Yorkville Cellars is a must-visit winery, and absolutely worth seeking out – about 30 minutes from Healdsburg. No traffic lights, no tour buses, no fast food, and low-key. It feels like Napa was 30 – 40 years ago when you walk and talk with owners and winemakers, Edward and Deborah, through gorgeous hillside vineyards. They are planted to the eight main varietals originating in Bordeaux. Yorkville Cellars is the only known winery to grow and produce each of these into varietal wines. Here you not only swirl, sniff, and sip the wines but touch, smell and taste the grapes from which they are made. If you like, play a unique “blind” wine tasting game called “Name That Varietal.” Sound interesting? Book Now
The winery produces remarkable blends, which honor the Old World Bordelaise traditions, but since they are located in New World wine country, they also produce single-varietal wines including some rarely seen elsewhere. These are vineyard-designated, award-winning wines.
Upon your arrival at the tasting room, which is surrounded by lush vineyards as far as you can see, you’ll tour the vineyards with owners, Edward and Deborah Wallo, closely followed by their sweet winery cat named Slate. You’ll stroll through the beautiful hillside vineyards with red hawks flying overhead and in the winter and early spring a flock of sheep following you.
After the tour, it’s time to taste wine. You’ll start with white wines including “Eleanor of Aquitaine”, named after the most powerful woman of medieval time (once queen of France and then England and who inherited all of western France including Bordeaux), and also the person credited with launching the export of French wines around the world. Yes, Edward and Deborah are also passionate about history too!
Next, comes a unique blind wine tasting called “Name That Varietal.” To discover the unique differences among the Noble Reds that originating in Bordeaux, the winery introduces them in an enjoyable board game. On the table in front of you are glasses with a red wine in each, plus a note pad for jotting down your taste preferences as you go. Now, which wine is which varietal?
Yorkville Cellars offers this completely unique opportunity where you’ll be able taste Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and the lesser-cultivated Petit Verdot and Carménère. All varietals are grown side by side in the same vineyard, making this a unique experience. The tasting can be quite a challenge indeed! But this the best and most fun way to learn about wine. If you get at least three correct answers during the tasting, you can win a prize.
The tasting culminates with a wine called “Richard the Lion-Heart”, a red blend made with all six varietals. This wine is named in honor of Eleanor’s favorite son and the king who created the world’s first organization overseeing wine quality control.
Owners Edward and Deborah Wallo were married in the mid 1980’s and share the same passions in life: travel and wine. They’ve lived in six countries including Germany, Italy and France, spending most weekends in the wine country. And they both love wine so much that they spent their honeymoon in Bordeaux.
Deciding it was time to settle down in a more permanent location, the couple moved to Mendocino County, 100 miles north of San Francisco, after reading an article in Sunset Magazine about this special place in the hills of Northern California. And that’s where they discovered the little town of Yorkville, which they later determined has similar terroir and growing season heat summation as Bordeaux. In their attempt to replicate the iconic French wines, they planted the six master, or “Noble” red Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carménère with an idea of making a blend. And in 1994, Yorkville Cellars was born.
Three Decades of Organic Farming
Edward and Deborah focus on organic farming for their wines. The rules required to be “Certified Organic” are very strict, and involve a lot of hard work in the vineyards. At Yorkville, they don’t use synthetic chemicals or artificial pesticides, and they conscientiously practice growing methods which respect the local ecosystem and its surrounding environment. What they’re doing is not new, it is honoring the tradition of their ancestors. Edward likes to say “Winegrowing the way it was done for 7,900 years before petrochemicals.”
Since no chemicals are used in the vineyards, you may be wondering how they deter pests and handle the invasive grasses and weeds? Well, they use the oldest resource in the book: Mother Nature. Instead of buying a manufactured fertilizer, they invite a neighbor’s sheep to eat down the tall grasses and their waste is used as compost to feed the soils. Ladybugs are released each year to boost the population fighting the pests, and preying on the bad bugs. Everything here is natural, keeping the property’s ecosystem in balance.
During your tasting, you may notice their wine bottles look smaller than others you’ve seen. They are using environmentally sound bottles to reduce the case weight, which in turn, reduces the carbon footprint when transporting the wine. Even their bottles are eco-friendly!
Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about sustainable farming, however certified organic vineyards remain difficult to find. Well, look no further as we’ve found a winery in Mendocino County where the folks are serious about organic agriculture. The winery is Yorkville Cellars and you can join them this year in celebrating 3 decades of organic certification since 1986. They are also a certified California Sustainable Vineyard. So, authentic vineyard-designated wines and convey the sense of the terroir, the place where the grapes were grown. They embrace minimal intervention; understanding that all expression of terroir and vintage can be wiped out with a winemaker’s heavy hand.
This is sure to be a wine experience you’ll never forget. You’ll not only be warmly greeted by Edward and Deborah personally, but also receive a royal welcome from Slate the cat as well!
Yorkville Cellars – Yorkville (Pop. 317), CA – Mendocino County
Tour & “Name That Varietal” – $45 per person – 1 hr 30min