Robert Young Estate Winery adds Scion House
The latest tasting room to open in Sonoma County presents great views in two ways: visually, a near-unparalleled view of the sweep of Alexander Valley vineyards rolling out to the west, and historically, into the beginnings of this important Sonoma County wine growing region.
When I visited the Scion House at Geyserville's Robert Young Estate Winery in September, the brand-new visitor center was just getting its finishing touches.
Due to open in October 2019, the building is fashioned in a contemporary style, with rustic accents, perches above the winery on a small knoll. Because of its location on the northeastern edge of Alexander Valley — mostly flat ground created by the meanderings of the Russian River over millennia — the Scion House offers one of the better views among the region's wineries.
On the way up to the Scion House, we stop to meet a friendly horse, free-roaming the grounds behind the winery, a reminder of the ranching roots of the Young family. The brand-new Scion House is the latest development in a 160-year-long story.
Cattle Before Cabernet
Namesake Robert Young was the third generation to ranch and farm this land. His grandfather bought the home ranch in 1858, and it's been expanded in the years since to include some 300 acres of vineyard. At first, like other farms, the Young estate grew wheat. Then was a cattle ranch and prune growing operation.
In the 1960s, Robert Young noted that grapes were fetching a higher price than prunes, and put in the valley's first Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, followed by Chardonnay. For decades, they patiently grew grapes, and a good reputation for producing high-quality fruit for notable Sonoma County wineries like Chateau St. Jean.
It wasn't until the late 1990s that the estate winery was founded to showcase the best, vinified examples of the choicest five percent of their vineyards, and then a winery was built in the style of an old barn on the spot around 2001.
Endless Lawn, Endless Wine
The first tasting room that Robert Young opened was in a corner of that barn, and it was originally designated as an employee break room. Today, it's a wood-paneled, cozy, traditional little walk-up bar that is so charming, I'm almost sorry to hear that it may be closed when the new visitor center is up and running.
Fifth generation family member Robbie Young mans the bar on this day, while the sixth generation is already involved in winemaking operations. Robert Young was born in 1919 and left the estate in 2009 at the age of 90, after having been a leader in local winegrowing and a voice for the role of quality Sonoma County wines in the marketplace.
When visitors enter the new Scion House, they'll be greeted with a pour of the 2017 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($34), and directed to a spot in the Chardonnay room, the Cabernet room, or perhaps on the patio to enjoy the aforementioned fantastic view.
The 2014 Alexander Valley Estate Merlot ($52) at Robert Young is rich and chocolaty, with lush fruit and round tannins. The 2014 Estate Cabernet Franc ($65), made from a grape that's more often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for a balanced blend, is agreeably soft in this version, while the wine club favorite 2014 Bob's Burn Pile Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) is an intense and fine wine to linger over while staring into the hot coals of a fall, or winter, fire.
Chard Geek Corner
Chardonnay clones in California are a funny lot. Sure, there are modern, or so-called 'Dijon clones' of the Burgundian golden grape that have been introduced in later years, but the Wente clone of Chardonnay, originally from France but tested through decades in California, was the origination of the Robert Young clone of Chardonnay. It was a selection of budwood, or a 'scion' (you see the double meaning of the new tasting room, now, yes?) of that old California-grown Chardonnay that proved especially suited to this warm region. Today, the Robert Young clone is widely planted in Alexander Valley.
Robert Young Estate Winery, 4960 Red Winery Road, Geyserville, 707-395-3550 95441. Open 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Wednesday-Monday, $20.