escarole; trimmed and washed
2 cloves garlic; chopped
Crushed red pepper
1 sprig rosemary; chopped
1 lb preferred mushrooms
1/2 bunch thyme
1 large carrot; peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes
1 yellow onion; peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes
1 rib celery; cut into 1/2” slices
1 qt concentrated chicken or duck stock
2 cups Gibson Block Syrah
Salt
Black pepper
Olive oil

Roasted Duck: Remove neck and giblets from duck. Discard giblets, reserve bones for the sauce. Pat dry then score skin/fat of breasts to help render the fat during cooking. Season generously with salt and coarse ground black pepper. Leave uncovered in refrigerator overnight to dry skin. Roast duck in cast iron pan or on a baking sheet with a rack at 425° for 15 minutes, then drop to 375° until golden brown, occasionally brushing with drippings. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should read 145°. 

White Beans and Escarole: Soak dried Cannellini beans in cold water overnight. Drain and add to medium pot with enough water to cover by at least one inch. Season generously with salt and a few pours of olive oil then bring to a simmer. Cook until beans are fully tender, but not falling apart. Separately, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add escarole and cook until tender. Strain greens then add to beans. Sizzle garlic, rosemary, and hot pepper in a little bit of olive oil then add to beans and escarole. Stir together.

Wild Mushrooms: Trim and clean mushrooms. Cut into halves or quarters then add to parchment-lined baking sheet with a little olive oil and salt. Roast in 375° oven until tender and browned. Sizzle picked thyme and one clove of chopped garlic in olive oil then toss with mushrooms.

Sauce: Sear reserved duck bones until deeply browned. Remove from pan and add carrots, celery, onion and cook until browned and fragrant. In a medium pot, reduce 2 cups of Gibson Block Syrah by half then add stock, browned bones, and vegetables. Simmer gently until the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain and season with salt.

Fried Sage: Pick sage leaves and fry in a small amount of 325° oil for a few seconds. Remove to a tray lined with paper towels or cloth.

To serve: Carve duck into servings. Place a few spoonfuls of beans and escarole on plate with mushrooms tucked into the side. Lay duck over top and add sauce just below. Sprinkle sage over the dish. Pair with Gibson Block Syrah

A dazzling balance between modern California and Old World style, this wine is rich and dense with layers of black currant and dark cherry counterbalanced by sandalwood and Kalamata, finishing with lasting hints of mint and briar. The opulent mouthfeel is full and textural yet remarkably silky thanks to the optimal phenolic ripeness of the fruit. Armé Cabernet Sauvignon pairs beautifully with herbed roasts, asparagus, garlicky beans, and all manner of savory meats and veggies.

Grilled Winter Vegetables with Smoked Cauliflower Purée, Pickled Cipollini Onions, and Gremolata: Baby carrots, Romanesco, and broccolini are grilled and served with cauliflower that has been smoked over hickory, cooked in cream and garlic, then puréed. Cipollini onions are pickled in red wine vinegar, mustard seeds, thyme, and bay laurel, bringing a brightness that balances the full-bodied purée and Maillard reaction on the vegetables. Finish with chopped parsley, lemon peel, garlic, and a drizzle of your favorite California olive oil to tie the whole dish together.

INGREDIENTS

1 head white cauliflower
2 cups heavy cream
2 1/4 cups water
3 cloves garlic
1 sprig thyme
1 bunch small/medium carrots
1 bunch broccolini
1 head romanesco
5 cipollini onions
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp mustard seed
Sugar; to taste
1 bay leaves
1/2 bunch parsley
1 eureka lemon
Olive oil
Salt
Fine-cut hickory chips
Aluminum foil

Smoked Cauliflower Purée: Discard leaves and stem end from cauliflower. Cut the head into small pieces and set aside. Use a heavy-bottomed pot with a perforated insert and tight-fitting lid to create a stovetop smoker. Using aluminum foil, create a palm-sized pouch and fill it with about a quarter cup of hickory chips. Place pouch into the bottom of the pot and heat on the stove until it begins to smoke. Reduce heat to medium-low then add cauliflower to perforated insert, set into pot above wood chips, and cover tightly for 10-15 minutes or until wood chips appear burned out.

In a medium pot, heat cream with thyme, garlic, 2 cups water, and a few pinches of salt. When cauliflower is smoke-tinted, add to cream mixture and simmer until fully-tender, then purée smoothly in blender. If too thin, reduce in pot on stove over low heat until desired consistency. 

