Medlock Ames: An Organic Vineyard with Mini Cows and a Century-Old Biker Bar

Wine and canned produce from the tasting room. Photo by Frank Ladra.

Medlock Ames is an organic and sustainable winery nestled upon Bell Mountain in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley. Sheltered from the fog of the nearby Pacific Ocean, the valley is one of Northern California's warmest wine regions. But gentle coastal breezes do find their way in. And those breezes, along with cool air from the Russian River, give the valley low nighttime temperatures and an extended growing season. Medlock Ames has a holistic approach to winemaking that not only considers land use but also community. That's where a reclaimed biker bar and the use of both wild and farm animals such miniature cows come in to play. From microclimates to miniature cows, Medlock Ames accomplishes its biggest goal: creating wine with a complete sense of place.
Owner Ames Morison and General Manager Kenny Rochford. Photo by Frank Ladra.

The winery, which was started in 1998, was founded by lifelong friends Christopher Medlock and Ames Morison. They scouted hundreds of vineyards throughout California before happening upon the estate at Bell Mountain. The estate, which is closed to the public, is without the obligatory villa you'll find at most wineries. Totaling over 400 acres, the hillside property is rustic, oak-covered and punctuated by a modern gravity-flow production facility.

Gravity flow is a very gentle method of winemaking where wine is moved by gravity from fermentation to barreling. The lack of mechanics (and agitation) helps preserve the wine's more delicate notes. This process also reduces energy consumption. For example, the wine's final destination--the cellar--is underground where aging can take place without the need for artificial climate control. The gravity flow facility is also home to a 84 kWh solar system which provides 100% of its electricity needs.

Owls and bats and miniature cows, oh my!

Only 50 acres of the estate are actually used for agriculture -- the remainder has been left intentionally untouched to better the neighboring wildlife preserve. The vineyard and garden are 100% organic, so no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used. Though this approach did contribute to a gopher and rodent problem early on for the vineyard, that was rectified with the installation of 50-something owl boxes. Wild barn owls quickly took to the structures and began, well, feasting. Bat boxes occupy the property's woodland areas providing a similar effect.

Other visitors from the preserve include wild pigs, deer, bobcats and mountain lions. Conventionally, high fences would be built to keep out such intruders. Unfortunately, that can also trap them, which can be a danger to the vines, its workers and the animals themselves. So the winery has built corridors throughout the property that allows the animals to traverse the vineyard without bringing about the dangerous side effects.

Unwanted weeds are tended to by sheep and miniature cows, which are not as tiny as they might sound (I immediately wanted one). The animal-powered weed whackers not only reduce tractor usage but they also provide natural fertilizer. A lot of natural fertilizer!

The vine getting ready for harvest. Photo by Frank Ladra

But the uniqueness of the Bell Mountain ranch extends way beyond the grapes.
Even native and wild yeasts are used during fermentation, giving the wine an extended sense of place. And if you want to taste this wine--which you do--then you will have to head to the recently opened tasting room located a few miles from Bell Mountain.

Turning a century-old biker bar to into tasting room

The tasting room itself has a simplicity to it that echoes the ranch at Bell Mountain. No fancy imported olives or overpriced picnic-ware are found there. Just good wine and canned produce from the garden. Located at the intersection of Alexander Valley Road and Highway 128, the Medlock Ames tasting room has been a neighborhood fixture since the early 1900s when it was known as the Alexander Valley Store and Bar. The bar part was added on later during the '60s where it became a favorite amongst the Easy Rider crowd. And that history exists in more than just spirit at the new tasting location. Reclaimed wood from the original structure was used and they even opened an actual bar. When the wine tasting ends, the seasonally-inspired cocktails begin!Miniature cows and biker bars aside, what really makes Medlock Ames stand out is the wine. It's a paradox. It's frank with intense aromas, as is characteristic of California wines, yet still delicate and subtle at the same time. Their 2008 Rosé truly displays these characteristics and holds the honor of being the only Rosé I have ever liked. The wine is unfiltered adding a foggy depth to the Kool-Aid-esque pink, a characteristic that is best observed when the wine has been properly chilled. Ripe strawberries dominate both the nose and palate followed by hints of citrus and sunshine. If you're not quite ready for Fall, this 2008 Rosé by Medlock Ames will take you back to Summer.Visit TreeHugger's Green Wine Guide for more green wineries, recipes and virtual tours.Follow the @GreenWineGuide or @JerryJamesStone on Twitter or fan us on Facebook.Medlock Ames Wine Pairing Recipes
Chiogga Beets with Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette and Toasted Hazelnuts
Tempeh, Broccoli, and Red Bell Pepper Stir Fry
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Winter Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables and a Balsamic Reduction
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Seared Brussels Sprouts with a Smoked Gouda Sauce and Freshly Grated Horseradish
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Chèvre-Stuffed Dates with Pomegranate Molasses and Chili Oil
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Medlock Ames: An Organic Vineyard with Mini Cows and a Century-Old Biker Bar
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