Who might have guessed that, in southern Mendocino County, Cabernet Sauvignon is being produced from vines that came from cuttings originally sourced at Ridge Vineyards’ Jimsomare Ranch. As unlikely as it may sound, it’s true, and while it’s not intentionally kept secret, you probably would never know unless you happened to stumble upon the Rosati Family Wines website or had chance to communicate with Allan Bree aka califusa, who discovered this little known fact during his tireless investigations of all things Ridge.
The Rosati story is a fascinating one. Mario Rosati is a lawyer, and his very first client was Ridge Vineyards. He would go on to serve on Ridge’s Board of Directors for 15 years or more, and became good friends with many of the principals there, including David Bennion. As Mario’s practice grew, he and his wife Danelle bought a 1,500 acre property just across the county line from Sonoma; you literally turn right off the freeway to access their sprawling property. While visiting the Rosatis, Bennion suggested that Cabernet Sauvignon might grow well at the higher elevations, and, in 1987, cuttings from Jimsomare were planted and continue to thrive on Mario’s favorite hilltop setting, at around 900-950 feet above sea level.
Rosati is the 3rd most southerly winery in Mendocino, located not far from Geyserville, and the property is spectacularly beautiful. The Russian River runs right by the property and Comisky Creek actually runs through it. Deer, turkey and wild boar are hunted there. 10 acres of vineyards are planted, all Cabernet Sauvignon, producing between 10-16 tons of grapes per vintage. No grapes are bought or sold; the entire production goes into the Rosati cabs. Zelma Long oversees the winemaking operations, conducted jointly with John Fetzer’s Saracina Vineyards. The wines sell for around $28 per bottle.
Bree contacted Mario Rosati and made arrangements for our visit, and we trucked on up to Mendo one bright Saturday afternoon, arriving at around 2 PM, driving up past the family quarters to the refurbished horse barn that now serves to entertain family, friends and privileged guests such as ourselves. Mario met us and gave us the grand tour in his 4 wheel drive vehicle, an absolutely must for getting around here. From the vineyard site itself, the barn looks like a distant structure below.
We returned to the barn to taste. Bree’s thought was to taste some of his old vintages of Ridge Jimsomare Cabernet alongside those of the Rosatis, and it worked out quite well. The wines from the two sites were rather different in character, and understandably so, with the relatively cool climate character of the Santa Cruz Mountains Jimsomare as opposed to the hotter Mendocino site. Still, the wines showed very well pretty much across the board. Here are my snapshot impressions.
1986 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare, 12.4% alc.: Clean, dark color, showing very little rust; lovely nose of earthy black fruit, a little old wood and, yes, Draper perfume. Rich and claret-like, full bodied and still well structured, with plenty of life left in it.
1988 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare, 7% Merlot, 12% alc.: Clean, dark color, with just a hint of rust; a little funk over rich black currant and just a hint of Draper perfume on the nose, following through on the palate with funky old wood and forest floor. Still plenty of tannins and good acidity, making for a nice wine from a not-so-good vintage.
1989 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare, 13.1% alc.: Slightly cooked, this hasn’t fared as well as the previous two; funky stewed fruit, full-bodied, with plenty of structure.
1990 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare, 13.6% alc.: Deep, dark color, with forest floor on the nose and following through in the flavors over a rich core of Cabernet fruit; full bodied, with excellent intensity and still well structured, yet drinking well right now. Still on the way up, with a long life ahead.
1992 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare, 13.1% alc.: Clean, dark color, and richer and riper that any of the previous selections; sleek and intense, but not at all over-ripe, with a brilliant core of black currant cassis fruit. Not a lot of Draper perfume, but otherwise, classic California claret.
1993 Rosati Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.8% alc.: Clean, dark color, with lovely, expressive aromatics of ripe black currant cassis; Bree adds an impression of kirsch. Excellent structure and balance, and while not as big as the Jimsomares, it has an intensity of flavor that’s most appealing, and can age for several years in the cellar. From 6th year vines.
1993 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare, 13.4% alc.: Deep, dark color, with a hint of bret over earthy black currant and blackberry flavors and aromas, shaded with hints of forest floor and some very subtle cocoa. Rich and fairly ripe, while maintaining a classic claret character, this is, surprisingly, perhaps the most approachable of the Jimsomares. Lovely.
Mario couldn’t wait, and skipped us ahead to this, clearly the finest wine produced from this site thus far.
2004 Rosati Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.7% alc.: Clean, dark color, with a rich, ripe black currant cassis kirsch nose that follows through beautifully on the palate with hints of chocolate and spice. Sleek, yet well structured and not yet at its peak, this still has a long life ahead of it.
1994 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare, 12.4% alc.: Almost opaque in color, with a pretty perfume of black currant cassis and some subtle Draper perfume; a little more fruit forward than the ’93, but a little more closed at the same time. I’m getting a little more out of this than Bree seems to and I like it quite well. Air helps it now, but nothing can take the place of another 5-10 years in the cellar.
1995 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare, 12.9% alc.: “There’s bret in them thar hills,” Bree remarked about this dark, cleanly colored wine, and indeed, it shows some funky bret on the nose that follows through on the palate with a solid core of Cabernet fruit; dry and while not that ripe, not really austere either. Needs air now, but time in the cellar is best, so try again in 5 years.
1996 Rosati Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.8% alc.: Clean, dark color, with ripe, spicy black currant and blackberry flavors and aromas shaded with a hint of rhubarb, of all things; full-bodied, well structured and very expressive, this one is interestingly different and tasty.
1997 Rosati Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.8% alc.: Clean, dark color, with somewhat earthy black currant and black cherry flavors and aromas, shaded with some spicy undertones. Sleek, balanced and drinking well now, but not necessarily at its peak.
2000 Rosati Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.8% alc.: Deep, dark color, with sweet Cabernet fruit graced with a kiss of sweet oak and subtle smoky undertones; rich and ripe, but balanced and not over-the-top. Very nice now, with several years of development to follow.
2001 Rosati Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.8% alc.: Showing clean, deep, dark color, and even more expressive than the 2000, with rich, intense, spicy black currant and black cherry character; sleek, full-bodied and well structured, this is very nice now and offers great promise for future development.
2003 Rosati Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.8% alc.: Deep, dark color, with a rich, ripe Cabernet Sauvignon nose that gains subtle earthy undertones and nice spicy nuances on the palate; balanced, well structured and lovely. Drink or hold.
2005 Rosati Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.7% alc.: Deeply, darkly colored, and obviously the youngest, richest, spiciest and most fruit forward of the bunch, all with the same sleek, well structured character that the two previous wines display. Drink now and enjoy, but some years in the cellar should do this very well indeed!
After tasting through the wines, we sat down to a delightful dinner with the Rosatis, accompanied, of course, by several of the wines we’d just tasted through.
The Rosatis and Zelma Long are doing very nice things here, and I like all of these quite a bit, and of course, it was great fun to compare them to the Jimsomares. The Rosati Cabernet Sauvignons are most definitely deserving of greater recognition for the high quality and pleasurable drinking enjoyment that they offer. Bree opined that they’re as good as any cabs coming out of Sonoma County and I would not disagree with that statement. They maintain a stylistic consistency throughout the vintages that gives much to admire. Many thanks to Mario and Danelle Rosati for their wonderful hospitality shown to us on this occasion and to Allan Bree for his effort in making it all happen.