Tasting Santa Cruz Pinot Noirz
Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Dr. Thomas Fogarty bought 325 acres in the early 1970s on
Skyline Drive in Woodside. He was the first to plant grapes on the region’s Skyline Ridge in 1978. Winemaker
Michael Martella met Fogarty in 1980 while Martella was working at a large winemaking facility in the Central
Valley of California. The two became friends, Martella signed on as the winemaker, helped design the winery,
and has been there ever since. Two vineyards were planted to Pinot Noir in 1981 using heritage selection
cuttings from David Bruce, probably Martini selection. There are now 25 acres of ridge top micro-vineyards
including Windy Hill (2.5 acres of Pinot Noir, 1,970 feet above sea level), Razorback (2 acres of Pinot Noir at
1,400 feet), and Rapley Trail (5.5 acres of Pinot Noir at 1,650 feet). Initially the Fogarty style of Pinot Noir was
full-bodied, darkly colored, with intense black cherry flavors, considerable structure and tannin and often were
clumsy on release. Over the years the amount of extraction has been reduced and improved balance of tannin
and fruit has been achieved. Currently, the Pinot Noirs are fermented in small lots, ranging from .5 to 3 tons.
25% to 30% whole clusters are used and fermentation is conducted without the addition of yeast. A 3 to 7 day
cold soak is followed by a maceration period lasting 14 to 21 days including the cold soak. The press fraction
is separated at the press. The Pinot Noirs are aged in 3 year air-dried French Oak from the forests of
Bertranges, Allier and Troncais. Historically the winery has produced either a Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
(with purchased fruit added to estate fruit) or an estate Pinot Noir. In special vintages, the micro-vineyards
have been separated out. In addition, specific block-designated Rapley Trail Pinot Noirs are sometimes
released. Since 2005, Martella has sourced Dijon clones and blended them into his estate wines and both
Dijon 115 and 667 clone have replaced a portion of the estate vineyard previously planted to Merlot. The
winery’s tasting room is open Wednesday thru Sunday from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM (small tasting fee). The
address is 19501 Skyline Blvd., Woodside. 650-851-6777. The website is www.fogartywinery.com. At the
recent World of Pinot Noir I tasted two 2007 Thomas Fogarty Pinot Noirs presented by assistant winemaker
2007 Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Rapley Trail Estate “M” Block Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., 75 cases, $68. The
backbone of past Estate Reserve bottlings. Since 2002, two unique
blocks of Rapley Trail Vineyard, B and M, although continuous, are
distinct and bottled separately.
Gorgeous aromas of black raspberries,
baking spice and violets. There is a plush core of berry fruit with a
ridiculously long finish. Plenty of ripe, fine tannins create the framework
for a long life ahead yet the whole package is approachable now. A stunning wine.
2007 Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Windy Hill Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
alc., 100 cases, $45. This vineyard is perched on the top of the Fogarty Estate. Buffeted by wind, drenched in
fog and with vines grown in very shallow soils. Aged 18 months in 66% new French oak.
A ripe tasting wine
with a touch of raisin accenting the dark red fruits. Notable oak and underlying loamy earth and forest floor
with prominent tannins that need to be shed. Still juvenile.
Clos De La Tech This winery is owned by Dr. T.J. Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor. The word
“clos” is derived from the Burgundian term for an enclosed vineyard and the “tech” part of the name is a
reference to the owner’s technology background. Silicon chips are applied to the neck of every Clos de la Tech
bottle. The 2002 vintage reviewed below has two real silicon memory chips with 1.02 billion transistors on
each bottle (at $0.0000001 per transistor, that’s $102 in value, making the wine free!). Clos de la Tech was
founded in 1994 and consists of three vineyards planted in the Santa Cruz Mountains range: Domaine Docteur
Rodgers, Domaine Valeta (named after Rodgers’ domestic partner, Valeta Massey) and Domaine Lois Louise.
Farming is definitely high-tech, but winemaking is very traditional in the Burgundian mold. A new winery facility
at Domaine Lois Louise Vineyard will eventually process up to 13,000 cases of wine. The small production is
sold solely through a mailing list at www.closdelatech.com.
2002 Clos de La Tech San Francisco Bay Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 1,360 btls, $101. From a 1-acre closeplanted
hilltop vineyard planted to Dijon clones on French rootstocks. This Domaine du Docteur Rodgers
Vineyard is not strictly in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, thus the San Francisco Bay designation on the
label. Whole cluster, foot crushed, natural yeast, unfiltered, aged in Francois Freres oak barrels.
combines medicinal notes with spearmint and mint. Also minty on the palate and a touch green. The tannins
overwhelm the light fruit.
Rhys Vineyards Refer to Volume 7, Issue 13 of the PinotFile.
Saratoga/Los Gatos Subregion
Mount Eden Vineyards A winding unpaved eight mile road leads up to Mount Eden Vineyards, perched
at 2,000 feet at the top of a mountain like a viticultural island. It has been likened to a “ship at sea” in that it is
completely exposed to winds and storms on all sides. The timber house was built in the early 1950s by Martin
Ray and now is the home of long time owner and winemaker Jeffrey Patterson. The entrance to the old winery
can be seen in the photo below just to the right of the timber on the ground.
Martin Ray realized that premium wine could only be grown in the soils of the mountains. At the time Ray
started Mount Eden, the valley below was all farms and farmhouses and the soil there was too thick and
alluvial to successfully grow wine grapes. The mountains, however, provided formidable obstacles. There
were no wells at the time so Ray had to get the vineyard established using rain water and water from springs.
Annual rainfall at Mount Eden in a quality year is 30 to 35 inches, enough to currently dry farm. All work at
Mount Eden had to be performed by hand as no farm equipment could operate in the steep vineyards. The
original vines were planted in a 10’ x 10’ arrangement and the vines were trained vertically. Ray was an
innovator but not a great winemaker and several of his wines were noncommercial. He limited his production,
estate bottled his wines, used small oak cooperage, bottled the wines in heavy glass bottles and even
sparkling wine bottles, and sold his wines at very high prices for the time.
Patterson notes that Mount Eden’s lineage of estate bottled Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is the longest in
California. He started a stepwise replanting of the vineyard at Mount Eden in 1984 but kept one acre of the
original vines as a “mother vineyard.” The Mount Eden clone (UCD 37) identified by Merry Edwards when she
was the winemaker here is still used in a number of Pinot Noir vineyards in California. The six other acres of
Pinot Noir were replanted to Winery Lake, Mount Eden, Swan and Calera selections, and Dijon clones 115,
667, 777 and 828. The Estate Pinot Noir is a mosaic of all of these clones. Today, the estate totals 40 acres of
vineyards (20 acres of Chardonnay, 7 acres of Pinot Noir and 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon with some
Merlot and Cabernet Franc). The Pinot Noir vineyard is adjacent the house and winery and is pictured in the
photo below. Patterson describes his vista as “a ying-yang view.” To the west is the Santa Clara Valley (left)
and to the east are the mountains (right). The estate is 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean as the crow flies.
