Shannon Ridge Vineyard
Summary: A piece of heaven can be found in Lake County. With around 2,000 acres, Shannon Ridge Vineyard along with Vigilance Vineyards offer sweeping views of steep slopes with vines laying out patterns that are photogenic.
Clay and Margarita Shannon grew up in California wine country and met when they were both working at a Napa Valley winery. They built a vineyard management company and sold grapes to wineries. In the late 1980s they discovered the quality of the grapes that were grown in Lake County. In 1995, they found a great piece of land at heights of 2,100 to 2,400 feet. The land was cooled from winds off Clear Lake. The rocky volcanic soils were perfect for wine grapes.
Their first vineyard in Lake County was planted on a ridge. Called Terre Vermeille, the vineyard was planted with Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. Since then, Clay and Margarita developed several more vineyards. The vineyards that make up Shannon Ridge are in the High Valley AVA while the vineyards that make up the Vigilance Vineyard are in the Red Hills Lake County AVA.
We met Shannon Ridge’s director of winemaking and production, Joy Merrilees at the Vigilance Winery and Vineyard. We joined a group of wine distributors and toured the vineyards at Vigilance and Shannon Ridge. We learned that the Vigilance Vineyards had 240 acres of grapes planted. As Joy took us through the vineyards, we would stop and taste different berries. Joy found a cluster of Sauvignon Blanc that was not harvested. The cluster had some berries that were affected by Botrytis. The Botrytis affected berries were brown and were very sweet with a jammy fruit taste.
At this point in the vineyard tour, a 2012 Vigilance Sauvignon Blanc Red Hills, Lake County AVA was poured into wine glasses and passed out to the group. It is a wonderful activity to taste the grapes and then taste the wine. The 13.9% alcohol wine was a light yellow color. It offered grapefruit, lemon and a hint of tropical fruits on the aroma and taste. This light /medium bodied wine was very crisp.
Joy talked about the 2014 crop. She mentioned that the yields this year are down from previous years. Joy said that one of the factors of a lower yield were the two higher yields than normal for 2012 and 2013. The vines for 2014 were adjusting toward average crop yield. Two other factors involved the weather. The long California drought helped to decrease yield as well as the hot temperatures during the summer months.
Joy had us compare and contrast two rows of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. In one row, the grapes were fully exposed to the sun since the leaves near the grapes were pulled. The other row had some leaves covering the fruit. Some of the berries in the full sun were scalded. These berries were not as sweet as the berries that had some shading from leaves. Our next wine to taste was a 2012 Vigilance Cimarron. The translucent ruby color wine was a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. At 13.9% alcohol, the wine offered notes of blackberries and baking spices including cloves and cinnamon. The wine had bold tannins with a mediumt/full-body and high acidity.
After an hour in the Vigilance vineyard, we were taken to the Shannon Ridge Vineyard about a twenty-minute drive away.We went to the vineyard with Marni Johnson, the hospitality and tasting room manager.
Shannon Ridge Vineyard
While at the Shannon Ridge Vineyard, we followed Joy for a hike searching for the harvesters. After our uphill walk, we discovered that the harvesters had moved on. Joy led the group in a different direction. Marni told us to stay and she called a friend to pick us up in his pick-up truck. Marni’s friend turned out to be vineyard manager Luis Fajardo who drove us to the summit of this Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard block. From this place we were able to see the harvesters,off in the distance. The views were spectacular at this 2,400 foot summit. Luis mentioned that the Shannon Ridge Vineyards had 900 acres of grapes planted on the 2,000 acre property.
After feasting on the spectacular views, we hiked down the hillside between rows of vines. The hike down was much easier than the hike up; however, you did have to watch your footing on the steep hillside. The ground had little vegetation that was alive. There were a few inches of dusty dirt on the top layer, evidence of the California drought that continued throughout 2014. Once back to the car, Marni drove us to another section of Shannon Ridge where there were other spectacular views and several picnic tables. At this beautiful spot, we had a box lunch and wine.
We had two wines during lunch. The 2013 Chardonnay was a light yellow color and had 13.8% alcohol. Tropical fruits were noted as well as a hint of caramel. The medium-bodied wine had medium to high acidity. It paired well with a pasta salad. The 2012 Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red Lake County was a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. The translucent red wine was 13.9% alcohol. It had dark berry fruit, spices and leather on the aroma and taste. The wine had medium tannins and was medium-bodied with high acidity.
One of the reasons for the lack of vegetation between the rows of vines is the use of sheep. Marni drove us to where the sheep were spending their summers. They normally are in the vineyards during the winter and spring, keeping the grass between the rows short and adding fertilizer to the vineyards. During the summer the sheep were in a grassy meadow near the lake. They were clustered under a large shade tree. There were three sheep dogs that raced to the sheep when we arrived. It was interesting to watch the dogs that assumed a protective stance between us and the sheep. The dogs did exactly whet they were bred to do, protect the sheep. The flock of sheep includes 1,200 breeding ewes and 50 rams. The ewes give birth around Christmas time with each ewe having between one and three lambs. In addition to maintaining the flock to use in the vineyards, Shannon Ridge sells sheep for food. Since they were grass and vineyard fed, hormone and antibiotic free, the value of the sheep demands a high price.
Shannon Ridge and Vigilance Vineyards and Tasting Room
13888 Point Lakeview Road
Lower Lake, California 95457
GPS: N38º 54.871’ W122º 38.932’
Article written September 2014
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