The Last Wines at ACORN

While I have been drinking wine for a lot longer, this blog is just a bit over eleven years old. In that relatively brief period of time, I have seen a few of my favorite producers close their doors for good. Well, there is about to be another added to that list: ACORN Winery in the Russian River Valley.

Earlier this year, I heard the bittersweet news that Betsy and Bill Nachbaur had produced their last vintage. While they will continue to farm their Alegría Vineyard (and its 111 different grape varieties) and sell the fruit to other producers in the area, once the current stock of bottled wine has been sold, Betsy and Bill will close up the winery for good.*

(*When questioned, Bill left open the possibility of perhaps producing another vintage or two of rosé, but that was met with a heavy eye roll from Betsy, so who knows?)

When I visited them earlier this month, they both seemed a bit relieved at not having to contend with the ridiculous assortment of state regulations and the business of running a winery. But I also got the impression that they will miss the frequent interaction with their customers, many of whom have become friends.

Bill explained the layout of the vineyards to my buddy, Christophe Bristiel.

I know I will miss the wine, certainly, but I will also miss my visits with Betsy, Bill, and their always endearing bickering that usually starts with Bill convinced that he is right about a given topic and almost always ends with Betsy providing proof that he is not.

Betsy sent me a few wines to review a few months before their announcement. At the time, I had no idea these would likely be the last wines that I would get to sample from ACORN.

2017 ACORN Acorn Hill Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $48. 49% Syrah, 49% Sangiovese, 1% Viognier, 0.5% Mammolo, 0.5% Canaiolo. Described as a “French-Italian blend” leave it up to Bill and Betsy Nachbaur to create a fabulous wine out of two varieties that rarely spend much time together. Fairly dark in the glass with a load of dark and black fruit on the nose: cassis, blackberry, plum. There is also a floral aspect which is both fresh and brooding concurrently. Last, a touch of spice rounds out the nose, with more of a clove/Christmas spice vibe going on. The palate, at least given the rich nose, is much more subtle than one would guess. Yes, there is fruit, yes, there is tartness, but above all, there is balance. A fruity yet harmonious wine that exhibits both what a talented winemaker Bill is and also what a bounty California can produce. Excellent. 92 Points.

2018 ACORN Medley Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. “20% Syrah, 20% Zinfandel, 18% Cinsaut, 8% Dolcetto, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Sangiovese, plus a dozen different muscats, Viognier, and other varieties.” If you have ever looked for a “kitchen sink” wine, this is it. A field blend of at least 24 varieties, this is both noteworthy and, well, fantastic. A throwback, perhaps, as to how wine used to be made in California as all the grapes, regardless of variety, were harvested and vinified together. “Medley” is the Nachbaurs’ response to the hyper-varietalization (my terminology) of American wine–perhaps a “we are better as a sum than the addition of our parts” kinda-thing. Medium color with a stunning nose of red and black fruit (with perhaps red winning out), red rose, and just a hint of clove. Whoa. The palate is initially quite fruity, on the verge of overly so, but a tartness, verging on intense, asserts itself just before the mid-palate and carries the load to the finish. Ah, the finish. Whoa. “Long” is but a weak attempt to describe it–fruity, tart, balanced, lengthy, and with just a hint of tannin. This wine is not for the long term, but will likely improve over the next 3-5 years. Easy. Outstanding. 94 Points.

2018 ACORN Sangiovese Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $42. 98% Sangiovese, 1% Canaiolo Nero, 1% Mammolo Toscano. Under DIAM5. The Nachbaurs are salt of the earth kind of people. They have been farming the land and making the wine on their Russian River estate for over 30 years but chances are close to 100% that they will be in the tasting room (or not far from it) whenever I drop in to say hello. For years now, I have sampled their wines, toured their vineyard, and chatted about topics far and wide. While much has changed, there is a constant–the wines are fabulous. This Sangiovese starts out rather closed but, given a bit of time, opens up wonderfully with dark red fruit (plum, cassis), considerable dark earth, a floral, almost lavender aspect, and spice (clove, cardamom). The palate is tart, introducing some vibrancy into all that dark fruit, which works itself out on the mid-palate before a lengthy finish that exhibits some silky tannins. This wine is fantastic now, but will likely improve in the mid-term (3-5 years). Excellent. 92 Points. 

2018 ACORN Syrah Axiom Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA:
Retail $50. 97% Syrah, 3% Viognier. This has always been one of my favorites in the ACORN line and that has little to do with the fact that it is perhaps (?) one of the more varietally correct (97%) wine in the ACORN lineup. Quite dark in the glass with blackberry, dark plum, black pepper, and bits of sage and clove. Yowza. The palate is a lovely mélange of Old World and New with impressive fruit but also a regulating tartness and a host of spice that was promised in the glass. While many might see “Russian River” and expect a fruity, flashy, bold wine, Betsy and Bill Nachbaur stay true to their style and have made a beautiful wine looking for a great food accompaniment (Texas BBQ anyone?). Outstanding. 93 Points.

2018 ACORN Zinfandel Heritage Vines 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, Grenache, Graciano, Palomino, and Monbadon. The list of varieties alone is longer than 98% of the tasting notes on Cellar Tracker. I have been sampling ACORN (not sure why it’s capitalized, but Betsy Nachbaur assures me it is) wines now for several years. The wines are always incredibly well made, blended from a plethora of varieties, and repeatedly show that Russian River is so much more than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This Heritage Vines (TM) Zin is quite dark in the glass with really dark fruit aromas (plum, cassis), an intense red rose floral element, and a truckload of spice: clove, allspice, mint, and perhaps sage. Whoa. The palate is fruity, yes–tons of rich black fruit, but it is also incredibly rich and layered with all that spice and a zesty tanginess. One could argue that it finishes a tad hot (14.7% ABV), but the wine is so incredibly fruity, earthy, complex, and joyous it is both barely noticeable and quite frankly, irrelevant. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Alicante Bouschet, Béclan, Cabernet Franc, Canaiolo, Carignane, Cinsault/Cinsaut, Dolcetto, Grenache, Mammolo, Monbadon, Muscat Noir, Negrette, Palomino, Peloursin, Petit Bouschet, Plavac Mali, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tannat, Trousseau, Viognier, Wine, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Last Wines at ACORN

  1. Thanks, spot on, as usual! Loved seeing you 2x in CA recently. Will be sending some 19s for you to enjoy, with alegría, when the TX weather permits.

    Liked by 1 person

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