The Mount Eden Estate Pinot Noir is an Old World style. The cool location of the vineyard, old clones and
winemaking combine to produce a wine that is more austere than opulent. The wine departs from the typical
California style by its higher tannins and acidity (the same holds true for the Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay
and Cabernet Sauvignon). Many tasters have difficulty picking out a Mount Eden Estate Pinot Noir from a flight
of French Burgundies. Yields are low, varying from one-half ton to two tons per acre. Grapes are picked at
moderate ripeness and the wines are not fermented or aged a particularly long time. Natural yeasts are used.
Aging is in 75% new and 25% one year-old French Burgundy barrels. The ideal drinking window for Mount
Eden Estate Pinot Noir is 7 to 10 years. The photo below shows first leaf from an old Pinot Noir vine at Mount
I have to admit to an admiration for Jeffrey Patterson because of his ability to go it alone. Working at an
isolated vineyard and winery, he has his own clearly defined vision, yet he is not closed to what others are
doing. His story is not well publicized and he doesn’t trumpet his own horn enough in my opinion. I like him,
respect his panache and his ability to craft highly unique wines which not only clearly reflect Santa Cruz
Mountains terroir, but offer age ability that goes beyond what we have come to expect from California Pinot
Noir. If you are a wine connoisseur and were to ask me to list the 10 California Pinot Noirs to try before you
die, Mount Eden Estate Pinot Noir would have a prominent listing in that small group.
Mount Eden wines are available for tasting in San Francisco at the Press Club (www.pressclubsf.com). One
public tour of Mount Eden is available each weekday afternoon by reservation only (up to six people, no
tasting). Phone 408-867-5832 extension 10. The website is www.mounteden.com.
2006 Mount Eden Vineyards Saratoga Cuvée Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $30. Grapes for this blend come from three vineyards in the
Santa Cruz Mountains: Woodside, Mount Eden and Santa Cruz Mountain.
ruby color. Appealing aromas of cherries, strawberries, herbs and roasted nuts.
On the palate the wine is reserved with flavors focused on cherry enhanced by
herbs and spice. The tannins are fine, the acidity is lively and the finish is tangy
and slightly citric. A pleasant, simple wine for early consumption.
2006 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 870 cases, $45. Yields were 4 tons per acre.
color. Very sexy aromas of wild berries, cherries, root beer, herbs and a
touch of spice. There is a rainbow of middleweight red fruits touched by
dirt, minerals and herbs. The wine doesn’t assault the palate (no “bombs
bursting in the air”) but seduces with restraint, finesse and appropriate
refreshing acidity. It was fine the next day from a re-corked previously opened
bottle, showing more toast, leather and oak and a satiny texture. This wine is the
best of both worlds: it can be drunk and enjoyed now, especially with food, or it
can be aged for up to 10 years. It is a distinctive Pinot Noir that will not appeal to
the fruit hedonist but will speak to those who truly understand wine and terroir.
2007 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Tasted briefly at the 2009 World of
While the 2006 vintage Estate Pinot Noir is quite showy for a Mount Eden wine, the 2007 vintage is
more in step with the usual program. Rather austere raspberry fruit with noticeable oak on the nose and grippy
tannins on the finish. Plenty to like here, but this wine is a Lolita.
Black Ridge Vineyards Jim and Cheryl Landes and Fred Faltersack bought the Black Ridge property in
the late 1990s. The land had been planted with grapes as far back as the late 1800s during the California wine
boom. During Prohibition, the property was replanted with prune trees and later converted into a Christmas
tree farm. The infamous San Andreas Fault runs through the upper vineyard and the winery’s Bordeaux-style
blend is appropriately named San Andreas Red. Some have theorized that fault lines influence nutrient
transport and soil aeration for the good. The winery produces a superb Viognier, a rarity from the Santa Cruz
Mountains, and a Pinot Noir to compliment the Bordeaux blend. The Santa Cruz Mountains is one of the few
regions in California where Pinot Noir and Bordeaux varieties thrive almost side by side. The winemaker is Bill
Brousseau who crafts the wines at Testarossa Vineyards in Los Gatos and the viticulturist is Reuben Balderas.
The Black Ridge property is located 3.5 miles outside downtown Los Gatos off southbound Highway 17. Tours
and tasting by are available by appointment by contacting Ashley DeBois at 408-399-6396. The website is
2006 Black Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., $41.
Delicate aromas of cherries, oak, herbs and a hint of alcohol. Plenty of cherry and
berry flavors to satisfy with a vein of oak and herbs running through. Admirable
elegance with nicely balanced t n’ a. My wife raved about this wine.
Mountain Winery The historic Paul Masson Wine Estate has been resurrected as The Mountain Winery
and has resumed wine production. The Mountain Winery is situated high above
Silicon Valley in Saratoga at the site of Paul Masson’s vineyard and winery, known
as La Cresta. No wine had been produced at the property since the 1950s and the
vineyard had not been seriously farmed since the 1940s. In 1998, four partners
bought the 580 acre property and renovated the buildings and surrounding
landscape to serve as an event and music venue. Replanting of the vineyard began
in 2004. In 2006, both a Mountain Winery Estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were
produced (about 300 cases total). Value-priced Mountain Winery wine is also
produced under The Mountain Winery label from purchased bulk wine, intended
primarily to be served at events on the property. Dave House, one of the winery’s
partners, overlooks the winery operations and Jeffrey Patterson, the winemaker at
Mount Eden, crafts the wines at Mount Eden. Eventually, winemaking will be
carried out inside caves to be dug on the property. The tasting room located at 14831
Pierce Road in Saratoga is open Thursday thru Sunday (tasting fee). The estate wines are only available at the
tasting room or online at www.mountainwinery.com. The website has a listing of concerts and wine tasting
Summit Road Region
Burrell School Vineyards & Winery Dave and Anne Moulton bought the 1890 Burrell School one
room schoolhouse on Summit Road along with 20 acres in 1973. The property is located 1,600 feet above
Monterey Bay. The Moultons had to replant their entire vineyard after the 1898 Loma Prieta earthquake (their
property sits in proximity to the San Andreas Fault). Dave worked as an engineer for years, making wine as a
hobby until 1992 when he bonded the Burrell School Winery. A winery facility was built two years later. The
Moultons restored the schoolhouse and used it as a tasting room for several years, but it became their living
room with the opening of an adjacent tasting room. The school house theme has been carried out throughout
the tasting room and the wine labels which display the phrase, “I promise to sip my wine.” Dave crafts a
number of varieties but he has a soft spot in his heart for Pinot Noir. The Burrell School Pinot Noirs are crafted
from both the Estate Vineyard and nearby Veranda Vineyard. The wines are aged 18 months in 50% to 70%
new French oak and spend 1 year in bottle before release. The tasting room is very inviting and the outside
deck is the perfect spot to sample some Pinot Noir and take in the vista. Call ahead for tasting room hours or to
taste by appointment. The address is 24060 Summit Road, Los Gatos. 408-353-6290. The website is
www.burrellschool.com. Dave has been a driving force in the annual Pinot Paradise event. If you visit, ask to
see his tractor collection. I tasted three Burrell School Pinot Noirs while visiting the Santa Cruz Mountains in
early February 2009 and they are reviewed here.
