More Russian River Valley Gems
Small Vines Wines
Paul and Kathryn Sloan are owners of Small Vines Viticulture, established in 1998 in Sonoma County to plant
and farm ultra high density vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. High
density plantings are from 2722 to 3630 vines per acre. Tractor rows are typically 4 feet wide (the California
average is 8 to 12 feet), and the plants are spaced anywhere from 3 to 4 feet apart depending on site and plant
selection. Their underlying philosophy is that smaller vines produce diminutive and more intensely flavored
grapes and by extension, higher quality wines. Their mantra is, “The smaller the vine, the better the wine.”
Each vine is farmed individually using standards of only 8 shoots per meter, allowing each vine to carry only
1.5 to 3 pounds of fruit, with carefully monitoring of soil moisture, using water sparingly when necessary to
improve wine quality and then only on specific vines.
The Sloans also produce small lots of Pinot Noir, releasing their first wines in the 2005 vintage. The wines are
crafted at Copain’s Custom Crush facility in Santa Rosa. They source grapes primarily from their estate
vineyard (12.5 acres outside of Sebastopol with 4.5 acres of Pinot Noir, 4.75 acres of chardonnay and two
thousand vines of Pinot Gouges, the white mutation of Pinot Noir found in Henri Gouges’ vineyard in Nuits-St.-
Georges, all planted in 2009), MK Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast, and the Baranoff Vineyard in the Russian
River Valley. Both appellation (Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast) and vineyard-designated (MK
Vineyard and Baranoff Vineyard) Pinot Noirs are offered. A minimalist in the winery, Paul Sloan believes that
naturally made wines last longer and give more drinking pleasure so only natural yeasts are used and the
wines are neither fined or filtered.
The Sloans are very passionate and innovative young winegrowers who also craft extraordinary wines. I would
suggest you join their release mailing list to guarantee access to future releases. Follow the Small Vines Blog
and videos at www.smallvines.com/blog. For a tour or more information, contact Paul or Kathryn at
707-823-0886, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website at www.smallvines.com. The wines are sold
on the website and through a mailing list. Magnums, etched magnums and jeroboams are offered. Future plans
call for an estate Chardonnay from the 2011 vintage.
2009 Small Vines Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 386 cases, $50.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Deep aromas of cherries, jam on toast, and vanillin. On the palate, medium
weight flavors of black cherries and cola are featured with a slight tarry, smoky accent. The tannins are nicely
managed, the mid palate and finish offer pleasing intensity and the wine finishes dry and fruity. Good (+).
2009 Small Vines Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., 75 cases, $65. Located on a hillside overlooking the Laguna de Santa
Rosa, this vineyard also supplies grapes for the Small Vines Russian River
Valley Cuvée. Mostly Calera clone with some Swan and Dijon 115 clone. 10%
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy nose
offering scents of berry jam, spice, oak cask and green garden. Tasty core of
black cherry, black raspberry and plum fruit with slightly astringent tannins and a
juicy, fruit-filled finish. Velvety on the palate, evolving slowly in the glass. Much
more enticing the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
Should be stellar in a few more years. Very good.
2009 Small Vines MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., 150 cases, $65. 10.5 miles from the ocean, this temperate site
was planted in 1999 and has been farmed organically since 2006 with
added biodynamic practices since 2007.
Moderately dark reddish-purple
hue in the glass. Appealing aromas of dark berry jam, black
plums and oak. Lovely flavors of dark red and black Pinot fruits,
building in intensity with time in the glass, and finishing with impressive
grand cru persistence of aromatic black cherries. Still young, but the pedigree of
the fruit really stands out and it is hard to resist now. More intensely flavored and
expressive the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
Hank and Margie Skewis have a dedicated following for their small lots of vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from
Sonoma and Mendocino counties that they have produced since 1994. Hank is a veteran of over 27 vintages,
having honed his winemaking skills at Lambert Bridge in the Dry Creek region of Sonoma County before
starting his namesake label. He crafts less than 1,000 cases of premium Pinot Noir from vineyard sources that
have varied through the years, but have always been consistently superb.
Winemaking is traditional with minimal intervention. Carefully sorted grapes are gently crushed into small bins,
fermented warm, pressed into French oak barrels where primary and secondary fermentations are completed.
