The whole point of my recent invitation to visit Robert Young Estate Winery is to appreciate the view from the winery's new Scion House visitors center, which looks out over a miles-wide carpet of green Alexander Valley vineyards, speckled with autumnal gold. But on the four-wheeler ride back down the hill, my eye is drawn to the accidental photo opportunity: the hillside littered with cast-off Cabernet.
Though it looks like some kind of vandalism, it's a common enough sight in North Coast vineyards this time of year. Long after vines are pruned in winter, thinned to an optimal density of new shoots in spring, and leaves around the grapes plucked in summer, there may be one more cut before harvest, and for growers, it can be the unkindest of them all. Winemakers feel they can get higher sugars and better flavors when the vines are carrying less fruit, while for farmers, it's like throwing money on the ground to cut grape clusters they've been tending all year long and drop them to the vineyard floor.
Thanks to this winery's visionary founder, however, the Young family plays both roles. They sell most of the grapes from the 300 or so acres they farm to longtime clients like Chateau St. Jean and Clos du Bois, reserving just 5 percent from a little rise in the valley floor here, or some particular rows over there, to make their own wines. Robert Young managed to become a pioneer more than a hundred years after his grandfather founded the ranch in 1858. Credited with planting the valley's first Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1960s, Young is also remembered for an eponymous clone of Chardonnay that's particularly well-suited to the warm Alexander Valley.
About that Chardonnay: the Robert Young 2015 Alexander Valley Chardonnay ($42) is a classic, long and sweet-textured wine evoking apple fritter and custard. Visitors to the new Scion House, a contemporary setup with a welcome station, table and patio seating instead of the traditional tasting bar, will be greeted with a splash of 2017 Sauvignon Blanc ($34), in a fleshy, tropical style. The Scion House is due to open soon.
Meanwhile, try the wine club favorite 2014 Bob's Burn Pile Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) in the original, cozy little tasting room in a corner of the winery. Named for a spot at the edge of the property where Bob Young spent quiet Sundays, tending a pile of smoldering brush, this intense, blueberry-, vanilla- and oak-scented sipper is no fruit wasted.
Robert Young Estate Winery, 4960 Red Winery Road, Geyserville. Wednesday–Monday, 10am–4:30pm. $20. 707.395.3550.