As more small wineries are consumed by large corporations, there are fewer and fewer small family-owned wineries in California wine country, but Alexander Valley Vineyards in Sonoma is flourishing. The Wetzel family, proprietors of the winery, settled in the area in 1962 and soon afterward began planting noble grape varieties (a reference to what are considered the highestquality grapes, including chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon). Three generations of the Wetzel family live and work on site at the 600-acre winery. They recently celebrated 50 years of family wine making, hosting numerous dinners and events throughout the United States, including a wine dinner in San Antonio at Perry’s Steakhouse, which maintains several of these wines on its wine list. The namesake of the winery, Cyrus Alexander, was a pioneer and settler of this region in the early 1800’s. Although I have visited the winery numerous times through the years, I was reacquainted in 2010 on a day trip from the Mendocino area, where I was living and working at a local winery.

Once again, I was impressed with the modern facility, the grandeur of the estate and the perpetual warmth and welcoming graciousness of the winery’s proprietors. The early wines of production include a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon. Today the family grows 14 grape varieties. One of their flagship wines is the Estate Chardonnay, from vineyards located next to the renowned Russian River. If you are looking for a great new chardonnay, this wine is a safe bet. Although the 2010 vintage may be a little hard to find, it offers vibrant fruit and is produced in a traditional New World style, offering aromas of apple and pear with a hint of pineapple. On the palate, crisp and refreshing flavors of apple, pear and other citrus fruits combine with a unique cotton candy component complemented by a soft oak finish. Fermenting only 30 percent of the wine in French oak barrels offers all the beauty and finesse of French oak (American oak barrels, although less costly, can impart a harshness and oaky style to the wine). Approximately 1.6 percent viognier was blended into the 2010 vintage, adding a harmonious element of richness and flavor to the final product. The recently released 2011 Estate Chardonnay is 100-percent chardonnay. Aged eight months in French oak barrels to develop a richer texture, depth and character, this vintage has the familiar apple and pear components, a hint of butterscotch, toasted oak and a touch of minerality in the glass.

As with most cabernet sauvignons from the Sonoma area, the Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon is an approachable wine in both style and price. On the nose, layers of black fruit along with a hint of earthiness open up into a beautiful and elegant style. This supple, stylish red wine is appealing with flavors of wild blackberry, black cherry, plum, cassis and cocoa, showing length and refinement on the finish. The gewurztraminer is one of the newer white grape varietals from the winery, a fun and novel wine to try if you are looking for something new and different. The grapes for this wine are harvested from two separate organically certified vineyards just to the north of the winery in Mendocino County. The Ukiah vineyard is located on the valley floor, warming up in the day to provide body and structure to the wine, while the Potter Valley vineyard is cooler, giving the wine impressive acidity.

The 2011 vintage is a 100-percent gewürztraminer wine without any oak influence. Too often, gewurtztraminer wines can be one-dimensional and a bit sweet. The Alexander Valley gewurtz delivers vibrancy and complexity with rich and crisp flavors of white stone fruits. It’s a wine with a lean, fresh style, offering bright, spicy floral aromatics along with pear, grapefruit and apple that leads into vibrant citrus fruits mid-palate — a versatile wine that should be consumed young .