Long-time Alexander Valley Growers Making Wines That Show a Century of Experience

Bret Munselle is a grape grower and his family has grown grapes for as long as anyone in Alexander Valley can remember. They have also grown prunes, other crops and had a dairy farm, but in the 1970s returned to the wine grapes that had been the ribbon that wove two families together and continues to be the cornerstone of the Munselle family business.

When Bret married wife Kristin in 2005, she thought he should start making wine. He responded that he and his brother already made a barrel in the garage and they were quite happy with that, but, the next vintage, 2006, the first Munselle Vineyard wine was produced and they have been making wine ever since.

The family history in Alexander Valley goes back to two English immigrants who basically founded the area when Shadrach Osborn arrived to explore lumber opportunities and soon bought up much of the area around East Soda Rock and subdivided it. He established a home ranch where Sausal Winery used to be and actually started the first winery, Lone Pine Cellars, where Fieldstone stands now. Osborn made his mark on Alexander Valley and many historic photos have his images among early settlers.

Broder Frellson was the cellar master at Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Winery and was sent to Alexander Valley when that winery suffered the loss of its vines from phylloxera. He built Red Winery where Hafner stands now, planted grapes and was winemaker at Red Winery until Stag’s Leap became re-established. Again, Frellson appears in many early photos taken in Alexander Valley.

From these two founding families came the Wasson and Munselle families that farm over 500 acres presently in the Valley and own six properties encompassing about 300 acres.

On all of their wine bottles, this family history is encompassed in five significant dates that circle the MV logo on their labels:

1876 – Great Great Grandfather Shadrach Osborn arrives in Alexander Valley.
1889 – Shadrach constructs first winery in Alexander Valley, Lone Pine Cellars.
1893 – First Crush at Red Winery, where Great Great Grandfather Broder Frellson is Winemaker.
1972 – Grandparents Fred and Ruby Wasson convert all orchards to vineyards
2006 – Munselle Vineyards crushes first vintage.

Bret’s parents, Bill and Reta (Wasson) Munselle are now the family patriarch and matriarch. The family are huge supporters of local schools and charities and are considered leaders in the Valley and have driven the charge for recognition of wines from Alexander Valley, especially Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bret’s daily responsibilities remain farming and, as he likes to point out, what a life he has. He farms what becomes an elegant end result and he gets to have a role in both the farming and chemistry of the winemaking. And, this father of four girls under ten years old, “still gets to play with tractors, diesel, dogs and trucks.” For Bret, this is the best farming, because we are farming a romanticized and beautiful product.

This joy is evident in the wines that Bret makes at the winery and under the watchful eye of his longtime friend, Clay Mauritson. The grapes are all from Alexander Valley and the winery’s 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from their own River Ranch Vineyard which is actually a field blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque, a clone of Sauvignon Blanc. It is a yummy, tropical fruit-laced, crisp wine with perfect balanced acidity and roundness in the finish imparted by time in neutral French oak.

The Munselle Vineyards Coin Flip Ranch Chardonnay is the perfect Chardonnay to pair with crab and a light cream sauce. Bold apple-pear aromas are followed by refined almond apple flavors and a long, lustrous finish imparted by a barrel aging program of 4/4/4, equal time in new, one year old and neutral French oak. Interestingly, Coin Flip Ranch takes its name from the way grandpa Fred Wasson and grapegrower Tim Murphy split a piece of property they bought together and split it with a heads or tails decision.

2013 MV Zinfandel is actually 100% Primitivo which Bret likes because of the varietal’s small, thick-skinned grapes with lush, concentrated flavors. This elegant Zinfandel is from 12 year old vines which sit on longtime Zinfandel vineyard, some vines dating back to 1880, around the time when his great great grandfather first discovered this wine area.

Bret and the entire Munselle clan love Cabernet Sauvignon and they grow a lot of it. The current vintage, 2010 Coyote Crest Cabernet Sauvignon, is from a higher elevation vineyard that is the Wasson Home ranch. A highly age-worthy wine that spends 24 months in half new and half neutral French oak and three years in bottle. The wine still has gorgeous currant, oak and berry on the nose and spicy, dried berry flavors and is a perfect pairing with lamb, grilled pork or French cheeses.

Drinking Munselle Vineyards wines is really enjoying the history of a premier winegrowing region that has gradually emerged as a premier Cabernet producer that gives Napa a good run for a lot less money. The four wines of the Munselle family are representatives of the best of the entire Alexander Valley. And they know because they farm an awful lot of it.

by Barbara Barrielle

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