2005 Burrell School Veranda Vineyard Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
alc., 336 cases, $35, This vineyard is near Mount Madonna, 800 feet above Monterey Bay.
Pommard and Dijon clones.
Moderately light reddish-purple color. Alluring scents of cherries, strawberries,
rhubarb and roses. Brambly dark red Pinot fruits are very soft in the mouth accompanied by gossamer tannins.
A silky and sensual wine of great charm. Drinking now at its apogee.
David Bruce Winery David Bruce is one of California’s “Pinot Pioneers.” A dermatologist by training,
Bruce started his winemaking career in Oregon making wine from Concord grapes. His early interest and
training in Pinot Noir winemaking came from the legendary Martin Ray. David Bruce Winery was founded in
1964 and the first commercial release of Pinot Noir was in 1966. Bruce was one of the first California
winemakers to use whole berry fermentation and to advocate foot crushing of the cap, extensive skin contact
and small barrel French oak fermentation. He was also one of the first to extoll the virtues of wine drinking
years before the 1991 60 Minutes television program on the French Paradox. Bruce published a booklet titled,
“Ten Little Known Medical Facts about Wine that You Should Know.” He was one of the first doctors to
publicize that resveratrol in red wine increases good cholesterol and reduces bad cholesterol. He
recommended that hospitals have wine on the patient menus and encouraged a glass of wine for the elderly to
improve their appetite and raise their self-esteem. He pointed out that sulfites in wine are a non-issue for
99.9% of people since true allergies to wine are extremely rare and then only to egg white used as a fining
agent. He also defused the hysteria about elevated lead levels in wine.
Currently, David Bruce is still visible in his vineyard and winery and attended this year’s World of Pinot Noir. He
is organizing his memoirs for inclusion in a book about his extraordinary career. Beside the 16-acre Estate
Vineyard (9 acres planted to Pinot Noir) located at 2,200 feet in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the winery sources
grapes from over thirty growers in Northern and Central California representing ten different appellations. The
Estate Pinot Noir is the signature wine in the David Bruce lineup but the appellation and vineyard-designated
Pinot Noirs are consistently fine and are sold on the website at www.davidbrucewinery.com. The tasting room
is open from 12:00 to 5:00 daily at 21439 Bear Creek Rd in Los Gatos. 408-354-4214. The winemaker since
2004 is Mitri Faravashi. Total production is now 60,000 cases annually including multiple wine varietals.
Astonishingly, there is not one picture of David Bruce on his website and only one on Google Images. I regret I
didn’t snap a picture at the recent World of Pinot Noir.
2000 David Bruce Commemorative Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
alc., 70 cases, $50. This wine was produced to commemorate the 70th birthday
of David Bruce. The label features the work of San Francisco artist, Henry
Jackson, who created an original painting, ‘Gather,’ for the label. Packaged in a
very special tall and extremely heavy bottle with a wax seal. The wine was
Intense ruby color. Brooding aromas of dark berry jam, plum, barnyard,
forest floor, oak and minerals. A substantial core of dark berry fruit is accented by
hints of clove and citric peel. A big-boned, chewy and fruit-driven wine that lacks
focus. The balance is admirable and the texture is quite smooth, but the wine just
doesn’t deliver much nuance or excitement. It is crafted in the Burgundian mold of
a Pommard. Pair with hearty food.
Loma Prieta Winery Paul and Amy Kemp are newcomers to the Santa Cruz Mountains wine scene but
their Pinot Noirs have made quite a splash. In 1970, Paul acquired property high in the mountains with
sweeping views of the entire Monterey Bay to the west and Mount Loma Prieta to the east. It wasn’t until 2003
that he planted an estate vineyard, built a home on the property, and in 2008 completed a 4,000 square foot
Tuscan-styled winery and guest center. The Estate Vineyard, situated at 2,300 feet, is one of the highest in the
Santa Cruz Mountains. The Loma Prieta brand was launched in 2003 with a Cabernet Sauvignon from
purchased grapes and Pinot Noir followed the next year. Since 2004, the Santa Cruz Mountains bottling has
been sourced from the Saveria Family Vineyard in Corralitos which is managed by renowned viticulturist, Prudy
Foxx. The 2006 Loma Prieta Saveria Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir won gold medals in
three major competitions: the 2008 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, the 2008 San
Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and the 2008 West Coast Wine Competition. Total production, which
includes a Merlot, is quite small and sold primarily through the tasting room and website. Paul manages to
juggle the demands of his personal injury law practice with winemaking, and Amy, who is passionate about
Pinot Noir as well, oversees all sales and marketing. Call 408-353-4570 for tasting room hours. If you do plan
to visit, carefully follow the directions on the website at www.lomaprietawinery.com. The estate is about as far
away from the town of Los Gatos as you can get. It is an adventure driving there, but once you arrive, you will
receive a warm welcome and a glass of Pinot as you succumb to the magical view.
The Loma Prieta Winery label is quite striking. The artwork depicts a whimsical magician holding a glass of
wine and flying over Mount Loma Prieta with an earthquake fault clearly visible. The artwork was specially
commissioned by the Kemps and displays the work of Martin LaBorde from New Orleans, Louisiana. All of
LaBorde’s artwork features a little magician named Bodo who lives in a spiritual landscape that is dominated by
a deep black space. Several of LaBorde’s original paintings adorn the walls of the Kemps’ home.
2006 Loma Prieta Winery Saveria Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 195 cases, $50.
A complex aromatic profile that changes constantly in the glass. Black cherry is a constant but there are
fleeting scents of spice, cinnamon candy, sawdust, mocha, vanilla and prune. Flamboyant dark cherry and
berry flavors with an earthy underpinning and a touch of oak. Full-bodied and intense, but framed nicely with
acidity and moderate fine tannins that become more prominent in the glass over time.
2007 Loma Prieta Winery Saveria Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $50.
Moderately dark reddish-purple robe. The nose grows and grows in the glass exploding with fresh black
cherry pie filling and new oak aromas. The bold fruit is secured by substantial tannins and adequate
acidity creating admirable balance. The wine possesses a mouth coating fullness and a finish that would
make Hollywood proud. This one deserves an Oscar.
Muns Vineyard Ed Muns and Mary Lindsay are the team behind Muns Vineyard wines. Ed was formerly a
technology manager at Hewlett-Packard and Mary was a public relations consultant for technology start ups.
