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I’ve always been intrigued by Bordeaux varieties and their ability to make profound and opulently textured wines, but my Malbec love affair really took hold during my time in Mendoza, Argentina.

Argentina and Beyond

Kristina Shideler Andes Mountains

In Mendoza, Malbec is celebrated as part of their cultural identity.  It has become synonymous with Argentine wine production, but its origin is actually attributed to France.  Malbec is one of the six allowed varieties in wines made from the Bordeaux region of France, with a long history of using the variety as a blender.  In France today, however, it is more commonly used in wines from the Cahors region of Southeast France.  While Argentina is responsible for 75% of Malbec plantings in the world, the variety can be found in several other winegrowing regions, including California.

The Malbec Wine Grape

Malbec Grape Variety

The grape is a dark inky purple color with thin skin and oval-shaped berries.  Its leaves are generally larger and floppier looking than the other Bordeaux varieties, and because of this, it’s generally easy to spot when walking through a vineyard.  The next time you visit the Arrowood Estate during late summer or fall, I encourage you to take a stroll through the estate vineyard and see for yourself!

Malbec Flavor Profile

Arrowood Estate Malbec

The wine also takes on a darker more purple hue, especially when young.  The aromatics are so distinct, it’s really fun to try and identify it in a blind tasting.  It typically has this inherent baking spice character of nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon.  It also takes on a lot of fruit character such as plum and blackberry, as well as violet and lavender when picked a bit earlier.  Because of this, I generally do not like to use a lot of new oak barrels; the aromatics are so beautiful, I want to express them in the purest form.  It tends to be less tannic than Cabernet, but offers a nice mid-palate weight and elegant structure that makes it very versatile and drinkable with a variety of foods.

Arrowood Sonoma County Malbec

Sonoma County Malbec

Although I love what Malbec offers to a blend, one of my favorite wines to make is our Sonoma County Malbec.  Arrowood is one of the only wineries in Sonoma County that offers a Malbec as a single variety wine, and we have a long history of doing so.  For the 2014, we sourced from two prime vineyard locations: Lasseter and Knights Cross vineyards.  Both of these sites have the perfect climate and soil match. Malbec enjoys long days of sunlight, but not too high of temperatures.  Soils must be well drained and homogenous, offering good concentration of flavors and even ripening.

How long can you age Arrowood Malbec? 

While it doesn’t have the lifespan of the Resérve Spéciale, I’ve have had the opportunity to try several bottles of Arrowood Malbec from the early 2000’s and they are still holding up with beautiful acidity and complexity.  My personal preference is between 5-10 years, and would not recommend aging beyond 15 years.  However, it is very interesting variety to track throughout aging, which is why we’ve kept a few bottles back each year in the Winemaker’s Library.  It changes from having a very distinct varietal expression to possessing very classic Bordeaux aromatics, that can often be mistaken for a Cabernet or Merlot.

Malbec + You = <3

For those of you who haven’t gotten to know Malbec, take some time to introduce yourselves.  I think you’ll like each other.  Enjoy a bottle on a nice fall evening with some grilled meats, or save for this winter to pair with the holiday fare. 


For a lot of people Sonoma equals wine country, but geographically speaking, 'Sonoma' can mean a world-famous wine growing region, a city, and an entire county. If you're looking for the definitive guide to where one Sonoma ends, and another begins read on!


Sonoma County


What is it?

A vast region filled with many acclaimed wine-growing districts, scenic Bodega Bay, and more than 400 wineries. 
While wine areas such as the Russian River Valley and Green Valley have made Sonoma County synonymous with Pinot Noir, it's not the region's only notable red. Zinfandel-lovers flock to Dry Creek Valley, while Kristina Shideler, head winemaker at Arrowood Vineyards, knows it's a place to watch for fine Cabernet Sauvignon.
"Knight's Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Valley are the three valleys people need to pay attention to for Cabernet Sauvignon," Shideler says. "As they tune in, they're going to find some great wine."
Each valley gives Cab its own distinctive flavor notes and textures. Alexander Valley tends to blue fruit flavors, bright acidity, tension and firm, savory tannins.  Knights Valley wines show black cherry, plum and blackberry notes with broader more brawny tannins. While Sonoma Valley Cabs overflow with bright red berry and cherry highlights wrapped in supple tannins.
"I love the diversity, the exploration, the freedom to discover different vineyard sites and work with fruit from all sorts of different topographies and combinations of soil and climate. There's lots to discover," says Shideler.
When it comes to discovering Sonoma County's agricultural potential, Luther Burbank was a pioneer. Even though he lacked any formal training, Burbank showed his genius when he developed what's now called the Idaho potato. Drawn by the ideal growing conditions in Santa Rosa, he developed more than 800 varieties fruits and plants including the Santa Rosa Plum and the Shasta Daisy. Today, the visitors around the world make a pilgrimage to the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa during the season from April to October.  

