It’s safe to say that the words “family” and “hospitality” have been used frequently when I describe my recent experience at Robert Young Estate Winery, a mere 10 minutes from Healdsburg, California. My husband and I were invited to visit the newly built Scion House Hospitality Center at the property in Alexander Valley to learn about the family’s story and taste a few wines from the portfolio. Greeting us on that sun-filled Sunday morning were Karen Maley, General Manager, and Robert Young, Jr., a member of the 5th generation who’s poised to join the leadership of this iconic grape-growing, winemaking family.
Robert and Karen led us through the tastefully decorated, modern tasting room to the stunning outdoor space where sweeping views of the family’s vineyards were as magnificent as the flavorful 2016 Alexander Valley Estate Chardonnay I was sipping. With a 180-degree vista of the Valley, it was easy to view specific parcels that produce their signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Once we re-entered the Scion House (the word “scion” means family descendant), I was reminded of a well- appointed home with its warren of bright and comfortable rooms perfectly suited for tastings and conversation. Inside, private nooks, booths, and chairs next to the fireplace foster conversation as swirls and sips are appreciated.
Obviously, I was ready to taste more wines and understand stories of the Young family’s journey. With penned poised for notetaking, a tasting pour of 2014 Alexander Valley Estate Merlot in the glass and the realization that this was exactly where I wanted to be, Fred Young stopped by the Scion House for a surprise visit. Fred, his brother and two sisters founded Robert Young Winery in 1997 in order to “continue the family tradition of excellence and hospitality”.
Asked about the family’s history, Fred explained that his great-grandfather Peter Young arrived from New York to join the California Gold Rush and ultimately purchased the Alexander Valley ranch in 1858. By 1912, prunes were successfully grown on the property and upon Peter’s death in 1914, the 210-acre prune farm was inherited by his son, Silas. Upon Silas’ death in 1935, his son, Robert, inherited the ranch as well as an enormous debt. Thanks to a family benefactor, Robert Young remained owner.
By 1963, Robert Young, his wife Gertrude and four children, Joann, Susan, Fred and Jim, had maintained the family’s legacy of strong community involvement. What he did not carry on, however, was the family’s participation in the prune business. Based on recommendations from a respected farm advisor, prune bushes were removed and vineyards planted; Robert Young was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in Alexander Valley and propagate the Chardonnay Clone 17. This monumental decision resulted in Robert Young entering the ranks of leadership in the California wine industry.
Since that time, grapes cultivated on the property have been sold to premium wineries in the area. However, the Robert Young Estate Winery was founded in 1997 to “showcase the red wines of Alexander Valley” under the Robert Young name. Fred made it clear that this is a true family winery and that “it’s a business that the family can manage”. There are thirteen family homes on the property and everyone is involved. He shared that “this family works every day” and it’s important to “instill a work ethic in those of the next generation”.
“It’s all about lifestyle – the freedom. I love the land,” remarked Fred. Like his father, Robert, who stated, “Take care of the land and the land will take care of you,” Fred “never knows what you’re going to do on the land, whether it’s taking care of the horses, the cattle, the vineyards or the fish pond.” Waxing nostalgic about his childhood days of riding horses, climbing trees and fishing, Fred said that living on the property is a way of life that he will never take for granted.
That property includes a 448-acre ranch on which the estate vineyards are located. Eight specific soil types (alluvial clay, Toomes rocky loam, Supan silt loam, Speckels loam, Zamora silty clay loam, Arbuckle gravelly loam, Clear Lake loam and Cortina very gravelly loam) affect the quality and flavors of each variety. Winemakers and viticulturalists are able to produce premium wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay with a vast range of complexity.
The Wines of Robert Young Estate
During our conversation, wines were poured. Enjoyed outside on the grounds of the Scion House was the 2016 Alexander Valley Chardonnnay ($48) that exuded aromas of ripe tropical fruit, crème brulee and warm baked apples. On the palate, notes of rich tropical fruit, hints of spiced apples and vanilla were lifted by medium acidity. Aged for 15 months in French oak, this is a superb Chardonnay.
Sips of the 2014 Alexander Valley Estate Merlot ($52) expressed its sense of place. Aromas of dark chocolate, blackberries and cloves wafted from the glass and elements of dark red fruit, ripe blackberries and molasses were surrounded by bright acidity and smooth tannins. The Merlot was aged for 24 months in French oak.
A treat was the 2014 Scion Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), Robert Young winery’s flagship wine and one that Fred was proud to pour. Intense aromas of baking spice, chocolate and cedar led to flavors of tobacco, vanilla, cassis, currant and the slightest hint of blueberries. Lush, full bodied and powerful, the finish was lingering. Only 36 barrels have been produced of this Cabernet that was aged for 24 months in French oak.
The 2014 Bob’s Burn Pile Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) was made in honor of Fred’s father, Robert Young. Fred explained that on the most eastern section of the estate and far from the homes, Bob amassed vineyard waste. All day controlled burns, tended by Bob, took place. Eventually, the area became home to Cabernet Sauvignon vines and the rest is delicious history… Aged for up to 24 months in French oak, this powerful wine offered exceptional aromas of dried herbs, cedar, and rich red fruit. On the palate, I discovered bold tannic structure, just-right acidity and notes of dark, juicy plums, vanilla and pepper.
A visit to Alexander Valley won’t be complete without a tour of Robert Young Estate Winery and a tasting at the Scion House Hospitality Center. Discover for yourself the family’s tradition of excellence and hospitality with each sip.
- Robert Young Estate Winery
- 5102 Red Winery Road, Geyserville, California 95441
- [email protected]
- Open Daily 10am – 4:30pm – Closed Tuesday