In 1990, Courtney Benham was walking through an old warehouse in San Jose when he chanced upon a forgotten treasure -- some 1,500 cases of library wines, dating back more than forty years, made by California wine pioneer Martin Ray. Courtney explored further and found several old wooden crates filled with letters, press clippings, winery brochures and price lists from Ray's four decades as a winemaker. It was clear that Martin Ray had quite a history, so Courtney contacted the Ray family and acquired the wine library and rights to the Martin Ray label. He decided to take up the Martin Ray brand with the goal of creating wines whose quality would make Martin Ray himself proud. This was no small task, for Ray was an iconoclast who rejected mediocrity and an innovator who was one of the first to use grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains to create premium wines.
Before re-establishing the Martin Ray brand, Courtney studied Martin Ray's history and tasted the extensive library of Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. He explored the history of the wines for common threads and stylistically distinguishable components they could use as inspiration for the new Martin Ray wines.
For Courtney, the essence of Martin Ray is a no-compromise approach that insists on two compelling factors: hillside vineyards and intuitive winemaking. This is the tradition that inspired the original Martin Ray, and which inspires the wines that today bear his name.
Traditional winemaking in the Burgundy region of France emphasizes hands-on techniques that create conditions in which a wine's essence can unfold naturally. Martin Ray wines are based on this time-honored approach. This technique depends on the winemaker's ability to know intuitively when to interpose and when to let nature take its course.
The Martin Ray intuitive winemaking method includes low SO 2 management, 100% French Oak barrel fermentation, open top-tanks, punching down the caps, extended barrel maturation and lengthy bottle aging. During his lifetime, Ray was one of the few California Winemakers, outside of Europe to use such meticulous techniques, which is why many considered Ray to be a visionary, and why he is frequently called "the father of California fine wines."