Since its inception Field Stone Winery has been completely family owned and operated. Wallace Johnson purchased the property in southern Alexander Valley , 750 acres in 1958 and named it Redwood Ranch. When he purchased the property Alexander Valley was best known for grazing, fruit, fodder crops and prunes. Yes , prunes were the top commercial agricultural crop for the area up until the early seventies. In fact Healdsburg the hub of the area was once known as the "The Buckle of the Prune Belt". Even when you travel through the valley today you can still see vestiges of old prune orchards dotting the landscape.
In the late 1960's Robert Young and other prune farmers in the area started experimenting with grape growing as it seemed it might turn out to be more profitable. Fast forward to the present and wine grapes are now the number one cash crop in Alexander Valley.
Wally's original intent was to use the ranch to raise cattle and plant vineyards to be used as a testing ground for his mechanical grape harvesting machine. Ironically the Statens no longer use Wally's patented harvester, but the neighboring ranchers at Rio Largo use a French-made mechanical harvester to harvest their grapes which they sell to Jordan, Kendall-Jackson and Girard Winery in Napa Valley. Wally was very serious about his cattle and at one time he spent $100,000 to purchase a prized bull only to have it die a couple of years later.
Wally graduated with honors from Cal Tech as a mechanical engineer. Judging from the number of patents he held as a inventor, his business and political achievements, it's hard to imagine he had any time to sleep. He served two terms as the last Republican Mayor of Berkeley California from 1963 to 1971. Wally thought long term and during his tenure as mayor he fought Bay Area Rapid Transit board members and engineers over their plans to build the tracks in Berkeley between the stations above ground. He believed that erecting elevated tracks straight through the middle of town would spur a racial and ethnic divide in effect creating a right and wrong side of the tracks mentality. In the end he prevailed convincing his political opponents and the tax payers to support a ballot initiative to increase taxes to cover the additional expense of having the tracks buried underground. Wally also owned a successful business, Upright Scaffolding Inc., that built quality portable aluminum scaffolding systems and one the first mechanical grape harvesters. When you visit the winery you can see how he used his engineering knowledge to construct one of the first underground wineries since prohibition. Wally passed away in 1979 a few years after his wineries construction had been completed.
After Wally's death the ranch passed into the hands of his four children. Of the four heirs his daughter Katrina and her husband John Staten were the only ones that wanted to take on the responsibility of running the winery. The property was divided up with the other three children receiving larger portions of the property while the Statens kept fifty acres and the winery. The other three kids shortly sold their portion of the property to the Reed Family. Today the Reeds farm about 350 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes.
John Staten having spent some time on a sheep ranch in Texas was familiar with farm life, so when he found himself suddenly thrust with the responsibility of running a ranch, vineyards and a winery he embraced the opportunity. Having earned a B.A. in history and philosophy from Stanford University he pursued studies in Theology, attending Princeton and The University of Chicago. He applied his Ph. D. in Theology, spreading the word if you will, by heading religion departments at several colleges in Northern California. John displayed keen insight or perhaps even better vision, because who would have believed that the driver of a lime colored Datsun 240Z that could be seen zipping by his property along Highway 128 with great frequency during the harvest was none other than "the dean of American Winemakers" Andre Tchelistcheff. Andre had retired from Beaulieu Vineyards in 1973, but still worked as a consulting enologist for numerous wineries in Napa and Sonoma County. John wisely cultivated a relationship with Andre who served as his senior enologist and advisor for over ten years. Today John is still pretty hands on and can be seen at the winery about three days a week. John's son Ben came on board in 1990 and is the Vineyard and General Manager. The winemaker for Field Stone is Patrick Murray.
Thirty-eight acres of the ranch are planted. They grow one white grape variety Viognier, and the rest are red varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Syrah, Sangiovese and Syrah. The Statens farm the land sustainably with minimal use of pesticides. They are certified members of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program. www.sustainablewinegrowing.org. The ranch is 70% dry farmed on a good year. They use manure from their neighbors, pomace from the previous vintages and lots of cover crops of wild onions and flowers to nourish the soils. They have several owl boxes on the property but they have never really had a problem with birds trying to raid the grapes. Another bonus for being at the southern end of the valley is they have not had to invest in any frost protection devices. As you travel further up valley you'll notice vineyards with the fans and overhead sprinklers that are used to combat frost during the crucial periods of bud break.
While walking the property with Josh Cortopassi our affable docent we learned that the front porch of the old farmhouse on the property was used as a setting for the famed Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler ads from the eighties.
