From bandits to vineyards

  • This is Barry Hoffner, Silverwood Ranch, located in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA , straddles both Sonoma and Mendocino Counties and includes the highest elevation vineyard in Sonoma County. The 1,200 acre Ranch comprises two special vineyards, Silverwood Vineyard (13 acres planted) and Upper Ridge (30 acres planted) leased to Imagery winery owned by Benziger Family Winery, named "Sonoma County Winery of the Year, 2012." Photos by George Rose.

Set atop a remote ridge northeast of Cloverdale on the way to the Geysers, the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak American Viticultural Area (AVA) rises between 1,500 and 3,000 feet, stretching between both Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

It was granted official status in late 2011 and is the culmination of many generations' worth of farming and ranching history, including viticulture. George Allen is credited with planting the first grapes here in 1855, the modern-day site of Tin Cross Vineyards.

In the 1800s, ranches got their grapes down to Cloverdale by mule or horse and water was plentiful enough to spawn a line of Pine Mountain Mineral Water, founded in 1899. It's also known as one of the many crime scenes of infamous bandit Black Bart, who was said to have robbed stagecoaches along Pine Mountain Road between Cloverdale and Lakeport during the 1860s.

There was also once a utopian agricultural community at the base of the mountain that also grew wine grapes. The historic Preston Ranch was run by Colonel and Madam Preston, the latter a mystic and faith healer. It was once reported that the Preston commune had 10,000 gallons of wine in storage and was harvesting 40 tons of grapes.

Through Aug.ust 3, the Healdsburg Museum offers an exhibition called "Visionaries, Believers, Seekers and Schemers: Utopian Communities of Sonoma County," detailing such places as Preston.

Settled in the 1870s, one of the Preston vineyards remains in production (though long since replanted) and is farmed now by Duckhorn Vineyards, though it is slightly too low in elevation to officially be part of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA.

Higher up, the appellation is marked by wind and, most years, rain (averaging from 45 to 90 inches per year), as well as thin, shallow volcanic soils.

Growers outnumber wineries, from family-run Silverwood Ranch, who sells grapes to Francis Ford Coppola winery for its Archimedes wine, to plantings farmed by Kendall-Jackson winery and Tin Cross Vineyards.

Wines labeled with the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA include Miro Cellars, Respite, Capt?re, Edmeades, Murphy-Goode and Imagery Estate, which makes a malbec, tempranillo and unusual lagrein wine from there, while Split Rock Springs Ranch produces organic olive oil.

Still, for an area encompassing a vast 4,750 acres, only some 230 acres, a mere smidgen, is planted. The climate is marked by cool days and warm nights, resulting in plenty of all-day sunshine yet enough moderate temperature to let the grapes hang for a long time without getting burned.

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