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Iron Horse Vineyards

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Iron Horse Blog

Tarin Teno
 
June 23, 2016 | Tarin Teno

Behind the Scenes: Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Iron Horse

A discussion with our inimitable in-house Hospitality Director Dixie Bohlke illuminates plans to celebrate this summer’s milestone, the Sterling family vision, the importance of small details in creating the extraordinary … and how to join the celebration with a new limited production bubbly.
 
Dixie pouring Iron Horse '76
 
As Joy shared in the previous blog, the Iron Horse family is warming up to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our first vintage.
 
First, the skinny on the summer soiree we have affectionately dubbed “The Spirit of ‘76"
 
Date: July 3, 2016
Time: 11AM - 2PM
Where: Iron Horse Vineyards
Festivities begin in the beautiful garden of the Sterlings’ Victorian home. Then it’s  a short walk to the corral for lunch at noon.
Who: Friends, Family and Wine Club Members
 
Next the full bodied exploration behind the scenes setting up such an event ….
 
Why: We’re honoring the vision of our founders which was nothing short of revolutionary when they purchased Iron Horse in 1976, the restoration of the Sterling’s beautiful Victorian home built in 1876, and of course the all American spirit of 1776.
 
How: A reception in the garden of the Sterlings’ home with the Caviar Cowboys serving California Osetra on buckwheat blini fresh off the griddle, a roving Oyster Girl shucking fresh Myagis from Tomales Bay and free flowing bubbly.
 
Such a special occasion calls for a special limited edition bubbly, naturally called “Spirit of ‘76”, which we also be pouring in the Tasting Room for the holiday weekend and which is available on-line.
 
Joy and David came up with the idea of creating a special cuvee about three months ago. David picked the 2011 Blanc de Noirs in magnum for the base wine. Mark Berry designed the label. We have just 22 cases (132 magnums) and Joy says there’s no better place in time to enjoy them especially in commemorative flutes with our logo, the rampant horse on a weathervane and the addition of “Est 1976”.
 
Dixie perfected a cocktail called the Iron Horse 76, which we make with our own brandy called Audrey, distilled by Germain Robin using 1987 estate grown Pinot Noir.  
 
 
Recipe:
1.5 oz Brandy*
3/4 oz Fresh, Strained Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
1 bar spoon Apricot Preserve**
4-5 oz Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut
Shake ingredients (except sparkling) vigorously with ice, strain into a Pinot Noir style stemmed glass, slowly pour in the bubbly, garnish with a lemon twist.
*We use the Iron Horse Audrey Brandy (made from 1987 Iron Horse Estate Pinot Noir distilled by Germain Robin). Substitute with VSOP Cognac
**Dixie’s homemade
 
Recipe Backstory:
Based on the classic French 75, made from gin or Cognac, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar. It is also called a 75 Cocktail, or in French simply a Soixante Quinze (Seventy Five). The drink dates to World War I, and an early form was created in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris—later Harry's New York Bar — by legendary barman Harry MacElhone, a defining figure in early 20th-century bartending. The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field gun.
 
Directions:
Shake ingredients (except sparkling) vigorously with ice, strain into a Pinot Noir style stemmed glass, top with bubbly, garnish with a lemon twist.
 
Old labels
 
Back to the event….
 
After the one hour reception, the party moves to an old, redwood, 1920s corral led by “Uncle Sam” and a 20 person brass band called The Hub Bub Club. Here, the party decor includes gorgeous vineyard views, deep red roses growing on the fence of the Corral, red and white geraniums in pots sitting on top of old wine barrels, and scattered hay bales covered in the stars and stripes.
 
The menu includes everything you'd want for a July 4th celebration: lobster rolls, bison burgers, fried chicken, an unbelievably delicious potato salad.
 
Always thinking ahead to dessert, back in mid-May we delivered flat upon flat of local Sonoma cherries to our favorite Patisserie Angelica for classic cherry pie.
 
Naturally, the wine theme is red, white and bubbly.
 
Thematic Extra-Credit: Dixie has collaborated with Joy and the Sterling family to perfect the day’s theme, bountiful food, and run of show but then she has taken it a step further with a fashion show in an homage to 1776, 1876 and 1976 with five fashion models showing costumes from each era. The models in this “Fashion Show with a Fashion Statement Honoring Three Centuries” will appear at various times  throughout the day to show off the beautiful vintage clothes and mingle with guests. The background music will waft sounds of San Francisco circa 1976.
 
