by Eric Anderson
(excerpted from Vol.9 No.2, Journal du Vin, April 2001. a visit on 4/3/01 to Cedarville Vnyd in Fair Play for a tour and tasting.)
After purchasing 20 acres in 1995, Jonathan Lachs and his wife Susan spent most of their spare time establishing the 15 acre vineyard, finally moving onto the property in 1999 to begin full-time operation of their venture. Prior wine-related experience for the couple inclues UC Davis Enology School, as well as employment in the wine industry during the early '80s.
Jonathan led us to several vantage points on his beautiful property to view the foothill terrain and various other vineyards. Located in El Dorado County in the small area of Fair Play (now its own AVA), Cedarville's own vineyards reach an altitude of 2500', enough to get snow several times per year. Drawing from Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with a small amount of Viognier, and even lesser amounts of Grenache (3/4 acre), and Mourvedre (1/4 acre), the couple are fashioning some very nice wines, easily some of the best in the Sierra Foothills.
The inaugural Cedarville vintage was the release of a 1998 Zinfandel and Syrah, both of which were very fruit-forward. The Zin sold out in quick order, and the Syrah has nearly done the same - excellent results for a difficult vintage (Cedarville harvested 1 ton/acre in '98 vs. 2 tons/acre in '99). Both the '98 and '99 vintages were made at nearby Oakstone Winery. But with the completion of the new Cedarville winery, Jonathan looks forward to producing the 2000 vintage with an Estate designation. He'll also be one of the few Estate Syrah producers in El Dorado Co.
After showing us the general topography, Jonathan led us into the winery, explaining how he prefers bin-fermenting everything in small lots, which allows for hand punchdown and optimal control. The final Zinfandel is a blend of fruit from three vineyards - each planted to the Higgins clone, and on its own rootstock. The older Hilltop and Gopher Snake Vineyards are both 8th leaf, and produce fruit with lots of balance, structure and tannin. The more recently planted Young Zin Vineyard on a lower slope is 4th leaf, and produces a much fatter and fleshier wine, that when combined with the older vineyards makes a perfect blend. Cedarville's Grenache is planted to the Tablas clone, which has been so prodigious, they've needed to reduce crop levels up to 60% to maintain the quality of the fruit. The first vintage for the Grenache is 1999 (55 cases). Cedarville's 2000 vintage will debut a Cabernet Sauvignon (160 cases), a Viognier (200 cases), and a small amount of Mourvedre that is probably destined to go into a GSM blend rather than its own bottling.
I'm thinking of a cave
While we were there, neighbor Arnie Gilpin, owner of Windwalker Vineyards, dropped by to pay his first visit to the new winery. After introducing us to Arnie, Jonathan led all of us through the compact facility and into the storage caves. For aging, two unique storage caves were constructed and installed in March 2000. Because the decomposed granite soil doesn't allow much opportunity to dig a "real" cave into rock, a portion of one hillside was excavated next to where the winery was to go. Precast concrete arches normally used for highway culverts were placed on concrete footings, and covered with about six feet of soil. A 5,500 square feet winery, geared to handle a maximum production of 3,000 cases annually, was then built around the entrance to the caves. From inside the winery, the "caves" appear to be just another storage room in the building. And from the outside, the dirt-covered vaults merely look like part of the hillside. Very nice design and implementation.
All of Cedarville's wines seem impeccably balanced, tending neither toward overripe or flabby qualities, nor to the higher acid end of the spectrum. They do seem deceptive though. Just when you discover the beauty and softness of the fruit on the palate, the undeniable structure of the wine kicks in, offering a nice bite before smoothing out through the finish.
Brief impressions of the 12 wines tasted:
2000 Cedarville Syrah (from neutral barrel). Nose of violets, blackberry and a touch of blueberry. Very fleshy and buttery fruit on the palate, with excellent balance and long finish. Aged in 30% new oak. Fruit from North and East slopes. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-
2000 Cedarville Syrah (from new barrel). Floral and fruity nose, with additional notes of oak and toast. Brawny mouthfeel, with obvious oak nuances accenting the tasty blackberry fruit. Very nice balance and long finish. UC Davis clone (prob. Chapoutier). Aroma/Taste: A-/B+
2000 Cedarville Grenache (from neutral barrel). Nose of strawberry, raspberry, and cedar notes. Fabulous mouthfeel, excellent balance, and beautiful sweet fruity finish. Aged in 15% new oak. Tablas clone. 50-75 cases, depending upon how much goes into the GSM. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-
2000 Cedarville GSM (from barrel). Big nose of red and black fruits, along with licorice, toast and a light note of grilled meat. Full mouthfeel, very tasty fruit, long finish and nice aftertaste. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+
2000 Cedarville Zinfandel (young vines, from neutral barrel). Effusive nose of sweet fruit and some floral notes. Sweet and chewy mouthfeel, big core of fruit at mid-palate, moderately long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+
2000 Cedarville Zinfandel (Hilltop Vnyd, from barrel).Lots of big fleshy raspberry/boysenberry fruit in the nose. Very ripe mouthfeel, clean with a solid backbone and structure, very long finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-
2000 Cedarville Cabernet Sauvignon (from new barrel). Nose of cassis, black cherry, toast and a hint of clay. Touch of astringent oak in the otherwise very fruity mouthfeel, flavors of cassis and oak are offer a bite through mid-palate, smoothing out through long finish. 160 cases. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+
1999 Cedarville Grenache. $20. Nose of jammy strawberry and raspberry fruit with a touch of chocolate. Big mouthfeel, touch of stem to the chewy fruit, leading to a long off-sweet finish. 12% Syrah. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+
1999 Cedarville Zinfandel. $22.Big jammy nose of raspberry and boysenberry fruit. Slightly restrained mouthfeel, flavors of black cherry and boysenberry, stiff backbone and structure, very long slightly jammy finish. Blend of Hilltop and Gopher Snake Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-
1999 Cedarville Syrah. $24. Dark purple color. Nose of fleshy blackberry and blueberry fruit. Big mouthfeel, nice balance, with smooth jammy but structured mid-palate and nice fruit-filled finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+