• Santa Cruz Mountains Maverick

    Santa Cruz Mountains Maverick

    I met Cole Thomas of Madson Wines at a 2019 tasting event highlighting "the new wave of Santa Cruz winemakers." Coincidentally, I was in town that weekend reporting on a story for SF Chronicle about four other young winemakers in the Santa Cruz region. I've been following Madson ever since, and I strongly believe that Thomas and his business partner, Ken Swegles, who also owns and runs a viticulture consulting firm, are among the next names to look to in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

    Madson produces terroir-driven Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, three varieties that thrive in the cool, foggy climate here. The majority of vineyards in the region are small, a few acres at most, planted in small clearings vying with the rigid, mountainous landscape, redwoods, and forest.

    Madson prioritizes leasing vineyards and overseeing its own farming instead of purchasing fruit. All of the vineyards they work with have been converted to organics, with an additional emphasis on regenerative farming. And to top it off, Swegles and his partner, Abbey Crystal, live on and farm Ascona Vineyard high up at 2,450 feet elevation. In the cellar, it’s natural and spontaneous fermentation, neutral wood, minimal racking, and just a small sulfur addition at bottling.

    The Santa Cruz Mountains are considered an ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, and most of the AVA is planted to that. But Thomas says he is always looking for Chardonnay vineyards, and for our sake, I hope he finds them because these are the wines that Max and I are really excited about.

    The Chardonnays featured here represent the two sides of the region (ocean vs. mountains). Toyon Vineyard is on a steep south-facing slope in the Soquel Hills; planted on sandstone soils just 400 feet above Monterey Bay, the vines nearly have a front-row seat to the Pacific’s coastal winds, morning fog, and cloud cover. And Les Enfants du Soleil comes mostly from 1960s-planted, own-rooted vines near Boulder Creek where the soil is decomposed schist. Both wines gracefully express cool-climate Chardonnay—fresh, vibrant, mineral—but Toyon has a prominent salinity component while Les Enfants du Soleil carries slightly more depth and concentration.

    Both Thomas and Swegles have built their careers here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After earning a degree in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz and working a number of jobs in vegetable farming and landscaping, Thomas discovered winemaking while working for local legend, Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, where he also met and worked with Swegles. Together, they launched Madson Wines in 2018.

    Note: Last week, SF Chronicle Wine Critic, Esther Mobley, wrote a glowing review of Madson Wines for her "Wine of the Week" column

    Click here to shop Madson wines

    Posted by Sydney Love
  • Overachierver Baby Monte Bello: 2014 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

    Overachierver Baby Monte Bello: 2014 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

    Last night, a stunning 1999 Ridge Monte Bello reaffirmed that within the discussion of What is California Grand Cru, this is where the argument should end.

    Today, we're taking a look back at an earlier offer on the best value California Cabernet Sauvignon, a "Baby Monte Bello", Ridge's 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Also offered are a range of back-vintage Monte Bello, including one of the most prized American wines from the last 50 years, the epic 1991.

    Monte Bello Estate vineyard atop the Santa Cruz Mountains needs little introduction. The Monte Bello designate Cabernet Sauvignon releases around $200 per bottle. What's still somewhat under-the-radar is their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, comprised of 15 to 20 parcels on the Monte Bello vineyard that have historically shown a more approachable and softer fruit profile.

    Each vintage the Estate Cabernet is a favorite of mine, still displaying the magic that Paul Draper started here in 1969. The drought conditions of 2014 gave an added element of concentration and weight to this Baby Monte Bello cuvée. For lovers of old school California Cabernet Sauvignon from the coolest, Pacific-influenced mountain terrain, this is a moment to take notice.

