Signal Ridge Vineyards- What Altitude Tastes Like

Atop the highest mountain in the Mendocino Ridge AVA sits a 17 acre vineyard with a 10 mile view to the Pacific Ocean. It is by no means an easy task growing grapes here, and since 1999 Roger Scommegna has often wonder to himself why he keeps on pursuing this dream of his when naysayers see it as madness. What they didn’t know is that Roger was patiently gathering together a team who were eager to meet the challenges this vineyard posed. With a gentle approach and finely tuned perception, Nacho Flores sweetly coaxes the gentle vines into fruition against all that nature sends his way. At the peek of ripeness we night harvest the fruit block by block and with the calm mindfulness of Stephanie Rivin the fruit transforms into the finished wine. After a year or longer maturing, the wine is bottled and the ever jubilant Kendra McEwen presents it to the world.

We make wine by playing to the strengths of the vintage, making adjustments in the cellar based on what we see in the vineyard during the growing season. Pick decisions are based not on sugar ripeness- but rather waiting until acid, seed and skin ripeness, Brix, and sensory flavor profile are all aligned. Once on the crush pad real time decisions come into play- cold soak, native fermentation, extended maceration, whole cluster inclusion- all based on what the vintage has given us to work with.

As Salvador Dalí said, “Great Wine takes a mad man to grow the vine, a wise man to watch over it, a lucid poet to make it, and a lover to drink it.” And so our 4 people were drawn together- Roger Scommegna, Nacho Flores, Stephanie Rivin, and Kendra McEwen…of course it takes more than four people, but hey it made for a great quote.

What varieties do you have planted at that elevation?

Seeing a lot of snow this year? Cold now is probably a good thing for the vines, correct?

Hi Brig!
We have 14 acres of Pinot noir (7 different clones) and Zinfandel planted at the vineyard.

We have a had a few dustings of snow, but nothing that stays around for many days. I took my kids up the other day to try and build a snowman, but it wound up being a snowbaby.

We do tend to get some late spring frost events, so having this cold now helps keep the vines dormant and we see less loss due to frost later on. Many years we employ a double pruning system- Nacho will go through and leave 4-5 nodes on each spur, the idea being that the frost damage will occur on these sacrificial sites. Then he goes back through and trims of the top portion off and we are left with ~2 undamaged spurs. The drawback is that we tend to bud out later and then there is greater potential to face bad weather in the Fall when we are harvesting. This year we are trying something a little different in a few areas…I’ll report more on it if we are successful, so stay tuned!!

Love the tagline - brilliant!!!

How old is the Zin planted there?

Hi Todd!

I only wish I could claim authorship of it- it was born out of Roger’s head. It truly does feel like the top of the world up there

Our Zinfandel was planted in 2003 using budwood from nearby legendary Dupratt Vineyard, grafted on to St George rootstock.
It is probably the most challenging part of the vineyard, which is silly considering that it is rivaling Pinot Noir for being most finicky! We are often pulling in the zin in late October/early November. It is not your typical Cali Zin- it is way more relaxed, and due to shortened hang time we often have very low alc zin. The thing I have thought interesting about that, is you still get the dark brooding fruit, black pepper, and spice, just not the knock-you-out high alc.

Cheers and thanks for the chance to introduce ourselves!

Shot of the last moments of daylight before the Zin harvest commenced. It’s always a race between the us waiting for the grapes to ripen and the bears eating the clusters…luckily they tend to leave enough for us before letting themselves out

Stephanie, I love Rafanelli Zins from Dry Creek. Have you tasted their zin and if so, how would you compare your zin? For some reason, your description reminded me of Rafanelli

Hi Leonard! I have had their wines in the past, but sadly it has been a year or more, so I’m not certain how to compare. I read through some Cellar Tracker tasting notes from people and it does seem like they would fit in the same style category.

The zinfandel is handled in a manner similar to our Pinot Noir on the crush pad. Whole berry fermentation with a bit of whole cluster for extra spice. Usually a few days cold soak before warming up and fermentation begins. Putdowns performed 2-3 times a day to control temperature and allow for ample skin contact. When the wine pulls enough tannin I rack off the skins and finish fermenting in barrel- usually just 1-2 Brix left to ferment. Cool fermentation and gentle handling and lower sugar ripeness at harvest help create this more tamed version of Zinfandel.

Thanks for your question!

For what it’s worth, I tried the Signal Ridge Zinfandel and thought it was very polished, yet distinctively nice! :slight_smile: The balance of acidity, fruit, and alcohol was great.

Thanks for the kind words Drew! I truly enjoy the challenge of making wine to the vintage, i think it allows for the site specific characteristics to really shine through- as was the case in the 2014 Zin. Looking forward participating Berserkers Day VIII