Entries in King Andrews Vineyards (2)


This column first appeared in the Vacaville Reporter on 12/31/13.


Roger King has the gift of gab. I caught up with him at the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative this week where he riffed, part professor and part bartender, on everything from histamines in grape skins to the water engineering of Solano pioneers.


His ability to talk, with interest and certainty, about almost anything served him well in as a marketing executive for Kirkwood Ski Resort and now as the president of the Suisun Valley Vintners and Grapegrowers Association. Even as a young man an air of certainty was evident. When his law school dean told him his test scores were good and leaving would mean starting again from the beginning, King replied, "You don't get it! I don't want to be one of you bungholes." Except he didn't say "bunghole." King tells it like it is.


If you like to know where your wine comes from, Roger is your man. His dead-on vineyard descriptions and their familiar landmarks are part of the joy of drinking his wines. His King Andrews Albarino comes from a vineyard in one of the cooler locations of Suisun Valley, across the street from Larry's Produce. Seventeen miles to the north, his Sangiovese is grown off of Shale Peak Lane, halfway up Mt. Vaca on the final ridgeline separating Vacaville from the Sacramento Valley.


The two vineyards are a study in contrasts. According to King, part of the albarino vineyard is sitting on an old creek that was diverted by some early farmers and is consequently so full of moisture it needs no irrigation.


King Andrews Zin block with view of Mt. Vaca from Yelp"I've been dry farming this for years but I call it my most irrigated vineyard," King said.


At the other extreme is the Shale Peak Vineyard, an arid location that clocked 117-degree temperatures earlier this year, with irrigation dependent on a well that goes dry as early as January. According to King, the heat is perfect for his Sangiovese, a field blend that includes cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah.


"The heat is great for burning the acid down. The trick is to find the balance between getting the acids down and the alcohol not too high. It is a testament to the fact that grape vines will adapt."


King's barkeep lectures are almost entirely focused on location, soils and weather. Clearly, this is a man who believes in terroir, the environmental factors expressed in a wine that give it a sense of place. He is a minimalist winemaker, preferring vineyard management to experiments in the cellar. He ferments about half his wines with indigenous yeasts, a practice that requires fortitude and patience since they are less reliable than yeasts that are developed commercially.


He's bullish on Solano wine, citing the I-80 corridor as key to its success. However, he's cautious not to jump in so completely he becomes a "captive to selling wine."


King has a Facebook page but no retail or website, you'll find his wines only at the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative, which is not a hardship considering tastings are free. When you visit try the Albarino, with bright acidity and a fragrant whiff of spiced pears and a hint of lime zest on the finish. I tried the 2012 and 2013, which will be bottled this spring, just in time for warmer weather.


The King Andrews Sangiovese is a bold ruby, with medium structure and a play of cherries and raspberries that amplify in a spicy blend through the finish. See if you agree with the King of the Hill, that Vaca heat is the key to great wine.


Ann Miller is a Napa resident and wine enthusiast.



Wine, I’ve got you under my skin 

My buddy Heath is so wild for wine that he has a tattoo of a New Zealand vineyard on his arm. Last week I felt like wine had gotten under my skin as much as his. Wine crowded out all the “shoulds” in my life: work, gym, Christmas, and my disaster of a closet. The result was a very good week indeed. I’ll write about all the people with whom I spent time, including Heath, in coming weeks. For now a short recap of one of my best weeks ever.


Chatted with Carl the money genius who pours wine at Taste at Oxbow. Carl is a financial consultant who occasionally works at this very comfortable tasting room, in Napa. Why I'm not sure, perhaps a chance to work with people and not numbers.  Sounds geeky, but discussing GDP, currency rates and economic indicators over a glass of say, Mahoney Pinot from the Las Brisas vineyard in Carneros, is a nice switch from the usual swirl and sniff.

More Monday

I had time to talk to Carl because I had missed my rendezvous with aforementioned Heath who is now unemployed after working at a custom crush facility. When we finally met up I picked his brain for two hours and was wowed by how this 25-year-old has learned so much about wine in the three short years he’s been drinking it legally. 


Joey Brinkley, vineyard assistant for Grgich Hills Estates showed me around a biodynamic vineyard on a hill looking over American Canyon. The vines may be “sleeping” but this ecologically diverse little farm was buzzing. Hens were a-laying, birds a-chirping, bees a-buzzing and microbes a…. doing whatever microbes do. Joey sent me home with some biodynamic eggs. The meal I made from the eggs and the high I got from the vineyard stayed with me all day.

More Tuesday

The last night of wine class had us tasting some very famous wines, – 1999 Echezeaux Grand Cru, 1979 Mouton Rothschild, and 1970 Graham Vintage Port. But for me, it is not the finish of the wine that lingers, it is the people. Oscar, a Spaniard who in an earlier class had winced about Americans’ use of paper plates, sang us a very sweet song from his country that is traditionally sung when one is drinking special wine.


Checked out the Wooden Valley tasting room in Suisun Valley and met the chatty Ron Lanza who introduced me to Roger King of King Andrews Vineyards. Ron grew up in a family wine business and his story echos the stories of family vintners in Napa, before Napa became Napa. With a background in ski resorts, Roger's story is less pastoral. When I asked him what Kirkwood Ski Resort was like in the 70s he got a far away look in his eyes and memories of sex, drugs and rock and roll danced across his face. Then he muttered the mantra of all of us who have lived large and are still around to tell the tale, “I’m lucky I’m not in jail.”

There's a story there. Stay tuned. I intend to tell it.