Moon Mountain District crafting premium reds from mountainous perch in Sonoma County.
By Dave Nershi, CSW
Ten years ago I tasted my first wine from Moon Mountain, buying five bottles from the Moon Mountain Vineyard winery. The luscious wine soon ran out and to make matters worse, I learned the winery was closing. My lingering fears were unfounded as Repris Wines purchased the property and continued and expanded the reputation of the legendary vineyard and wine from this special slice of Sonoma continues to flow.
The Moon Mountain District AVA, formed in 2013, is in a mountainous region in the very east of Sonoma County. It is made entirely of hillside vineyards, some incredibly remote, with iron-rich volcanic soil. A clear view to San Francisco 50 miles south is not uncommon.
Wines made there have been famed since the 1880s. Phil Coturri, vineyard manager and pioneer of organic and biodynamic winegrowing in California, explains the uniqueness this way, “The multiplicity of slopes, aspects, exposures, and elevations, combined with volcanic soils enlivened with organic matter and enhanced by complex cover crops creates flavors as unique as the terroir found in the Moon Mountain District -- of course, the attitude of the winegrower adds additional spice.”
We recently celebrated these magnificent wines with the Red Side of the Moon: A Moon Mountain AVA Dinner, pairing six wines with tasty gourmet dishes. These are premium red wines and most have limited production. Although these are "big" wines, we were impressed with the richness and balance that translated to grace and power. We decanted each wine for at least an hour.
Our group included wine writers Dathan and Jen of Triangle Around Town and Arthur and Mary Barham of Merlot2Muscadine as well as friends Robert and Linda. Each wine was served with a specially crafted dish.
For “lift off” on our voyage to the Moon, we started with a sparkling Grüner Veltliner Sekt (more on that in a separate story) and the Reprise 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Heritage Clones. This was paired with Vadouvan Spiced Carrots & Radishes and a cheese selection. The unique French spices, a take on Indian masala, created a complex blend of smokiness and sweetness that worked wonderfully with both wines.
The Repris Cabernet uses the Moon Mountain Clone evolved in volcanic soil over four decades. It includes some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in California and delivers a wine that delighted the group with aromas of dark fruit and sweet spices. This is a savory wine that immediately opens your eyes to the glorious potential of Moon Mountain District.
Pairing six big reds with a dinner menu can be ticklish, but the Green Dragon was up to the challenge. Our next dish was a Beef & Vegetable Stew and a Thai Quinoa Crunch Salad (prepared by me). The stew was a lighter affair just perfect for the Kamen 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Moon Mountain and the Lasseter 2018 Syrah Moon Mountain.
The Kamen captured fans right away with raspberry and violet notes riding on complex dark chocolate layers. Minerality and smooth tannins make for a great finish. The Lasseter was the only non-Cabernet wine and provided a nice contrast with a decided Old World vibe and brambly notes of sweet oak and blackberry. At this point, our guests have become avid Moon Mountain admirers.
All six wines have ABV levels above 14.5% and two have more than 15%, so it was time for a pause. Arthur presented his intermezzo, a chilled fruit soup duet. We enjoyed a Peach & Champagne Shooter and a Pear, Prosecco & Mint Spoon. Now that’s the way to cleanse your palate!
Two very special wines were teed up for our next entrée: Seared Duck Breast with Port & Cherry Sauce. What a refreshing food pairing. The duck offers a delicious change from steak, with its rich meat and robust flavor.
The Louis M. Martini 2018 Monte Rosso Vineyard has the vineyard’s signature spice and sweet oak aromatics. Topping out at 16.1% ABV, I wondered it this would be too “big,” but it proved to be big, balanced and agile – like the Yankees Aaron Judge. Monte Rosso has been producing award-winning wines for three generations. This is a bottle that can and should be aged to fully integrate the tannins.
Stone Edge Farm Winery is an interesting producer that is focused on organic grapes and high environmental standards. It produces energy independent of the power grid and has a carbon footprint below zero. However, my main interest was it’s 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon. This has 4% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc, which fine-tunes the powerful Cabernet flavor. On the tongue there are baking spices, ripe cherries and tobacco.
For our “wine-down” we moved out to the patio and amidst the torch flames enjoyed a selection of Dark Chocolate Truffles and Caramels. Our final Moon Mountain District wine was the B Wise 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Moon Mountain. A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, just over 500 cases were produced. After five big reds, could the B Wise still delight? Yes, with exceptional balance, jammy goodness, dark fruit and hints of leather this was a perfect wrap up to the evening.
The greatness of these wines is undeniable right now, even though most are designed to age, some up to 20 years. The warmer climate, longer growing season, and rocky high-altitude soils make Moon Mountain wines a memorable treat. If you are unfamiliar with this unique region, the Moon Mountain District Winegrowers Association website provides a nice background.
Full Disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.