A sweet note and some final thoughts ….
 
One of the pleasures of staging this fete has been reminiscing about the early days, going through old photographs and compiling a time capsule exhibit of memorabilia, including decades of winemaker dinners and White House menus featuring Iron Horse wines.
 
In the words of the supremely talented Hospitality Director Dixie Bohlke, this summer soiree honors “the fulfilment of what Audrey and Barry Sterling’s dream was then and what it has become.”
 
Dixie notes that this event carries as truly special feeling for her. Her planning has been driven by a desire to property recognize the vision of the founders that would ultimately shape so much. But most importantly, acknowledge that their vision and “revolutionary” spirit has determined the way forward for the vineyard.
 
As we celebrate the past with the Spirit of ‘76 Cuvee, we also toast to the future. “It’s going to be an incredibly special time capsule for Audrey and Barry, but they are also moving ahead to the future. When you look around to the new planting, you can see that. “ For all the history and the pleasures of nostalgia, Iron Horse is an exciting and dynamic place.
 
Couldn’t agree more.
 
What else does a party need once you have identified the theme, the venue, the food, the wines … as the ultimate party planner will tell you, it's the people who make the party. So we raise a glass to our guests! Happy Spirit of ‘76.

 

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Time Posted: Jun 23, 2016 at 9:44 AM
Joy Sterling
 
June 18, 2016 | Joy Sterling

Celebrating the Spirit of ‘76

Audrey & Barry Sterling are full partners in everything they do. Iron Horse is their vision.
 
They first saw Iron Horse in a driving rainstorm in 1976 with the vineyard development only partially completed. There was no winery.
 
Winery Then
Image Above: Winery Then

Image Above: Winery Now
 
And the 19th century carpenter gothic house was dramatically listing to one side.
 
Image Above: Victorian Then
Image Above: Victorian Now
 
Nevertheless, after a taste of wines made from Iron Horse grapes, they knew their search had ended and a dream begun.
 
This is Barry with his first tractor
 
And Audrey, ever the gracious chatelaine
 
It is hard to remember how pioneering it was to put down roots in western Sonoma County in the mid-70s.  Even the UC Davis Agricultural Extension advised against investing in an area prone to frost. But the Sterlings knew the quality of cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from living in France in the 1960s and Audrey was familiar with the area from childhood summers on the Russian River.
 
They heard about Iron Horse at a dinner party and while few had identified the region as ideal for wine growing, went on an immediate tour, and in Audrey’s words “That was it.” Here is how they remember the day in a brief video clip
 
That was the moment that a vision took flight, marrying founders to the land and triggering the foundational labor which truly great wine demands  - building a 54 acre foot reservoir for frost protection, rehabilitating the vineyards and restoring their new home. The first vintage of Estate Chardonnay was produced in 1978. 1979 marked the first vintage of Estate Pinot Noir and the official opening of the winery. The first Sparkling Wines were vintage 1980.
 
 
In 1983, the name on the application for federal recognition of Green Valley as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) was Audrey Sterling with her attorney of record, Barry H. Sterling. Here’s a second clip of them reflecting on the significance of Green Valley.
 
These were out of the box thinkers driven by a belief in their future as vintners and informed by their time in France. “We were among the first to do that (define our area precisely), doing any AVA was something very new for California. It was rather an exciting time. I think we forget about how unusual that was because of how ordinary it is today.” Barry explains further, “Everyone knows the exact detailed lines that are drawn in France, so we knew that was an important step forward.” In bringing this procedure to Green Valley, they were setting their roots down in an unshakable way that has become status quo throughout the state.
 
The pioneering spirit of Iron Horse continues to permeate every decision going forward. The family has gone on  to develop several industry leading partnerships. The richness of their wines take on added meaning as so many of the bottlings are specially developed to commemorate major moments in family, national and world history.
 
Iron Horse has been served at the White House for 30 years, beginning with the historic Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings ending the Cold War, and most recently at the White House LGTB reception June 9, 2016.
 
