Yorkville Vineyards & Cellars Story
Summer 2016 Update - It could only have happened in California. In the mid 80’s, newlyweds Edward and Deborah had lived in the Rheingau wine region in Germany, the Lombardy wine region in Italy, and in Paris, an hour away from the Loire wine region in France. They chose to spend their honeymoon in Bordeaux.
Both had been wine drinkers their whole lives, raised in households that saw wine as a food item at the family dinner table. Edward was raised in Portland, one of the first hubs of sustainability awareness in the states. Deborah is from England, and growing up she was exposed to the budding organic movement to be found there and in Wales in the 70’s.
A few years before the couple were to meet at a house party in Wales, it was the early 80’s and tech was booming. Edward lived in San Francisco and commuted to Silicon Valley, but took every opportunity to go the other direction and visit wine country on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The couple had been living in Germany when the prospect of children on the way made them think a little more seriously about finding a more permanent place to settle down. Having been gone for many years, it would be after another trip over the Golden Gate Bridge, this time with Deborah, for the couple to discover a place that had the sort of natural beauty they were looking for in a place they would come to call home.
Mendocino County is just far enough from the Bay to boast unspoiled rugged landscapes and magnificent old growth redwood and oak forests. One sunny spring afternoon while driving along the winding roads, reminiscent of Northern Italy, Edward and Deborah discovered this for themselves, being particularly struck by the little ancient valley where the town of Yorkville has been nestled since the 1860’s, and which was home to a family of Pomo Indians before that.
Weather records diligently collected by a rancher whose family had lived in Yorkville more or less since its founding were carefully examined, and found to be remarkably similar to weather in Bordeaux, the destination of Edward and Deborah’s honeymoon. Edward and Deborah had an epiphany: why not try to create a tiny replica of Bordeaux here in Yorkville, where, despite being a world away, conditions were perfect. Investigations were made into the farming practices in Bordeaux, and the couple would make, in the coming years, several remarkable decisions.
First, in order to make perfect Bordeaux style red and white blends, it would be necessary to plant all of the varietals that comprised those blends back in the old country. Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere, and Semillon were among the varietals that, when Edward and Deborah planted them, were all but of unheard of in California, and also before the creation of the word “meritage” to be used for a California produced blend of varietals originating in Bordeaux. They would create the red blend, called Richard the Lion-Heart, in honor of the king who, in the year of his death and as one of his final acts, created the world's first organization overseeing wine quality control. They are called the Jurade, and the still exist in Bordeaux to this day. The white blend would be called Eleanor of Aquitaine, named after Richard's mother, the most powerful woman in all of Medieval Europe, queen first of France and then of England, and the person credited with beginning the export of French wines around the world. Her promotion of chivalry and the Arthurian legends that teach it can be seen as a sort of proto-feminism.
Second, after seven years of planning, planting, and barrel aging the first harvest and finally getting the chance to taste each of these varietals, the decision was made to make not only blends, but also to produce each wine as a single varietal, and to make experimental and unheard of variations of these varietals, such as rose and sparkling versions. Because of this, Edward and Deborah were not only growing varietals nobody in California had heard of, they were bottling 100% versions way back in the early 90’s. To this day, Yorkville Cellars remains the only vineyard in the world to grow the eight main varietals permitted by French law to be grown in Bordeaux in the same vineyard, and to produce each of them as single varietals. This means it’s the only place in the world where they can be tasted side by side with the only difference being the varietal, rather than the differences in growing conditions, terroir, climate, or winemaker preference that might corrupt other comparative tastings done between, say, a Malbec from Argentina and a Cabernet Sauvignon from California.
Third, and for Edward and Deborah, most importantly, the decision was made to make sure the vineyard, where they would live, would be farmed organically. The paperwork was arduous and the rules strict, but the benefits for their immediate and local environment outweighed the administrative cost. The vineyard was located at the headwaters of the Russian and Navarro rivers. This meant that any pesticides or herbicides used would pollute not only their own property, but would be taken by the Navarro River down through the rest of Mendocino county, and by the Russian River down through all of Sonoma county. Also, they had just welcomed the first of their children to the world. Organic winemaking has taken a long time to gain traction in California, but for Edward and Deborah, who received Organic Certification back in 1986, it was the only path their backgrounds and exposure to conscientious practices would allow for.
Edward and Deborah are celebrating 30 years of organic farming, of making highly traditional Bordeaux style wines that would have made the most draconian of the Jurade in France would be impressed by, and finally, of keeping their adventurous approach to winemaking, creating wines using methods and in styles that are unique in the world, such as world's first organic “Orange” Semillon, and, soon to be released, the world’s first blend to take the idea of a field blend to a whole new level, by not being just a blend of different varietals grown in the same vineyard, but, utilizing groundbreaking grafting techniques, a blend to feature different varietals grown on the same vine.