Of course, it’s about the vines. But it’s also about relationships. Specifically, the relationship we hold with each of our grower partners and their sites. Not owning vineyards has given us a vested interest in finding what we believe to be the most varietally expressive sites in the Northern California coast.
Our grower partners impart upon us years of knowledge about their land, connecting the present with the past, and grant us their permission to farm the site under their supervision. They lend an invaluable voice to our methods. As testament to our mutual commitment, several of our grower partners offer their fruit exclusively to us.
We, in turn, endeavor to bring forth the unique expression of each site. As with our winemaking, our attention is focused on the individual site’s needs, rather than a universal approach to all of the vineyards.
Together, we share a commitment to organic and sustainable farming methods, dictated by observation and empiricism, as opposed to prescriptive farming. With a particular penchant for dry farming and older vines, we are aligned with our grower partners in their appreciation for the high caliber of fruit produced by such sites.
Unlike wineries that purchase fruit with minimal or no involvement in the vineyard, we prefer to be in the vineyards as often as possible, memorize every detail of each row, and wear the dirt. Farming with this level of intimacy allows us to better understand each site and its unique characteristics. It also enables us to provide the greatest opportunity for the vines to experience and express each growing season.
PETER MARTIN RAY / Santa Cruz Mountains
Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon
Nestled high in the hills at 1,800 feet, above the town of Saratoga, lays Peter Martin Ray vineyard, our highest site. One of two sites that we farm in the Santa Cruz mountains, this vineyard is steeped in history dating back to 1943, when stockbroker-turned-winemaker Martin Ray planted the original Chardonnay vines. It was a brave venture to plant in such meager Franciscan shale soils without any measurable topsoil.
When Martin Ray’s son, Peter Martin Ray, took over the farming of this site, he replanted to the Mt. Eden clone of Chardonnay in the early 1980s. A few gifted winemakers, namely our friends from Arnot Roberts, rediscovered these vineyards, and encouraged us to join in. What makes this fruit so remarkable is a direct result of the vines’ constant struggle: raw farmed with minimal manmade input; the vines are constantly seeking water, nutrients and sustenance from deep in the hillside. Characterized by small berries on tiny clusters, this fruit yields wine that is distinctive for its salty, mineral palate, persistent flavors and lingering finish.
PINNACLE / Santa Cruz Mountains
Just downhill from Peter Martin Ray vineyards is the Pinnacle Vineyard, the second of the two Santa Cruz mountains sites we farm. Planted in the 1970s to the Mt. Eden clone of Chardonnay, the southeast-facing vineyard rises 1,600 feet above Saratoga, on steep slopes of shale containing less clay than those at Peter Martin Ray. This is our oldest site.
We seized upon the opportunity to farm this tricky site: exposed vineyards at a 30% slope, dry farmed, at high elevation. But with critical shade from the head trained vines – the only head trained vines we work with – and good drainage provided by the slope, the fruit reaps the benefits of a longer hang time and greater complexity of flavors at lower brix. Consequently, the wine is brighter than its sister wine from the site above.
TROUT GULCH / Santa Cruz Mountains
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Our southern most vineyard, Trout Gulch, sits a mere 3.5 miles from the ocean. Trout Gulch sits at 750 feet above the hamlet of Aptos in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. The vineyard was planted in 1980 to Wente Chardonnay and Mt Eden Pinot Noir and is carefully tended to by winemaker/vigneron Richard Alfaro. Uplifted oceanic sandy soils create a unique drainage sending the vines deep into marine derived sub-soils. Tucked into a cool coastal redwood drainage allows temperatures here to stay cooler than expected – summer time high’s rarely exceed 80F.
This is our latest harvest of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The extended season and cool fall weather results in wines of great fruit purity and naturally high acidity. The wines also capture a marine flavor unlike any of our other wines.
PORTER BASS / Sonoma Coast / Family Owned Estate
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Being objective about this site is impossible for us: Phoebe grew up here after her parents moved from the east coast in 1980 expressly to farm this land. Why a family would uproot and relocate to a farm near the quiet town of Forestville is a story in itself. Suffice it to say that the lure of restoring an abandoned property on rolling hills, surrounded by redwood forest, a mere eight miles inland from the Pacific Ocean was simply too great to resist. And so the restoration began in 1980.
Perched like a saddle between ridgelines in Pocket Canyon, the site is the beneficiary of cooling morning and afternoon fog, which rolls in reliably from the ocean. Shale and fractured sandstone soils are well suited to the Chardonnay planted in 1980 to the Old Wente Clone, followed in 2001 by Pinot Noir plantings of Swan and Calera clones. The vineyard is farmed biodynamically, with our blocks located on the north facing side, allowing for an extended growing season.