Pickled Cipollini Onions: Heat vinegar and 1/4 cup water with bay leaf, then season to taste with salt and sugar. Separately, bring cold water and mustard seeds to a boil 3 times, changing the water between boils to remove tannins from seeds. Peel and cut cippolini’s into quarters or sixths depending on size. Simmer in pickling liquid until just tender.  Remove from heat, add mustard seeds and pour into a mason jar to cool. 

Grilled Vegetables: Peel carrots, cut romanesco into florets, trim ends of broccolini, then toss all in olive oil and salt. Grill over medium heat until tender.

Gremolata: Peel lemon and remove any white pith. Chop lemon peel finely along with parsley leaves and one clove of garlic. Set aside

To serve: Add a smear of cauliflower to the plate, layer grilled vegetables atop, then scatter pickled cippolini’s. Finish by sprinkling the gremolata over the grilled vegetables, and add a drizzle of olive oil around the plate. Pair with Armé Cabernet Sauvignon.

OVR is bright and juicy, with strawberry and black raspberry supported by savory notes of briar and slate. Barrel-aged Syrah and Petite Sirah give fruity and fresh Zinfandel added complexity and length, while a touch of Grenache and Barbera lends complex red fruit character and a hint of red licorice and white pepper. Pair Old Vine Red with a wide range of foods from pizza, pasta, burgers, and roasted veggies, to tacos, steelhead, and salmon.

Cedar-Smoked Steelhead: Steelhead trout is laid skin side down on a length of charred cedar plank and placed onto the grill over low heat until firm. Occasionally brushing the fish with a blend of Old Vine Red and puréed sour cherries creates a beautiful glaze that will hold onto those smoky cedar flavors. For the glaze, puréed sour cherries, OVR, bay laurel, and black peppercorn are reduced—the remaining portion cascaded over the finished trout for a vibrant complementing sauce. A small handful of bitter greens such as mustard frills adds a peppery finish to the dish and leaves no shortage of elegance.

INGREDIENTS

1 cedar plank; soaked in water for at least one hour 
1 side steelhead trout; skin on; pin bones removed
1/2 cup tart cherry purée 
1 cup Old Vine Red
2 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns
1 sprig thyme
A few handfuls of mustard frills or arugula; washed
Salt 

Cedar-Smoked Steelhead: Season trout with salt and let it come up to just under room temperature. Heat 1 cup Old Vine Red and cherry purée with bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorn.

Turn grill to high and char one side of cedar plank. Flip cedar plank over and gently lay steelhead skin side down over charred board. Return to grill and drop the heat to low. Brush with wine and cherry mixture occasionally. Cook until firm.

Reduce the remaining mixture by a quarter and season with salt then strain.

To serve: Slice fish into portions and remove to plate leaving the skin behind on cedar plank. Spoon sauce over plated fish and add a small amount of bitter greens next to the fish. Pair with Old Vine Red.

This wine balances tropical, citrus, and jasmine aromas, all intermingled with the minerality of an ocean breeze. With a rich, textured, waxy mouthfeel, its long finish is a perfect counterpoint to the tart, lip-smacking acidity. Bone dry, it’s an excellent foil for food, particularly anything with a shell. Pair Old Vine Riesling with steamed shellfish or raw bar fare, match it with citrus-based salads, or serve it as a counterbalance to rich sauces.

Chicory Salad with French Breakfast Radishes and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette: An abundant mix of winter chicories is dressed in a vinaigrette made from tart and sweet Meyer lemons, Dijon, garlic, and bright olive oil, then garnished with crisp French Breakfast radishes and their tops.

INGREDIENTS

1 head each escarole, radicchio, castlefranco, and frisée
1 bunch French breakfast radishes
2 Meyer lemons
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic; pounded with mortar and pestle
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt

Lettuces: Remove outer layers of chicories and trim green tops from escarole and frisée leaving behind the sweeter yellow/white centers. Discard tops/outers or save for later cooking. Trim the root to separate the leaves then wash in cold water and dry in strainer or salad spinner.

Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette: Cut one lemon into quarters, remove any seeds, then slice as thinly as possible. Turn perpendicular and cut slices into tiny bits. Mix lemon bits with garlic, Dijon, and the juice from the second lemon. Let sit for 15 minutes to soften, then add olive oil and salt to taste. 

Radishes: Clean radishes and trim away any yellow tops. Slice into halves or quarters.

To serve: Toss chicories in a large bowl with vinaigrette and a pinch of salt, taste for balance, then set out onto plates and tuck radishes about the lettuces. Pair with Old Vine Riesling.

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