What is Rhone? A Region, a Grape or a Wine?

Ruben Solarano at Folded Hills Vineyard

Maybe you have heard this in a tasting room somewhere on the Central Coast, “We specialize in the Rhones.” Let’s be honest, does that word mean anything to you? If not, we are here to help.

If you guessed region, you are correct! Rhone refers to the warm and sunny Rhone Valley in Southeastern France, about 50 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. In the Rhone Valley, vineyard owners are legally only allowed to grow a few grape varieties, the most common being Grenache or Syrah. Over centuries of trial and error, those specific types of wine grapes have been deemed the best for the region’s soil, elevation and climate. So what does that have to do with Central Coast, California wines?

The climate, soil and coastal influence of the Rhone Valley are very similar to the Santa Ynez Valley, hence many wineries make wine from “Rhone” varieties. Over here in California, we’re not under such tight regulations as in Europe – we can plant whatever we want – and many growers do! They may decide to plant according to their personal taste, or what is most popular (and fetching the highest price tag) at the time.

Ruben Solarano at Folded Hills Vineyard

How is Folded Hills different? Before wine ever came into the picture, we were motivated to grow the best according to the land. That guided decisions on the pastured animals, fruit tree varieties, native plants, row crops and the decision to farm everything organically.

The same principles applied when it came to planting grapes. (Read about the planting process here.) Even though people kept telling us, “Don’t plant this, don’t plant that, those wines just aren’t as popular.” Or, “You have to plant what you love to drink!” Well, we did just that. We happen to love drinking wine made from grapes that thrive to their fullest potential and express the unique sense of place from where they are growing. We planted two reds, Grenache and Syrah, along with three whites, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and the unique Clairette Blanche, all of which are Rhone grapes.

Two years later, we couldn’t be happier with that decision. The vineyard is thriving and the wines are showing gorgeous aromas and flavors. Vineyard Manager, (and grape whisperer) Ruben Solorzano is taken back by the maturity and vitality the vineyard is showing. Taste for yourself with our favorite wine at the moment – the beautiful, feminine and luscious Grant Grenache.

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