The winery produces a very special, limited production vintage Blanc de Blancs, called Ocean Reserve. This began with an equally special friendship which Audrey Sterling originally developed with National Geographic Chairman Emeritus Gil Grosvenor. Iron Horse contributes $4 bottle to National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative to help establish marine protected area and reduce over fishing.
 
As we celebrate their 40th vintage, we honor all the micro moments that led the Sterlings to this place. Iron Horse has elevated their sparklings and still wines to live at the intersection of history and politics and family lore. Something so good and so rare must be celebrated. Stay tuned for our next blog on our July 3rd summer soiree to mark the important milestone.

 

Time Posted: Jun 18, 2016 at 8:15 AM
Joy Sterling
 
June 10, 2016 | Joy Sterling

Vintage Update: June 2016

 
The nature of our business is completely dependent on, well, nature! And though we’re just now approaching summer, the vines are already filled out and we have blocks with completed set – cues points to yet another very early harvest, which amazingly will be our 40th vintage.
 
Our winemaker David Munksgard shocked me this morning, advising we could possibly start picking August 1. But he cautioned that’s just a time frame, not an exact date. “Some of what I do here is science. Most is what I call practicing my craft. The rest is instinct, good hunches, what my gut tells me.” And being ready, come what may.
 
Our start date for harvest has been inching ahead for the past several vintages:
 
  • 2015, August 4
  • 2014, August 8
  • 2013, August 21
  • 2012, August 30
 
So far, the set looks very good. “Set” refers to how the fruit sets behind the blossoms. A good set means we have a shot at a healthy sized crop which is extremely welcome news – our livelihood depends on it. Of course a lot can happen between the lip and the sip, but the ideal would be a nice steady even summer, i.e. cool, foggy mornings with the sun finally poking out at about 11am – not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
 
 
Keeping up with Mother Nature is a full time job. Shoot thinning is a perfect example. Laurence Sterling has acquired a hedger tool to assist in letting just the right amount of filtered sunlight to get to the grapes. He calls this a “Goldilocks solution” to a higher quality outcome.
 
Meanwhile, David has started flying his drone looking for variation in shoot density. Some blocks are beautifully consistent; others have uneven pockets. When you walk a vineyard, you walk so slowly that you simply do not see the gradual change in canopy density. If you could just jump up 200 feet and look down you'd see the difference. Now we can!
 
 
Our heroic drone helped detect unwanted gaps in the vineyard canopy in a Chardonnay block up on the highest most westerly part of the estate. A seasoned winemaker’s hunch pointed to a likely culprit, but that experienced guess was substantiated by drone shots, showing a signature pattern associated with a vineyard fungus called Eutypa. This is a common disease, which delays shoot emergence in spring, affected shoots that eventually do grow have dwarfed, chlorotic leaves.
 
The drone shot clearly shows missing vines neatly aligned “within the row” suggesting something was being spread vine to vine. If it was a root pest or flying bug, the disturbance in the vines would not be as “neat and inline.” Once properly diagnosed, the vineyard crew descended upon the cause to cure it and Laurence has ordered replacement vines to fill in those gaps in the Thomas Road Vineyard. 
 
Today our bird’s eye views show a healthy and strong vineyard.
 
 
Even after 40 years, this is a completely new view for us. And the pictures, besides being informative, are just plain cool.
 
Speaking of cool, we are experiencing our signature summer cool, foggy weather with the sun just beginning to poke through at 11am, validating Mark Twain’s famous quote: “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco.” A word to wise when coming to taste with us is definitely dress in layers.
 
 
As summer beckons, our thoughts naturally turn to love. This is high season for Wedding Cuvee aka Love Potion, a sure fire way to help newlyweds live deliciously ever after.  
 
We recommend taking our bottles of Wedding Cuvee into the big day in a big way. Jeroboams of our most romantic bubbly can be engraved with the names of the bride and groom and the wedding date. Have the bridal party sign the bottle with a metallic pen, then send us the empty and we’ll re-cork and re-foil it (note: not re-fill) to make a beautiful keepsake.
 
Rainbow Cuvee adds another level of meaning as we celebrate the nuptials of every American and marriage equality. This year marks the one year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court “love wins” ruling and we are extremely honored that the Obama Administration served Iron Horse at the White House LGBT reception June 9.

 
 

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Time Posted: Jun 10, 2016 at 2:56 PM