Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tasting and Touring in the Sierra Foothills AVA, Part 2: Milliaire's Clockspring Zinfandel - Bottling History

Organic vineyards are rare in the Sierra Foothills, and although I have not had a chance to visit it (at least not yet) the name Clockspring comes up often. This vineyard, formerly 400 acres in size, was tended to by grower Frank Alviso, who planted the vines here in 1973.

Its history lives on in the bottle.

Alviso farmed the Amador County vineyard - the largest Zinfandel grower in the county (a county devoted to Zinfandel) - for four decades. It was certified organic in 2000; most of the grapes went to Bonterra, until 2011. In 2013, Frank decided to retire, and sold off most of the vineyard, keeping 65 acres.

Over the years many vintners discovered Clockspring's charms, including Todd Taylor (who has a tasting room in Clarksburg), Amador Foothill Winery, Mountain View - and Milliaire, a boutique winery in downtown Murphys, which had the longest lasting relationship with the vineyard.

I had a chance to visit Milliaire on a recent trip to Murphys and check out its tasting room, housed in a gas station that has been so charmingly renovated you might not notice its history. When it first opened, locals called it "Roadside Chateau." (That was before Murphys was wall to wall art galleries, chic shops and winery tasting rooms.)

Milliaire is owned and run by Steve Miller, whose day job is being head winemaker at the giant Ironstone Winery in Murphys (200,000 case production). Like many winemakers, he just had to have his own winery label and Milliaire is it. Case production here is around 2,300 cases, or about one percent of what he makes for Ironstone.

Miller worked at David Bruce winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains before coming to the Sierra Foothills town of Murphys where he made the very first vintage of Ironstone wines, back in 1990. He's made every vintage there since then.

But before that chapter of his life started, Miller, as far back as 1978, had started working with Alviso and his Clockspring Vineyard grapes.

In 1986 he made his first Clockspring Zinfandel under his Milliaire label - a Christmas Cuvee White Zinfandel - back when he was still living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At that time, the vines were just 13 years old. By 2013, the last vintage, they were 40 years old.

Alviso started Clockspring with his business partner John Hahn. The two met at Stanford where they were college roommates. The vines were planted in 1973 and were head trained, in the traditional

Today you can still taste the 2012 Clockspring Zinfandel ($26) and the 2011 Clockspring Zinfandel Port ($32) - both current releases - at Milliaire's tasting room. Pepper and fruit - the hallmarks of a great Zin - that's what you get. The fruit is bright, yet mellowed, from the old vines.

The port is fortified with brandy. Do I recommend it? You bet.

So if you find yourself in Murphys, or hankering for a road trip exploring organically grown wines grown in the Sierra Foothills, this is one stop you'll want to make. 

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