Ed found an abandoned vineyard that brushes the sky on the Loma Prieta Ridge above Monterey Bay at 2,600
feet while looking for a high elevation home for his ham radio antennas. Together the pair cleared the land and
replanted the 12-acre vineyard to Pinot Noir. It is now the highest Pinot Noir vineyard in the Santa Cruz
Mountains. The site enjoys maximum sunlight yet it is exposed to gentle and cooling breezes during the
summer from the fog intrusion below. The vineyard is planted to Dijon clones 114, 115, 667 and 777 and is
pristinely farmed. The wines since 2005 have been crafted by Tony Craig (Sonnet, Silver Mountain). The
grapes are 100% de-stemmed. A few day cold soak is followed by inoculated whole berry fermentation with
cap management achieved by pulsed air. Barrel aging is carried out uniquely in 30% to 40% very tight grain
new Eastern European oak for 14 to 17 months depending on the vintage. The aim is for oak to be supportive
but not assertive. Eastern European barrels add notes of ground spices, such as cumin, clove, white pepper and coriander not seen from French barrels. The lees are stirred to maintain color and fill out the palate. The wines are not racked. The
winery dog is a Jack Russell terrier named “Pinot,” who is an accomplished hunter of gophers, lizards and
occasionally rattlesnakes. The Muns Vineyard Pinot Noirs (and a dry Rosé) are available through the website
at www.munsvineyard.com. 408-515-2663. Mary Lindsay is the President of the Viticultural Association of the
Santa Cruz Mountains (www.vascm.com) and is an excellent source for information on the region
(408-984-7242). A few of Mary’s beautiful photographs of Muns Vineyard are included here with her
permission. The reviewed wines were tasted at Silver Mountain Vineyards in early February 2009 and at the
World of Pinot Noir in early March 2009.
2004 Muns Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 120 cases, $40. Crafted by Soquel
Vineyards. Aged 10 months in 50% new French loose grain French oak. Racked several times.
fruits on the nose, primarily strawberry, with oak notes that become more evident with time in the glass. Huge
attack of strawberry fruit gloved in oak spice. Supple tannins, grippy acidity and a dry and persistent finish
showing a touch of citrus.
2005 Muns Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 180 cases, $40.
color. The nose is a bit floral, perfumed with wildflowers, and also revealing a fragrance of cherries and ripe
grape fruit trending toward, but not reaching, raisin. A big-boned wine that is plush on the palate with a healthy
tannic backbone and plenty of acidity to balance out the structure.
2006 Muns Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 380 cases,
$40. 17 months in 33% Hungarian oak.
Lighter in color and body than the 2005
vintage, despite the higher alcohol. Darker red fruits including cherries,
strawberries and raspberries are featured enlivened by a touch of minerality,
savory herbs and oak spice. A hint of alcohol peaks out on the nose. There are
moderate ripe fruit tannins that give the wine substance. A pleasurable wine that is
easy to drink.
2007 Muns Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 380 cases, $40. 17 months in 33% new
Hungarian oak. Tasted out of barrel at the winery and from a barrel sample at World of Pinot Noir.
Muns Vineyard style is beginning to evolve with this wine which shows similarities in structure and character to
the 2006 vintage. This wine exhibits admirable complexity with nicely spiced red and black fruits, herbs, forest
floor and mocha. There are still tannins to shed, but these are ripe and fine and will integrate nicely with a little
more bottle age. The acidity is spot on. This should prove to be a very stellar wine. (Note: this wine can be
purchased now at the futures price of $32 which makes it a good value).
Silver Mountain Vineyards Proprietor Jerold O’Brien can tell
some stories about his time in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A former Air
Force pilot, Jerold learned about wine as a 19 year-old, when after
enlisting in the Air Force, quickly learned, “Adult beverages were
mandatory.” Upon discharge from the Air Force, he relocated to the San
Francisco Bay Area and volunteered at a number of wineries to learn the
business. He was mentored by Joseph Swan, Richard Graff, and John
Meter (Ventana). In 1973, he bought the Silver Mountain property which
consisted of a run-down and abandoned orchard lacing a road and well
at 2,100 feet above Monterey Bay. He built a road and drilled a well and
camped out in the barn on the property with his wife and young son for
over a year. Eventually he completed a house, but his wife did not share
his commitment to the venture and departed. Jerold has been single ever since. In the mid 1970s, O’Brien
obtained Pinot Noir cuttings from Joseph Swan and Chardonnay cuttings from Mount Eden and began a
nursery for future plantings. He converted the barn on the property to a winery and became bonded in 1979.
The first ten years Silver Mountain wines were produced primarily from purchased Chardonnay, Zinfandel,
Merlot and Pinot Noir grapes. From 1980 to 1982, a Chardonnay vineyard was planted on the property and
has been farmed organically since its beginnings. Pinot Noir was planted later. In the years on the mountain,
O’Brien has endured and persevered through floods, landslides, fires and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake,
which destroyed the original winery. In 1995, he finished construction of an improved, gravity-fed winery,
added winemaker Tony Craig (formerly of David Bruce), and the Pinot Noir program took a huge leap forward.
Jerold calls himself a “half-ass winemaker who has plenty of common sense and experience.” The
combination of Craig’s superb palate for Pinot Noir and O’Brien’s years of know how has produced a string of
excellent Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noirs. Jerold has a friendship with David Bruce dating back to 1972.
Bruce was always very helpful and encouraging, but he told O’Brien, “You’re a fool to get into the wine
business. There is no money in it.” After all of these years, Jerold just smiles and shakes his head, “If you
succeed once in a while, it is worth it.” Silver Mountain has a new tasting room which should be open soon
once proper access roads are approved. Currently the winery is open for tours and tasting by appointment
Saturday afternoons. Silver Mountain Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Alloy (a Bordeaux blend of locally grown
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) are available on the website at www.silvermtn.com.
408-353-2278. The three Silver Mountain Pinot Noirs reviewed below were sampled at the winery in early
February 2009 and at the World of Pinot Noir in early March 2009. All the wines showed excellent tannin
management with structure and tannin evident, but not in any way imposing.
2006 Silver Mountain Vineyards Muns Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $38.
Clones 114, 115, 667 and 777. Grapes are hand-picked, de-stemmed, whole berry fermented with cap
management using an air-induced process (PulseAir) that is gentle on the fruit. Aged 17 months in 33% new
tight-grained Hungarian oak.
Interesting aromatic profile of wild berries, cherries, herbs and oak spice. An
earthiness and minerality is evident in the cherry flavors and there is a good dose of citric peel on the finish.
2006 Silver Mountain Vineyards Miller Hill Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., $38.
Aged 16 months in 70% tight-grained Hungarian oak, and 30% seasoned French oak.