Where to go:

Museums of Sonoma County, 425 Seventh St. Santa Rosa, Calif. 707-579-1500. These twin museums (now in a new combined home) showcase art and history inspired by Sonoma County, as well as contemporary themes, such as the heroic response to the 2017 wildfires.  The museums are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with special hours on holidays.


Sonoma Valley


What is it?

Sonoma Valley is a scenic region known for Jack London State Historic Park, as well as being the home of Arrowood Vineyards and some of California's oldest wineries. 
Writer and adventurer Jack London was taken with Sonoma Valley; he made it famous in his books including The Valley of the Moon. His former home, stone pig house and 1400-acre property that he dubbed "Beauty Ranch" are now part of a state park filled with 29 miles of pristine hiking trails.
"This is where he wrote most of his important works," says Kristina Ellis, tour and education manager of the Jack London Park Partners. The study is still filled with his effects, sketches, paintings, and photos, while his wife Charmian's home contains many mementos. 
"She lined the walls with artifacts and memories of their life together, so it's called the House of Happy Walls Museum," Ellis says. The museum reopens in June when renovations are complete. 
When Dick Arrowood founded his winery back in 1986, he chose the Sonoma Valley because he liked the way the coastally influenced climate and soils shaped Cabernet Sauvignon.
Beautiful mouthwatering acidity and bright red fruit flavors set Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignons apart from those in Napa, which tend to darker fruits, like plum, blackberries, and blackcurrant.
"Sonoma is red fruit because of the soil," says Willi Sherer, a Master Sommelier based in Yountville. "With an overall cooler area, you get soft-but-generous wines with a cooler profile. You get some good herbal tones, sage and sandalwood and mild evergreen in tandem with the red fruit."
As the winemaker at Arrowood Vineyards, Shideler considers Sonoma Valley the heart of the sprawling region. And it's one of the most exciting places in the world to be making wine.
"Ninety percent of what I do is Cabernet, which makes us unique," says Shideler. "A lot of people think Sonoma is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, so I think it's exciting to be a specialist in Cabernet here."
Arrowood sources fruit from grower partners at pristine sites in Moon Mountain and Sonoma Mountain. "They're high elevation, so the soils are very well drained," which gives the wines great concentration, Shideler explained.  "Exposure to the light is optimal; it's perfect for growing Cabernet Sauvignon. And it's in the middle of the valley so you get coastal influence."
All those factors make for elegant and highly collectible Cabernet Sauvignon.
"The strength of Arrowood wine is silkiness and suppleness with balance and ageability," said Sherer.

Where to go: 

Arrowood Vineyards, 14347 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen Calif. 800-938-5170
Nestled at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountain Range, Arrowood's expansive front porch makes a perfect place to enjoy the range of Sonoma Cabernets, paired with locally made cheeses if you prefer. The tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with special hours for holidays.

The City of Sonoma


What is it: A charming town with a historic square lined with boutique shopping, restaurants, chic hotels and tasting rooms.
When it comes to California wine, the city of Sonoma's claim to fame is being the site of the state's longest-running commercial winery. Buena Vista was founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian émigré.  He pioneered making wine with vitis vinifera grape varieties - just like the ones used in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne.
Visitors flocked to the bustling town square to shop, eat and drink, just as they do today. Besides grapes, Sonoma's fertile lands are ideal for pretty much everything from apples to dairy cows, and that's still true today. The Tuesday night farmer's market that runs from May to September is the place to buy everything from fresh organic produce and flowers to artisanal bread and local cheeses. 
Right on the square, Vella Cheese is one of Sonoma's most popular year-round attractions. Since 1931, the factory has produced natural cheeses from soft curds to their award-winning  Dry Monterey Jack cheese with the cocoa-rubbed rind. Take a tasting tour to see what all the buzz is about. 
Nearby on the square, you'll find the Mission San Francisco Sonoma. While technically the first place wine grapes were planted in the region, nobody drank those wines for fun. "The Mission grapes were not [great] wine grapes," says Eric Stanley, associate director and curator of history for the Museums of Sonoma County. But the adobe with artifacts from daily life in the 1820s and a collection of watercolors by Chris Jorgensen offers history buffs the chance to see how the town of Sonoma got its start. 

Where to go:

G's General Store, 19 West Napa St. Sonoma, Calif. 707-933-6082
Just across from the historic Sonoma Square, you'll find Virginia "G" Hayes' carefully curated shop with imported Scandinavian textiles, housewares and shoes. Don't miss the Orla Kiely canisters and Sagaform decanters and wine glasses with an angled lip that helps aerate the wine.  Open daily.
The very words “Thanksgiving dinner” can cause the pulse of even the most experienced entertainers to quicken a bit. It’s the official start of most important entertaining events of the year, which involve many decisions from guest list, to wine pairings, to table décor. And then learning that one of your guests has a particular dietary restriction can send some hosts into a near panic.
But not to worry – with a little planning, cooking for people with different eating styles doesn’t have to be complicated. To make your holiday dinner planning easier, we reached out to three experts in Paleo, gluten-free and vegan cuisine for guidance and inspiration on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s menus paired with Arrowood wine.

