Jill Brothers, co-owner of Sol Rouge, walks up the base of Mt. Konocti behind her home, a glass of Viognier in her hand. Topaz, her kind-hearted yellow lab, follows close behind, sniffing for grapes missed during the harvest and hidden between the rows.
“This used to be a walnut orchard,” Jill gestures towards the vineyard running off to her left. “It was already terraced for us when we bought the property; otherwise, there’s no way we could have planted a vineyard on this steep of a slope.” Rows of vines expand up the slope of the mountain, painting its feet in gold-bronze fall hues. From there, Jill points out the borders of the 70 acres creeping up the valley which make the home of Sol Rouge Vineyard. Twilight’s warm blueness settles over the vines. We’ve crested the top of the vineyard and begin walking down toward the soft glow of her home.
“We don’t have a tasting room for Sol Rouge here in Lake County other than the Wine Studio in Upper Lake.” Jill takes one last sip of wine from her glass. “Our purpose is to make Lake County known for its great wine outside of the county and to bring people to Lake County to visit and to live.” Clouds of dust rise from our feet as we descend the steep hill. Slowly her home appears through the vines, and we are once again on level ground.
In the distance, the moon begins to rise.
Inside, trays of hummus, chips, and cheese spread across the countertop bar of her kitchen. Four bottles of wine sit to the side. Soft music plays in the background as Jill settles herself behind the island bar and pours a glass of Rosé. “People have opinions about Rosé,” she says, pushing her glasses up on her head, where they hold back her curly grey-blonde hair. “Often it’s sweet and made from the bleed-off of other wines. Our Rosé is specifically made for this wine. My business partner and Sol Rouge’s winemaker Bryan Kane use Grenache grapes and bleeds the juice immediately after pressing, which makes a nice wine.” She passes the glass across the counter.
Jill gestures towards the food as she takes her first sip of wine. “Anyone who comes to my place is my guest,” she says. “Tonight, I don’t care that you’re writing an article. You are my guests, so make yourself at home.” Her gray, ocean blue eyes pause for a moment as she allows the wine to envelop her senses, just as an artist examines a fine painting. Within moments the warmness of home settles in, familiar and comfortable.
The Rosé sits brightly in the glass and fills the nose with fruit-forward aroma. It carries all the depth of a Grenache, with light, bright fruit notes across the palate. The flavors balance each other gently, leaving a lingering finish.
Topaz wanders in, sniffs a bit, then curls up on the floor. Simon and Garfunkel croon from speakers in the living room. “I wish I was homeward bound.”
Jill opens a bottle of Gypsy Blanc, checks the cork, and gives it a quick taste before pouring a glass. A proprietary blend of Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc, it’s fruit-forward and crisp, filled with the tart of apples and tang of citrus. It starts smoothly on the palate, eases its way across, and ends with a lingering bite at the finish. “I was inspired by the free spirit of the gypsies,” Jill says while taking a bite of brie covered in fig jam, craisins, and Lake County red walnuts, a perfect pair for the wine. “I wanted to bring a bit of that freedom of spirit into the wine.”
She sets her glass down, brushes her hair from her face, and reaches for another bottle. “The rich volcanic soil found in the Red Hills Appellation along with the different microclimates of the property allows us to grow a wide range of varietals and produce a diverse offering of “terroir-true’ Rhone and Bordeaux varietal wines.”
Outside, a small waterfall empties into a koi pond, its gentle susurrus shushing the night. Inside, Jill pours a glass of their 2012 Cabernet Franc, given 92 points and made an editor’s choice by Wine Enthusiast. Opaque and deep violet, with each twist of the glass it shimmers. “It’s got the mineral flavor that makes Lake County wines so unique. It’s the soil, I tell everyone. It makes fabulous wines.”
There, in the bouquet, the minerals linger, sharing their space with blackberries and tannins. It sits smooth and long in the mouth, lingering like a beautiful sunset. It’s a steak wine, but not tri-tip. It deserves the delicacy of a filet mignon.
The purple of twilight has settled into black. Jill’s home glows and brightens against the surrounding evening. Senses full of textures, taste, and tranquil aromas bring a sense of utter completion. There is no rush to head out for dinner; we’re fully satiated with Jill’s hospitality and wine. But time has a will of its own, and soon we must leave behind Sol Rouge’s oasis of beauty.
For a chance to enjoy Sol Rouge’s wine, visit the Lake County Wine Studio in Upper Lake. On December 6, from 5-8pm, and December 7, from 4-7 pm, they will be the focus of an Art and Wine reception.
If you’re ever in SF, you can also visit their tasting room on Treasure Island. For more information, visit their website: solrouge.com.