Sonoma’s New Old-Vine Star

The son of Ravenswood's Zin guru is off to a great start

Excerpted from the Dec. 15, 2010, issue

Dozens of new wineries emerge in California each year, and many deliver exciting wines. Every once in a while, though, a winery appears that truly sets itself apart from the field. Bedrock is a perfect example. What makes this small Sonoma winery so exciting is a combination of factors involving its winemaker, Morgan Twain-Peterson, his choice of wines, and their quality.

Twain-Peterson grew up immersed in wine: He is the 29-year-old son of Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson.

At Ravenswood, Peterson gave Zinfandel a new face in the 1970s. Many winemakers went to school on his eclectic mix of wines made from stumpy, old vines. Peterson sold Ravenswood years ago. Now Twain-Peterson is pursuing success with old vines.

Twain-Peterson’s focus is on reds, including some he labels “Heirloom,” anchored by Zinfandel. His father, 63, is naturally curious about his son’s progress. “My dad gives me advice whether I need it or not,” laughs Twain-Peterson. “[Hanging around with winemakers] was one of those benefits of growing up in the business,” he says. “I’ve always had lots of counselors.”

Bedrock’s wines reflect their maker’s range of tastes. Twain-Peterson has worked in Bordeaux and Australia and enjoys a variety of wines and styles. “[As a consumer] you can find any kind of wine or style you want to,” he says. “The idea [at Bedrock] is to experiment.” To that end, he works with 22 vineyards and makes 22 wines. “I want to make wines that offer a broad palette—the way I drink.” Most of the wines are made in small quantities, 50 to 200 cases, and sell for $20 to $45.

He likes, for instance, wines with high acidity and produces a Graves-style white called Cuvée Caritas ($25). The 2009 comes from 120-year-old Sémillon grown on Monte Rosso in Sonoma Valley and Sauvignon Musqué from Kick Ranch in Sonoma’s Rincon Valley, the latter a small winegrowing area near Santa Rosa. The Sémillon is barrel-fermented and undergoes malolactic fermentation, making it rich and fat; the Musqué is crisp and flinty. Combined, they create a wine of deep, lively flavors, complex aromas and smooth texture. Rosé lovers will marvel at the vivid fruitiness of the 2009 Mourvèdre Sonoma Valley Ode to Lulu Rosé (90 points, $22), which captures the summertime freshness of ripe watermelon, with Asian spices.

Bedrock produced five 2008 Syrahs, including three from Hudson Vineyard in Carneros, and two Heirloom Zin blends. All are distinctive and built for cellaring. The Syrahs reflect Northern Rhône rusticity, dense berry and loamy earth flavors. The Pleine de Chêne (93, $45) is rich and layered, with classic Syrah flavors of dried currant and sweet berry, herb and hot brick; the Cofermented (93, $45) has a splash of Viognier for spice, espresso and more hot brick; the Old Lakeville (91, $35) veers into a tasty, cigar-box groove; the tight Kick Ranch (88, $35) offers roasted herb and dried dark berry fruit; the Hudson Whole Cluster (88, $45) has a twist of jalapeño pepper.

The Heirloom reds excel at a high level for Zinfandel-based wines. The most powerful comes from Twain-Peterson’s 33-acre Bedrock Vineyard (95, $35) in Sonoma Valley, which dates to 1888; the vines in Dry Creek Lorenzo’s (90, $35) are also ancient. Known as Italian field blends, these vineyards were planted by immigrants who often didn’t know what all of the grapes might be; Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah and Cinsault grow in many of these sites, but there are still mysteries. At Bedrock, there are some 30 different varieties, including perhaps 10 types of vines with no identifiable varietal DNA.

The aim for Heirloom is a Châteauneuf style, says Twain-Peterson. “We have a richness in our [soil] that they don’t have,” he adds. He has avoided California’s mainstream grapes. “I can’t beat the likes of Kistler or Aubert [with Chardonnay],” he says.

What makes Bedrock exciting is the authenticity and individuality of its wines. Twain-Peterson has a vision, as well as experience with wine that few people his age can claim. He is able to articulate what he’s trying to achieve, and the wines reflect that strength of character.