“This vineyard will be called ‘Mercedes’ Vineyard’ for as long as it yields fruit. The vineyard is named after my grandmother on my father’s side, Mercedes Siordia Amador. She lived by the values by which Gracianna was founded—of grace, graciousness and gratitude—and it is fitting to recognize that contribution to this extended family by honoring her at our esteemed estate.”—Trini Amador III
Gracianna Medallion Club members love to discover knowledge about wines and winemaking and grape-growing. As you explore, you probably will come across the term terroir. It’s a French word, hard to pronounce if you’re an American, and hard to define precisely. Generally speaking, it refers to the soil and slope and aspect (in what direction it receives sunlight) and weather (or micro-climate, to be more technical) in the specific place where the vineyard is located. The important point is that terroir affects the nature and quality of the grapes and therefore of the wine. Some terroirs are particularly favorable for some specific varietals of grape.
With this in mind, we’d like to talk about the terroir of the Mercedes Riverblock, the prized vineyard that is part of the Gracianna Estate on Westside Road. The Mercedes Riverblock is one of a small string of prestigious vineyards located in the Russian River AVA bordering the river itself, in the space between the riverbank and Westside Road. The space, and the number of vineyards, is highly limited.
The Russian River region is America’s most prized viticultural area for pinot noir grapes. The Russian River itself is far from uniform. One of its most unusual features is the sharp right turn it makes in Santa Rosa. In its Upper and Middle Reaches, the river flows North-South, with lots of bends and twists. After Santa Rosa, it flows East-West, running towards its ultimate destination of the Pacific Ocean. Mercedes Riverblock is located in the Upper-Middle Reaches of the river. In fact, our neighbor to the North, Flax Vineyard, is held to be in the Upper Reach of the river, and Mercedes Riverblock is therefore the threshold of the Middle Reach.
The Mercedes Riverblock at Gracianna Winery
In the Upper Reach, the river is a youngster, tripping and tumbling and then growing and leaping and filling out. This is important because the rate of flow of the river influences the materials that it picks up and transports. (There is a fancy term for this: the Hjulström curve.) In the Middle Reach, the River becomes a young adult, beginning its new phase of depositing soils and smoothing out its riverbanks. Back in history, the Western riverbank coincided with today’s location of Westside Road. The Mercedes Riverblock used to be the river bed. Our soil is fluvial, meaning “made by the river” – rich silts (with a little bit of clay, sand and gravel) that caress, and don’t stress, the pinot noir roots, resulting in an unparalleled lushness of fruit flavor. Every once in a while, the Russian River will revisit its old banks, flooding the Mercedes Riverblock for a few winter days when the grape vines are sleeping. The silt is refreshed, and the sand and gravel ensure rapid drainage so that these periodic revisits by the river are entirely beneficial.
The rich silt soils of the Mercedes Riverblock, which is planted with 101-14 rootstock with clone 115 from Dijon, France, are in the perfect place to take advantage of the Middle Reach, which, given its distance from the ocean, is a relatively warm sub-region. The vineyard is therefore able to take advantage of the enveloping, character-building morning fog, so important to pinot noir grapes, and then, in the afternoon, absorb the warmth of the northern aspect of the Russian River appellation. Our specific combination of morning fog and afternoon warmth is quite unique. It is hot here on a summer day to be sure but the lingering fogs in the low-point Middle Reach Sway keeps us cool the longest.
We released our first Gracianna Mercedes Riverblock Estate Pinot Noir in 2014. It’s the beginning of a wonderful wine legacy. Knowledgeable commentators and wine experts say that the wines of the Middle Reach tend to exhibit bright fruit flavor, with an intense Bing cherry, wild strawberry, cola and spice profile. The tannins tend to be moderate and velvety. Russian River Middle Reach Pinot Noir is hard to say no to. As the river flows, we anticipate that Gracianna’s Mercedes Riverblock Pinot Noir will be known among the best of the best.
Special thanks to Gracianna Founding Medallion Wine Club Member Hunter Hastings for this fine research on the Mercedes Riverblock and the Russian River Middle Reach.