Elite California Pinot Noir Vineyards Part III: Central Coast - Santa Cruz Mountains
“Climate determines whether you can grow a grape variety successfully in a
particular location, but the soil type may determine wine style and quality,
given a suitable climate.”
Lester Family Vineyard
Owners: Dan and Pat Lester
Acres: 10 acres of Pinot Noir (2 acres of Syrah and Chardonnay)
Years planted: The original planting was in 1998. Additional upper vineyard planted was done in 2001.
Location: Corralitos subregion of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains on Pleasant Valley Road in Aptos. The
vineyard is part of the 210-acre Deer Park Ranch owned by the Lesters since 1995.
Aspect: Nestled amongst the valley’s rolling hills surrounded by towering redwoods at 450’ to 600’ elevation.
East facing, 5-15% slope. About three miles from Monterey Bay provides cooling air and fog that
moderates the vineyard weather.
Pinot Noir scions: Dijon 115, 667, Mt. Eden, Mariafeld, Swan, Wädenswil, Pommard, and DRC 122.
Soil: Nutrient poor sandy clay loam over sedimentary base rock. Tich in calcium carbonate from ancient sea
Vines: 8’ x 8’ vine spacing
Farming: The vineyard manager is Prudy Fox who sustainably farms the vines meticulously by hand. Minimal
late-season deficit irrigation (nearly dry-farmed). Herbicides have never been employed. No-till floor
management. Naturally low yields of about 2 tons per acre.
Winery clients: Lester Family Wines has three bottlings - Caruso, Domingo, and Mercuria - crafted by
winemakers John Benedetti and Ed Kurtzman. Pinot Noir clients have included Sante Arcangeli Family
Wines, Big Basin, Alfaro Family Vineyards, La Rochelle, Soquel Vineyards, Betwixt, Thérèse
Vineyards, and Waxwing Wine Cellars.
2013 Waxwing Lester Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 123 cases, $39. 50%
whole cluster fermented, aged 11 months on once-used French oak barrels.
Moderate garnet color in the glass.
Nice perfumed scents of cherry, baking spices, sandalwood barrel cave, and worn leather. The core of cherry
and dark red berry fruits are accented with some cardamom spice and a shadow of oak. A good arrow of
acidity and moderate tannins lead to a moderately long, dry but juicy finish. Drink up within 5 years. (reviewed in 2015 with a score of 94)
2014 Big Basin Lester Family Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 325 cases, $48.
Clones 115, 667 and Mt. Eden. 100% whole cluster fermented.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass.
Whole cluster-inspired aromas of dark red cherry, herbal tea and sweet pipe smoke. Nicely composed, with
good harmony and a sleek, polished mouthfeel. Tannins are in check. A slight herbaceous tone reflects the
whole cluster input. ( I was enamored with this wine when review in 2017 and gave it a score of 97)
2016 Big Basin Lester Family Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., 414 cases, $55.
Clone 667 and a Swan selection. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. Bottled unfined and
unfiltered. 100% whole cluster fermented.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Whole cluster driven
aromas of burnt tobacco, spice and purple fruits. Simply a great whole cluster fermented wine with purple berry
and purple plum fruits that make a big impact on the palate and finish. Slightly smoky, with a grilled meat note.
Noticeable, but not intrusive tannins and a delightful, sweet cherry finish. Still a youngster and surely a 15-year
wine. (Reviewed in 2018 with the same score)
2017 Waxwing Lester Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 115 cases, $48. 100%
de-stemmed, aged 10 months in once-used French oak barrels and bottled with light filtration.
garnet color in the glass. Vibrant aromas of Bing cherry and allspice. Mid-weight plus in style, with a wellripened
array of fruits including purple grape, boysenberry and blackberry flavors with a hint of savory herbs in
the background. No hard edges, with modest tannins and a lengthy, crisp, and quenching finish.
2018 Lester Domingo Lester Family Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 260 cases,
$55. Clones 667, 115, Mt. Eden, Wädenswil 2A, and Swan. Harvest Brix 23.8º. Native yeast fermentation.
Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 40% new.
Light garnet color in the glass. Wonderful nose with effusive
aromas of cherry, blueberry, spice, and pipe smoke. Light to mid-weight in heft, with a delicious core of wellspiced
cherry goodness. Forward drinking with svelte tannins, a lacy texture and a welcome hint of oak. This
wine has the delicate power that is so desirable in a great Pinot Noir.
2018 Lester Mercurio Lester Family Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 267 cases,
$55. Clones 667, 115, Pommard, Mt. Eden, Wädenswil 2A, and Swan. Harvest Brix 23.2º-24.2º. 95% destemmed,
native yeast and inoculated yeast fermentations. Aged 10 months on the lees in French oak barrels,
30% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Deep cherry aroma with
added scents of earthy flora, and floral bouquet. Dark cherry and purple grape fruits are assembled in a very
approachable style with excellent balance. This offering has more earthiness and savory oak than the Domingo
bottling but is nearly equal in desirability. The extended finish is particularly noteworthy.