CHARLES HEINTZ / Sonoma Coast
Tucked away just east of the town of Occidental, Charles Heintz vineyard is one of the region’s oldest historic vineyard sites. Charlie’s grandparents purchased the Heintz Ranch a century ago in 1912, planting Zinfandel the same decade. The vineyards thrived in this idyllic setting until Prohibition, at which time the vineyards were ripped out in favor of vegetables and Gravenstein apples.
But this site simply begged for wine grapes, specifically Chardonnay, with its classic Goldridge sandy loam soils, and the location just above the fog line, offering abundant sunshine with cool ocean breezes. So in 1980, with the assistance of winegrowing pioneer Warren Dutton, Charlie planted Chardonnay. These three-decade-old vines are one of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. At the time, this was the westernmost planting of Chardonnay, which was thought to be suitable only for sparkling wine due to its limited ripening potential.
Defying conventional wisdom of the 1980s, Heintz Vineyard has since proven to be superb Chardonnay terroir, its inherent richness balanced by bright acidity and briny minerality. We happily share the organically farmed section with a fellow winery. While the fruit ripens slowly due to vine age, patience has its rewards: not only is the quality outstanding, but also the contrast of this Chardonnay to our other Chardonnays shows what this varietal is capable of.
HELLENTHAL “Old Shop Block” / Sonoma Coast / Monopole
Just east of Hirsch Vineyards are Hellenthal Vineyards, planted in 1980 by owners Gard and Lori Hellenthal in conjunction with the esteemed David Hirsch. We are fortunate enough to farm the oldest vines on the property, affectionately known as the Old Shop Block, and to be the sole winery sourcing fruit from this vineyard.
This site captivates us for several reasons. The soil is comprised of a mixture of fractured sandstone and highly decomposed sandstone soils, which provide ideal grounds for Pinot Noir. Second, these dry farmed vines are home to own rooted Calera clone – the only own rooted vines that Ceritas farms- which allows a direct translation from the soil to the vine. Most importantly, the wine bears forth-great earth concentration, bright red fruit and lingering tannins.
ELLIOTT / Sonoma Coast / Monopole
Clearly we like this neighborhood. Elliot Vineyard is tucked between Hellenthal Vineyards and the easternmost boundary of the Hirsch Vineyard. We were drawn to this site, planted in 1981 to the Mt. Eden clone of Pinot Noir, partly because of its unique perch, but primarily because its soils offer exactly what we look for in a Pinot vineyard. With slightly less clay than at neighboring Hellenthal vineyard, these shale soils are intermixed with decomposed marine sediments. No soil amendments are added, enabling the soil to impart its pure influence upon the vines. Organically and dry farmed by the Hellenthal family, this vineyard straddles the ridge of parent rock, giving it the unique position of facing both north and south.
We harvest this vineyard in multiple passes, thereby obtaining maximum expression of the site. The resulting wine is bright and delicate, offering light perfume and great transparency.
ESCARPA / Sonoma Coast / Monopole
Escarpa has the distinction of being our closest vineyard to the coast, thus our coolest site, as well as the first Pinot Noir vineyard we farmed. Only 6 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it rests in a steep southeast-facing canyon perpendicular to neighboring Joy Road, and experiences a very long growing season. Planted in 1978, the vineyard soils are unique to the Sonoma Coast and rarely found elsewhere. Highly fractured soils, comprised of uplifted blue schist chert and quartz, intermixed with serpentine/greenstone, provide ideal drainage, while finer clay facilitates water retention.
Often harvested as late as the second or third week of October, Escarpa fruit has established the stylistic benchmark for Ceritas Pinot Noir. Moderate in alcohol and abundant in flavor and complexity, this Pinot Noir displays darker fruits with great natural acidity, long fine tannins and earth.
HACIENDA SECOYA / Anderson Valley / Monopole
We are thrilled to make wine from this vineyard in the Deep End of Anderson Valley, as it provides an insightful contrast to our Pinots from other appellations. The Deep End of Anderson Valley is renowned as an optimal growing area for cool-climate Pinot Noir, due to cool ocean air penetrating throughout the valley. Named for the surrounding redwood forest, this southwest-facing vineyard sits on an elevated bench just above the valley floor, a stone’s throw from the town of Navarro. The vines were planted in 1995 to the Pommard clone in soils that are volcanic in origin and sandstone-based, with an attractive red hue revealing the greater than average iron content. A high proportion of clay enables reliable water retention, keeping the vines hydrated throughout the growing season.
Farmed organically since it was planted, Hacienda Secoya is a monopole for Ceritas. While we are good at sharing, we are delighted to be the exclusive recipients of this fruit, which yields wine that is red fruited, light and weightless, with very fine-grained tannins.