Dalliance - High Valley Vineyard banner

Dalliance - High Valley Vineyard

Lake County AVA

Nestled in the heart of Lake County, California, this terroir-driven, certified sustainable winery offers stand-out wine selections

High Valley Vineyard is part of the Shannon Ridge Family of Wines in Lake County, California and the brainchild of Angie and Clay Shannon. Lake County is located directly north of Napa Valley and due east of Mendocino’s colder climate environment, in an area that is unfamiliar to many wine-loving consumers.

After working on the grower side of the business for more than 15 years, Clay decided to go out on his own and began buying properties, mostly in Lake County, that he felt could provide high-quality fruit that he would sell to other wineries. His efforts proved to be wildly successful and slowly developed a family of wine brands and vineyards, each one showing the terroir and flavors of its actual growing site. There are currently nine different brands in the Shannon Ridge Family of Wines.

High Valley Vineyard was made to be a small collection of wines from the prestigious High Valley sub appellation of northeastern Lake County. Here, elevations are between 1,600 and 3,000 feet, and thanks to the cool breezes from the oldest lake in North America, it is one of the coolest appellations in Lake County. A herd of 1,000 sheep walk the High Valley Vineyard, helping compost the weeds into nutrients for the red, rocky volcanic soils. These are intensely flavored grapes and the Shannons craft them into wines that capture the character of this remarkable region.

We know our Gold Wine Club members will enjoy this wonderful selection!

Wine Wizard: Test Your Wine IQ

Picture of Wine Wizard: Test Your Wine IQ

1. Filtered vs. Unfiltered red wine: Which is better?
Whether or not a wine is filtered is a stylistic choice and does not necessarily make the wine “better” or “worse.” Some winemakers prefer to filter/fine a wine in order to remove the tiny particles that can settle at the bottom of the bottle or cause cloudiness or haziness in the glass. Filtering can also help ensure that a wine remains stable after bottling. However, other winemakers believe that too much filtering or fining can strip a wine of its flavors and aromas, and that leaving the wine ‘as is’ actually lends a more appealing texture and mouthfeel. There is no right or wrong opinion here, so the preference of filtered or unfiltered wines is entirely up to you!

2. Why is winter pruning so important for grapevines?
Pruning may be costly, but it is vital. One important reason is to organize the plant on the trellis so the vine can capture the maximum amount of light, to reduce leaf bunching and thus reduce disease risk and increase yield and quality, and to better synchronize the timing of ripening grape bunches. Another important reason is to produce a balance between the crop and leaf area. A high crop with less shoots (and leaves) will lead to over cropping, which produces high yields of low quality fruit and weakens the vine the following year. A low crop with more shoots, and too many leaves, will be over-vigorous, which also negatively affects the quality of the fruit. Plus, the abundance of leaves will probably cause too much shading for the fruit. Lastly, pruning is important to allow for the passage of machinery and man power through the alleys - without causing damage and allowing harvesting to be efficient and effective.

3. What is Carbonic Maceration?
Carbonic Maceration is a winemaking technique, often associated with the French wine region of Beaujolais, in which whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing. In conventional fermentation, the grapes are crushed first to free the juice and the pulp, and yeast is used to convert sugar to alcohol. In Carbonic Maceration, most of the juice is fermented while it is still inside the grape. The resulting wine is fruity with very low tannins and ready to drink quickly upon release. These wines are not meant for long-term aging. Beaujolais Nouveau wines, made from the Gamay grapes, utilize the Carbonic Maceration process.

Joy Merrilees - Winemaker

Picture of Joy Merrilees - Winemaker

To control and operate a winery collection such as Dalliance and High Valley Vineyard, Clay and Angie Shannon brought in Lake County native Joy Merrilees as director of winemaking and production. Merrilees possesses a splendid resume that features both national and international endeavors. She is a protegee of iconic winemaker Jed Steele, long considered one of California’s top winemakers. She also had tenures at wineries in both Washington State and Oregon. When she decided to go abroad, New Zealand and its ever-emerging array of top flight wines and wineries beckoned.

Over the course of her career she holds a degree in Plant Science and Landscape Design from Humboldt State University as well as numerous courses at both UC Davis and Lincoln University in Canterbury, New Zealand.

