gmhTODAY Fall 2021 October-December 2021 - Page 60

Santa Clara AVA : The French Connection

Rhone Valley In Our Roots

by Cindy Adams , Sommelier / Wine Educator at Calerrain Winery in Gilroy Photos by Tony Scotino and Besson Family Vineyards
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If our Founding Wine Fathers were to visit the beautiful Santa Clara Valley American viticultural area ( AVA ) now , they would be amazed , and hopefully , pleased , at all of the changes that have taken place – changes that no one could have imagined even 50 years ago . Now , in addition to the traditional Italian and Bordeaux varietals that made up the “ Valley of Heart ’ s Delight ” so many years ago , they would find planted the wonderful varietals of the Rhone Valley – Viognier , Grenache , Syrah and Mourvèdre – just to name a few .

The Rhone Valley is an area in southwest France , along the Rhone River , that grows the “ big three ” red grapes – Grenache , Syrah and Mourvèdre . As is the practice in Old World countries , the French government determines which grapes can be grown in this region . In the Rhone Valley you will also find aromatic floral whites such as Viognier , Roussanne and Marsanne . Many other varietals grow in a sub-region known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape .
The “ Rhone explosion ” in the Santa Clara Valley began in the 1850s and can be largely credited to a gentleman named Charles LeFranc , who was the first to plant those “ big three ” red varietals of the Rhone in this area . Unfortunately , in the late 1800s the vine disease phylloxera , a plague-like root louse infestation , spread across California and virtually destroyed the existing vines . It would take many years before the Santa Clara Valley recovered and many more before Rhone varietals found their way back into the vineyards here .
The early 1900s saw an influx of European immigrants to the Santa Clara Valley . These hardworking people missed the wines of their home countries and the traditions of family and camaraderie that centered around food and drink . As they were able to purchase plots of land in this fertile valley , they planted their native grapes – Zinfandel , Sangiovese , Merlot and Cabernet . Throughout the 20th century these wines defined this lovely area .
One of the first Rhone pioneers in the Santa Clara Valley was George Besson , Sr ., whose vineyards remain to this day on Hecker Pass Road in Gilroy . In the 1930s , Besson farmed two of the largest concentrations of Grenache and Syrah in Northern California , along with Zinfandel and Carignane . When Randall Graham , founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard , went looking for Grenache
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Santa Clara Valley wine grapes were also used in the late 1960s by the late Dr . David Bruce . David Bruce Winery was bonded in 1964 in the Santa Cruz Mountains with the express purpose of producing Pinot Noir . However , when Dr . Bruce
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