Paleo Thanksgiving Dinner

What it is: The Paleo diet (short for Paleolithic) cuts out processed foods, along with grains and dairy, and added sugars, which can cause inflammation.
Expert: Tanya Holland, an Oakland chef, restaurateur and author of Brown Sugar Kitchen: New Style Down Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland (Chronicle Books, 2014),
Menu: Smoked turkey with cranberry apple relish, collard greens, green beans with sesame seed dressing, sweet potato wedges and smoked yams with coconut butter.
If you haven’t heard of chef Tanya Holland and her lighter-than-air waffles that inspire people to line up outside her restaurant, you will soon. The chef is one of the cheftestants competing in the next season of Top Chef  which debuts December 7.
“My cuisine is very elegant, and refined comfort food with great quality ingredients,” says Holland. “It’s very simple and accessible.” The centerpiece of her Thanksgiving menu is organic turkey, brined with salt and then smoked. But it doesn’t have to be a 12-pound bird; Holland loves cooking a turkey leg or breast if she’s cooking an intimate dinner. A no-sugar added cranberry apple relish makes a naturally sweet-tart accompaniment to the turkey.
Her go-to Thanksgiving wine pairing is a softer red, such as merlot or a red blend. “I would pick a merlot over cabernet sauvignon because it’s softer and more food friendly,” says Holland. “A merlot-dominant red blend would be nice too.”
For a Paleo feast, Holland would pair her turkey with a cornucopia of vegetable-based side dishes.
“Collard greens are really great,” she says.  “And I don’t put any fat in my collard greens except for olive oil.” And as she explains in her book Brown Sugar Kitchen, sautéing red onion, fresh garlic and chili flakes first help give the greens a flavorful foundation. Another go-to side is her roasted green beans with sesame-seed dressing.
Baked sweet potato wedges, tossed in olive oil with Kosher salt and Creole spices and then baked makes a family friendly side. Or for a richer dish, she likes smoked yams with coconut butter and a drizzle of maple syrup. The warm spices, and the hint of natural sweetness, make the yams a great match for lush wine like Viognier, which has its own spice notes.
Vegan Christmas Dinner
What it is: People on a vegan diet eat only plant-based foods, avoiding anything that comes from animals, including butter and honey.
Expert: Toni Okamoto, author of The Super Easy Vegan Slow Cooker Cookbook (Callisto, $12.71) and hostess of Plant Based on a Budget
Menu: Turkey field roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing with mushroom and faux sausage, stuffed squash with wild rice and cranberries and chocolate pie.
Some people see eating a plant-based diet as restrictive, but Toni Okamoto says that becoming vegan opened her up to a whole new world of cuisine.  Growing up, she and her parents ate a typical American diet where the most exotic foods were Mexican, Chinese and Italian cuisine.
“Becoming vegan, I discovered a lot more variety,” says Okamoto, who’s based in Sacramento, California. “Learning to cook plant-based opened me up to Ethiopian, Vietnamese and Indian, which are very vegan-friendly cuisines.”
But even if you’re not that adventurous it’s OK, since there are so many commercial foods that cater to vegans these days. For a Christmas main course, Okamoto suggests Tofurkey – like it sounds, it’s tofu reminiscent of roasted turkey. Another popular choice is a Field Roast, a grain-based meat substitute in the shape of a roast. The earthy flavors in the wild mushroom or lentil sage roasts make them a fine pairing for the notes of red fruit, anise and roasted coffee in the Arrowood Sonoma Valley Cab.
Using nut milks, vegetable broth and plant-based butters, she says it’s easy to create a range of satisfying sides from mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes and squash stuffed with wild rice and cranberries. And high-quality vegan sausages —often made with pea protein—add flavor and texture to her mushroom stuffing.  The lighter flavors in most vegetable dishes, especially green ones, are well-paired with a refreshing wine like sauvignon blanc.
Gluten-Free New Year’s Eve Party
What it is: People on a gluten-free diet avoid all wheat products including flour, pasta, and traditional breads.
Expert: Chef Isabel Cruz, owner of The Coffee Cup in La Jolla, California and author of the upcoming book The Latin Table from SkyHorse Publishing
Menu: Taco bar with roasted pork and roasted chicken, mini corn tortillas, avocado tomatillo salsa, red tomato salsa, black beans, rice and crispy plantains with chipotle dip, flourless chocolate ginger cake.
Growing up in Los Angeles, chef Isabel Cruz explored all kind of exciting flavors, from her family’s Puerto Rican and Peruvian dishes, to the Chinese food her friends ate.  Cruz turned those early food experiences into the novel cuisine that riffs on Latin and Asian flavors at her restaurants.
Hard at work on her new cookbook The Latin Table due in Spring 2018, Cruz says she gets lots of requests for gluten-free dishes at her restaurants. But it’s easy for her to keep these diners happy.
“People are surprised when they discover that Latin cuisine makes it easy to be gluten-free,” says Cruz. “We don’t use a lot of flour; we eat more rice and beans and vegetables on the side.”
But what makes Cruz’s cuisine special is the way she takes those simple foods like rice, beans, vegetables and proteins, and makes them exciting with different chilies, sauces and salsas.
That’s the idea behind her taco bar for New Year’s Eve entertaining. It couldn’t be easier to host a party this way, since guests make their own DIY tacos.
Start by choosing taco fillings according to your own tastes. Roasted pork shoulder is rich and satisfying and a perfect match with Malbec, which has a lot of fruit flavors accented by spice and cocoa notes. Her other go-to meat is roasted chicken pulled off the bones, which is ideal with a rich white, like the Arrowood Carneros Chardonnay. She also sautés a big pan of veggies like eggplant, black kale, tomatoes and onions seasoned with olive oil and fresh garlic, as a vegetarian filling option, along with a pot of simmered black beans, that taste delicious with her coconut rice.
To liven up her cuisine, Cruz whips up salsas and sauces with different flavor profiles. Her go-to salsa is a basic one with tomato, jalapeño, cilantro, and lime.  For a New Year’s taco bar, she pairs it with her bright, creamy and tangy tomatillo-avocado salsa. Round out the buffet with chopped onions, cilantro, crumbly cotija cheese and bottles of hot sauce and gluten-free corn tortillas, and maybe her flourless chocolate cake, and it’s time to celebrate.
So, whether your guests are paleo, vegan, gluten-free, or none of the above - don't be afraid think creatively when it comes to food and wine pairings. Hungry for more? Check out Arrowood's full portfolio of food-friendly wines.