The wines are typically aged in barrel for 18 months, racked for blending, and then racked a second time in
preparation for bottling. The wines are then aged an additional 4 to 6 months in bottle before release.
Skewis Pinot Noirs offer enjoyable drinking upon release and by virtue of their balance and structure,
dependable age ability. I recently visited their new tasting room in the historic Roma Station Winery complex in
Healdsburg. The 1997 Skewis Montgomery Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was lean with cherry fruit
starting to fade and tannin and acid coming to the forefront. Still, the wine would work nicely with food and
appease the most fastidious old wine enthusiasts. The 2002 Skewis Montgomery Vineyard Russian River
Valley Pinot Noir still had good color, offered lovely fruit-filled, floral aromas and flavors, and still had plenty of
life for several more years of enjoyment.
A unique feature of Skewis Wines is that the wines are offered in half-bottle sampler packs. Wines age quicker
in this format, giving the taster an opportunity to taste the wines at a relatively mature stage. The wines are
sold through the tasting room and a mailing list at www.skewis.com. The tasting room is open Friday - Monday
11:00-4:00 and by appointment. The website offers extensive tasting notes and an informative section on wine
and food pairing. A small amount of some of the 2008 vintage wines are still available.
The 2009 vintage wines tasted below continue the theme, as they are all well-crafted, soft in the mouth, and
approachable now with the balance to predict long term age ability. The Ridley Vineyard Pinot Noir is the most
forward of the trio.
2009 Skewis Lingenfelder Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 120 cases, $45. 3-acre
vineyard west of the town of Fulton planted in 1996 and grafted to UCD 13 (Martini clone).
reddish-purple color in the glass. Very reserved nose offering little fruit and primarily aromas of oak-driven
mocha java. Bing cherry fruit is featured with a strong presence of mocha java flavor and herbal oak that fades
over time in the glass. Very soft and seductive in the mouth. This wine is very young and currently steeped in
oak which will recede over time in the cellar. Patience is advised. Good.
2009 Skewis Montgomery Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 125 cases, $45. A small, 20(+)-year-old vineyard situated west of
Santa Rosa in the Olivet Road area. The clone is undocumented. The area is
characterized by poor clay soils and frequent summer fog.
color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of dark red berries and
cherries, woodshed and spice. Moderately full-bodied core of black cherry
flavor with a complimentary hint of oak, dusty tannins, and a dry finish.
Although the nose trumps the flavors at this stage, the flavors grow on you
over time in the glass. Very good.
2009 Skewis Ridley Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
alc., 125 cases, $42. 3 acres of clone 777 at a low elevation adjacent
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Nose-filling
aromas of cherries, strawberries, baking spices and sandalwood.
Delicious essence of red cherry and red berry fruits, nicely spiced and
framed by sturdy tannins. The purity of the fruit really catches your
attention, grabs hold, and clings through the finish which seems to last an
eternity. A restrained, elegant wine that is smooth and seductive in the mouth.
Mark Ketcham was a “greenhorn” farmer when he acquired 17 acres off Eastside Road in the upper neck
region of the Russian River Valley. Born in Palo Alto, he had a small successful tech company, allowing him to
spend two to four months each year over a seventeen year period racing vintage cars in Europe. Mark retired
from the tech company in 1998 and began to seek a second home. He looked both at Del Monte Forest in
Monterey County and Northern California wine country, and after considering over 120 properties, settled on a
Russian River Valley estate that had a moderate size vineyard and a 5,000 square foot ranch house that Mark
describes as “ugly and pedestrian.” The site, however, was well situated for winegrowing, benefiting from cool
mornings and evenings and a marine breeze each afternoon that moderated the heat.
Mark saw potential in the property. The previous owners had been selling their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
crop to Gloria Ferrer Winery for ten years and receiving $1,800 per ton for Chardonnay and $2,300 per ton for
Pinot Noir that was cropped at 8 to 10 tons per acre and picked early for sparkling wine. When he assumed
ownership of the property in 2000, the vineyard management company assured him that Gloria Ferrer Winery
would continue to purchase the grapes despite the absence of a written contract. By August, Mark had not
heard from Gloria Ferrer Winery, and when he finally contacted them, he was to discover that they had more
estate fruit coming on line and had no further interest in Mark’s grapes.
Mark was now panicky. A winegrowing friend in Sonoma told him that the demand for grapes was low and that
wineries were not returning his inquiring phone attempts to sell grapes. Undaunted, Mark began calling around
and found the wine community very collegial, referring him to others when they had no interest in the grapes.