2018 Waxwing Lester Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 133 cases, $42.
Seventh vintage of this wine. Clones 115, 667 and Mt. Eden.100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, and aged in
once-used French oak barrels for 10 months. Bottled with light filtration.
Moderately light garnet color in the
glass. Terrific nose infused with aromas of cherry, strawberry, red rose bud, sandalwood, and savory herbs.
Light to mid-weight stylistically, with a blast of cherry and strawberry fruit that attacks the palate on entry and is
expansive through the mid-palate. Very appealing elegance with gentle tannins, a hint of complimentary oak,
and a long, juicy, lifted finish. Impressive harmony. Still exceptional when tasted the following day from a
previously opened bottle. A very special value.
More reviews: www.princeofpinot.com/vineyard/831/
Mount Eden Estate Vineyard
Owners: Jeffrey Patterson (the winemaker since 1981) and spouse Ellie acquired majority ownership in 2008.
Acres: 40 (7 acres of Pinot Noir, 20 acres of Chardonnay, and 13 acres of Bordeaux varieties)
Years planted: Martin Ray planted his vineyards in 1945 and launched his innovative namesake winery,
Martin Ray Winery in the early 1950s. The vineyard was replanted stepwise beginning in 1984 with 20%
of the vines propagated from the original budwood. One acre of the original vines was kept as a
“mother vineyard.” Replanting allowed newer methods of trellising, closer vine spacing, and better
canopy management, all dramatically increasing yields. Replanting concluded in the early 2000s.
Location: 30 miles south of San Francisco in Saratoga. Mount Eden Estate Vineyard is reached by a 2.2-mile
winding dirt road.
Aspect: An exposed hilltop viticultural island perched at 2,000 feet above sea level overlooking Silicon Valley.
Since the vineyard is high in the Santa Cruz Mountains and close to the ocean (15 miles) and San
Francisco Bay, the days are long and fog-free with low daytime highs and a relative absence of heat
spikes in the summer and fall. Most of the vineyard acreage is on eastern slopes which promotes slow,
Pinot Noir scions: Massale selections (historic vine plantings), Mt. Eden clone (UCD37), Winery Lake, Swan,
Calera, and Dijon 115, 667, 777, and faux 828.
Soil: Infertile Franciscan shale
Vines: VSP trellising
Farming: Owner, winemaker, and conscientious steward Jeffrey Patterson directs all farming. Dry farmed.
Crop thinning when necessary to ensure yields do not exceed 2 tons per acre.
Winery clients: None, a monopole
Comments: Mount Eden’s lineage of estate bottled Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is the longest in California.
One of the first “boutique” California wineries. The winery’s flagship estate bottling is a mosaic of all the
planted clones. The site is truly unique in that Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon exist in
harmony. Merry Edwards was the winemaker at Mount Eden from 1974 to 1976, and sent cuttings of a
single Mount Eden vine to UC Davis FPS where it was registered as UCD 37 in 1977. The Pattersons
created a special 2017 Tanaka Project Pinot Noir to honor a longtime friend of the winery, Ron Tanaka,
who sadly committed suicide. This wine was meant to drive conversations about mental health and
suicide prevention. The Pinot Noir vineyard at Mount Eden was renamed ‘Tanaka.’ This vineyard site
has a sense of terroir that is distinct from the other estate Pinot Noir plantings. This is the first singlevineyard
Pinot Noir ever released by Mount Eden (75 cases, $80).
2014 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 800 cases, $65.
garnet color in the glass. Plenty of new-sawn oak on the nose along with aromas of boysenberry and root beer.
A mid-weight plus styled wine with a plethora of well-ripened purple and black berry fruits with a hint of raisin
and savory, toasted herbs. A gutsy wine but refined, with a welcoming suave texture and commendable
balance. Unchanged when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle.
2017 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 208 cases, $65. Made
with organic grapes.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Reserved aromas of blackberry jam on a
toasted muffin. Full-bodied and very ripe-fruited, offering well-oaked fruit flavors of blackberry and cassis. A
huge, dense Cabernet lovers Pinot Noir. A slight sense of alcohol shows up on the finish as the wine warms in
the glass. Unchanged when sampled the following day from a previously opened bottle.
2017 Mount Eden Vineyards The Tanaka Project Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 75 cases,
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. An extraordinary wine in all respects. Soaring aromas of the
blackest fruits, anise, and oak-driven spice and mocha. Glorious purple grape and purple plum flavors exhibit a
striking entry, mid-palate and finish. Very modest tannins, with exquisite harmony. An extremely long finish just
doesn't want to give up. Terrific the next day and 3 days later from a previously opened bottle still showing an
amazingly long finish and impeccable balance.
