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Berger: Two wineries linked by history

  • Richard Arrowood, winemaster of Amapola Creek. (Crista Jeremiason, PD File 2011)

The connection between different wineries from radically different regions often is not evident until you look below the surface.

The parallels between two California wines last week wasn't initially evident, until I saw that the parallels were related to something rather basic: the soils from which they get their fruit.

Both prefer to make wines that show their regional characteristics, and both want to honor those who pioneered their respective regions.

Amapola Creek is a small, prestige winery in Sonoma Valley whose owners, Richard and Alis Arrowood, are making remarkable strides.

Among their top wines is a stellar Cabernet Sauvignon, a terrific Syrah, dramatic Zinfandel, and a superb Chardonnay.

Alta Maria Vineyards is a joint project between grower James Ontiveros and winemaker Paul Wilkins in Santa Maria Valley, in the central coast. The winery makes a brilliant Chardonnay, a sublime Sauvignon Blanc, and a classic Pinot Noir.

Since the wines are rather different in style, you might think nothing connects these two properties. But the connections are soil-based.

Arrowood, who was Chateau St. Jean's first winemaker in 1975 and then went on to found his own eponymous winery, set up Amapola Creek after his own winery was sold.

And visiting his secluded project recently, I asked why he chose this Sonoma Valley hillside property, just down the road from where he has made wine for nearly 40 years.

“I was looking for a special hillside property, and I knew that one of the best vineyards in California was Monte Rosso, so we decided this place was best,” said Arrowood.

Monte Rosso, owned for decades by the Louis M. Martini Winery in St. Helena, long has been prized for its Cabernet Sauvignon and old-vine Zinfandel.

After the Martini winery and vineyards were sold to E&J Gallo, Arrowood was one of the few wineries clamoring to get some of its prized fruit.

His long history as a brilliant winemaker not only gave him access to some Zinfandel grapes, but also the right to use the vineyard's name on the label.

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