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Starscape Vineyard, Formerly Floodgate Vineyard, Old Vine Pinot Noir

As readers know, I published an extensive article in Volume 12 Issue 8 of the PinotFile dated August 2020 and titled, “Drinking California Pinot Noir History from ‘Old Vine’ Vineyards: A Bucket List.” Although I had performed extensive research, I missed including the Starscape Vineyard, formerly known as Floodgate Vineyard. I must thank Evan Pontoriero, the co-proprietor and winemaker at Fogline Vineyards in Fulton, CA., for pointing out the omission.

Try as I may, I was not able to obtain complete information on this vineyard including complete details of the original plantings, ownership and management. Here is what I know.

The current-named Starscape Vineyard is located at the south end of the Middle Reach of the Russian River Valley, adjacent to Mark West Creek, and along Trenton-Healdsburg Road in Forestville. It is near Kistler Vineyard and Ritchie Vineyard. The vineyard was planted originally in 1971-1972 to Martini (? 13 or 16) clone of Pinot Noir and named Mark West Vineyard. Apparently, Mark West had a production facility in Graton but suffered through a series of ownership disruptions. The Mark West brand, production facility and wine inventory were acquired in 2012 by Derek Benham and his brother Courtney Benham, former owners of the Blackstone brand.

The Mark West Vineyard was acquired by Bill Hambrecht in 2006, named Floodgate Vineyard, and became an estate vineyard for Alysian Wines and Floodgate Wine Company, brands started by Hambrecht and winemaker Gary Farrell in 2007. Hambrecht had owned the Floodgate Vineyard along with grower Fred Peterson in Anderson Valley. This 52-acre vineyard was sold to Goldeneye in 2003, became one of four estate vineyards for that winery, and eventually renamed the Narrows. This freed up the name Floodgate.

Bill Hambrecht needed cash to pay $11 million in legal settlements in 2013, necessitating the sale of his prized vineyard property. Originally listed for $17 million, it was sold in June 2013 for $10.2 million. This selling price did not bring enough to pay off all of his debts. According to court documents, a disgruntled Hambrecht Wine Group employee who had won a $56,263 employment judgment prior to the sale became the owner of the property including a 150,000-case winery and the Floodgate Vineyard. However, the details of the legal battle are unclear to me and records show the Floodgate Vineyard and winery were sold at a Sonoma County sheriff’s auction for $100 on May 22, 2014. The legal trail for me ends here. When the vineyard was renamed “Starscape” is unclear. The current lessee (since 2019) and vineyard manager of the Starscape Vineyard is Chris Walden, who has worked with the vineyard at least since 2012. He did not respond for further information.

The Starscape Vineyard currently consists of 74 acres, planted from 1971-1972 to 2009. Pinot Noir clones include Martini, Swan, Pommard, and Dijon 667, 777 and faux 828. There is also Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc planted.

The most prized block in the vineyard is Block 4, the original Martini clone Pinot Noir planting. Two wineries source grapes from this block: Joseph Jewell (since 2014 and labeled “Old Girls”) and Fogline Vineyards (labeled “Old Vine”). A number of other wineries have sourced Pinot Noir from Starscape Vineyard including Talisman, Cartograph, C. Donatiello, Fulcrum, and Thomas George Estate, but their wines have been confined to plantings of Pommard and Dijon clones. ߐ

2018 Fogline Vineyards Old Vine Starscape Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 48 cases, $50. · Light garnet color in the glass. Intoxicating aromas of cherry, pipe smoke, sandalwood and deep red rose petal. A gorgeous and complex mid-weight offering, with oodles of cherry goodness like cherry pie day at cooking school - cherry, baking spices and interesting results. Silky in texture, beautifully balanced, and very congenial for a young wine. A true old vine treasure. Score: 94

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