by Fred McMillin
for June 19, 1998
Winery of the Week
A Sonora Soliloquy
The many Sonoras...
Sonora—A 70,000 sq. mile state in northwest Mexico, containing the 300-mile Sonora River. Wine was made there over two centuries ago as Jesuit missionaries built their chain of missions moving northward toward California.
Sonora Pass—"If California lies beyond that massive wall of mountains, we shall never be able to reach it," said John Bidwall to his wagon train companions in 1841. However, passes were found through the Sierra Nevada, including the 9,600-ft. Sonora Pass.
Sonora, the Town—Before long Sonora was a Gold Rush town in today's Tuolumne County. The miners' best wine was made from a new grape, the Zinfandel.
Sonora Winery and Port Works—The winery is created at Sonora in 1986 by Richard Matranga, winemaker, and Mike Brogan, operations manager.
So, a Sonora winery must make Zinfandel wines. Richard uses grapes from vines 75 to 95 years old. But how successfully?
The critics use words like "heady, "rich," and "robust." In a recent S.F. Chronicle rating of Sierra Foothills' Zins, the Sonora Old Vine garnered 3½ stars. None scored higher. The clincher is the results of recent World Wine Championships. A review of the last five years led the Wine Enthusiast to list Sonora among the "Great Zinfandel Producers."
What about the "Port Works" part? Richard makes his from varieties imported from Portugal...and it surely "works." E.g., in a tasting of U.S.A. ports by Smart Wine, the Sonora was "the most intensely flavored" and won the competition. That was the 1992 vintage. Vintage 1994 is now available. My tasters' sole criticism involved the production; Richard turned out only 850 delicious cases.
Name—Sonora Winery & Port Works
No wonder John Bidwell was awed when he approached the Sierra Nevadas. One of the longest mountain ranges in the world (430 miles), its flora include Sequoias over 20 stories high and pine trees older than the Egyptian pyramids. (J.J.B., Wine Regions of America)
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