“Joy is a Lake County woman, and one who knows just about everything about our area’s grape growing and winemaking side,” commented winery co-owner Angie Shannon. “Her experience abroad in three of New Zealand’s winemaking areas (Marlborough, Central Otago and Canterbury) have forged an understanding of both grapes and terrain.

Joy’s husband, Bruce, serves as vineyard manager for the various properties that constitute the wineries’ vinous portfolio.

Clay Shannon - Co-Owner

Picture of Clay Shannon - Co-Owner

From the beginning, Dalliance and High Valley Vineyard Co-Owner Clay Shannon was thought to dance to his own music. Instead of heading to college after high school, the now 53-year-old turned entrepreneur had started a construction company that included plumbing and woodworking. After that, the Santa Rosa native found his real meaning when he succeeded in finding a vineyard job in nearby Kenwood.

“I guess it’s the combination of freshly turned soil and the diesel emitted by the tractor,” he confessed in a recent interview. “I just really love it. Then, there’s the combination of the great mountains around Lake County and the red dirt that abounds throughout the area. It makes for great farming and the conditions are near perfect for vineyards.”

Back in 1985, Clay Shannon managed a vineyard job with the huge Trinchero Family Estates (Sutter Home Family Vineyards et al.) consortium and stayed there eight years. After that period, Shannon decided to go it alone and the first of the Shannon Ranches came into fruition.

“I had seen a great deal of various locations around Napa and Sonoma, and was particularly intrigued by Lake County to the north. It seemed like a great area to begin with, and some of the really top growers were already planted in Lake County,” he continued.

Clay Shannon’s initial purchases of vineyard land has increased substantially and the company currently has over 1,100 acres under vine. A large amount of the fruit produced goes into his company’s estate program, such as this month’s Gold Wine Club selections, Dalliance and High Valley Vineyard. The reminder (approximately 60%) is sold to the likes of Robert Mondavi Winery, Beringer Vineyards, Camus Vineyards and a host of other high-profile wineries.

Additionally, Shannon owns a vineyard management company under the aegis of Shannon Ranches and annually farms another 3,500 acres of vineyards for various owners.

He has also overseen the development of nine estate brands of his own, including Dalliance and High Valley Vineyard. These smaller brands are important to Shannon because they allow him to experiment with different varietals and highlight the unique terroirs his vineyards grow in.

While things are going well for Clay Shannon, his perspective is trained toward the future. “It is my sincere desire to have something I can leave for my grandchildren to enjoy,” he postulated. “Maybe in 30 years, they will be able to say my grandfather started all this 50 years ago, and their grandchildren can say the same thing after 100 years. It’s really my dream.”

Men such as Clay Shannon don’t come along very often. It still remains to be seen what he can accomplish in his lifetime.

Lake County AVA

Picture of Lake County AVA

Some wine insiders consider California’s Lake County as the hottest (in terms of sales potential) growing area in the State.

Lake County was a victim of Prohibition, at least according to its grape production. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that grape production reappeared as the more southerly growing areas (mostly Napa Valley and Sonoma County) began experiencing suddenly diminishing growing sites. In the late 1980’s, growing grapes suddenly became big business in Lake County. Today some 10,000 acres (or more) are planted and the area is in high demand. Prices paid for high quality grapes topped western neighbor Mendocino County for the first time in history in 2014.

One of the secrets to Lake County is the geological differences found throughout the entire area. Clear Lake is the county’s primary source of water as well as America’s oldest surviving lake. Numerous volcanoes dot the landscape offering a wide array of rocks and soils that offer farmers a wide swarth for planting their precious vines. The High Valley appellation, where this month’s featured Sauvignon Blanc is from, actually sits 300 feet above Clear Lake. This topographically isolated valley has a young volcanic cinder cone, Round Mountain, that divides the east and west portions. It is a viticulturist’s dream with its impressive array of soils, along with steep mountain ridges and flat valley floors. Cool breezes from the lake below and nearby Mendocino National Forest get trapped inside the valley, which is key to the excellent quality and very interesting variety of wines produced there.

There are an abundance of micro-climates throughout Lake County that offer several sites for a wide array of varietals to nature and flourish.