Scott Greenberg shares his favorite Cline wines and the history behind the sustainable farmer and winemaker.
WASHINGTON — What do whirlpool baths and quality Rhone-style wines have in common? Fred Cline, of course!
It all began in 1982 when Cline received a small inheritance from his maternal grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi. It turns out that Valeriano was one of the seven Jacuzzi brothers credited for inventing the Jacuzzi whirlpool bath. And now you get the connection.
Cline used the money to open his first winery, Cline Cellars, in Contra Costa County, where he and his wife, Nancy, chose to restore the vineyards of old vines that range in age from 80 to 120 years old, producing Rhone-style varietals, such as Mourvedre, Carignane, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.
They also planted acres of what would later become the legendary Cline Cellars Zinfandel. The Clines became one of the first members of a group of vintners known as the Rhone Rangers, who are dedicated to making wines from the traditional French varietals of the Rhone Valley region.
About 10 years later, the Clines purchased 350 acres in the Carneros region of Sonoma Valley. The property had a storied past, playing home throughout the years to a mission, a dairy farm and, most recently, a horse farm. Since moving the winery to the new location, Cline has continued to plant vineyards throughout Sonoma County, expanding to include more classic varieties like pinot noir, merlot and chardonnay.
Cline Family Cellars continues to make award-winning Zinfandels, Rhone-style wines and classic Sonoma varieties through dedication, innovation and a commitment to farming with integrity.
The Clines are also dedicated to sustainability. Their facility is the second largest winery in California to be completely solar powered. Cline refers to his farming practices as “Green-String Certified,” for his use of natural cover crops to enrich the soils and compost teas for nourishment instead of petroleum-based fertilizers. He also uses sheep and goats to eliminate weeds in the vineyards, and operates Green String Farm, a 150-acre working farm that produces a variety of fruits and vegetables grown on soil that, just like the vineyards, is nurtured and farmed without toxic chemicals.
The 2017 Farmhouse White Wine is a unique blend of Palomino, Muscat Canelli, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and riesling from vines that are pesticide, herbicide, and synthetic fertilizer free. Dazzling aromas of ripe pineapple, coconut, and guava fill the nose. The palate is lush with complex flavors of honeydew melon, ripe apricot and white nectarine fruit. Underlying it all is a playful note of key lime that provides a clean, refreshing finish. $15
At the time I wrote my rosé article earlier this year, I had not yet tried the 2017 Cline Cellars Mourvèdre Rosé, because if I had, I certainly would have included it. This wonderful rosé is made from 100-percent Mourvedre. It has a pretty salmon pink color and offers vibrant aromas of fresh strawberries and red cherries. Flavors of raspberry, red plum and bright red cherry linger on a lively frame, and it finishes with a delightful note of crisp acidity. Serve it chilled with soft cheese or just on its own. $18
The grapes for the iconic 2016 Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Zinfandel were planted by Italian and Portuguese immigrants more than 100 years ago. These ancient, dry-farmed vineyards consistently produce fruit of stunning concentration. The lots are hand-selected and gently pressed, assuring the maximum amount of extraction from this precious fruit. The result is a wine that is the best value in California Old Vine Zinfandel. It boasts a beautiful, bright red color and aromas of cedar and blueberry pie. Luscious flavors of ripe black cherries, red plums, and black licorice jump the palate on the front, while subtle hints of bramble and earthiness soothe the back of the tongue on the long, beautiful finish. Simply stunning for $20
The Cashmere brand pays tribute to Cline’s early days as a Rhone Ranger. In the mid-80s, the Clines, along with others including Randall Graham, Joseph Phelps, Steve Edmunds and Bob Lindquist, helped promote, sell, plant, and make wine using Rhone varietals, and were deemed the “Original Rhone Rangers.” Cashmere’s goal is to bring the best out of California terroir from places like Contra Costa County and to show that these blends can be complex and layered. Best of all, Cashmere is a wine that gives back. To date Cashmere has donated more than $330,000 to both breast cancer research and Alzheimer’s patient care, highlighting the Clines’ commitment to giving back.
The 2016 Cline Cellars Cashmere Red is a lovely blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache that combine for an enjoyable flavor profile. Some of the Grenache fruit comes from the Massoni vineyard in Oakley, where grape clusters are meticulously thinned to concentrate the flavors. The rest of the Grenache is sourced from the Big Break vineyards in Contra Costa County, where vines are dry-farmed and produce scant, but intense, fruit. Blended with the Syrah and Mourvedre, the wine has a bouquet of black cherry and cassis with a smoky, spicy undertone, thanks to the mature fruit. Juicy flavors of ripe black raspberry, red licorice and dark plum are wonderfully balanced on the well-structured frame. Medium-bodied with firm but juicy tannins, it has nice balance and a long spice-laden finish. $23
Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.