In 2017 I had the opportunity to purchase fruit from the historic Heller Vineyard in Carmel Valley. I did not intend to source any new Pinot Noir or Riesling but the old vines (planted on their own roots in the mid-1970’s) offered some interesting flavors, really great acidity and structure so I chose to bring a few tons into the winery.
This Carmel Valley vineyard has been farmed organically since the early days. It’s a beautiful piece of property with southern exposure and the soil is sandy loam/river rock and irrigated with spring water. The climate of Upper Carmel Valley (aka Cachagua) is a peculiar one in California. It has a reputation for being hot in the summer but most do not understand the other extremes of the climate there. Cachagua Valley is about 900-1100 feet in altitude but is surrounding by the coastal mountains that rise steeply all around it to 2000+ feet creating a bowl and cold sink in the winter. Summer temperatures can reach over 100 degrees F but can also decrease sharply to lows in the mid-40’s to 50’s at night. Wintertime can be cold — many times lows into the low 20’s or even less and the growing season can be short — Cachagua can experience frost as early as September and as late as the beginning of June. This can make for a challenging environment in which to grow wine grapes but both the Pinot Noir and Riesling seem to thrive in otherwise challenging conditions.
I also admit I’m partial to old vines — it’s an appreciation for plants that have survived and even thrived for multiple decades, pushing their roots further and further down into the soil to discover and then take up the minerals and elements that have remained undisturbed for millennia. It is undeniable that grapes from old vines express their character in nuance and grace, in whispers and hints of nature’s wisdom and generosity. I had a hard time resisting that call.
Try our new wines from Heller Vineyard:
2017 Heller Pinot Noir, summer release
Light ruby in color. Strawberry & watermelon with hints of mint, vanilla and dried mushrooms in the nose. Bright cherry candy, cream soda, toasted oak, lavender on the palate. Pretty acidity and varietal subtleties of elegance in this old-school throwback to Pinot Noir of days gone by. Drink now or keep it in the cellar until 2024 as this has the acidity to age well and blossom even more.
2017 Heller Riesling, summer release
I’m generally not a fan of California Riesling as true Riesling — gravelly, wet stone, diesel characters — in my mind is often out of reach of generally our warm climate. Yet this is a unique, thoroughly cool-climate classic, unexpected expression of California Riesling. Firm structure, elusively aromatic, bone dry. This will be a wine to age and enjoy how it develops over the next decade.