Sonoma Valley Mountain Vineyard Site


Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - A Rare Treat

At Arrowood, we love introducing people to Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. And, believe it or not, we get to - a lot. 
Why? Because Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley is actually rarer than Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. With just over 1,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in Sonoma Valley to 18,200 acres in Napa - Napa Cab outnumbers Sonoma Cab 18:1. That’s a case and a half for every one bottle produced. But Arrowood Winemaker, Kristina Shideler is careful to qualify the exercise: "I don’t think comparing Sonoma Valley to Napa Valley is comparing apples to apples.  Sonoma Valley is a sub-AVA within Sonoma County.  Napa Valley is essentially the county/AVA in which 16 sub-AVAs exist." 
So, while there's considerably more Napa Cab to be heralded the world over, Sonoma Cab keeps a lower profile. But sometimes profiles can be deceiving.
Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley AVA Map


Comparing Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley


Both Napa and Sonoma Valleys enjoy a dry, Mediterranean climate, with long, sunny days and cool nights.
Depending on where you stand, are either warmer or cooler according to elevation. If you’re above the fog line, you generally get hotter days (no fog) and cooler nights (high altitude). Ultimately, although it is possibly a dangerous generalization, overall you could say Sonoma Valley is marginally cooler. Both Napa and Sonoma Valleys are close to the cool Pacific, but Sonoma is closer.
Sonoma Valley opens to the Bay at the bottom and to the Santa Rosa plain at the top, so cool air and fog come in both top and bottom, ocean and bay. Napa Valley opens up to the Bay at its south end, as Sonoma Valley does, but it has no outlet in the north; and where the palisade walls come together, trapped air heats up. Only the Vaca mountain range along its eastern flank protects Napa from California’s notoriously hot Central Valley


In Sonoma Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is planted mostly on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain on the west, above the fog line, where grapes ripen more fully in the extended sunlight. The days are warm, but altitude makes for chilly nights. Sonoma Mountain soils are volcanic-based and exceptionally well-draining.
Vintners have also established Cabernet on the eastern side of the valley in another sub-AVA, Moon Mountain, perched on the Western slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, very close to the Napa County line. Almost constant bay breezes blow across this entire area, located above the summer fog. The red, rocky soils of Moon Mountain consist largely of fractured basalt and iron-rich volcanic ash.


So now the question: why do Napa Valley Cabernets get all the love? Why do people hold them in such high regard? Several things:
First, obviously, there is the matter of scale. Napa Valley is twice the size of Sonoma Valley and planted to over three times as many vines. More people, making a lot more wine, make a lot more noise.
Sonoma Valley has always been a community of growers and small producers, whereas Napa Valley has its growers, but savvy marketers as well. People who established famous brands built broad markets and submitted their wines to international tastings for recognition. The Cabernet Sauvignon that won fame at the Judgment of Paris in 1976 was a Napa Valley wine.
And then there’s Robert Mondavi. And the Napa Valley Wine Auction. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has become a brand in itself.


