Winemaking & Team
“Wines of Place”
There is much to be said about the allure of “Estate” wines, but as the idiom goes, variety is the spice of life. At Martin Ray, we have little qualms about dealing from both sides of the deck if the result is the best possible wine we can produce. On our estate we have about twelve acres of varying clones of Pinot Noir vines, newly planted in 2011, which produced their first (remarkably impressive) vintage in 2014. But true to our motley personalities, we would be remiss to not take advantage of the extraordinary wine growing regions that surround every side of our home in the middle of the Russian River Valley. We have no shame in exploiting each region for the best it has to offer, and for us that means dry-farmed, old vine Chardonnay from the heart of the Green Valley, all the way to burley, brooding Cabernet Sauvignon from the high summits of Diamond Mountain in Napa Valley. In some cases, it has been decades that we have cultivated the relationships with the growers who produce our fruit, and in that tradition, our dedication to quality will always outweigh a perceived loyalty to a specific region.
Thanks largely in part to our outstanding sources, from growers within the Russian River Valley, to as far north as Dry Creek Valley, and south to the Santa Cruz Mountains, we are able to commit to allowing the fruit to speak for itself. All of our lots are picked and preliminarily sorted in the vineyard overnight, or in the early morning hours, and delivered to the winery in ½ ton bins, where they are again hand sorted by our crew.
Our white grapes are moved directly into our state-of-the-art Willmes press as whole clusters, where internal screened columns allow us to use the least amount of pressure possible for maximum juice yield without extracting any bitter compounds from the stems or seeds. All of our whites are allowed to cold-settle for two days before either being racked to another tank, as is the case with Sauvignon Blanc, or, in the case of our Chardonnay’s, being inoculated and barreled down where they will undergo full primary and malolactic fermentation. Our Sauvignon Blanc is inoculated with yeast types chosen specifically to maintain the floral and tropical aromatics, as the juice undergoes a very slow (sometimes up to a month long) fermentation to dryness. Fermentation is then halted immediately to preserve the wine’s natural acidity. The Chardonnays, however, are put through full malolactic fermentation, during which they are stirred twice monthly to maintain maximum lees contact to build mouthfeel and density. Here they will age sur lie on up to 40% new French oak for as long as 12 months in some cases such as our Reserve Mill Station and Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay.
Our Pinot Noir’s are a labor of love from the beginning as they get layered by clone into small 4-6 ton open top fermenters. After a few hours, juice is drained off (the fancy French term being saignee) for two purposes: one, to concentrate the flavors and color of the Pinot Noir, and two, to give birth to our favorite child, our Russian River Valley Rose of Pinot Noir (We know it’s looked down upon to pick favorites, but let’s be honest, everyone has a favorite child). Specific yeast strains are chosen for each individual lot depending on its propensity for aromatics, mouthfeel, and color extraction. We walk a fine line with moderate temperatures during fermentation to make sure we get the desired color and tannin extraction while not losing any of the beautiful aromatics. Following the end of primary, the Pinot lots are allowed to drain overnight, with the free run wine held separate from the press fractions, and then barreled down to 40-50% new French oak where it will undergo malo-lactic fermentation and anywhere from 10-15 months on oak.
Mentioning our range of Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons is where we typically receive most of our quizzical stares. As the rest of the Russian River Valley is finishing harvesting their final lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, we are waist deep in Cabernet from various, well-known AVA’s within Napa Valley, and even later in the season, from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The grapes are sorted and destemmed in similar fashion to our Pinot Noir, but fermentation is handled with significant differences. First off, although we do ferment some lots in our stainless steel open-tops, we have integrated a half dozen French oak fermenters, and for several vintages now, have fermented some of the particularly small lots in new French upright puncheon barrels. Once these tanks have gone dry, we warm the must, and allow the tanks and puncheons close to a month on their skins to soften tannins, build mouthfeel, and help with early integration of aromas, flavors, and phenolics.