A trip through the Alexander Valley is essential to any bike tours in Sonoma Wine Country. Likewise homage paid to Cyrus Alexander and the Robert Young Estate Winery (pictured here during the harvest in 1912) is essential to tours of the history of the Alexander Valley, the most fully planted wine region in famed Sonoma County.
The Alexander Valley is named for Cyrus Alexander, a swashbuckling pioneer and industrious innovator. An orchardist, tanner, trapper and miller, Cyrus Alexander landed in the Valley during a scouting exhibition for a cattle ranch in 1841. He planted his first grapes shortly thereafter.
Though grapes were always a part of the agriculture here, the Valley became famous for prunes (in the decades after the Gold Rush, Healdsburg was considered “the buckle of the prune belt”). Eventually all of those prune orchards were converted to grapes. Robert Young was among the first to lead that trend.
He started with Cabernet, a promising and practical grape variety whose late-maturing fruits could be picked after the prune harvest. Robert Young Vineyards was established in 1963 and by 1967 he was planting his first Chardonnay vines. There were few wineries in the area at this time so Robert Young sourced most of its fruit to wineries outside of the Alexander Valley.
One of those wineries loved the quality of the Robert Young grapes so much it added the vineyard name to their wine label. The wine was a Chardonnay – the winery was Chateau St. Jean. The rest is California wine history: This “vineyard designated wine” (vintage 1975) would be among the first in California to have the name of a specific vineyard appear on the label.
Today the 500-acre Robert Young Estate is among the most honored winegrowing properties in the world. The ranch is planted with 371 acres of benchland and hillside vineyards containing three main grape varieties: Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvingnon. Ten other varieties thrive on the ranch is lesser quantities. Vineyard soils contain sandstone, shale, oceanic crust and sediment, providing well-drained and diverse beds for the vines.
By all accounts, Robert Young was the man (who lived to the happy and productive age of 90) and his vineyard is the place to be in the Alexander Valley. Sojourn’s wine country bike tours include a fabulous gourmet picnic lunch and a wine tasting at Robert Young’s Estate Winery where you’ll be able to learn more about him from his kids and grand-kids who keep the family tradition of excellence alive and well.
To your health!
Robert Young Estate Winery image credit: www.ryew.com