But, If you cut through the noise and actually look at the climate, location, and soils of Napa compared, say, to the locations where Sonoma valley grows its best Cabernet, Sonoma Valley’s mountain regions show every bit as well. Their long, warm days high above the fog lines and cool nights bathed in cool marine air and bay fog create a wide diurnal shift – a dramatic difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures – which typically gives Cabernet Sauvignon its rich, ripe fruit while maintaining a balance of plush tannins and firm, fresh acidity. Sonoma Valley’s Cabernet character tends to be more red fruit than Napa’s black – more cherry than blackcurrant – but the depth and concentration and fundamental pleasure of this wine show from the first sip.

Arrowood’s Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Arrowood's Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
We sat down with Kristina to get to get her take on Sonoma Valley Cabernet in general and one of her absolute favorite wines, our Arrowood Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Kristina wanted to start with a conversation on sourcing, “In Sonoma Valley, we’re sourcing from Sonoma Mountain and Moon Mountain, Absolutely, everything we’re sourcing from Sonoma Valley it coming from high-elevation sites.”
Then she moved to the palette, “Most people think of high-elevation fruit as having these big, burly, angular mountain fruit tannins, but in Sonoma Valley, the mountains give you surprising delicate, round notes. This wine is plush, for sure. Great color. Great concentration.”
When asked what flavor she’d describe as quintessential Sonoma Valley, her answer was almost immediate, “Cherry! Sonoma Valley Cabernet always presents these wonderful cherry notes.”
For Kristina, it’s not so much Napa v Sonoma; more Napa & Sonoma. “I love Cabernet Sauvignon. When you make wine on four continents, you learn to appreciate so many different expressions of the same grape.”
While we have likely not heard the last of the Napa v Sonoma debate - we can all agree that both regions produce excellent Cabernet Sauvignons, that, if you haven’t tried, you should.

Discover Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

When you dare to travel off the beaten path, like the bravest of us sometimes do, you can be rewarded for your bravery. In fact, should you spend enough time off on your own, you may find that your once-divergent path is now the path.
Kristina Shideler Walking Knights Valley Vineyards
At Arrowood, we like to say we’re appellation agonistic--winemaking without borders if you will. We call Sonoma County home, and within it, distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon is our North Star. So we followed that North Star up winding dirt roads, through fog, over mountain tops. We followed it north and a little east. We followed it to Knights Valley. 
Less famous than Napa? Yes. Less visible than Sonoma Valley? Sure. But if you’re looking to think outside the glass, here’s a guide to the Cabernet Sauvignon region that should be next on your list.  

Where is Knights Valley?

Knights Valley AVA Map
Often mistaken for part of Napa County, Knights Valley is the easternmost AVA in Sonoma County just up the hill from Calistoga. Like other spectacular Sonoma AVAs - Sonoma Valley and Carneros -  Knights Valley straddles the gap between two wine-growing giants drawing influences from both sides. Cabernet Sauvignon from Knights Valley marries that quintessential Napa Valley structure with Sonoma County’s elegant acidity.
Kristina Shideler
When Kristina Shideler took over as Arrowood winemaker in 2015, she brought a wealth of knowledge about Sonoma’s mountain-grown Bordeaux varietals from her time as an intern at Vérité and an enologist at Stonestreet winery. In her own words: “When the opportunity at Arrowood came up in December of 2014, I jumped at it. I knew all about the Monte Rosso and Smothers-Remick Ridge vineyards and knew about Arrowood’s classic Cabernet heritage.”

Knights Valley or Knight’s Valley?

Good question. The answer is yes to both. Thomas B. Knight purchased ~9,000 acres in Sonoma County from Santos Berryessa in 1853, making it Knight’s valley. In 1875, however, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors formed Knights Valley Township in honor of the Knight family, and Knight’s valley officially became Knights Valley.

Knights Valley Winegrowing History

Thomas B. Knight, recognizing the value of Mount Saint Helena’s fertile soil planted the first vineyards on the land back in the late 1850s. By the 1880s, other settlers had gravitated to the area and also began planting wine grapes. By 1912, wine grapes were Knights Valley’s most planted crop.
In 1960, UC Davis published Promising New Areas for Premium Quality Wine Grapes to Replace Acreage Lost to Urbanization (back when really dry 14-word titles were totally in vogue). This paper notes that the soil and climate in Knights Valley made it ripe to challenge the other burgeoning wine regions in California: “Knights Valley has a few thriving small vineyards. Although the soils of Knights Valley have not been mapped, the growing vineyards demonstrate the suitability of the deep soils which will support vines without irrigation.” 
After decades of informal recognition by winemakers and vineyard managers for its unique growing conditions, the Knights Valley AVA was officially formed in 1983.
Fast forward to today and Knights Valley is home to some of California’s most storied producers: Chateau Montelena, Peter Michael, Anakota and Vérité.

