An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

The Cooley Ranch is a secluded 20,000-acre ranch in Sonoma that sits above the fog line. This special property has turned out to be an unexpected windfall for owner Tom Klein and winemaker Justin Seidenfeld as I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and share here.

An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

“We want to create wines that surprise and delight, wines that create a memory that people will want to seek out a second time,” said winemaker Justin Seidenfeld as he spoke about Rowen Wine Co.

That is a high bar to set for this relatively new brand but thanks to location, elevation and quality, Seidenfeld may be on the path to achieving just that.

Rowen Wine Co. is the legacy project of owner Tom Klein, a fourth-generation California farmer who, after a career in management consultant, purchased Rodney Strong Vineyards more than 30 years ago.

An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

In 2000, Klein signed an exclusive long-term lease for the Cooley Ranch, a secluded 20,000-acre ranch in Sonoma that had been owned by the Cooley family since the early part of the 20th century. Rowen Wine Co. released their first wines in 2014.

Seidenfeld, who is the winemaker at Rodney Strong Vineyards, was intrigued by the opportunity to work with this high-elevation property. The Cooley Ranch sits isolated in its own mountain range and is outside any established AVAs. It is simply a single vineyard in Sonoma County.

Seidenfeld and the Rodney Strong Vineyards group studied microclimates and identified more than six different zones across the ranch. They studied the elevations, and they dug 200 test pits to determine the best spots to plant vineyards. Beginning in 2010, they selected what they believe to be the best 200 acres and planted it to Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc – as well as a little Syrah and Viognier.

An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

The vines are planted in metamorphic, iron-rich greenstone and volcanic soils. Over time, these iron-rich soils turn red, and with red soils the light hits the soil, and which then reflects on the canopy. The soils have water-holding capacity and the vineyards are dry farmed.

The land at Cooley Ranch was virgin ground, being that most of the ground had never been planted. As a result, the property is carbon neutral and sustainable certified. No herbicides are used, and the soils are tilled sustainably.

Cooley Ranch Vineyard sits above the fog line with elevations ranging from 800-2,040 feet high. Above 800 feet, temperatures see an inversion with cool days and warmer nights. The grapes get increased sun exposure, which results in thicker skins.

The Bordeaux varietals thrive on this steep terrain and volcanic soil. They can achieve both sugar ripeness, as well as phenolic ripeness, which gives the wine its structure and color.

The Wines

An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

Seidenfeld describes Rowen Wine Co. as “a Cabernet Sauvignon house, similar to Howell Mountain and Mt. Veeder.” Where they are unique is in the blends that Seidenfeld creates. He does not follow any “rules” at Rowen Wine Co. He has the freedom to blend different combinations and co-ferment white and red grapes. Today Rowen Wine Co. produces five different bottlings.

An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

— Rowen Wine Co. Red Blend ($55)

The red blend is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec, and the final 20% a co-ferment of 85% Syrah and 15% Viognier. The Syrah and Viognier co-ferment adds a floral and citrus quality to the wine. This blend, which Seidenfeld created through trial and error, reflects the innovative nature of Rowen Wine Co.

Tasting the 2017 and 2018 vintages side-by-side, Seidenfeld explained how the crop load was more concentrated in 2018. This was reflected in the dark fruit and vanilla notes of the 2018 compared to the dark fruit, dried floral, and dusty baking spice aromas of the 2017.

An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

— Cooley Ranch 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)

Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from two sub-blocks, this is the only 100% varietal wine produced at Rowen Wine Co. This wine is a pure expression of the beauty of high-elevation Cabernet Sauvignon from the Cooley Ranch. The wine has aromas of bittersweet cocoa dust, violets, currants and raspberry, as well as an herbaceous note. On the palate, it is a lovely and elegant wine with robust tannins that are softened by the bold acidity.

— 2040 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($125)

For 2040, Seidenfeld selects Cabernet Sauvignon from the “Sky High” block, the highest block of Cooley Ranch. The block sits 2,040 feet above sea level, hence the name of the wine. Made from 95% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Petit Verdot, this wine is a mix of power and elegance with violet, blackberry, black cherry, sage brush and baking spice aromas.

An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

— 600L 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($150)

Inspired by the Left Bank of Bordeaux, this wine is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot. This wine is a labor of love for Seidenfeld. The grapes selected are from the best fruit of the vineyard and Justin prunes and thins the vines by hand. He also does the pigéage (punch downs) by hand. The grapes are then naturally fermented in custom-made 600-liter barrels. There is no pumping, no chemicals and only gravity is used. Seidenfeld hand-numbers each bottle. The 2018 600L is rich and lush with dark red fruits and dusty floral notes.

An Unexpected Windfall at Rowen Wine Co.

— 600R 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($150)

The 600R pays homage to the Right Bank of Bordeaux and is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is made with the same personal attention as the 600L. The wine has dried herb, blackberry, and chocolate aromas and a velvety finish.

Rowen is an old English word that means “unexpected windfall.” From Cooley Ranch to the wines of Rowen Wine Co., Seidenfeld has found unexpected quality. From the wines that I have tasted from the single, high-elevation Cooley Ranch vineyard, I think he has found his unexpected windfall.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.