ACORN Winery and Alegría Vineyards – The Russian River Valley’s ‘United Nations of Grapes’

By Published On: April 13, 2022

When Bill Nachbaur was a second-grade student in Vallejo, California, his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He replied, “I want to be a farmer.” Little did he know his dream would come to fruition in 1990 in the form of purchasing, farming, and making wine from certified historic vineyards in the Russian River Valley, whose original block dates back to 1890.

Bill and his wife Betsy named their winery ACORN. “An acorn is a popular symbol of prosperity, good fortune, and potential. (Everyone knows mighty oaks from little acorns grow.) We are tiny like an acorn. Our winery is framed by tall oak trees. Our wine is aged in oak barrels. So, ACORN seemed the perfect name for our winery,” they said.

Although located in Russian River Valley, famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, one will not find these varieties at ACORN. The 32 acres of estate vineyards, which Bill and Betsy named Alegría (joy in English), are home to over 100 grape varieties including the original plantings and other blocks: Zinfandel (1890, 1950, 1987, 1992, 1997), Cabernet Franc (1991), Dolcetto (1991), Sangiovese (1991), Syrah (1991), Grüner Veltliner (2017), and Alvarinho (2017). Interspersed throughout each block is the plethora of other varieties – nearly too many for any human to count – except for Bill. He purchased cuttings and planted them in the younger blocks established after he and Betsy assumed ownership to intentionally produce field blend wines, which means the grapes are grown and co-fermented together. The Nachbaurs fondly call Alegría, “The United Nations of Grapes.”

Bill and/or Betsy personally host visitors by appointment outdoors near the vineyard, and occasionally indoors, depending on the weather. Bill enthusiastically leads vineyard tours to give guests a firsthand look at Alegría Vineyards. The tastings are authentic and unpretentious and include the available wines of the moment, released only when they will show well (but can be cellared, too). The Nachbaurs only make around 2,000 cases annually, so availability is often short-lived.

During a late February tasting, the Nachbaurs presented eight of their wines.

The Whites:
2020 Grüner Veltliner (80% Grüner Veltliner and 20% other Austrian, German, and Hungarian varieties)
2020 Alvarinho (80% of four clones of Alvarinho and 20% other Portuguese varieties)

The Nachbaurs planted these blocks in 2017 and made their inaugural white wines as a homage to Bill’s Austrian grandfather, who came to California in the 1890s to work with his brothers in Napa Valley’s vineyards, and his Portuguese great-grandparents, who settled in California in the 1860s and later met and married in Petaluma.

The Reds:
2016 Acorn Hill® – their “Super Tuscan”(49% Syrah, 49% Sangiovese, 1% Viognier, 0.5% Mammolo, and 0.5% Canaiolo Nero)
2017 Axiom® Syrah – reminiscent of northern Rhône (98% of three clones of Syrah and 2% Viognier)
2018 Sangiovese (98% of 26 clones of Sangiovese, 1% Canaiolo Nero, and 1% Mammolo Toscano)
2018 Cabernet Franc (92% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat)
2018 Heritage Vines™ Zinfandel (78% Zinfandel, 11% Alicante Bouchet, 9% Petite Sirah, and 2% another 15 or so varieties)
2018 Medley® – the 19th vintage of this wine that the Nachbaurs call “the whole vineyard in a bottle“ and their “blend of field blends” (20% Syrah, 20% Zinfandel, 18% Cinsaut/Cinsault, 8% Dolcetto, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Sangiovese, and 22% another 60+ varieties)

Not surprisingly, the wines are difficult to describe due to interplay of the varieties, and that is OK because the Nachbaurs make their wines for enjoyment with family, friends, and food, not necessarily for assessment, although enthusiasts and wine critics alike have recognized their quality and uniqueness. They show an unrivaled complexity that single-variety wines cannot achieve.

“We like to say that our wines are blended from the day they are picked. This is what sets ACORN and Alegría apart,” said the Nachbaurs. “Today, after more than 30 years, we continue to find alegría living in the middle of our vineyards.”

About the Author: Elizabeth Smith

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Elizabeth Smith is an award-winning writer by way of a detour through the Napa Valley and Sonoma County wine industries. Her day job is product copywriter at Naked Wines USA. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento Chapter, and the Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Connect with Elizabeth at easmith.net/contact.