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Cruzin’ to Windy Oaks Estate Vineyard & Winery

It has been a couple of years since I lasted visited proprietor Jim Schultze at Windy Oaks. Windy Oaks farms 26 acres of Pinot Noir divided among 15 acres on the main winery site first planted in 1996, 7 acres nearby, and 4 acres in Aptos. Jim proudly showed me his new plantings of Chambertain selection and cuttings from previous Burgundy selection plantings that had been cleaned up by microshoot technology (photo below).

The photo below shows the aspect of Windy Oaks Estate, overlooking Monterey Bay in the distance and situated mostly above the fog line. This is a very cool, rugged site exposed to maritime weather. The growing season is one of the longest in California, often extending well into October or even early November. The vines, clones 115, 667, 777, 828, 2A, Pommard, and Burgundy selections, are meticulously farmed.

Jim directs all the vineyard management and winemaking. He likes to say, “I do the most I can in the vineyard and the least I can in the winery.” Jim’s two sons are now actively participating in the winery as well. Son Spencer Schultze also crafts a small amount of Pinot Noir from a neighboring vineyard under the “Eleven” label. Most fermentations use 50% ambient yeast and last an incredibly long 30 to 45 days. 25% to 30% whole cluster is the rule since the stems are often ripe, but Jim produces a limited amount of 100% whole cluster Pinot Noir. Jim is obsessive about his oak regimen and travels to Burgundy each year to meet with coopers. He uses 3-year-old air-dried tight-grained French oak barrels exclusively. Typical, he ages the wines for 17-27 months in 35% new oak with larger percentages in certain bottlings. His compact winery has all the toys for proper Pinot Noir vinification including a basket press and a modern bottling line.

A new project, “Windy Oaks Whites,” will feature tank-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris from purchased non-estate grapes priced in the $17 to $22 range. The first vintage will be 2012.

Windy Oaks sells a high percentage of their wine directly to an active mailing list and visitors to the tasting room located on the property which is open Saturdays, 12:00 to 5:00. Wine club members receive significant discounts. Visit

I tasted through several 2010 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noirs and the 2010 Chardonnay. Jim told me farming was very challenging in the 2010 vintage, but the wines turned out well. I couldn’t agree more.

2010 Windy Oaks Estate Terra Narro Schultze Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 374 cases, $29. Entry-level, value-priced wine composed of most blocks from the estate vineyard. Aged 17 months in 35% new French oak barrels. · A very pleasant wine, aromatic and flavorful, light in body with supple tannins, featuring red cherry and cranberry fruit, a hint of oak, and a citrus-imbued cherry finish. Good.

2010 Windy Oaks Estate Diane’s Block Schultze Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 192 cases, $45. From a 5-acre block, all estate, at a lower elevation. Clones 115 and 667. Aged 17 months in 0% new oak. Always a favorite of women. Unusual in this cool vintage. · Slightly carbonic nose, with aromas of flowers and berries. Fruit-forward, featuring cherry and raspberry with some spice and savory herb notes. Light, with little finishing power. Decent.

2010 Windy Oaks Estate Wild Yeast Schultze Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 123 cases, $55. 100% wild yeast fermented. Aged 18 months in 40% new French oak barrels. Tasting room or wine club members only. · Attention-grabbing nose of spiced cherries and sandalwood. A bit exotic and leesy, with considerable nuance. Very elegant and dreamy on the palate. Exceptional.

2010 Windy Oaks Estate 100% Whole Cluster Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 191 cases, $55. Wine club and tasting room only. Focus on clone 667 with some 115. Aged 17 months in 60% new French oak barrels. Very long fermentation. · Very complex nose offering scents of dark cherries, dried rose petals, baking spices, and herb garden. Highly approachable, with a very savory character offering flavors of mushrooms, smoky herbs and earthy fruits. Very good.

2010 Windy Oaks Estate Proprietor’s Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 364 cases, $60. From the 1.5-acre Bay Block of the original 3-acre vineyard. Available to wine club members and through the tasting room. Aged 22 months in 55% new French oak barrels. A barrel selection. Primarily Pommard 5 and 115. · Rather shy but appealing nose with scents of cranberries, pomegranates and black cherries. More fruit concentration and the biggest, longest finish in the lineup. I like this wine for its power without weight and excellent integration of oak. Exceptional.

2010 Windy Oaks Estate One Acre Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

13.9% alc., $39. Barrel fermented for a minimum of 15 months in French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. Reviewed at home. · Golden straw color in the glass. Aromas of lemon, flint, iron, croissant and oak. Creamy on the palate, with refined flavors of fresh citrus fruits, peaches on the grill, vanilla cream, oak and a touch of iron. Very soft in the mouth with nicely integrated acidity. Less fruit-driven than previous vintages, but more refined, sophisticated and mineral-inspired. Score: 94

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