The scent is a bit funky
showing dry cherry, green herbs, brioche and oak. Picking up intensity in the glass, the flavors tend toward
sour cherry and cranberry with a hint of citrus on the finish. A light-boned wine that needs food
2006 Silver Mountain Vineyards Tondre Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $38.
Sensual aromas of strawberries, cherries and spice
cabinet which are echoed in the flavors. A middleweight that is quite elegant for a
Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and possesses a round and satiny mouth feel.
Plenty of bracing acidity creates a refreshing finish. I would like to romance this
one all night.
Los Ranchos/Coastal Hills
Clos Tita David and Britta Estrada farm a 1-acre estate vineyard at 900 feet elevation in the Scotts Valley
area of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The vineyard is meticulously managed by hand and all 700 vines are
pruned by David, who is also the winemaker and cellar master. As a practicing dentist, his patients are always
startled to see his purple fingers under his gloves during harvest. Production is tiny, with only 75 to 150 cases
of Estate Pinot Noir and a few hundred cases of a Santa Cruz Mountains Cuvée Pinot Noir assembled from
purchased grapes. The wines usually spend two years in premium French cooperage. The wines are sold
directly and through limited retail distribution in the Santa Cruz and San Francisco Bay area. The winery is not
open for tours or tasting. The website is www.clos-tita.com. 831-439-9235.
2005 Clos Tita Cuvée Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
alc., $30. Sourced from Clos Tita and Branciforte Ridge vineyards.
Well-endowed reddish-purple robe. Deep, darker fruits on the nose
with hints of pepper, cardamon and raisin. Ripe dark stone fruits,
especially black cherry, highlighted by black truffle. Beautifully
composed and balanced with gossamer tannins and a very smooth
and silky texture. Hard not to like this Pinot.
Hallcrest Vineyards Established in 1941, Hallcrest remains a small, family
owned winery. Originally the property was a retreat for the Hall family who located
here at the crest of a small hill above the town of Felton. Chaffee Hall was a
prominent business attorney from San Francisco who had a passion for wine and
planted the Hallcrest Estate Vineyard in 1941. At the time, Hallcrest was one of
only three wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the only one producing
varietal wines from estate vineyards. In 1987, John Schumacher and his family
bought the Hallcrest site which had been operating as Felton Empire Winery since
Chaffee Hall’s retirement. The Schumachers restored the original Hallcrest name
and label and converted the vineyards to sustainable agriculture, becoming the
first coastal vineyard to be certified organic. John started making wine as a hobby
at the age of 13 and continued his education at University California Davis. When
he converted his garage into a bonded winery at age 24, he became the nation’s
youngest wine proprietor. John crafts wines from many varieties but enjoys working
with Pinot Noir grapes in particular. The heart of the Hallcrest brand are the vineyard designated wines which
have site-specific and Santa Cruz Mountains AVA character. Many of these wines have won gold medals at
prestigious wine competitions. John also produces a number of organic wines (sulfite-free) under The Organic
Wine Works label. The Organic Wine Works wines were the first certified organic wines in the United States
and the first wines allowed to state “organically grown and organically processed” on their label by the BATF.
The Hallcrest Vineyards tasting room is open daily from 12:00 to 5:00 at 379 Felton Empire Road in Felton.
The website is www.hallcrestvineyards.com. 800-699-9463.
2004 Hallcrest Vineyards Terra Serena Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 1,980 bottles, Diam closure, $35. Unfined and unfiltered. From
one of the oldest dry farmed Pinot Noir vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains,
located on northwestern facing slopes of the Corralitos Valley.
Alluring aromas of
ripe cherries, spice and fresh flowers. A lighter-weighted wine that is very smooth
and soft in the mouth with flavors of red cherries, raspberries, pomegranates and a
lovely spice accent with a touch of oak char on the back end. Juicy and bright and
Heart O’ The Mountain This property is located in a relatively isolated part of Scotts Valley and has a rich
history. Beginning in 1881, Pierre Cornwall produced wine here under the Santa Sada label. Cornwall named
the estate “Heart of the Mountain,” or Cornwell Ranch. The noted director Alfred Hitchcock acquired the estate
from the Cornwell family in 1940 and lived here on and off until 1970. According to the book, Footsteps in the
Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco, written by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal, Hitchcock “had a passion for
the San Francisco Bay Area. His connection to the region went deeper than his films. His Scott’s Valley estate
became a home he adored.” He welcomed this estate as a getaway from the pressures of Hollywood. Scotts
Valley is a small town located midway between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz on Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz
Mountains. Hitchcock’s house consisted of 5,000 square feet built in a Spanish style and included elaborately
landscaped gardens and a vineyard where reputedly he grew white Riesling that he sold to Cresta Blanca
Winery. Hitchcock was a gourmand and a wine lover and lavishly entertained many Hollywood luminaries
including Ingrid Bergman, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco and Joan Fontaine, who starred in
Hitchcock’s 1940 movie, Rebecca, and whose mother lived in nearby Saratoga. Photos of the house and wine
cellar from my recent visit follow (entrance to wine cellar is in the upper left photo).
The 154-acre property was acquired by Robert and Judy Brassfield in 1978 and they have lived there since
1979. They have lovingly preserved this historic estate including much-needed extensive renovation after the
1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The Brassfields transformed an old horse barn on the property into a winery in
the early 2000s. Robert and his brother were investors in Felton-Empire, a Santa Cruz Mountain winery that
dates to the late 1970s. One of Robert’s ex-partners, Jim Bauer, planted vineyards on the Heart O’ The
Mountain property and continues to manage them. There are a total of 6.6 acres planted to Dijon clones 667
and 777 (planted in 2002), 115 (planted in 2006), 828, plus Pommard (planted in 2003). The vineyard elevation
is 1,100 feet.
Robert told me his parents came to California as part of the “Grapes of Wrath” movement from Oklahoma and
they picked fruit in the San Joaquin Valley where Robert was raised. Robert eventually became a very
successful Angus beef rancher (see website for further information). The winery and vineyards became a
catalyst for retirement and together with his son, Brandon, they began vinifying Pinot Noir with a consulting
winemaker in 2004. A few barrels were produced in 2004, but the first commercial release came with the 2005
vintage consisting of 180 cases. The latest release of 500 cases of Estate Pinot Noir is blended from various
blocks of clones 667, 777 and Pommard. A very small amount of Estate Pommard clone Pinot Noir is bottled
separately and sold only to members of the winery’s wine club and visitors to the winery. Both Robert and son
Brandon have learned winemaking through courses at University California Davis and their passion shows in
the hand-crafted artisan wines. I visited the winery in late February 2009 and was welcomed warmly. So far,
the Pommard clone seems to be the star here and brings out the best in this site. I tasted a barrel of 2007
Pommard Pinot Noir and it was, in one word, amazing. This was one of the greatest Pinot Noirs I tasted on my
trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was seamless and strikingly ethereal for a young wine, showing off brightly spiced cherry flavors and perfumed with exotic floral aromas that made the hair on the back of my neck stand
on end. The 2006 Heart O’ The Mountain is a good wine as well. I tasted it blind during judging for the Pinot
Summit coming up in April, tasted it at the winery and again at lunch at the World of Pinot Noir. Heart O’ The
Mountain Pinot Noirs are sold only through an allocation list at www.heartothemountain.com. The winery is not
open to the public due to its relative inaccessibility created by a narrow entrance road. Those who purchase a
case of wine are invited to the annual winery party where they can tour the exterior of the historic Hitchcock
house. 831-345-6133. The photo below shows Brandon (left) and Robert (right) at their winery and a barrel of
