Planted by Dick Graff on a northwest-facing slope on limestone and decomposed granite soils, the vineyard lies within sight of the Pinnacalitos, near the East entrance to Pinnacles National Park. At some 1800' elevation, we picked the 2014 vintage from this venerable vineyard starting at 2am under the stars of the Milky Way and the Perseid Meteor showers, to a soundtrack provided by three separate packs of coyotes.
We love the crisp, aromatic, tangy rosés of Provence [and the lifestyle that affords one the chance to drink them in their native habitat]. So, given the opportunity to work with this head-pruned, non-irrigated, organically farmed cinsault vineyard planted in 1886, as Gustav Eiffel was still putting together his controversial tower in Paris, we started putting together a not so controversial plan for our Provençal inspired Vin Gris. Grapes from one section of the vineyard typically end up in rich, raspberry coulis scented red wines. We take our grapes from a small section which yields more floral, botanical notes of violet, lavender and spice, ideal for crisp, dry rosé. Farmed lovingly by Kevin Phillips, this 128 year-old cinsault shines in our Vin Gris complemented by George Besson's Grenache and centenarian mourvèdre from ungrafted vines in the sands of the Sacramento River Delta. Since 2012, we have also begun making a small quantity of red cinsault from this venerable vineyard; the viticultural equivalent of having our cake and eating it, too.
We are tremendously fortunate - on many levels - to have known and worked with George Besson Jr. and his exceptional vineyards for twenty years. George's late father, George Sr. purchased the grenache vineyard and farmhouse just after WWII on a gently north-facing rocky slope. These non-irrigated vines, planted on their own roots in 1910, sit a short distance from the start of the Santa Cruz Mountains, but several dozen feet too low to qualify for the appellation. Walking through the vines with George, one senses his deep affection and respect for the land and the vines, and his belief in man's subordinate role to nature in determining the ultimate quality of the grapes grown there. As a consequence of the age of the vines, the lack of irrigation, and the conservative farming practices, the quantity of grapes grown there is quite small - rarely if ever over 2 tons/acre.
A mile and a half to the west, and that much closer to the Monterey Bay coastline that lies on the other side of the Hecker Pass Gap, is the Besson's Home Ranch property. Purchased from Italian bootleggers by George's grandfather in 1925, there nonagenarian Zinfandel planted in 1922 coexists in unlikely juxtaposition with Pinot up against the eastern face of the Santa Cruz Mountains, again a little too low--and literally on the wrong side of the road-- to qualify for the appellation. Tended for 3 generations, the Home Ranch's granitic and sandy loam soils produce Spinal Tap Stonehenge-sized pinot berries on very small clusters.
On the other side of George's house, the ungrafted old vine zinfandel benefits from morning and afternoon sun and the unusually fresh marine-moderated night that permits full expression and flavor development without requiring raisination and ruination by fire-breathing degrees of alcohol.
We are honored to continue the long legacy of a commitment to the wine and spirits business at the Besson sites.
From the 2017 vintage, we are honored to begin working with the Enz family's old dry-farmed, head-trained mourvèdre planted about a century ago on the limestone and decomposed granite soils of the Lime Kiln Valley in the Cienega Valley, just down the road from Calera on the east side of the Gabilan range.
In Santa Ynez, the Jurassic Park Vineyard sits at 335m elevation on sandy, well-drained limestone-laden soils atop the playground of the dinosaurs of the Jurassic era. These days, pumpjacks swing wildly all around the perimeter of the vineyard, pumping black gold from deep underground and funding adult playgrounds in Beverly Hills. Our bounty is perhaps less remunerative, but no less precious. Planted in 1978, the age of this ungrafted Chenin vineyard qualifies it as "old" in Southern California. We treat it gently, ferment it with native yeasts, and keep it company through the winter. Each vintage shows us a new dimension, a new potential expression of this place with botrytis occasionally making an appearance. Consistently small berries and clusters and low vigor soils lend depth, dimension, and structure to this noblest of varieties. We will release a small quantity of sparkling chenin that is currently in tirage sometime in the next few years.
On a south-facing slope perched at 300m elevation in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Lilo Vineyard opens to an unobstructed view to the South over the Monterey Bay. Planted a dozen years ago on a complex mix of schist, shale, and sandstone soils, the slope is quite steep, and yields can be stunningly low - 0.99 ton from all 4.5 acres in 2011. Just above the fog line, this is viticulture on the edge of possibility - a site fully exposed to late frosts at bud break and spring rains that can affect flowering and every torment the weather coming off the Pacific can bring. In short, exactly the kind of marginal climate that is called for to coax the layered, subtle perfumed spicy best out of that most fickle of varieties, Pinot Noir.
Up on a shale-strewn bench on the Western edge of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County, with the Santa Lucia coastal range providing a rain shadow and shelter from the intense late-afternoon sun just to the West, the ancient Italian grape varieties of Malvasia Bianca and Muscat Canelli have found a fitting home in the New World.
The vineyard is home to a great number of grapes - red and white - but we have found that this particular part of Monterey County is highly suited to aromatic varieties.
This specific selection of Malvasia - brought to America in the early 20th century from Calabria in Italy's far south - seems to relish the warm days and cool nights here. Planted in the same time period in an adjacent vineyard block, Muscat Canelli here reaches its full potential of expression while retaining the natural acidity, freshness we vibrancy and perfume we so esteem.
A pair of photographs of the vineyard from the same vantage point in late morning sunlight, and then again at the approach of dusk provide a visual illustration of the marine influence on the vineyard.
This large diurnal temperature variation [the difference between daytime highs and nighttime lows] is due to the dramatic effect of the natural corridor formed by the Santa Lucias to the West and the Gabilans to the East, drawing a mass of cool air and fog southward from above the cold, 3,600m deep waters of Monterey Bay.
Just offshore lies a deep underwater canyon as large as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. As no major river presently lies at the head of it, it is theorized that the canyon came into existence millions of years ago as an ancient outlet of the Colorado River before it found its way to the Gulf of California.
Malvasia Bianca in sunlight, Santa Lucias in the background.
Malvasia late afternoon, same viewpoint, cooled by fog.
Muscat Canelli and John, Summer 2012
Peter Martin Ray
In 2017, we began working with head-pruned, dry-farmed cabernet sauvignon from the historic Peter Martin Ray Vineyard, some 600m high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Saratoga on very low vigor, Franciscan shale soils. Peter’s late father Martin learned the ropes of the wine business at the neighboring property of that famous Burgundian, Paul Masson. Mount Eden is a stunning site, first developed by Martin Ray back in 1943, one hillside over from Montebello, and now divided between Peter Martin Ray and Jeffrey Patterson of Mt. Eden. We are very, very excited about the quality of the fruit from this brilliant mountain vineyard, and at the opportunity to work with, and learn from Peter and his family.