In just about every wine region in this country, I hear essentially the same story. It inevitably starts the same way as an established winemaker, a longtime resident and producer in whatever AVA, begins to lament about “the way it used to be.”
“You know,” (it always starts with a “you know…”)
“[Fill in a county or town, or region] hasn’t always been like this.” Said winemaker then either makes a gesture to the road in front of the winery, laden with cars. Or he points to a monstrosity of a winery across Old Route [choose a number] that was just built by the latest hedge -fund-manager-turned-vintner that has realized his lifelong dream to make wine. It could be just an expansion of her arms to signify the immediate (and not so immediate) area which (and this part is assumed to be understood) has changed so much (for the worse) since she first “set up shop [insert number] years ago.”
They go on to describe how “back in the day, there were no million dollar tasting rooms, you could walk right in without an appointment and the owner, who was also the vineyard manager, the winemaker, and the head bottle washer, would be the one pouring the wines for you to taste.”
Or something like that.
It concludes with: “You just don’t see that anymore, and it’s a shame.”
Well, yes you can, if you look hard enough.
Chances are, you have never heard of ACORN Winery, since it is a rather small operation, producing under 3,000 cases a year. With a rather unassuming sign on Old Redwood Highway in Healdsburg, I would bet that a high percentage of visitors to the Russian River Valley has zoomed right on by on their way to one of the region’s million-dollar tasting rooms.
Although I have never asked, I assume that would be just fine with Bill and Betsy Nachbaur, owners of ACORN (yes, it is always capitalized, which is a bit ironic since both the nut and the winery are quite small). Bill is the viticulturist, the winemaker, and resident historian and Betsy is everything else. And chances are very good that your visit to ACORN will include a vineyard tour with Bill and a tasting of the wines with Betsy.
Just like “back in the day.”
An appointment is necessary (to ensure that the Nachbaurs are there) and plan on a good hour and a half to two hours, but it is well worth it. You will learn a ton about the wine-making process and taste some fantastic wines made from varieties that you likely will not find even within a few hour’s drive from the ACORN parking lot.
When I was out in California a couple of months ago, I stopped by to say a quick hello to Betsy and Bill. I left about three hours later.
Yeah, it’s that kind of place. You know, the way things used to be.
2017 ACORN Dolcetto, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $42. A field blend of 94% Dolcetto, 3% Freisa, 3% Barbera. Bill planted the Dolcetto in 1991 (inter-planted with the Freisa and Barbera) and still makes one of the few Dolcettos one can find outside of Piedmont. Fresh and vibrant good fruit and excellent acidity. A hallmark of ACORN wines. Excellent. 91 Points.
2017 ACORN Cabernet Franc, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $45. 92% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. Another field blend (are you seeing the trend?) and one of my favorite Cab Francs every year. Dark fruit and just a touch of pyrazine (green pepper) on the nose. Great fruit and bright acidity and lengthy finish. Fabulous food wine. Excellent. 92 Points.
2015 ACORN Acorn Hill®, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $48. 49% Syrah, 49% Sangiovese, 1% Viognier, 0.5% Mammolo, and 0.5% Canaiolo. Planted in 1991 and 1992, side-by-side on Acorn Hill, the Syrah (field blended with Viognier) and the Sangiovese (with Mammolo and Canaiolo) provide a bit of wing and yang for this wine, which spends an extra two years in bottle. Noticeably smoother. Dark yet inviting with mocha and blue fruit. Impressive on the palate with weight, depth, spice. Lovely. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2017 ACORN Axiom® Syrah, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. 98% Syrah, 2% Viognier field blend and co-fermented. A ho-hum field blend (at least for Bill, I imagine) of only two varieties which is quite dark in the glass with dark red fruit and considerable mocha. Quite floral and aromatic, thanks no doubt to the Viognier. Wonderful. Holy cow. Bill makes a lot of fantastic wines but this might just be his best. Yum. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2016 ACORN Heritage Vines™ Zinfandel, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. “78% Zinfandel, 11% Alicante Bouschet, 9% Petite Sirah. The remaining 2% includes Carignane, Trousseau, Sangiovese, Petit Bouschet, Negrette, Plavac Mali, Syrah, Tannat, Muscat Noir, Peloursin, Cinsaut, Béclan, and Grenache.” Another ACORN, another field blend. This one has 16 varieties (!), but we are just getting started (check out the Medley). The fruit for this wine comes from the oldest part of the vineyard, mostly planted in 1890. Dark in the glass with bramble red and blue fruit. Whoa. The nose on this is off the charts. Yowza. Fruity but by no means “big” this is always one of my favorite Zins. Whoa. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2016 ACORN Medley®, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. A field blend of 60 grapes: 20% Syrah, 20% Muscats (8 different varieties), 18% Cinsaut, 14% Zinfandel, 4% Dolcetto, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Sangiovese, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Petit Sirah, 1% Mourvedre, and the remaining 12% includes Einset, Blue Portuguese, Viognier, and others. Perhaps the pinnacle of the ACORN line, the Medley really showcases Bill’s approach to farming and winemaking. An intense process that I could never begin to explain, but this is the wine that is made first, all other decisions follow. Rich and fruity on the palate with considerable depth. Really a lovely wine and the wine that for many defines what Bill and Betsy are doing at ACORN. Fantastic. And a whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2020 ACORN Rosato, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $32. True Rosé. 20% Cabernet Franc, 19% Sangiovese, 19% Dolcetto, 19% Zinfandel, 6% Syrah, 3% Merlot, 2% Cinsaut, 2% Blue Portuguese, 2% Petite Sirah, 2% Viognier, 2% Barbera, and 4% includes Liatiko, Dornfelder, Einset, Freisa, Suffolk, Chardonnay, Einset, and Aromatico. Medium color, fruity aromas, lovely nose. Fantastic acidity with wonderful fruit. One of my faves. Outstanding. 93 Points.