Iron Horse Vineyards, Green Valley. Named after the railway line that used to cross the property, Iron Horse is one of the very few North American wineries to specialise in sparkling wines. A small, family winery still, it was established by Audrey and Barry Sterling in 1976, a francophile couple who happened upon these three hundred acres of gentle, rolling hills “looking like Camelot” and bought the property in two weeks flat. Rodney Strong (qv) had discovered the potential of the site in 1970 and planted it with vineyards of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Sterlings completely re-habilitated the vineyard, built the reservoir and installed the frost protection system, crucial to a vineyard so close to the Pacific and prone to frost as late as June 1st. The first sparkling vintage of Iron Horse was 1980, since when this winery has become one of the most famous names of its kind, served on numerous occasions at the White House, beginning with the Gorbachev-Reagan summit meetings that marked the end of the Cold War.
The vineyards, in the heart of Green Valley in the Russian River, are 13 miles from the Pacific as the crow flies. There are approximately 160 acres in vine, planted exclusively to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The predominant soil-type is Goldridge, a sandy loam that has excellent drainage and is perfectly balanced, making it the most coveted for growing Pinot Noir. The estate is divided into 39 blocks, farmed individually, harvested separately and then each vinified as a ‘single vineyard’. Each has been planted with site specific root-stock and clone selections. All pruning, canopy management, irrigation, and cover crop decisions are determined on a block-by-block (and sometimes even vine-by-vine) basis. Above all, winemaker David Munksgard aims to produce wines with the best possible balance. The wine-writer, Robert Parker has written: "These impressive sparkling wines...possess more texture and flavour than just about any sparkler...from California.”