2008 Pinot Noir fermented with “wild” or natural yeast.
2006 Heart O’ The Mountain Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
alc., $48. The grapes are de-stemmed into small bins, cold soaked for 6 days,
fermented in small open top bins with manual punch downs. Aged 18 months in
French oak barrels and an additional 6 months in bottle before release. Unfined and
Dark stone fruits dominate reflecting the clonal mix. A middleweight with
welcoming tannins and acidity, a silky texture and a sidecar of toast and oak
enhancing rather than detracting from the flavors which veer to the ripe end of the
spectrum (picked at 25 Brix), but never cross the line to raisin. I only have one small
nit in that the wine struggles for balance when it warms in the glass, revealing a
touch of alcoholic heat.
Wines of Vine Hill The long history of this property was referenced on the first page. One of the ownerpartners,
Nick Guerrero, and local wine writer Laura Ness have compiled a history of Vine Hill and have given
me permission to summarize their research here. The property known today as Vine Hill Winery dates to 1863,
when George and John Jarvis began land buys and started clearing the land for vineyards. By the 1880s, the
Jarvis Brothers had planted all 300 acres to vineyards in what was then known as the Vine Hill District. The
winery began to fall on hard times around the time of the general depression in 1876 and some of John’s
holdings (his brother George had sold his shares and moved his “Jarvis Wine & Brandy Co.” to Santa Clara)
were repossessed by the bank. In 1877, John managed to buy back some land from a business associate,
Alfred Lay, and he named the land Union Vineyard, which is today’s Vine Hill Winery. Union Vineyard
consisted of 63 acres of various varieties including Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Mourvedre, Petite
Pinot, Zinfandel, Malvoisie and Balaret with a small amount of table grapes. By 1890, the wines from Vine Hill
had gained recognition as the wines were shipped to the East Coast. Energies were turning to producing
premium wines but phylloxera and a disastrous fire in 1899 destroyed much of the vineyard. When John Jarvis
died in 1892 at the age of 60, he left the Union Vineyard to his son Henry who planted Zinfandel vines on the
property. The vineyard was continuously farmed before and after Prohibition with the vines surviving until
David Bruce replanted the vineyard in 1968.
The Pesenti-Locatelli family acquired the mountain vineyard in 1935. David Bruce began buying Zinfandel
from Joe Locatelli in the early 1960s. Bruce bought the vineyard (today’s Vine Hill) in 1968, removed the
Zinfandel vines and replanted the vineyard to the Wente clone of Pinot Noir (on its own roots). At the same
time, Ken Burnap, a restaurateur from Orange County (The Hobbit) with a passion for Pinot Noir was searching
for the perfect site to source Pinot Noir in Northern California. He had studied Burgundy for years, traveled to
Burgundy with Joseph Swan and Kermit Lynch, and had established a number of criteria for Pinot Noir
vineyard success. He was taken by Bruce’s 1968 Zinfandel produced from Bruce’s vineyard. Sipping Pinot
Noir one day together, Bruce told Burnap he was selling the mountain vineyard. After performing soil samples
and climate research, Ken acquired the 26-acre Vine Hill property in 1974 and named it Santa Cruz Mountain
Vineyard. The first vintage of Pinot Noir from the property in 1975 was a success and wine writer Jerry Mead
told Burnap that his first Pinot Noir was his best ever. However, Burnap’s Pinot Noirs were rustic, acidic and
tannic and took many years to mature. They were nothing like other California Pinot Noirs then or since.
Never considered a vin de garde, his Pinot Noirs still remain an important legacy in the history of Pinot Noir in
California. Jeff Emery joined Burnap in 1979 and remained until the property was sold. Emery has continued
the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard label and has maintained the tradition of producing wines that reflect the
terroir of the region, but he has improved the acid, tannin and fruit balance and crafts Pinot Noirs that are more
approachable early on. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard is now located in Santa Cruz in the Surf City Vintners
complex (see page 10).
Burnap sold his Vine Hill property to a group of twelve investors in 2004. The new owners are Nick and
Celeste Guerrero, Nat and Laura Simons and nine other couples. Nick Guerrero has a degree in Fermentation
Science from University California Davis and worked at Anheuser-Busch on the East Coast following
graduation. He later obtained an MBA and MPH degree from University California Berkeley and pursued a
second career in the health care field. His employer was in Ohio and he commuted from the West Coast each
week from the West Coast. He had been making wine in his garage since 1991 and five couples eventually
joined in. Disenchanted with the weekly travel and inspired by his winemaking efforts, he decided to take on the
wine business full time. In 2005 the owners hired Sal Godinez, an experienced winemaker trained at
Saintsbury in the Napa Valley and a close friend of Guerrero. Godinez had lived next door to Guerrero’s mother
in St. Helena and Guerrero was impressed with his talents. At Saintsbury, Godinez helped craft the first Dijon
clone based wine from the Brown Ranch Vineyard in 1996.
The original Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard has been replanted (the last vintage from the original plantings was
2004) with more than twice the density (from 3,000 vines to 7,000 vines) using two rootstocks and Dijon clones
115, 667, 777 and 828. Because the original vines were diseased, only one vine was saved. Rachel Ormes is
the vineyard manager. The new owner’s intent is to carry on the long and storied legacy of grape growing and
winemaking at this historic property. Two labels are under the Wines of Vine Hill umbrella: Gatos Locos of
Vine Hill, value priced wines for fun drinking ( 2005 and 2006 vintages available, $29 to $41) and Cumbre of
Vine Hill, which are serious Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noirs (2006 vintage in release, $49 to $59). Current
production is less than 1,000 cases. The wines are available on the website at www.winesofvinehill.com.
831-427-0436. The Cumbre of Vine Hill Pinot Noirs were tasted at the winery and at the World of Pinot Noir in
early March. The wines from this subregion typically take awhile to come around and can age very well. The
photo below shows the newly planted Vine Hill Vineyard and the three Gatos Locos of Vine Hill (Crazy Cats:
Sal Godinez on the left, Rachel Ormes in the center and Nick Guerrero on the right).
2004 Cumbre Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., $79. The last
vintage of the original plantings at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard.
reddish-purple color. Very ripe aromas of roasted black fruits and raisin. Dark and
deep with almost impenetrable fruit buttressed by substantial tannins and finishing
with orange peel-livened acidity. Drinks like a Petite Syrah. Not for the faint of heart
now but it will be interesting to see how this wine evolves 10 years down the line.
