ACORN Debuts 2 New Whites

Sonoma County winery adds Grüner Veltliner and Alvarinho to formerly all-reds lineup.

Editor’s note: The winery’s tasting room closed in late 2023.

A rare Russian River Valley winery that produces neither Pinot Noir nor Chardonnay, until recently, Healdsburg’s ACORN Winery didn’t offer a white wine among its portfolio of reds primarily from Italian and French varieties. That changed with the debut of two 2020 whites, one from a grape with Eastern European origins, the other from the Iberian Peninsula.

Owners Betsy and Bill Nachbaur sign their wines’ back labels with their names and “Winegrowers,” the latter to emphasize the role farming plays in the finished product. Each ACORN wine is a field blend whose multiple grape types grow side-by-side in blocks dating as far back as 1890. All told, 100 different varietals grow on the 32-acre Alegría Vineyards (alegría is Spanish for “happiness”), which the couple purchased in 1990.

“The key thing about a field blend,” says Bill, who makes the wines, is “cofermentation – getting all the grapes to interact while fermenting.” After Prohibition, the old-school method of growing, harvesting, fermenting, and aging grapes together was largely abandoned in favor of cultivating varieties separately, not blending them until late in the aging process. 

Below are brief impressions of nine recent releases, all from Alegría Vineyards. In the eastern portion of the Russian River Valley AVA, the property lies about 3 miles south of Healdsburg Plaza. The Nachbaurs host casual vineyard’s-edge tastings here five days a week. Read more about them and their winery here.

A recent tasting at ACORN Winery included Grüner Veltliner and several reds.

The Whites

When adding two whites to ACORN’s lineup, Bill chose their grapes to honor his ancestors – Grüner Veltliner for his grandfather, an Austrian émigré who worked in Napa vineyards in his 1890s youth, and Alvarinho for his Petaluma-born grandmother, whose parents hailed from the Portuguese region the Azores. (Alvarinho is the Portuguese name for the grape known in Spain and elsewhere as Albariño.) Bill planted the vines in 2017; the first harvest came in 2020. As with the reds, both whites are field blends.

Winemaker Bill Nachbaur chose whites to honor his grandparents’ European heritage.

2020 ACORN Winery Grüner Veltliner 

The winery’s inaugural Grüner Veltliner distinguishes itself with green apple and citrusy notes, light minerality, and bright acidity. Everything’s in balance, with slight rounding owing to a third of the wine being aged in once-used French oak barrels (the rest in stainless steel). Wonderful indeed, and all the more complex for its 20% mix of more than a dozen other white grapes. 

2020 ACORN Winery Alvarinho

More demure than some California peers from the grape also known as Albariño, this one holds back some of its power. Though it lacked the out-of-the-gate verve and personality of ACORN’s other 2020 debut white, Grüner Veltliner, I appreciated its flavors and acidity and look forward to seeing how future vintages evolve.

Together these four current releases contain juice from nearly all the red grapes in Alegría Vineyards.

The Reds

2018 ACORN Winery Sangiovese

Red-fruit dominant with ample acidity and peppery notes on the back palate, this 98% Sangiovese from no less than 26 clones (plus 1% each of two other Italian varietals) displays quiet strength, its fine tannins registering strongest from front to mid-palate. The majority of the oak was Hungarian, adding savory complexity. Excellent on its own, the Sangiovese paired well with a nearby restaurant’s goat cheese and ricotta ravioli.  

2018 ACORN Winery Dolcetto 

A peppy wine that yearns for an earthy Mediterranean dish or perhaps mu-shu pork with hoisin sauce, this juicy yet composed Dolcetto immediately impresses with deep-red fruit and expressive tannins. Several cellar maneuvers – cold soaking before fermentation, the use of native (versus commercial) yeasts for fermentation, aging on the lees, and the mix of French, American, and Hungarian oak among them – fostered complexity and underlying tension. 

Sangiovese and Syrah grow in adjacent blocks on Acorn Hill.

2017 ACORN Winery Acorn Hill Red Blend

A hint of cocoa dust unifies this Italian-Rhône mashup with a fetching reddish-purple hue. Given the blend’s composition – 49% each of Sangiovese and Syrah from adjoining Alegría Vineyard blocks interplanted with 2% of three white grapes – the range of flavors is exceedingly broad, from pomegranate to blackberry. The overall effect is highly satisfying, with the Sangiovese providing lighter notes without diluting the Syrah and the latter providing richness and tannic structure.

2018 ACORN Winery Medley Red Blend

Bill Nachbaur describes ACORN’s flagship wine as a “blend of blends” containing a few dozen grapes – 20% each Syrah and Zinfandel, 18% Cinsaut, 8% Dolcetto, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Sangiovese, a dozen muscats, and a few others. I’ve tasted most of the vintages since 2010; this one’s my favorite for its clarity, dynamism, and range of flavors. Effusively floral on the nose, it’s remarkably focused despite its many components. 

Chart shows the composition of three recent Medley blends.

2018 ACORN Winery Heritage Vines Zinfandel

Grapes from Alegría Vineyards’ oldest block, dating to 1890, go into this 78% Zinfandel field blend. Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, and small amounts of a dozen or so more grapes make up the balance. Intense and fruit-forward but not excessively so, this aromatic wine, a textbook Sonoma County old-vine Zinfandel field blend, delights with an exuberant cherry-cranberry core underpinned by darker blackberry and boysenberry notes. A distinct alluvial minerality (the vineyard lies about a mile from the Russian River) also exhibits itself. A mix of 70% French oak, the remainder American, contributes structure and elegance.

2018 ACORN Winery Cabernet Franc

A field blend of 92% Cabernet Franc, small amounts of the four other main Bordeaux red grapes (Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon), and less than a percent of Tannat, this wine seduces with alluring aromatics, mildly grippy tannins, and noticeable acidity. French oak (30% new) elevates the ensemble.

A small amount (2%–3%) of Viognier, a white grape, goes into the Axiom Syrah.

2018 ACORN Winery Axiom Syrah

Dense, concentrated, and more viscous than its ACORN counterparts, the Axiom Syrah ranks as the winery’s lustiest offering. The initial explosion of red fruit and overripe plum that envelops the tongue gives way to appealing licorice and mocha/toffee/caramel notes. Overflowing with character and flavor, the wine finishes strongly.

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