Buena Tierra Vineyard
The first plantings of Pinot Noir ( or vines closely allied to Pinot Noir) in the Russian River Valley were reportedly
farmed by the Fountaingrove Winery north of Santa Rosa in the 1930s. The modern age of Pinot Noir viticulture
in the Valley began when the Bacigalupi family planted Pinot Noir on Westside Road in 1964. Several other
venerable vineyard names followed including Rochioli Vineyard in 1968 and Joseph Swan’s Trenton Estate
Vineyard in 1969. By 1973, Davis Bynum had released the first vineyard-designate wine from the Russian
River Valley, a Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir, crafted by Gary Farrell. Tom Dehlinger followed two years later and
released his first Pinot Noir in 1977.
The Buena Tierra Vineyard was planted in 1978, making it one of the oldest vineyards in the Russian River
Valley. Owned and farmed by Joseph R. Miller, this venerable vineyard is located 1.5 miles southeast of
Rochioli Vineyard in the low hills of the Laguna Ridge where the Russian River turns to head west to the Pacific
Ocean. The site is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with well-drained sandy clay loam soil, cooling morning
and evening fog from the ocean and bright sunshine during the day. Selectively irrigated, the vineyard is
planted to several clones.
Through the years the vineyard has been the source of grapes for many notable bottlings including those of
Williams Selyem and the now defunct Seven Lions Winery (owned by deceased Fred Williams). With the sale
of Williams Selyem in 1997, former Williams Selyem alumni Margi Wierenga (Brogan Cellars) and Nikolai Stez
have been major recipients of Pinot Noir grapes from Buena Tierra and both produce a vineyard-designate
using grapes from the original plantings. Buena Tierra vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs have also been bottled in
recent years by Renteria (no longer), Irony, Reynolds and White Oak. The Chardonnays from this vineyard
have been impressive as well from producers such as Turjanis, Alban, Keegan Cellars and Shibumi Knoll.
Brogan Cellars will bottle a 2008 Chardonnay from the Buena Tierra Vineyard as well.
From my recent tasting of several vintages of Buena Tierra Vineyard Pinot Noir from both Brogan Cellars and
Woodenhead, I can highly recommend the bottlings from these two producers. They are quintessential Russian
River Valley Pinot Noirs with bright flavors of cherries, spice and cola.
Margi Wierenga is the daughter of Burt Williams and shares his hearty laugh and passion for Pinot Noir. Photo
above shows Margi (right) pouring her wines at the 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. She was a
teenager in the 1970s when Burt began to make his first wines in the family’s garage. She later worked as a
volunteer at the original Williams Selyem winery in a rented garage on River Road in Fulton and became a paid
employee at the subsequent winery location on the Allen Vineyard property on Westside Road.
With the sale of Williams Selyem in 1997, she started her own label, Brogan Cellars, named after her paternal
grandmother. She released her first wine, a 1998 Russian River Pinot Noir, working out of a cramped
converted garage, using the same dairy vats for fermentation made famous by her father. Her contacts at
Williams Selyem allowed her to source top vineyard sources for her wines including the Buena Tierra Vineyard.
The Buena Tierra Vineyard Pinot Noir is the favorite of many of Brogan’s customers and some have called in
“Sex in a Glass.” The Buena Tierra Pinot Noirs come from the vineyard’s oldest “Helio Doro Block”.The Helio
Doro Block is 2.5 acres and was named by Fred Williams when he discovered the vineyard in 1999. The name
refers to one of the employees who has worked the vineyard for many years. In recent years, Margi has
produced several Pinot Noirs from her father’s Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley. Production remains
small (less than 2,000 cases) and includes other varieties as well. Most of the wine is sold through a mailing
list at www.brogancellars.com. 707-473-0211.
2004 Brogan Cellars Buena Tierra Vineyard Helio Doro Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 220 cases, $75.
Aged in 75% new French oak, unfined and unfiltered.
scents of Bing cherry, toast and a touch of barnyard. Immensely
satisfying wild red berry and red cherry flavors wrapped in baking
spices and chicory. Delicate and bright with a suave texture,
slippery tannins and a flashy aromatic lift on the finish. This is
drinking beautifully now and is definitely “sex in a glass.”
Nikolai Stez has been fermenting one thing or another since he was a boy growing up in the Russian River
Valley.His Russian immigrant parents taught him to make kvas, a drink from fermented bread or fruit. He made
wines for his biology and botany classes in college, and began crafting serious home wines in 1986. Although
he graduated from the Horticulture/Viticulture program at Santa Rosa Junior College and took a few classes at
University of California Davis, he attributes his winemaking skills to common sense and tuition. He was an
assistant winemaker at Williams Selyem for 17 years before founding Woodenhead in 1999 with partner Zina
Bower, who handles marketing and sales. The name, “Woodenhead,” is derived from a nickname given to him
by an old girlfriend who thought he was very stubborn (he is).
Nikolai is a no-nonsense guy who refers to his winemaking as “Burgundian in the California style.” His initial
release was from Elk Prairie Vineyard in Humboldt County. He produces both Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, with
the both wines sourced from excellent vineyards. Besides Buena Tierra, he crafts vineyard-designate wines
from Wiley Vineyard and Morning Dew Ranch Vineyard, both in the Anderson Valley, and Fruitland Ranch
Vineyard in Humboldt County. His Russian River Valley blend is an outstanding wine as well. Production is
3,500 cases per year.
Woodenhead wines are sold through a mailing list, on the website, and through retail channels. The winery
tasting room is located at 5700 River Road in Santa Rosa and is open Thursday through Sunday, 10:30 to
4:30. The phone is 707-887-2703.
2002 Woodenhead Buena Tierra Vineyard Original Planting Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
120 cases, $45. Unfined and unfiltered.
Rich and sensual aromas of black cherries, exotic spices, and smoke
with a hint of raisin. Complex and compelling flavor profile of dark stone fruits and berries, almonds, mocha
and earth. Supple and refined with angel hair tannins and a refreshingly tangy finish. A very seductive drink
that is showing some aged patina.
2005 Woodenhead Buena Tierra Vineyard Original Planting Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.6% alc.,180 cases, $45. Unfined
Intoxicating scent of black cherry jam, cola, smoke
and spice cabinet. Bright and fresh black cherries and summer
berries nicely spiced and complimented by hints of loam, mushroom
and citrus. A great expression of Pinot Noir that is seamless in every way
and with lively acidity that will make it a perfect companion at the dinner