Roots Run Deep Winery was founded by vintner Mark Albrecht and is the parent company to his various brands including his largest production wine Educated Guess. Other labels include Hypothesis, The Scholar, The Graduate, The PHD, The Valedictorian and Sip Moscato. Prior to starting this winery, Mark spent years working in the culinary and retail world including 13 years at Cost Plus World Market. He helped launch their wine program, and was instrumental in helping develop a number of prominent wine labels including Blackstone (Merlot), some brands for Coppola Wines and working on re-branding work for one of Domain Chandon’s wines. Also during his time there, the number of stores expanded from 30 to over 300 and the wine program he oversaw also grew significantly.
One of the brands that Mark helped launch became extremely successful – Red Truck. The idea for this label was based on a vintage red firetruck that was the number one selling collectible item through Cost Plus World Market. The General Manager of Cline Cellars (based in Sonoma County), Larry Holman approached Mark interested in his help in starting a new label. Mark made the connection to nostalgia with the red truck sales – and mentioned this hot selling item to Larry. Both asked simultaneously “what should we call a wine produced in honor of a red firetruck” the answer was easy and simple, Red Truck Wines.
In a bit of fortuitous timing, the owner of Cline Cellars, Fred Cline’s wife Nancy had recently purchased a painting of an old truck from Sonoma-based artist Dennis Ziemienski. Contacting Dennis and with some creative liberty, they soon had the label for this wine.
With Mark’s creative bent and ability to excel at branding – as well as his background with wine and connections made over the years it made sense to start his own label. After selling his house in the Oakland Hills to help raise money to start a wine label – and with funding help from friends he launched the first vintage of Educated Guess in 2005. Thinking big, this first vintage of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was nearly 20,000 cases. Production on this one wine has remarkably grown to 80,000 cases and today the total production of the Educated Guess wines are over 100,000 cases per year.
The premise of the Educated Guess wines is simple – “Napa Valley at a Value” with wines that are extremely affordably priced compared to similar wines coming from Napa – over delivering on quality.
The label is very unique – showcasing a variety of organic chemistry formulas relating to fermentation – credited to three of the country’s best and most well-known viticulture and oenology programs, Cornell, UC Davis and Virginia Tech. Mark wanted to tie in both the science of wine making and the art; thinking about production he soon became overwhelmed with all the factors that go into wine making – mentioning all the coopers, and various toast levels, vineyard sites, clones, yeast strains, etc. – there is no road map or formula to tie all this together.
Interestingly enough his label was rejected the first time it was submitted with the premise that the formulas were a road map to making wine at home on a commercial bottle of wine.
Mark interviewed five winemakers but ultimately chose veteran winemaker Barry Gnekow in part because he was the most excited by the challenge to make Napa based wines at these reasonable prices. Certainly not an easy challenge.
After trying a variety of vineyard sources for both the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Mark has settled into using Sangiacamo Vineyard fruit from the Sonoma side of Carneros. The 2014 Educated Guess Chardonnay saw 40% fermentation in barrel. This wine shows a clean bouquet with dessert spices and toasted hazelnut – it presents a nice mid palate weight without being to heavy. Decent acidity. Flavors of melon and apple – definitely focused on the fruit – with lingering fruit flavors and minerality notes. Very good wine for the price.
The 2014 Pinot Noir shows an appealing bouquet with a noticeable spiciness/smokiness including white pepper, darker currant with earthy/wet rock aromas and notes of violet. It is an elegant bouquet. Slightly creamy on the palate the wine shows nice flavors of raspberry and strawberry along with fine grained tannins.
Since the first vintage, their ‘workhorse’ wine is the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2014 vintage is blended with 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. It shows pleasing aromas with a sweetness of fruit, cassis and various dessert spices including perhaps an aroma of soy. The bouquet is very aromatic. On the palate the entry is initially soft texturally but from mid palate through to the finish robust long lasting tannins appear along with lingering notes of mocha. Good acidity.
Hypothesis is a unique Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in part created using a very expensive tool – a machine to ‘flash detente’ the skins of the grapes prior to fermentation. This translates in French to “instant relaxation” and is a process that was developed in Europe in the 1990’s. The machines are extremely expensive; Mark mentioned there are only three of them currently in use in the United States – the first commercial one was installed for the 2009 harvest, at Monterey Wine Co.
This thermal vinification essentially works like this: prior to fermentation, the skins are separated from the juice and then subjected to temperatures ranging from 50 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit over a short period of time (usually 6 to 8 minutes). Then the skins are put into a vacuum chamber and cooled significantly. During the process steam is created – captured into a condenser containing some undesirable aromatic compounds. Because water is removed during the process, the concentration of the remaining must is intensified thus increasing the sugar level.
Mark describes this as interventionist somewhat Avante Garde wine making. This process kills anything growing on the skins of course. Mark had this wine tested by a local lab – Wine Xray in the city of Napa and amount of anti oxidants that were measured were about 3x the amount of a normal traditionally made red wine. As a result, Mark has noticed this wine continues to hold up quite well for a number of days after it has been opened. We tried a bottle that had been opened for four days – we couldn’t yet pick out any signs the wine had seen to much oxidation. Mark has had this wine open for about a week before he started noticing signs of oxidation.
The 2013 vintage of the Napa Valley Hypothesis is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot – 85% of the skins went through the Flash Détente process. This wine is noticeably dark in the glass. A softness shows on the entry but quickly gains in complexity of layers of fruit and flavor and structure. Rich darker fruit flavors show including blackberry. A lingering hint of mocha remains on the finish. The tannins are firm, grippy and last for some time. This wine will go well with pasta or steak.
A newer project Mark is working on highlights wines from specific sub appellations within the Napa Valley – the regions change depending on the vintage. These are limited production premium wines – mostly only available through the tasting room and select northern California distribution.
Mark started making his wine at Napa Wine Co. and has since moved all operations to the sizable facilities at used to be known as Jamieson Ranch. Visitors interested in trying the Educated Guess and Hypothesis wines can do so by visiting this winery located just off of Highway 12 about 15-20 minutes from downtown Napa (and about 10 minutes from Interstate 80). The winery is located about as far south as a winery can be, to still be considered a Napa Valley area winery.
A stop here is a good “break” from the terrible traffic that can plague this part of Highway 12 at times (although at least now the highway has been converted into a much needed 4 lanes all the way to Interstate 80). This is the Jamieson Canyon area of Napa, a somewhat similar growing climate to the more famous nearby Carneros region. Both share climatic similarities because each region is located relatively close to the San Pablo Bay. This is the closest Napa winery to Sacramento. You can make it here from downtown Sacramento in just under an hour.
The inside of the building has a rustic western motif with lots of hard wood and one of the more spacious tasting rooms of any Napa winery (3000 square feet). The property used to be part of a huge cattle and horse ranch. Weather permitting there is a very nice outside deck surrounding the upstairs tasting area.
For more information or to join their wine club, visit: www.rootsrundeep.com
NOTE: in 2019, Roots Run Deep Winery purchased the 1901 built craftsman home at 1607 First Street in downtown Napa and are currently renovating the interior. This will be their new tasting room once it opens in first quarter of 2020. Their former tasting room at the winery off of Jameson Canyon Road will be used for special events.
We are currently on our annual several month sabbatical from the Napa Valley but when we return in late winter/early Spring we will be visiting this tasting room asap at that time and updating our notes here.