Hilliard Bruce Vineyards: Magnificent Wines from the Sta. Rita Hills
I detailed Hilliard Bruce Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills recently in the PinotFile at
www.princeofpinot.com/article/1424/. This was my first opportunity to taste the wines in detail and I came away
The 101-acre ranch was acquired in 2002 when Christine, a successful Arabian horse breeder, and John, who
had just undergone a second kidney transplant, looked to relocate their farm from their native Texas to
California. Christine needed a place where she could raise her horses, and John was determined to pursue his
dream of establishing a vineyard. The first vines went in the ground in 2004, and the inaugural wines were
offered from the 2008 vintage.
John and Christine acquired their winemaking skills through courses from the University of California at Davis
Extension Program and the Allan Hancock Viticulture and Enology Program, and have had two consulting
winemakers, Peter Work (Ampelos) and Paul Lato (Paul Lato Wines).
By harvest this year, a new LEED-certified winery will open including a humidity controlled underground cellar
and a tasting area. The wines are sold through a mailing list. Tours and tasting are available by appointment at
Three 2011 Pinot Noirs reviewed below were stellar. The Hilliard Bruce lineup of Pinot Noirs normally includes
Moon, but it was not produced in 2011 due to the cool growing season. It is meant to emphasize darker, riper
fruit flavors. The three that were reviewed include Sun (bright, fruit-driven expression of the vineyard), Sky
(higher acid profile due to earlier picking), and Earth (the leanest release produced from the earliest picked
fruit). The differences between the three wines were very subtle but evident. The Chardonnay is also
appealing. It will be of interest to see how these wines change over the subsequent ten years as the vines
2011 Hilliard Bruce Earth Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
13.75% alc., 240 cases, $45. Clones “828” and 777.
Aged 18 months in 75% new French oak barrels.
Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Expressive nose
that becomes more appealing over time in the glass. Aromas and flavors of dark red cherries and blueberries
with an earthy tone and hints of toasty oak and sassafras. Lightest in weight of the three 2011 Pinot Noirs, but
equally flavorful with plenty of bright Sta. Rita Hills acidity in the background. The wine displays impeccable
balance and the evolution over time in the glass suggests age ability.
2011 Hilliard Bruce Sky Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
13.57% alc., 420
cases, $55. Clones include Calera, Pommard, 115, 667 and 777.
Aged 18 months in 50% new French oak barrels.
reddish-purple color in the glass. The aromas of fresh black raspberry,
spice and subtle oak really draw you into the glass. There is plenty of
sappy fruit concentration like the Sun, but there is more vibrant acidity
and resulting juiciness. The core of darker berry and stone fruits is flatout
delicious and very plush on the palate. The finish is strikingly
endowed offering waves of bright fruit returning over and over for an encore.
This beauty blurs the line between wine and heaven.
2011 Hilliard Bruce Sun Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 529 cases, $55. Clones include Calera,
Pommard, 115, 667 and 777.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. The aromas arrive over time
in the glass, offering a blend of boysenberry jam, plum, black grapes and spice. The sappy mid weight core of
black cherry and dark berry is strikingly vivid and pure, set off by an appealing earthiness. Everything is in
balance with modest tannins and bright acidity. The fruit-driven finish is noticeably long and intense. This is
highly enjoyable juice.
2011 Hilliard Bruce Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
14.3% alc., 475 cases, $45.
Clones are 76 and 96. Aged 16 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
golden yellow and clear in the glass. Vibrant aromas of lemon, lime and walnut
lead to a discreetly concentrated core of lemon curd, yellow peach and subtle
butterscotch flavors. Nice fullness on the palate with a slightly creamy texture,
and a long, soprano finish. I like this wine for its restraint and seamless quality.