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Amapola Creek: Richard Arrowood’s New Wine

Throughout a 49-year career in Sonoma County, winemaker Richard Arrowood has always reached new heights. Quite literally.

Since landing a summer job at Korbel Champagne Cellars on the Russian River in 1965, to working at the legendary Italian Swiss Colony, improving production at Rodney Strong, and launching Chateau St. Jean as that successful winery’s first winemaker, Arrowood’s career has taken him ever eastward.

Now, visitors can seek out Arrowood’s small-production wines a little further up the road at his mountain redoubt high above Sonoma Valley, Amapola Creek.

Cuvée in the Chaparral
Arrowood has an encyclopedic memory of Sonoma County wine history, and can rattle off his favorite harvest years without hesitation. “Let’s see, there was ’70, ’75, ’85, ’86, ’90, and ’91,” he said, “and ’94 was superb.” He also has a keen recollection of the events that inspired him to leave the eponymous winery he founded with his wife, Alis, in 1985.

Although Arrowood Vineyards is now run by Jackson Family Wines, which appears to handle its acquired brands fairly capably, a set of previous owners fumbled in the early 2000s, according to Arrowood. In 2007, he took the opportunity to focus exclusively on his small, but “state of the art” custom-built winery in the hills.

Take a Sip
With the help of daughter Kerry Arrowood-Cummings, Richard Arrowood can get back to hands-on winemaking at Amapola Creek, he said, which he enjoys more than paperwork. Amapola Creek is a certified CCOF organic grower and handler, an extra step that allows the winery to proudly print “organic” on the label.

Because of the remote location and small staff, tours and wine tasting are available twice daily, by appointment, Monday through Friday; no weekends. Tastings are seated, and one stem for each wine is provided.

Arrowood didn’t leave the malolactic fermentation up to chance when making his 2012 Belli Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($45). The nutty aroma, lemon meringue pie and pear cider notes are not overwhelmed by “butteriness” as a result of his choices.

A blend of Grenache and Syrah, the 2013 Estate Sonoma Valley Rose Cuvée ($20) is a big, juicy pink wine with a crisp, dry finish. For Cab lovers, there’s a lovely, savory 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($70); the perfumed, silky 2010 Cuvée Alis ($48), a blend of estate-grown Syrah and Grenache, will reward any red wine lover.

Tartaric Acid Trip
It’s the 2010 Monte Rosso Vineyard Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($42) that really shows the wine master’s wizardry. At a low pH and about 12.4 grams per liter acidity, but a ripe 15.5 percent alcohol, it’s a pretty freaky wine — on paper.

Those numbers aren’t normal. “It’s a bear to malolactic ferment,” Arrowood said. Yet on the palate, it’s full of jammy, raspberry and blackberry fruit, savory black olive highlights, and a brooding, chewy finish; neither sweet nor sharp. Arrowood just smiles and says it’s the magic of the vineyard.

Hit the Road
Amapola Creek is located a short drive uphill from the Sonoma Valley town of Agua Caliente area along Highway 12. After visiting, consider lunch at El Molino Central, a popular Boyes Hot Springs taqueria that also serves fancy coffee. Or pack a picnic, and enjoy an easy hike through gently rolling oak woodland at Sonoma Valley Regional Park.

392 London Way, Sonoma. Tours and tastings by appointment only, Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.; $25. 707-938-3783.

Find more info about wineries, restaurants and hotels in Sonoma County here.

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