More reviews: www.princeofpinot.com/vineyard/654/
Rhys Alpine Vineyard
Owner: Kevin Harvey
Acres: 13 acres total, 10.5 acres of Pinot Noir and 2.5 acres of Chardonnay
Years planted: 2001-2003
Location: Northwestern edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains and 3.5 miles west of Skyline Blvd (Highway 35).
Aspect: Steep, southwest, ocean-facing vineyard that is 8 miles inland from the Pacific ocean at 1,200-1,500
feet elevation. Slopes can range up to 40%.
Pinot Noir scions: Rhys massale selection (multiple suitcase selections and heritage clones) and Swan
Soil: Purisma formation, a 4million-year-old Pliocene shale. The depth of the soil if 6 -20”. The land has
never been forested.
Vines: Spacing is 6’ x 4’, with VSP trellising., Rootstocks include 420A, 101-14 and 3309.
Farming: Organic with minimal input
Winery clients: None, a monopole
Comments: A separate bottling is offered from the Swan Terrace portion of the Alpine Vineyard Photo below).
This 1.5-acre terrace is located on a steep, east-facing parcel planted with a number of different Swan
selections. This part of the vineyard is bottled separately due to its distinctiveness. The cost of
developing this vineyard has been extraordinary but the low-yielding vines have delivered exceptional
wines. Rhys bottled a separate Hillside Pinot Noir from Alpine Vineyard in the 2018 vintage because of
its “terrific concentration, poise, and energy.” this wine was awarded a perfect 100-point score by Jeb
Dunnick. He said, “One of the greatest Pinot Noirs from California I’ve ever tasted.”
2006 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., magnum.
Moderately dark garnet
color in the glass. The aromas reach a pinnacle over a hour in the glass, revealing a nose replete with dark
berries, dark rose petal and a hint of oak. Very lovely blackberry, boysenberry and black raspberry fruit flavors
backed by noticeable but refined tannins. Fruit-laden and reflective of the exuberance of young vines. The
finishing length deserves special mention. In this magnum format, the wine surely will provide pleasure for
several more years.
2012 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
12.9% alc., magnum.
Dark garnet color in
the glass. Intriguing aromas of black cherry, baking spices, tobacco, rose petal and Chanel #5. Over time, my
enthusiasm for the nose reached a seductive stage and my notes say, “Great.!” Packed with chewy black fruits
but very polished and silky in texture. Nothing out of place with complete integration of tannins. The
generously- fruited finish easily last 30 seconds. This PrimaDonna is easily a 20-year wine.
More reviews: www.princeofpinot.com/vineyard/503/
Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard
Owner: Kevin Harvey
Acres: 20.8 acres total, 10.85 acres of Pinot Noir
2004 - initial plantings
2013-2016 - 2 acres of high density (2’ x 3’) own-rooted Pinot Noir
2014 - 3.5 acres of high density (2’ x 3’) selection massale located on the vineyard’s rocky eastern
Over time, the best performing selections have been culled and the poorer performing selections
grafted over in a process of massale selection. Some Swan selection has also been added.
Location: Northwestern edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Skyline Blvd (Highway 35), and less than
½ mile from Alpine Vineyard.
Aspect: Southwest to southeast, 10 miles inland from the Pacific Coast at 1,360’-1610’ elevation. 10-25%
Pinot Noir scions: Rhys massale selections and Swan clone/selections
Soil: Extremely rocky topsoil (6”-20” deep) over Monterey diatomaceous shale and interbedded limestone.
11-14 million years old (nearly 10 million years older than Alpine vineyard).
Vines: Spacing is 4’ x 6’ and 2’ x 3’, VSP trellising. Rootstocks include 420A, 101-14, 3309, and own-rooted.
Farming: Organic with minimal input
Winery clients: None, a monopole
Comments: The newer Dijon clones have largely shunned. The Calera clone did not perform at this site. In
the 2018 vintage, a special Horseshoe Hillside Pinot Noir bottling was released. The wine was awarded
a 99 point score by Jeb Dunnick who described it as a “singular, gorgeously complete Pinot Noir.”
2014 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
12.7% alc. Rhys selection and two
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose is both fresh and uplifting and both fruity
and savory with scents of purple berry, earthy flora and iron. Discreetly concentrated in a middleweight style
with flavors of black raspberry and blueberry-pomegranate framed by a moderately firm tannic backbone.
There is a distinct savory, earthy tone. Beautifully crafted, with a bright mouthfeel and some finishing length.
Even more enjoyable when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle.
2018 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., $.