Finally, Kendall-Jackson (specifically La Crema) consented to take the crop. They agreed to pay $1,200 per
ton for the Chardonnay and $1,800 per ton for the Pinot Noir, but demanded that he drop a significant amount
of the crop. The favorable weather in 2000 allowed an extended hang time, and the grapes were finally
harvested in October. For two years, Ketcham Estate grapes went into La Crema’s ultra-premium 9-Barrel
Mark likes to say his rocky introduction to winegrowing benefited him (“When you close one door, another door
opens.”). In his search for suitors for his grapes, he made many contacts in the Sonoma County community
that would serve him well over the ensuing years.
In 2002, Mark ripped out the 5 acres of planted Chardonnay and most of the vineyard’s Pinot Noir, leaving 1.5
acres of relatively old (25 to 30 years) Pommard 4 clone Pinot Noir. He then planted 12 acres of Pinot Noir
(Pommard and Dijon 115, 667, 777 and 828) on two rootstocks. His goal was to focus solely on Pinot Noir and
produce his own wine from the property.
Together with initial partner Steve Rigisich (an organizer of Pinot Days), the first 50 cases of Ketcham Estate
Pinot Noir were produced at Crushpad in 2004. The first real commercial wine appeared in 2005, when Mark’s
friend, noted winemaker Michael Browne, agreed to vinify the Ketcham Estate Pinot Noir. Browne was to
remain in charge for three vintages. With the 2007 vintage, two Ketcham Estate Pinot Noirs were released: a
Russian River Valley blend of all clones on the estate vineyard except the “old vine” Pommard combined with a
small amount of purchased grapes, and a Ketcham Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir composed of all clones on the
property including the “old vine” Pommard. In 2008, Scott Rich (owner and winemaker at Talisman) crafted the
2008 vintage of Ketcham Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the Ketcham Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir.
In 2009 and 2010, Rich continued to make the Russian River Valley bottling and a “famous winemaker on
Westside Road,” whose name must remain anonymous, vinified the Ketcham Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Mark has sought a style of Pinot Noir that is typical for California with moderate alcohols (14.0%-14.5%), early
appeal, but with the balance and structure to age. Although he is not the winemaker, he takes a serious
interest in the winemaking process and participates in all the blending decisions. The Ketcham Estate
Vineyard Pinot Noir is aged 16 months in 100% new French oak and the Ketcham Estate Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir is aged 16 months in 36% new and 30% 1-year-old French oak.
Happy with his life choice, Mark has settled into the life of a farmer in Healdsburg (or “Beverly Healdsburg” as
some have called this bucolic community of many well-to-do winegrowers). He grows 26 kinds of heirloom
tomatoes, two types of heirloom corn, walnuts, apples, tomatillos and peppers on his property. The original
house was torn completely down leaving only the existing fireplace and reconstructed to his taste over three
Ketcham Estate Pinot Noirs are sold primarily through a mailing list at www.ketchamestate.com, but are also
sold directly through the website store. There is some retail distribution in the United States. Future plans call
for a Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Production of Pinot Noir has gradually increased, with 13 barrels of the
Ketcham Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir available in 2010. Mark is now the sole owner of the winery.
The 2009 vintage Pinot Noirs reviewed below were bottled in May 2011. The wines were sampled both at
Mark’s home and the following day from previously opened and re-corked bottles.
2009 Ketcham Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 901 cases, $38.
color in the glass. Enticing aromas of well-spiced Bing cherries and rose petals. Soft and elegant on the
palate, with moderately dense flavors of black cherries, Hoison sauce, and cola, enrobed in fine-grain tannins,
leaving a little heat in its wake on the moderately long finish. Good.
2009 Ketcham Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
189 cases, $48. Clones are Pommard, 777 and 828. Aged 16 months in 100%
new French oak.
A shy nose initially that offers more cherry fruit intensity over
time in the glass. Subtle aromas of seasoned oak and underbrush add interest.
Impressive mid palate attack with striking black cherry and black raspberry fruit
offering impressive persistence on the fruit-filled ending. More structure, tannin
and intensity than the Russian River Valley bottling yet a very polished wine that
is soft in the mouth. The oak is nicely integrated. Should improve with another
year or two in bottle. Very good (+).