Tuesday, November 17, 2009

California Woman Winemakers - Part 4

Women winemakers are not only found in the famous Napa and Sonoma wine regions. You can find some excellent women winemakers in other regions including Livermore and Santa Cruz Mountains. In this part of “California Women Winemakers” we focus on some women winemakers in these up and coming wine regions.

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Therese Martin and her husband Dan of Martin Ranch Winery have a passion for wine and a passion for their grapes, and this passion will provide you with a truly memorable tasting experience. As with many winemakers, their passion for wine tasting and wine buying drove them to experience the wine making process for themselves. Their wonderful 17 acre estate along Redwood Retreat Road at the foot of Mt. Madonna is at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation and on the border of the Santa Clara Valley appellation.

As Dan and Therese moved along their journey from wine drinkers to vineyard owners to winemakers they learned a lot about Terroir and management of the vines before diving into the creative world of making wine. When they first planted Therese Vineyards in 1993 they started with Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals that were proving to find an excellent home in Santa Cruz Mountains. They began making wine in 1997 and had their first commercial crush in 2002. They changed the name to Martin Ranch to highlight the move to wine production.

They are truly a team of winemakers, each with their own style. Therese is the winemaker for the Therese Vineyards labeled wines and Dan concentrated on the J.D Hurley brand. Therese’s wines tend to be a bit aggressive with great tannins and nice textures.

Therese Vineyards 2005 Syrah is 100% Syrah from two vineyards in Santa Clara Valley and winner of 2 Gold and 6 Silver medals and 88 points from Wine Enthusiast. It delivers wonderful typical Syrah aromas and flavors of black currant and anise with a rich mixture of black and white pepper, cinnamon, clove and other spices. The excellent use of French and Hungarian oak resulted in an extremely well balanced wine with a very pleasing long finish. Serve this up with your best beef or lamb dish.

In Livermore Valley, Wood Family Vineyards is a family run winery amidst many acres of lush vineyards, surrounded by many of the premium wineries of Livermore. Winemaker Rhonda Wood is a firm believer in the quality of Livermore Valley terroir and the high quality grapes produced in Livermore. At her small winery just a few steps from the front door of her home, she hand-crafts wines using Livermore Valley fruit.

Rhonda has always had a passion for wine. Rhonda and Michael’s first home overlooked Weibel Vineyards in Fremont, and they dreamed of someday retiring to Wine Country. They even planted 18 vines in their backyard. But before those few vines reached maturity they discovered Livermore Valley and Crane Ridge Vineyards. Rhonda said, “Why wait till we retire before living in Wine Country?” They purchased their Merlot vineyard at Crane Ridge in 1996 and suddenly found that instead of 18 vines, they now had 8,037! They built their beautiful dream overlooking beautiful acres and acres of lush vineyards. And then they started to work on their winery.

The winery was bonded in 2000. On September 1, 2001 Rhonda, a pilot for US Airways, took a leave of absence to work on the 2001 harvest. Ten days later on 9/11 the world of an airline pilot changed. As the airline needed to cut back on flights and pilots, Rhonda took advantage extended furloughs offered to pilots to work harder on her winemaking. Eventually, as US Airways went bankrupt and took the pension plans with it, Rhonda decided that winemaking was her future and became a fulltime winemaker.

Rhonda has established long term commitments with various premium growers in order to ensure consistency in quality with the grapes they use. Gentle processing of the grapes begins with the hand harvesting in early morning hours and the grapes are brought to the winery and kept cool until crush. The grapes are hand sorted by Rhonda and her friends with the thought, if it doesn’t look like a grape you would eat; it doesn’t go into the crusher/destemmer.

Wood Family Vineyards 2006 Syrah is an excellent Syrah from nearby Madden Ranch. Yes this is John Madden’s own vineyard in Livermore Valley and no, the grapes are not Silver and Black! The Syrah grapes from this hillside in Madden Vineyards are only shared between Wood Family Vineyards and Winter Olympic Gold Medalist Peggy Fleming at Fleming-Jenkins Winery in Los Gatos. You will detect on the nose and the palate, dark roasted fruits including black cherry, mission figs and black plums. They are intermixed with a number of spices and earth qualities. There is a touch of tobacco and fennel in the flavors. It is balanced with rustic tannins and has a lingering finish.

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