2006 Cumbre Raffaelli Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
192 cases, $59. This 2+acre vineyard is located in Soquel in the Los Ranchos
subregion at an elevation of 400 to 500 feet. Degree days are Region II. The vines
are 25 years old and yield 3.5 tons per acre. The clones are 667, 777 and
Pommard. The vineyard is hand farmed by owner Angelo Raffaelli. Brix at harvest
Intensely fruity nose featuring crushed dark berries with hints of wet stone,
herbs, and a whiff of alcohol. Rich and earthy, this robust wine is packed with a
succulent core of blackberries and black raspberries yet displaying supple dry
tannins and an uplifting finish.
2006 Cumbre Hicks Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 190 cases, $59. This
vineyard is located in the Corralitos/Pleasant Valley subregion at 500 feet. The soil is rich for the area as it was
the former home of a small horse farm - Un Corralito. Degree days are Region II. The vines are 5 to 6 years
old planted to Dijon clones 115 and 667 and yielding 4 tons per acre. This wine is 90% clone 115. Brix at
harvest was 26.7.
Rich and jammy strawberry and raspberry fruit is laced with toast, anise, spearmint, white
pepper, briar and oak. There is a definite minerality evident. Alcohol peeks out on the nose and in the finish.
The tannins are very soft and the texture is velvety.
Corralitos/Pleasant Valley Subregion
Martin Alfaro Joseph Martin, engineer-turned-winemaker, crafts vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from two
sources in the Santa Cruz Mountains as well as vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands and San Benito
County. Martin also crafts the lineup of wines at Alfaro Family Winery & Vineyards in Corralitos. The wines are
sensibly priced and available on the website at www.martinalfaro.com. 831-728-5172.
2007 Martin Alfaro Schultze Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 235 cases,
$36. The Schultze Family Vineyard is planted to 15 acres of Dijon clones 115, 667, 777 and 2A and Pommard
4. Grapes were 100% de-stemmed and lightly crushed into small open-top fermenters. A cold soak of 5 days
ensued. Fermentation was traditional and the wine was aged 10 months on the lees in 40% new French oak
barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Dark and ripe fruits with underlying herbs and earthiness. A bit rough now in
its youth but shows the stuffing and balance to blossom nicely in a year.
2007 Martin Alfaro Deer Park Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
450 cases, $33. This vineyard is owned by Dan Lester and managed by Prudy Foxx.
Multiple clones are planted including 115, 667, 777, 37 (Mount Eden), 2A and 23
(Mariafeld). The closeness of the vineyard to Monterey Bay allows the grapes to attain full
physiological ripeness without excessive Brix levels.
Very forward for a 2007 vintage wine.
Attractive aromas and flavors of dark fruits tending toward the red spectrum with tasty
spice. The tannins are fine and supple, the acidity is just right and the fruit lingers on an
aromatic finish. Pinot Noirs from this vineyard have always appealed to me, perhaps
because of the diverse clonal mix.
Pleasant Valley Vineyards Craig and Cathy Handley farm an estate vineyard on Pleasant Valley Road in
Aptos, tucked next to a grove of coastal redwoods and only five miles from the Monterey Bay. Established in
1996, the vineyard is planted to Dijon clones. The vines are lovingly hand pruned, hedged, de-leafed and
harvested. The wine is handcrafted from estate fruit, made in very small lots of 2 to 4 barrels and bottled on
site. There are a number of musicians in the family and this is reflected in the unique label for the Estate Dylan
David Pinot Noir. For the 2007 vintage, Pinot Noir will also be produced from the Lester family’s Deer Park
Vineyard in Corralitos. Craig has spearheaded the Corralitos Wine Trail which consists of four relatively new
small wineries located in Corralitos, the most southerly region of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. The
wineries are open for special Corralitos Wine Trail Open House events. Tasting is also available by
appointment (831-728-2826). The website is www.pvvines.com.
Windy Oaks Estate Vineyard & Winery Those who read the PinotFile regularly
know that I am a big fan of Windy Oaks Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay. Forget all those
big name cult Pinot Noirs in California, this is the real deal. Unfortunately, there are only
2,200 cases to go around and many pinotphiles are already clued in. Jim and Judy
Schultze have used their over 20 years of interest and experience in artisan winemaking
to create Windy Oaks. The Burgundian varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are
produced from a 19-acre vineyard (18 acres of Pinot Noir, 1 acre of Chardonnay) located
1,000 feet on a ridge overlooking the Monterey Bay. The Schultzes have lived in
Australia and Europe and visit Burgundy yearly to exchange information and meet with
their coopers. They have a clear sense of the Burgundian methods of winegrowing. The
vineyard was planted between 1996 and 1999 and is farmed according to organic and
biodynamic principles with a permanent cover crop and direct measurement of plant
water status. The vines are all hand-tended. The microclimate allows for an extremely
long growing season with bud break typically in late February and harvest in mid-October. Typically, Windy
Oaks Estate Vineyard is the last to be harvested in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Physiologically ripe grapes are
harvested without high Brix with the grapes possessing a balanced natural acidity. A small winery is beautifully
laid out and equipped on the property allowing for the entire production of the wines including bottling to be
performed on site.
All the wines are made with 100% estate grapes. Extreme minimal intervention is employed with no additives,
50% wild yeast fermentations, ML in barrel, 25 to 30 day fermentation periods and no settling before barrel, no
racking in barrel. About 30% to 40% whole cluster is used. All winemaking is done by gravity from crush to
final bottling. Long barrel aging is employed with a high percentage of new French oak. For example, the
Reserve is typically aged for 25 months in 75% new French oak. Special French oak barrels are chosen for
their tight grain and only 3 year air-dried (seasoned) wood staves are used. When I visited in late January
2009, Jim told me he had been in Burgundy at the Francois Freres cooperage and was offered and bought
some 4 year air-dried barrels that DRC had reserved but not used. He also showed me one 5 year air-dried
barrel with gold staves (photo).
Why the fuss about tight grain in oak barrel selection? Tighter-grained white oak used in wine
barrels doesn't necessarily have less tannins but it releases the tannins more slowly. Also, when
the grain is tight, there is less oxygenation of the wine, less evaporation of the wine and aging is
prolonged allowing the wine to remain fresh. Finally, tighter grain wood comes from trees that
have grown more slowly in more favorable climates and theoretically will have more desirable
flavor compounds incorporated from the soil and climate. The forest of origin is of importance as
the climate will affect the grain density and thus the quality of the wood. Vosges, Niévre, Alliers
and Sarthe oaks all have a tighter grain and are widely used. Many Pinot Noir winemakers feel
strongly that tight grained oak barrels are less assertive and more supportive, providing structure
without creating obvious oakiness in the finished wine.
