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Rhys Vineyards: Raising the Bar

Rhys Vineyards was the darling of the wine press several years ago when the winery burst on the scene, as the wines showed signs of unrealized promise for California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The initial vintages had very low production so few consumers experienced the wines. I was enamored by the earlier vintages because of their low alcohols and impressively ripe phenolic flavors, but the latest release of the 2010 wines surpass most of the wines that preceded, and they have reached new heights for California Pinot Noir. All the sweat and financial commitment at Rhys is beginning to pay off. Pinot Noir loves to be coddled, and God knows that Rhys has nurtured the fickle grape with utmost care. Today, Rhys is producing distinct wines that are unlike any other produced in California. Over the years, owner Kevin Harvey and winemaker Jeff Brinkman have refined their style and today the wines have reach the pinnacle of California Pinot Noir. The three 2010 Rhys Vineyards Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay, the fall 2013 releases and the last of the 2010 single vineyard wine releases, are reviewed here. They are outrageously good. I only wished I had bought more of them.

Kevin recommends cellaring all Rhys wines for 5+ years to reveal their full personality, although he admits the 2010 wines are ready to drink earlier. He also recommends decanting the wines for at least an hour before serving which I did before I reviewed the wines.

Chardonnay plantings at Rhys have increased steadily since a single acre was planted at Alpine Vineyard in 2000. Currently, there are 2.75 acres at Alpine Vineyard, 4 acres at Horseshoe Vineyard, and 8 more acres at Bearwallow Vineyard in the Anderson Valley (the first release will be from the 2013 or 2014 vintage). The Chardonnay vines have been planted in some of the best soils and with the best exposures found at each site. The vines are tightly spaced with low vigor rootstock onto which they have grafted a massale (field mixture) of heritage selections of Chardonnay. The tight spacing forces the vines to fully explore the soil profile and produces very small berries, while the mixture of Chardonnay selections contributes to an orchestra of expression.

The 2014 spring offering will include all the Rhys Vineyards wines from 2011 which were produced in very small quantities. Sign up for the mailing list at The winery is not open to the public.

2010 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

12.7% alc., $69. The vineyard is 10.85 acres situated at 1450 to 1610 feet elevation with a 10% to 25% slope. Soils are 18” to 24” rocky topsoil over Monterey shale. Clones are Rhys selection and two heritage clones planted with 6’ x 4’ spacing. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very shy aromas of red and black berries, smoky cave, and forest floor. Enticing flavors of spiced cherry, raspberry and baking spice with a touch of smoky oak in the background. Very appealing elegance and length with impressive fruit intensity and finish. Very silky and seamless with crisp acidity surfacing on the lovely finish. Score: 92

2010 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $69. The vineyard is 11 acres situated at 1230 to 1400 feet elevation with a 20% to 40% slope. Soils are 20” to 24” topsoil over soft shale. Clones are Rhys selection and five heritage clones planted with 6’ x 4’ spacing. · Oh My God! Orgasmic nose offering aromas of dark stone and berry fruits with a hint of whole cluster floral notes including violets. The aromas last and last in the glass. Flat-out delicious on the palate with layered flavors of dark plum and blackberry fruits with plenty of spice. Perfectly balanced with a silky smooth texture and a finish of uncommon length and intensity spiked with juicy mineral-driven acidity. Impressive grace and refinement and very approachable now, but will improve over the next several years. An outrageously good wine that I could drink all night long. Still great two days later from a previously opened bottle. This one will bring you to your knees. Score: 98

2010 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Swan Terrace Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., $99. The SwanTerrace is 1.5 acres of the Alpine Vineyard planted to a Swan field selection with 6’ x 4’ spacing. This block is situated at 1210 to 1300 feet elevation with a 20% slope. Soils are 12” to 15” top soil over soft shale. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. More brooding that the Alpine Vineyard bottling, but opens slowly in the glass, revealing its charms slowly. Aromas of earth-kissed blackberry and exotic spices. Hits the palate with a creamy, delicious presence, offering an array of purple and black fruits, hints of cola, spice and oak, and quenching acidity on the dramatic finish. With air, the wine becomes silkier and livelier. A little darker fruited and moodier than the Alpine Vineyard wine as well as a touch more rustic and bold. Beautifully balanced with restrained tannins. Even better two days later from a previously opened bottle. A winegasm. Score: 97

2010 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

13.4% alc., $69. From 3.51 acres of tightly spaced vines planted on low vigor rootstock onto which are grafted a field mixture of heritage selections of Chardonnay (Wente, Hyde, Mt. Eden). Soils are 18” - 24” rocky topsoil over Monterey Shale. Gently whole cluster pressed for 4 hours. The must is settled overnight and in the morning the barrels are filled by gravity. 20-25% new French oak barrels are used. The wine is left undisturbed in barrel without stirring, completing a native yeast fermentation that can sometimes take an entire year. · Golden yellow color and clear in the glass. This is a subtle wine that reveals many nuances over time if you are patient. There is a clear vein of “minerality” running through this wine evident in the sea brine aromas and the vibrant underlying acidity. The flavors of apple, white peach, crème brûlée, and a hint of butterscotch are inviting, and the silky texture of the wine is dreamy. There is some finishing length as well, uncommon in many Chardonnays from California. With the modest alcohol and bright acidity, this is an ideal food wine, but it is wonderful on its own. Should be even more interesting in a few years. For connoisseur’s only. Score: 95

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