Knights Valley’s Winegrowing Soil

Knights Valley Winegrowing Soil
“I’d characterize the soil in Knights as incredibly fine,” says Kristina. “It is really rich, well-drained soil, which allows the berries to be smaller and more concentrated. The winemakers in the area fondly refer to Knights Valley soil as ‘moon dust.' You have to be very careful driving near these vineyards because the soil texture is just that fine.”

Arrowood Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Kristina describes Arrowood's Knights Valley Cabernet as the exclamation point at the end of our Cabernet portfolio: “I like to pour it last because it’s the most structured of our three AVA Cabernets. It has these big, broad, beautiful tannins that take hold the second it hits your palate. This is your steak wine, for sure.” 
When making Knights Valley Cabernet, Kristina always starts with mountain-side fruit, “The closer you get to Mount Saint Helena, the more structure you get from that fruit. So, that first 20-25% of mountain side fruit really makes up the base of this wine. As you start moving away from Mount Saint Helena there’s this little plateau, with amazing soils, that I like to call the sweet spot - that’s where I source the rest of the Cabernet along with some Merlot and Malbec to round out  this Cabernet.”
When asked about the signatures of her Knight’s Valley Cabernet, Kristina says, “outside of its unmistakable structure; the other defining characteristic is the finish: cocoa powder. It’s the flavor, but also the texture; you get just a hint of this chocolatey-sweet dust that stays with you - it’s a pretty special Cabernet.”

Discover Knights Valley for Yourself

Not all journeys have a single destination. In the case of Cabernet, there are so many soil-types, elevations, rootstocks, clones, barrel regimens, and aging techniques that can transform neighboring clusters, let alone neighboring blocks. But, while it may not be the only destination, Knights Valley is certainly an AVA worth seeking out when that spirit of adventure strikes.


As a winemaker, the blending process is where I get to earn my stripes, composing a distinct expression of the vintage and capturing a snapshot in time. Monitoring the individual grape varieties through the growing process in the vineyard and following their progress into barrel lends to a keen understanding of how each grape is performing in the vintage.  This is essential knowledge when determining the components that are going to make up the blend in a specific vintage.

Building blends from sample bottles containing individual varieties from specific vineyard sights
So many options…

We are now making eight or more red wines each year, expressing Sonoma County Bordeaux varieties in various ways.  Our Reserve is our flagship wine, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and barrel selected from our top vineyard sites.  The vineyard designate wines showcase the unique terroir of a single vineyard.  These vineyards are primarily distinguished by their altitude and soil type, and give such a distinct expression of terroir that their quality and intrigue merit their own individual bottling.  Our appellation wines bring together several vineyard blocks to highlight the characteristics of the region.  Working with fruit from the three best AVAs (American Vinicultural Areas) in Sonoma County for growing Cabernet, I can make distinctly different wines from Knights Valley, Sonoma Valley and Alexander Valley.  One of the newest offerings at Arrowood is the Proprietary Red wine, which is a blend that expresses the vintage using any or all of the five Bordeaux varieties.  But before I tell you more, let’s review these varieties and talk about their individual qualities.

Kristina carefully measures each grape variety to ensure an accurate blend composition.
Carefully measuring out each grape variety

In California, Cabernet Sauvignon is king.  Known for its bold fruit character and heavy weight and texture, Cabernet is most commonly bottled as a single variety.  Cabernet Franc is its close relative, with some similarities in aromatics, but tends to give more savory and sometimes herbal character.  (Fun fact:  Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.)  Merlot often has a lot of blue fruit aromas, offering a soft and round texture.  When used as a blending component, it can increase the depth and length of the mouthfeel.  Malbec is aromatically very distinct, often exotic with violet and spice, along with velvety tannins.  Those of you who have had our Sonoma Valley Malbec know exactly what I’m talking about!  Lastly, Petit Verdot is known for its dark color and intense tannins.  Both Malbec and Petit Verdot can be very impactful in a blend, where a little goes a long way.

The current release of the 2013 Proprietary Red blend has the following blend composition:  63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet franc, 14% Merlot and 8% Malbec.  In this particular year, Petit Verdot didn’t make it into the blend.  After trying to use as little as 1%, I decided that it did not make a better wine.  Each year, this blend will be completely different depending on the performance of each variety and how each variety interacts with one another.

Jakey the winery dog stands by, as Kristina utilizes her senses to judge the aromatics and flavor profiles of her contending blends.
Jakey the winery dog stands by, ready to help calculate percentages

With so many different growing conditions in Sonoma County, each of these five varieties can be farmed to their full potential, giving me a diverse range of options for blending the Proprietary Red.  I love that there aren’t any rules when blending this wine.  I can use any of these five varieties to make the most intriguing and texturally complete wine possible.  However, this also makes it the most challenging wine to blend, often requiring more than ten different iterations of the blend before coming up with “the one.”  The 2015 Proprietary Red actually took me seventeen tries before I was happy with the final blend!