Why is the length of seasoning of oak staves important? Staves are allowed to dry in the
open air, exposed to the natural elements of sun, wind and rain, which removes harsh flavors and
other elements from the oak. Seasoning in the open air also develops and releases spicy and
sweet elements. Longer drying regimes enhance the removal of undesirable elements while
allowing additional time for welcome elements to emerge.
Jim is never satisfied and works diligently on new techniques to refine his wines. He has run trials and
released Pinot Noirs that are wood-fermented, wild yeast-fermented, and produced limited bottlings from
Burgundy suitcase clones. Despite the multiple winemaking approaches, the hallmark of Windy Oaks Estate is
consistency. Year in and year out, the wines are reliably and often spectacularly crafted. With Chambolle
Musigny as the model, the Schultzes are quietly crafting some of the best and most intriguing Pinot Noir made
in California. The wines are sold almost entirely to select restaurants and mailing list devotees. Tours and
tasting are available by appointment. The website is www.windyoaksestate.com and the phone is 831-786-
WINE. A limited number of wines are for sale on the website.
2004 Windy Oaks Estate Proprietor’s Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 175
This is a “Wow” wine. Wonderful scents of spiced cherries, sandalwood, caramel and
grass. The flavor trio of cherries, mocha and cinnamon spice are delicious. The whole package is
impeccably balanced and elegant with an endless finish. A pretty and diaphanous wine that is tres Pinot.
2005 Windy Oaks Estate Cuvée Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 285 cases, $35. The cuvée
is a blend of clones from the estate vineyard, meant to be a wine that can be drunk every day with almost
anything. Think of it as the younger sister of the Proprietor’s Reserve.
Oak char and smoke dominate the fruit
aromas and a bit of heat peaks out over time in the glass. Slightly tart red and black berry fruit flavors are
linear with barely noticeable tannins and lively acidity. Fairly plush and mouth filling but not exciting.
2005 Windy Oaks Estate Proprietor’s Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $55.
Shy nose that opens beautifully with time in the glass revealing black
cherries and oak with a minerality in the background. A little darker fruit profile and
noticeably fuller than the 2004 vintage, tasting of jam on toast with just the slightest hint of
spice. Smooth as a baby’s bottom, perfectly balanced, with a lasting impression on the
long finish that leaves a touch of heat in its wake. This one is more California, the 2004
vintage is more DRC.
2005 Windy Oaks Estate Wood Tank Fermented Limited Release Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 26 cases, $44.
The nose is loaded with red fruits and exotic Indian spices. A middleweight
wine with charming flavors of red cherries and strawberries with a touch of oak and brioche added in for
interest. The wine builds in intensity and interest with time in the glass, leaving a memorable aromatic
impression on the endless finish. Plenty of swag here.
2006 Windy Oaks Estate Cuvée Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 435 cases, $38. 15 months
in 50% new French oak barrels.
A softer nose highlighting red fruits, light toast spice and a touch of funk. The
red-toned fruit flavors are brisk and refreshing, even a little steely. Very smooth in texture with no obtrusive oak
or tannins. Surprisingly good with a pastrami sandwich.
2006 Windy Oaks Estate Proprietor’s Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 345 cases, $60. Primarily sourced from the 1.5 acre Bay Block
planting of the original 3-acre vineyard. Aged 22 months in 80% new French oak.
The signature Windy Oaks Estate wine.
This wine starts out shy and ends in
ecstasy. Plenty of patience (foreplay) is required. The nose unfolds to reveal well spiced
cherries, sage, vanillin and a touch of flowers. The fruit is demure but
surrounds the tongue with fullness. Tangy and spicy with spot on balance. Always the
best wine in the Windy Oaks cellar.
2006 Windy Oaks Estate Henry’s Block Santa Cruz Mountains PInot Noir
13.9% alc., 145 cases, $45.
Named after Judy Schultze’s father, this is 100% Wädenswil clone and from one of the oldest blocks in the
vineyard. Aged 21 months in 65% new French oak.
A beautifully composed and balanced Pinot Noir featuring
juicy raspberries, herbs, cedar and barnyard on the nose. The flavors follow in step adding a hint of dirt and
root beer. Feminine in spirit but packed with flavor, and like all Windy Oaks wines, impeccably balanced.
Although not formerly reviewed, I can vouch for the other 2006 Windy
Oaks Estate wines as well. On my recent visit to the Santa Cruz
Mountains, I attended a dinner in Santa Cruz which turned out to be
spectacular. The young and talented chef at Gabriella Café, Bradford
Briske, took the time to taste all the wines in advance and the resulting
food and wine matches brought me looking to the heavens and saying
thanks. I have duplicated the menu below for your interest.
I should add a few comments about the other Windy Oaks Estate wines
that were not formally reviewed for this issue. The One-Acre
Chardonnay is a perfect compromise between the non-oak fermented
and heavily-oaked and endowed contrasting styles of California
Chardonnays (Windy Oaks Estate Chardonnay, $38). Diane’s Block Pinot Noir is sourced from a 4-acre
vineyard located in Aptos a short distance from Windy Oaks Estate that was planted and is farmed by the
Schultzes. It is a very fruit-forward wine. (2006 Windy Oaks Estate Diane’s Block, 341 cases, $45). The Wild
Yeast Pinot Noir is a 4 barrel blend of 100% native yeast fermented Pinot Noir. This is quite earthy and has
become very popular to Windy Oaks disciples and can take on voluptuous foods. (2006 Windy Oaks Estate
Wild Yeast, 96 cases, $55). In 2009, there will be a value-priced Windy Oaks Pinot Noir added to the lineup
called “Terra Narro” ($30), making a total of 9 unique Pinot Noirs for the 2009 vintage.
The 2004 Windy Oaks Estate Special Burgundian Clone Pinot Noir was the first release
from a special half-block at the top of the vineyard ridge planted to a “suitcase clone” from
Vosne-Romanee in Burgundy. Jim tends to this vineyard block himself, doing everything
from pruning to leaf pulling to tucking vines. Its taste is similar to its Burgundian
counterpart. It is a celebratory release presented in a wood box with a silk screen image of
a poster created for the Schultzes by the French poster artist, Jean-Pierre Got. Aged 27
months in 100% new French oak, 26 cases, $95. I opened a bottle awhile back at a
French restaurant and found the wine stunning. Unfortunately, there is only a 2 bottle
allocation - Boo-Hoo.
A few more tastes of the Santa Cruz Mountains
2006 Clos La Chance Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $22. This winery is located in
San Martin, about 45 minutes from the Santa Cruz Mountains but the owners, Bill and Brenda
Murphy, farm a number of small vineyards in the Mountains.
Demure aromas of cherries,
strawberries and fresh mowed grass. Moderately light flavors of tart red cherry and strawberry with a
faint kiss of oak. Silky tannins and admirable finesse.