Our work is all 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 on the Northern California coast.
Our grower partners impart upon our 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 a testament to our mutual commitment, several of our grower partners offer their fruit exclusively to us, resulting in wines that designated as a “Monopole” that are only available from Ceritas.
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.
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.
Our vineyards are focused on the coastal regions of the West Sonoma Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains for good reason. Here we see the greatest expression of vintage, site, and varietal.
WEST SONOMA COAST
The West Sonoma Coast is a dynamic growing area for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Here the land and ocean meet dramatically, 1000 foot hillsides seem to rise straight out of the Pacific Ocean and reveal their long history of two tectonic plates colliding with one another for millennia. Kaleidoscopic soils provide a unique set of soil-driven terroir characteristics and the oceanic fog permeates the vineyards daily. There a few areas in the world that are as unique as this for growing world-class wines.
CUVEE ANNABELLE \ Monopole
Nearly 18 years ago, a vineyard was planted by long-time industry friends in the northernmost reaches of the Fort-Ross Seaview sub-appellation of the West Sonoma Coast. When planted, the vine density (2400 vines/acre) was almost unheard of. The tight spacing resulted in small vines growing intense fruit all the while driving the roots deep into the hard sandstone soils with high concentrations of quartz. Organically and dry-farmed by our dear friend Greg Adams.
We source a small section of this vineyard which is planted using the revered Calera selection massale bud wood from the Ceritas Occidental Vineyard. Small, tight clusters with small berries results in a wine of great depth and concentration while retaining an amazing amount of natural acidity. This wine is a great parallel to the Occidental Pinot Noir as you get to see the differences between the two sites using the same clonal source.
CUVEE CHLOE \ Monopole
Just east of the town of Occidental is one of the sweet spots for making Pinot Noir. The Senna vineyard sits in the coolest part of the Green Valley, often colder than vineyards found at higher elevation. Here, due to the lower elevation, the fog sweeps into the site earlier and stays longer than sites closer to the cost. Planted 15 years ago using the shy bearing Swan clone, a suitcase clone brought back from the famed La Tache vineyard in Vosne-Romanee.
Shallow sandstone soils coupled with dry farming and meter by meter spacing allows the naturally small vines to produce small, intense, pea-sized berry clusters resulting in a wine with great intensity and finesse at the same time. Ripening in a meter by meter vineyard is much slower allowing depth and concentration without sacrificing aromatic intensity and high natural acidities.
OCCIDENTAL VINEYARD \ Monopole
One of the sites we longed for holding was the Occidental Vineyard on Taylor Lane. Steve Kistler planted this site (in partnership with the Dutton family) in 1990 using heritage selection massale Pinot Noir material. For many years, this site supplied grapes for his coveted Cuvee Catherine. The Dutton’s decision to sell the property in 2009 to Evening Land. On either side of the vineyard lies Theriot Vineyard (Littorai) and across the street is Summa (Rivers-Marie and William Seylem) and down the road is Que Syrah (Arnot Roberts).
Ceritas signed a long-term lease in 2016 allowing us to work the site as we would like. The site is perfectly situated. South Facing. Heritage selection massale clonal material. Blue schist soils with moderate clay content. Well-drained due to underlying bedrock. Dry farmed. We could not be more excited about working with this site.
CAREX \ Monopole
We’ve looked for Chardonnay of this caliber on the West Sonoma Coast for a long time. There is little world-class Chardonnay to go around from this area. We were approached by one of our favorite winemakers, Andy Smith of DuMol, in 2018 about being the first and only winery to make wine from their estate site located in the coldest part of Green Valley.
The vineyard was planted in 2004, using a special selection of Old Wente Chardonnay which was renowned for producing tiny clusters of zippy Chardonnay. The site is planted meter by meter requiring the vines to only ripen 10-12 clusters, resulting in a depth of flavor and complexity that is similar to Porter-Bass. Porter-Bass is planted using the same selection of Old Wente. Being so closely planted, the fruit sees little in the way of direct sunlight allowing the skins to thicken and provide a tannic backbone which should result in a wine from this vineyard ageing a long time.
Ceritas’ viticulturalist, Greg Adams, was approached by a quality-focused family 15 years ago to plant a site in one of the most dramatic sites. We’ve longed to work with this site and in 2018 the owners from Red Car Winery approached us with the idea to work with specific blocks of grapes from this site. We jumped at the opportunity.
Perched above the Freestone Valley sits the Zephyr vineyard smack in the bulleye of the coastal influences flowing between the Bodega Headlands and the Sebastopol Hills. Cold air sweeps across the low lying coastal hills bringing in moisture-laden fog and scents of sea spray. The meager sandstone soils with little to no topsoil restrict the growth of the vines here bringing near-perfect balance to the small crop which they need to ripen. This is the last Chardonnay site that we harvest in the West Sonoma Coast, a full two weeks after Porter-Bass, Charles Heintz and Carex. Savory and briny with notes of green tea and star jasmine. This is an exotic version of Chardonnay unlike any of our other wines.
PORTER BASS \ 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.
Tucked away just east of the town of Occidental, Charles Heintz Vineyard is one of the region’s oldest historic vineyard sites. 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. These almost four-decade-old vines are one of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.
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, Littorai. 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” \ Monopole
In the late 1970’s Gard Hellenthal and David Hirsch began looking for vineyards north of Cazadero in the hills facing the Pacific. After securing a land piece of land just to the east of Hirsch Vineyards, Gard planted the original vines at Hellenthal Vineyards. Two plantings went in – Old Shop Block and Elliott. We are fortunate enough to be the sole winery sourcing fruit from the oldest vines on the property, affectionately known as the Old Shop Block.
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 \ Monopole
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.
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS
The Santa Cruz Mountains is a tale of two viticultural areas. The Northern Mountains, which is home to Peter Martin Ray, is dramatic. High elevations mountains reaching 2000+ feet limit the opportunities to grow grapes due to slope, forest, and unreachable land. Here the soils are hardened versions of sandstone, schist and dark minerals. The fog fills in the folds of the land with cool sunshine and oceanic breezes. In contrast, the southern part of the appellation, home to Trout Gulch, relates more to the ocean than to the north. Here the vineyards are low lying, growing in what was old oceanic shallow seas with loose, sandy soils and marine sediments. The fog here is drawn into the vineyards early in the morning and stays throughout most of the day. It was in these mountains in the early 2000’s that we found our inspiration growing grapes and making wine for Rhys.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Our southernmost 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 – summertime high’s rarely exceeding 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.
PETER MARTIN RAY
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. This vineyard is steeped in history dating back to 1920s 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 and continued to work the Rixford clone Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the 1920’s. 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. The Chardonnay is characterized by small berries on tiny clusters, this fruit yields a wine that is distinctive for its salty, mineral palate, persistent flavors, and lingering finish. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a throwback to the earliest Cabernet Sauvignon made in California. It is taught, vibrant and boasts refined tannins and singularity unlike any other Cabernet other than the neighboring Ridge Monte Bello wines.
ESCARPA \ 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 \ 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.
Just downhill from Peter Martin Ray vineyards is the Pinnacle Vineyard, the second of the two Santa Cruz mountain 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.