by Fred McMillin
for May 5, 1999


The Knights Valley Mystery


It has no town. It has no large winery. What and where is Knights Valley?

Prof. Baxevanis Answers The Question

Knights Valley is a relatively new and obscure vineyard district on the eastern edge of Sonoma County, next to the Napa Valley. It is high, surrounded by mountains, and removed from the cooling marine air. Hence, it is sunnier, hotter and drier than the surrounding vine-growing areas. When combined with the low yields from poor, rocky soils, the result is "well-colored, intensely-flavored wines, particularly from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon [which make up over 80% of our Wine of the Day]."

...from Wine Regions of America by my friend, John Baxevanis

If it's so good, then where has it been? Here's the tale.

Thomas Knight is the first permanent settler in this high valley in the l850s. By 1860 he is making a 1,000 gallons of wine a year from facilties in St. Helena in Napa County.

1861—Charles Krug makes the first commercial wine in Napa County, but his grapes come from Knights Valley!

1973—Beringer launches a modernization of its grape sources and grape-growing practices. They plant Bordeaux varietals in Knights Valley. By 1979 the Cab is looking great. Soon, they plant another 800 or so acres, in spite of the fact that it is judged the most susceptible location in all of Somoma County to spring frost damage. and my panel is very happy that they did. In blind tastings, the Knights Valley Beringer reds repeatedly score well. Here's the latest.

Todays Wine

1995 "Alluvium" Red Table Wine
Beringer Vineyards, St. Helena
Grape Movement— Just like Charles Krug did with Napa's first wine, the Sonoma grapes are brought to Napa's St. Helena for crushing. Composition—Though dominated by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Alluvium includes the other three Bordeaux important red varieties, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
The Name—"Alluvium" is taken from the Knights Valley Alluvium soil, washed down for centuries from the higher, surrounding mountains.
RATING—EXCELLENT. Won our Best of Tasting award against 19 competitors.
Price—$30 range


Thomas Knight didn't have a lot of competition when he made his non-commercial wine. How many other farmers were reported as making wine at St. Helena in 1860? Only eight.

Credits: Wlm. Heintz, Wine Country;
Reserach Asst. Diane Bulzomi

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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