The new release of the 2013 Proprietary Red blend is one I am very excited about having followed this wine from barrel to bottle, and the vintage couldn’t have been a much better growing season.  Come by and see one of the friendly familiar faces at the Arrowood tasting room and give this wine a taste. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think!

After days of deliberation, Kristina finds “the one” out 16 finalists!
Kristina finds “the one”!

The final product - a glass of Arrowood proprietary red blend next to the bottle on an outdoor table

Arrowood Winemaker, Kristina Werner has worked at wineries across New Zealand, Portugal and Argentina until landing in Sonoma County. Today, she and her dedicated winegrowing team, craft artisan Cabernet Sauvignons that convey the best sites and appellations throughout Sonoma County.

Arrowood bottles against soil
Soil samples from left to right: Sonoma Valley AVA, Alexander Valley AVA, Knights Valley AVA

While there are a multitude of natural elements that influence Cabernet Sauvignon’s character, from sun exposure to climate to vineyard elevation, dirt is the most tangible of these ingredients. As you can see above, each of the three AVA’s we source from (Sonoma, Alexander, Knights) has its own unique, distinguishable soil composition. These different soil types—from the red volcanic soils of Sonoma Mountain to the fine-grained and almost dusty terrain of the Knights Valley—not only dictate the way we farm but, in concert with other natural forces, lend the Cabernet from each region its own distinct structure and flavor profile.

Sonoma Valley AVA

The “Valley” in the appellation title is a slight misnomer for Arrowood as we source our fruit exclusively from mountain vineyards—primarily Sonoma Mountain and Moon Mountain, which is also home to the historic Monte Rosso vineyard. These mountains are known for their red, iron-rich volcanic soils that produce wines with pronounced acidity. The well-drained, ashy soil here forces the vines' roots to dig deep in search of water. As the roots tunnel further underground, they soak up minerals, nutrients and microbes buried in the rocky layers beneath the top soil. The depth of these root systems translates into the concentrated and complex flavors of our Sonoma Valley Cabernet and makes our vines hearty enough that we can dry farm specific sites.
Digging the soil
Digging up red dirt in a dry farmed block of Monte Rosso vineyard

Alexander Valley AVA

The one word to describe the soil of the Alexander Valley is diverse. As our neighbors at Stonestreet Vineyards note on their website, the geology of Alexander Valley’s Black Mountain, where we source a portion of our fruit, contains more soil types than all of France! The varied, sparse and rocky soils of this appellation, along with cool morning fog and intense mid-day sunlight, contribute to the wines’ blue fruit flavors, elegance and savory aromas of black tea and dried herbs.

View from Black Mountain hillside overlooking the Alexander Valley

Knights Valley AVA

Our vineyard team likens the fine-grained, brown and yellow soil of the Knights Valley to "moon dust" that lingers on our boots hours after leaving the vineyards in this remote and sparsely populated region. The alluvial soils in the benchlands and the Rhylotic (volcanic) deposits on the mountainside tell the story of land that's been carved out by prehistoric rivers and built up by volcanic activity. Arrowood's Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon displays many of this region's hallmarks including distinctive notes of cocoa powder and a gravel-tinged minerality.
Dusty boots
Kicking around in the Knight’s Valley “Moon Dust”

Each vintage has its own personality and is remembered for different things.  From heavy rains to heat, and wildfires to earthquakes, responding to each year’s challenges often defines what goes into the bottle. The 2016 vintage, however, can be characterized by some of the most consistent weather we’ve had in California for years.

Carneros Chardonnay and Macrobins

Left: taken while walking the steep slopes of the Carneros Chardonnay block, tasting berries and deciding on when to pick.
Right: Smothers fruit lined up in macrobins at the crush pad, ready to be sorted, destemmed and then gravity fed into tank

Yields came in right around average, and grape chemistry and flavors were in extraordinary balance.  This was primarily due to the pleasant and moderate climate throughout July, August and September.  In California, we regularly experience heat spikes during the harvest months, where daytime temperatures reach into the high 90s/low 100s for several days at a time.  Depending on the vineyard and stage of ripeness, heat spikes can be detrimental to quality.  We had only one mild heat spike this harvest, which actually had positive impact on the fruit that was still on the vine, pushing some of the slower ripening vineyards along.  The harvest was brought to completion just before the three days of rain on the second week of October, replenishing the soils and phasing us into autumn.

Pink Ladies of the basket press

The pink ladies of the basket press!  Making a press cut on Kellog vineyard/Knights Valley Cabernet.  All of us happened to wear pink that day.

With just over half of the wine pressed off skins, I’m already seeing that the balance in the fruit is being reflected in the wine.  The consistent weather allowed a very precise level of ripeness to be achieved, getting the most out of each vineyard’s terroir.  The wines exude stellar concentration and elegant structure, along with a freshness that is highlighted by the beautiful aromatics.  Following their evolution from barrel to bottle over the next couple years should really be a treat.