Moderately dark garnet
color in the glass. Intriguing aromas of black raspberry, blackberry, fresh-turned soil, and a hint of dark caramel.
The purple grape, black raspberry and blackberry fruits have a striking presence in a middleweight style. The
earthy underbelly adds a terroir note and it seems as if one can taste the soil where the vine grew. Silken in
texture, with modest and balanced tannins and impressive ending fortitude. Approachable now but will be a
long-term wine as indicated by its persistent excellence when tasted the following day from a previously
More reviews: www.princeofpinot.com/41/
Windy Oaks Estate Schultze Family Vineyard
Owners: Jim and Judy Schultze
Acres: 14.5 acres of Pinot Noir
1996 - 3 acres of Pinot Noir, Henry’s Block and Bay Block
1997 - 9 acres of Pinot Noir - Oaks, Medic, Lower, Bobcat, J&E, and Judy’s Blocks
1999 - 0.5 acres of Pinot Noir - RC Block
2004 - 0.5 acres of Pinot Noir - Clos Bella Block
Location: Southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Corralitos
Aspect: 7.9 miles inland from the deep-water canyons of Monterey Bay at 820’-945’ elevation. The close
proximity to Monterey Bay and the elevation of the vineyard combine to create an extremely long
Pinot Noir scions: Wädenswil 2A, Dijon 115, 667, 777, and faux 828, 96 (Chambertin), 122 Vosne-Romanée,
suitcase SBC Vosne-Romanée and suitcase SBC virus-free Vosne-Romanée.
Soil: Fairly uniform clay, silt and loam, 18”-48” deep over brown and black fractured shale.
Vines: VSP trellis system modified with spreaders to split the canopy at its top. Vine spacing is 5’ x 8’ except
in the original 3 acres that are 5’ x 10’. Northeast by southwest row orientation except Henry’s Block
and Clos Belle which are northwest by southeast.
Farming: Fully sustainable and organic where possible. Dry farmed most years. Hot air “sprays” are used to
substantially reduce the need for fungicide sprays and also kills insect pests like mites. A newer block
of the vineyard treated with hot air is a trial block and the first Pinot Noir will be released soon from this
block. As far as Jim knows, this will be the first Pinot Noir made from grapes that have never been
sprayed. The vines are not hedged, but rather growing shoots are wrapped around one of the split top
wires to open up the canopy and increase airflow (Mme Lalou Bize at Domaine Leroy uses this same
technique since she believes that if you cut a growing shoot, a hormonal reaction occurs in the vine
that affects the grape flavor profile and causes side shoots). The jury is still out on the flavor profile
according to Jim, but his early results have been promising. A permanent cover crop with the use of
crawler tractors protects against soil compaction. Leaf pulling is only performed inside the canopy to
help protect against sunburn.
Winery clients: None, a monopole
Comments: Windy Oaks Estates Vineyards & Winery was my 2018 Winery of the Year. I believe there is 1
acre of Chardonnay planted.
2008 Windy Oaks Estate Limited Release 100% Whole Cluster Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Well-appointed aromas of dark cherry, burnt tobacco, toasted
marshmallow with hints of toasty oak and medicine cabinet. Velvety on the palate and blessed with a discreet
array of flavors including dark cherry, cola, black tea and dry-aged steak. Spirited upon opening but fades in
appeal over time. A fine aged Pinot Noir that has seen better days.
2018 Windy Oaks Estate Proprietor’s Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., $65 (sold
out). The winery's signature wine, primarily sourced from the original 3-acre vineyard. Unfined and unfiltered.
Light garnet color in the glass. Very seductive aromas of cherry, spice, wilted rose and graham that build in
intensity over time in the glass. Light to mid-weight in concentration, featuring flavors of cherry, raspberry,
baking spices and vanilla. Packs more flavor than one would expect with the light color. Minimal tannins, good
crispness and a modicum of oak.
2016 WesMar Oehlman Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $45.
Moderately dark garnet
color in the glass. The nose opens slowly to reveal enchanting aromas of black cherry, rose petal, spice, fertile
earth and mocha java. A flood of well-spiced black cherry, black raspberry and blackberry fruits flood the mid
palate. The wine is mid weight plus in concentration, with buried tannins, a thread of oak, and a sweet-fruited,
extended finish. Powerful, yet balletic and goes down like mother’s milk.
2018 Windy Oaks Estate Special Release Judy’s Block Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., 23
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The nose speaks primarily of earthy flora. Very ripefruited
in a mid-weight style with flavors of black currant, prune and Nutella. Soft in the mouth with gentle
tannins. The deluge of ripe fruit lessens the charm of Pinot Noir for me, but the wine will find attractors.
More reviews: www.princeofpinot.com/170/. Practically every Pinot Noir from vintages 2004-2016 has been