    Monte Bello's black fruit, racy mint and graphite tones always impress, but the experiences also come at the expense of long bottle aging. The Estate Cabernet has all of these same inherent Monte Bello vineyard characteristics, only showing them through a softer focus. In all years this is the case, but 2014 was immediately recognized as something quite special:

    "Readers who are looking for a more affordable alternative to Ridge's iconic Monte Bello should consider the 2014 Estate. Look for the Estate to be a real overachiever in 2014 as well as one of the best - possibly the best - California Cabernet in its price range."
    The history of Monte Bello extends as far back as 1885 when the 180 acres was purchased and planted by San Francisco doctor, Osea Perrone. Through a tumultuous series including prohibition, multiple sales, and re-planting, the Monte Bello estate really comes into its own with Paul Draper's arrival in 1969. Draper's insistence on producing "Pre-Industrial" wines has received a lot of attention, as he challenged winemakers to put the full list of ingredients on their labels. Draper's end goal is producing wines that reflect site, relying on native yeast ferments and strictly opposing modern manipulations such as Ultra/Mega purple concentrate, reverse osmosis, and the like.

    Ridge also stands out from much of California Cabernet Sauvignon in their deft use of American oak. The limestone soils of Monte Bello have long stood up to the new oak regimen (here 70%), providing more silken texture and elegance without obscuring terroir - easy to say, not so easy to execute. Along with the fabulously open-knit 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, today's list features perfectly stored, back-vintage Monte Bello.
    Purchase Here.

    2014 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
    $65 per bottle.

    "Sustainably farmed, hand-harvested, estate-grown grapes; destemmed and sorted; fermented on the native yeasts; full malolactic on the naturally occurring bacteria; 0.25g/L calcium carbonate to moderate high natural acidity in four of twenty distinct parcels; 1.7% water addition to twelve of the twenty lots; minimum effective sulfur (25ppm at crush, 120 ppm during aging); a fining of 5 fresh, egg whites per barrel for the press wine; pad filtered at bottling. In keeping with our philosophy of minimal intervention, this is the sum of our actions." - Ridge 

    3x 2001 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
    $399 per bottle.

    1x 1999 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon (not online)
    $199 per bottle.

    5x 1997 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
    $319 per bottle.

    8x 1991 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
    $679 per bottle.

    1x 1991 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
    $1,379 per bottle.

    1x 1980 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
    $384 per bottle.
    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Montebello Ridge Magnificence: Arnot-Roberts Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

    Montebello Ridge Magnificence: Arnot-Roberts Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

    Living in St. Helena in 2011 I had the opportunity to drink a wide range of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. From Calistoga south through Carneros, from Howell Mountain west across the valley to Spring Mountain. And everything in between. Of all the newly-released wines that were opened that year there's only one that still stays with me, as if only last night I was on that patio with friends in front of a fire atop Diamond Mountain.

    Curiously, that wine didn't come from the lionized Napa Valley, or from a sprawling grand estate. Instead, it hailed from a vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and from a small winery established by two young friends in Sonoma. It may break some people's views on the rules of California Cab hierarchy, but to me one thing is very clear:Arnot-Roberts Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon is truly one of the great wines in all of America.

    Like the two most historic Cabernets from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ridge's Monte Bello and Mount Eden's Estate Cabernet, Fellom Ranch falls into an ideal landing spot between the styles of Napa Valley's sun-kissed fruit and the gravel and more earthy characteristics common in Bordeaux. Elevation of 2,200 feet and cool winds racing through from the nearby Pacific ensure gradual ripening and serious freshness in the finished wine. The amalgamation of shale, loam, and limestone soils bring a diversity of terroir, and gives layers of complexity.

    Fellom Ranch is powerful, but balanced with bright acids and a freshness that always makes it emptied quickly - the real litmus test for any great wine. Smoke, graphite, mint, and dried herbs dazzle each vintage, and the 30% use of whole cluster fermentation adds savory, yet bright qualities that make it so distinctive. Duncan and Nathan's fondness for the wines of Marcel Juge and Thierry Allemand of Cornas, to me, make themselves known in Fellom's dark and decidedly wild traits. 

    Like all the wines of Arnot-Roberts production here is very limited. Only 162 cases of Fellom Ranch were produced in 2014, and most have been allocated to top restaurants. I'm thrilled today to offer a wine that captures the most exciting elements of California Cabernet Sauvignon, and the adventurous spirit of the two friends who've brought this epic vineyard to the forefront.

    2014 Arnot-Roberts Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon
    $99 per bottle.

    Posted by Max Kogod