It’s close to a month before we expect to see the first grapes, and I’m still trying to answer the question, “How is this year’s harvest looking?”  The growing season got started with the long anticipated El Niño rains, which certainly helped replenish the reservoirs and ground water after four consecutive dry years.  The extra moisture also helped jumpstart bud break and shoot growth, promoting a nice lush canopy, and the moderately warm spring weather led to a nice fruit set in just about every vineyard.  However, due to the carryover effect of last year’s drought-affected poor set, the crop load is still likely to be lighter than average.  

So everything is going pretty well, right?  Absolutely.  I’d say low yields and a healthy canopy is certainly a great place to be, but the truth is that the next few weeks are just as critical in determining how this harvest will unfold.
We are now at the point in the season where the vines have stopped putting energy into the canopy (the green parts of the plant – leaves, shoots, etc.), and have started to devote all their energy into ripening the fruit.  This stage is marked by veraison, which in white grapes is the softening of the berries and in red grape varieties is the change in coloring from green to purple.  This is also when the flavor aromas are developed as well as the tannin and structural components of the grape skins.
Veraison on Merlot at Arrowood Estate Vineyard.
Veraison on Merlot at Arrowood Estate Vineyard.
In the coming weeks, the vines will get one last manicure to remove any secondary shoots or leaves that cause excess shading.  At this point in the game, it is a balancing act to make sure that every grape cluster gets enough sunlight, but not too much that we run the risk of sunburn or shrivel.  This is also the last chance to remove any excess crop (“green drop”) to make sure that all the fruit on the vine will fully ripen.
The 2016 vintage has started off checking all the right boxes, but in witnessing over a decade of harvests, I know it is always wise to temper your expectations against Mother Nature.  We will continue to carefully monitor our work in the vineyard and the cellar and I could not be more excited to witness the evolution of this vintage from vine to bottle. 
Thanks for tuning in, and check back in a couple months when we wrap up the season with the 2016 End of Harvest Report.

Kristina Werner, Winemaker

I’ve been asked more than once, “After harvest is over and the wine is in barrel, what do you do for the rest of the year?” As much as I would like to say that I spend the eight months outside harvest lying on sandy beaches with a cocktail in hand, there is actually quite a bit of action during the “off-season.”
The months of March and April at Arrowood are all about blending our reds.  This is one of the final and most important stages of the winemaking process.  It is the creative part where, as a winemaker, I have to rely exclusively on my senses to guide decisions.  Imagine that you are a painter and have a color palate with the six primary colors.  The number of colors you can create by mixing these colors is infinite.  On top of that, how the paint is layered and the brush stroke that is used can create many different types of textures.  Keep this image in mind as you think about how wine gets blended.
The 2014 vintage has been aging in barrel for a little over a year, which is just enough time to see how the wine has evolved and the oak barrels have integrated.  Although the Reserve and vineyard designate Cabernets will stay in barrel for an additional sixteen months (32 months total), I like to make blending decisions earlier so that the wine has time to marry in barrel before bottling.
Each vineyard block is barreled down into a barrel group, and kept separate during the aging process until blending decisions are made.  To avoid any biases, I taste each barrel group blind so that I cannot see which vineyard each wine is coming from.  I have to consider overall quality, but also what type of characteristics each wine can bring to a blend.  For example, the Monte Rosso vineyard tends to give a lot of concentration and minerality while the Smothers-Remick Ridge Cabernet offers intense red fruit aromatics and bright acidity.  Sellitto vineyard is defined by its fleshy fruit aromas and velvety palate while Knights Cross Cabernet is more masculine and densely structured.  Understanding each of these components allows me to use each building block to create the most complete and expressive wine possible.
Winemakers create “trial blends” to play around with different percentages of each component to formulate the blend.  Subtle changes of even 1% can change the blend entirely, and sometimes it takes many attempts before the final blend decision is reached.  Like the artist’s pallet, these combinations are key to achieving the work of art that you have envisioned.  
Once a blend is finalized, the next phase for Arrowood wines is the barrel selection process.  Within the barrel group, each barrel is tracked on an individual basis and is tasted like it is its own wine.  This is because each barrel influences the wine differently depending on its age (new v. seasoned), origin (French v. American forest), toasting level, barrel maker (cooper), among other factors.  The Reserve Speciale barrels are the first to be selected, consisting of the best barrels of the highest quality vineyard blocks of the vintage.  Eventually, every barrel is tasted and selected for a particular program.  To avoid palate fatigue (and to keep the enamel on my teeth!), this process can take up to two months.
This may all sound very tedious, but it is the detail and decision around blending that gives a wine that final fingerprint. As a winemaker, it helps me to develop a deeper understanding of the vineyards that I work with and how as wines, they evolve and interact.  Blending is an art of the senses, and finding the harmony amongst the vineyards is what passionate winemaking is all about.