Field Stone's flagship wine is a Reserve Petite Sirah and the property has a seven acre plot of 120 year old vines that form a horseshoe around the farmhouse. To put 120 year old vines in perspective most grape growers pull up established vineyards and replant usually before the vines reach their thirtieth birthday. The reason being as vines age they produce less fruit. Seeing the value of the old vineyard ( a survivor from the past) through a different prism the Statens have chosen to take what the old vines give them and look past the economic drawbacks of farming this plot. The gnarled head trained vineyard yields grapes that produce a wine of intense blue, black opaque color. Black cherries and blue fruits explode out of the glass, with some cocoa and lavender in the background. Full bodied in the mouth and tannic but the fruit is so deep and intense that the tannins feel ample, not overpowering. The wine finishes with good length and persistence. The 2012 example will invariably age well if you can manage not to drink it in its beautiful youth. 850 cases $38
The 2012 Vineyard Select Pinot Noir Russian River is Field Stone's second release of Pinot Noir. Most farmers have learned that Alexander Valley is too warm to grow quality Pinot Noir and the family is smart enough to not go against the trend. They source the grapes for this wine from the Russian River Valley at Hopkin's River Ranch, right off of Eastside Road in Healdsburg. Why Pinot? Because it's popular and they happen to have Patrick Murray as their winemaker and he's been working with Pinot for over ten years. It speaks to the good nature and spirit of the family to support Pat by allowing him to use barrel space at the winery to follow his passion. His own label is called Paro and he crafts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Sonoma County. http://www.parowine.com/ourstory This Pinot Noir exhibits aromas of raspberries and red cherries, cinnamon and spice with a hint of forest floor. Showing a fine balance of fruit acids and oak tannins this one will delight you with elegance not brawn. 392 cases $30
The 2012 Convivio is a red blend composed of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese. Convivio is less fruit driven than many of the other offerings. The wine displays aromas of black fruit , tobacco, pencil shavings and earth, with medium body and length on the finish. It's fifteen dollars at the winery but if you shop around you can find it for ten bucks at retail. John is an ordained Presbyterian minister and he put his beliefs to work with this affordable wine. The family donates a portion of the proceeds to Clinica Alianza, a non-profit medical center that serves farm workers, and everyone from newborns to elderly in Sonoma County. 620 cases $15
There are roughly 1,800 bearing acres of Sangiovese planted in California. Contrast that to over 80,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted and one can see it's an uphill battle in the marketplace for Sangiovese. Aged in American Oak Field Stone's 2012 Sangiovese starts with a cranberry, red cherry, lavender and tobacco leaf nose. On the palate more red fruit, lively acidity and modest tannins. You wouldn't mistake it for a good Chianti Classico but why should you. It's distinctly Californian and as Sangiovese should be, would be suitable for a wide variety of foods. 483 cases $27
The 2012 Marion's Block Syrah is aged in American and new Hungarian Oak for 16 months. Floral aromas of lavender and violets, accompany , framboise, boysenberry and black plums with hints of black licorice and spice in the background. With beautiful texture on the palate the wine is delightfully lush and savory, full bodied carrying a long satisfying finish. 392 cases $27
Alexander Valley happens to be a great area to cultivate Merlot and Field Stone's vineyard block on the north side of the property is no exception. At one time the owners of Chateau Ausone in Bordeaux's St-Emilion region were interested in purchasing the property so they could make a Bordeaux styled wine in California. Andre Tchelistcheff acted as a duel broker for Ausone and Field Stone, but no deal was ever made. What did come out of the courtship: the Statens were able to secure some French clonal selections for their vineyard. Their 2012 Merlot is aged in French-coopered American oak barrels for nineteen months but only 30% of the barrels are new. The nose shows black cherries, currants and tobacco. On the palate you'll get a good grip of chewy tannins, oak and a hint of leather. Very good now but several more months in the bottle should help it become more integrated. 490 cases $25
The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is the workhorse wine for the Field Stone lineup with production at 1,680 cases. The budwood for the vineyards is comprised of two Bordeaux clones: three clones from Napa Valley, BV1(Beaulieu) , Martha's Vineyard (Heitz) and Niebaum respectively. Aged in 70% French and 30% American Oak the aromas open with black berries and black currants, while the oak influence is firm and in check. This is more of a traditional Cabernet, old school if you will at 13.5% alcohol. Its charm is its typicity and its balance in texture and flavors, not the flash and power that we have come to expect from Cabernet made in the "other valley". On the palate one senses a little red fruit coming forth accompanied by hints of tobacco and pencil shavings. It's full bodied and bold and would be the perfect accompaniment to a steak cooked on an open grill. Just what the founder Wally had in mind. $32
The 2012 Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was raised for 20 months in French Oak (40% new). It was a bit closed when I tasted it showing black fruit and black currants, firm tannins and a rich mouth feel. More concentrated than their other Cabernet it shows great promise. 494 cases $45
Field Stone also makes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose of Petite Sirah, Viognier, a Vintage Port and a Late Harvest Viognier. Their Chardonnay was sold out but the other white wines and Rose that I tasted were true to type and exhibited attractive fruit forward, clean flavors.
If you're ever touring Sonoma County Field Stone Winery is well worth the visit. Don't expect to find restaurants or convenience stores on their section of Highway 128, but they do have picnic tables just outside the winery's front door. Stop in, taste their wonderful wines and stock up on some newly found favorites. Before you leave enjoy a relaxing lunch under the oaks and take in the beautiful rural vistas of the surrounding ranches of Alexander Valley.
If you would like to learn more about Field Stone Winery & Vineyard follow the link below.