In 1970, Richard and Karen Keehn purchased over 500 acres in Mendocino’s McDowell Valley. Although grapes for wine production had been cultivated in this valley and sold to Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino wine makers without interruption since the 1890s, nobody had ever put a winery there.
The region boasts low fertility, gravely loam soils, ideal for producing intensely flavored wines. Temperatures here are consistently warmer during the spring frost season and cooler during the summer growing season than most other Mendocino County areas.
In 1978, the Keehns, in a stroke of inspiration, initiated the design process for the only winery in the valley’s history. Construction took place in four phases, between 1979 and 1982. McDowell Valley Vineyards was uniquely created as, and continues to be, California’s only comprehensive solar-energy-integrated winery.
In 1982, in recognition of this valley’s unique viticultural history, climate and soils, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BAT F) granted “appellation” status to the McDowell Valley region. An appellation is a special, legally established, viticultural and geographical designation. This winery is one of only two in the U.S. which boast their own private appellations.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes provide the main base for this wine. This grape, originally from Bordeaux, France, is responsible for many of the world’s finest red wines. It gives a depth of flavor almost unrivaled, coupled with unexcelled ageing potential. To this the Keehn’s excellent winemaker, John Buechenstein (with them now since 1985), adds Cabernet Franc (another Bordeaux expatriate), which contributes an exciting wild cherry note, as well as a drop of Merlot, for its velvety smoothness.
This classic Bordeaux-style blend has an invitingly dark black currant jam color, with a nose that follows suit; intense, rich berrylike aromas. The wine is quite mouth-filling, mellow, with lots of fruit and berry flavors, some oakiness and very good acidity in balance with the rest. Mild tannins are evident in the finish while the fruit flavors linger on. Serve at room temperature with standing rib roast or roast leg of lamb.
Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Saint Andre on crusty sour dough French bread would go nicely, too.
Cellaring Notes: Drinks nicely now, yet will complex through 1996.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper