Oh Stony Hill — another winery to cross off my bucket list! The original Stony Hill Vineyard, located in Napa’s Spring Mountain AVA, was purchased by Fred and Eleanor McCrea back in the early 1940s. The first vines were planted in 1948 and by 1954 the couple already had a reputation for crafting fine Napa wines. When Fred passed in the late 1970s, assistant winemaker Mike Chelini took the winemaking reigns, and he’s held on tight to those ropes for over 40 years now. The bulk of the business remains in the family, with Fred and Eleanor’s son and daughter-in-law, Peter and Willinda, running the day-to-day operations and with their daughter, Sarah, taking over as president as of 2011.
According to the winery, Fred and Eleanor loved the white wines of Burgundy and would have loved to have planted their entire vineyard to Chardonnay. Well, they didn’t plant the whole vineyard to Chardonnay. But I can say that Fred and Eleanor would be proud that their family does great honor to the fruit that founding couple held in such high esteem.
It’s not often I review foreign wine, so when I do I always like to insert a little bit about the region. This Gris de Gris hails from France’s Languedoc-Roussilon AOC, which spans along the Mediterranean coastline, from the southern border with Spain up toward France’s region of Provence. In total, the AOC has about 700,000 acres planted to vines and is one of the biggest wine-producing regions in the world.
The terrain and climate characteristics are similar to that of the Southern Rhône region (located to the north and slightly west of Languedoc) and Provence (located to the north, arching toward the east along the Mediterranean Ocean.) Thus, the whole of the Languedoc-Roussillon region produces a wide variety of grapes and wine styles — from your classic “Bordeaux” varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc) to your typical Rhône varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Viognier).
There are several appellations and sub-appellations within Languedoc that, for the most part, were originally separated based more on politics than wine-related reasons — though this seems to be changing even as we speak. However, a lot of wines from this area will still simply state “Languedoc” without any other regional or varietal information on the bottle.
On the whole, the Languedoc regions seems to be –what? — undiscovered or under-appreciated? There are quality wines coming from the AOC that are a lot more affordable than some of France’s other notable regions. I guess, for now, let’s not question it, let’s just go with it. And let’s go with it with this Gris de Gris.
I am so excited to finally get a sip of Riverbench — a winery out of Santa Maria, California I’ve heard so much about but had yet to taste. Even if you’re not familiar with the winery itself, you may recognize the name, as many iconic wineries have sourced grapes from this little piece of Santa Barbara County since the vineyard was established in 1973. The Riverbench Vineyard consists of 115 acres of Pinot Noir and 15 acres of Chardonnay. The team recently planted a few acres of Pinot Meunier, which they hope to have ready to play with this year.
Riverbench has been SIP Certified since 2008.
The Merrill family have been in the Californian agricultural realm for 8 generations. It was seventh generation Dana Merrill who began raising wine grapes in 1981 and founded the family’s vineyard management group, Mesa Vineyard Management, in 1989. From then until now, the Merrills have worked with some prestigious vineyards and big-name winemakers. It wasn’t until 2002 that Dana purchased Pomar Junction Vineyard on Templeton’s South El Pomar Road in Paso Robles. The family spent six years transitioning the 40-acre vineyard to SIP Certified standards and renovating the property’s lone building into the current tasting room. While the family continues to source grapes from other regions, their estate line — which celebrated a premier vintage in 2011 — is solely focused on what their piece of Paso does best: Rhone and Bordeaux varietals.
Chamisal Vineyard is a winery I’d never heard of until I started this SIP Certified series. According to the winery, Chamisal Vineyard’s 85-acre Chamisal property is the first vineyard planted in the Edna Valley in 1973. Today it’s planted to the California classics, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as Rhone varietals Grenache and Syrah, and a small block of Pinot Gris.