Rhys may be the closest that the Santa Cruz Mountains has to a cult winery. Their small production wines quickly sell out to an eager mailing list and often command significant mark-ups at auction. The winery was founded by venture capitalist Kevin Harvey and currently operates out of an industrial unit in San Mateo. A new facility complete with extensive caves is under construction off Skyline Boulevard, high in the mountains; completion is projected for next year and should have a maximum capacity of 10,000 cases. The first commercial vintage was in 2004.
There are two distinct brands. The Rhys wines are all made from vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains that the winery farms; the Alesia wines are made mainly from fruit sourced from outside the AVA. Although the primary focus is on Pinot Noir the winery also produces Chardonnay and Syrah, and has some Nebbiolo planted.
These wines were tasted blind in the company of a local tasting group. The notes are in the order they were poured.
2004 Alesia Kanzler Vineyard
Initially some "Pinot funk" that blew off to reveal a rich perfumed nose with good cherry notes. Good mouthfeel; rich, with bright acidity - the most acidity of all the wines tasted. Good cherry fruit and a medium length finish. My #3
2004 Alesia Sonoma Coast
Another rich, perfumed nose. A little brighter than the first, with some raspberry notes, that got deeper with air. On the palate it was sweet and creamy with good, rich cherry flavours. Tannins were more pronounced, with a slight bitterness on the finish. Seemed like it would benefit from some additional cellar time. My #2, group #3
2006 Rhys Alpine Vineyard
Sweeter nose, with dark berries/black cherry. Oak showed more prominently. A smooth, lightweight wine with some cola notes and a light finish. Some tasters called it tight, but I found it to be one of the lightest wines in the lineup. Group #2
2006 Alesia Sonoma Coast
Initially a more austere nose than the others, with a distinctly meaty, savoury hint. Medium bodied with good cherry fruit, plenty of structure and a touch of bitterness on the finish. Group #1, my #4
2005 Alesia Falstaff Road
Slightly darker in colour than most of the wines. The initial sniff showed a distinctive note that reminded me of tinned sweetcorn; that mellowed into earthy, herbal aromas with cola notes. More full bodied with concentrated cherry and earthy flavours and a very mineral finish. My #1
2005 Alesia Chileno Valley
Similar in colour to the other 2005. Initially showed a bell pepper/jalapeño nose; rustic with a touch of cranberry. Seemed to become more musty with time. A fairly rich cherry flavour with some herbal notes; the finish was earthy and quick.
2006 Alesia Green Valley
Nose of roses, smoke and cola with a hint of tobacco. Medium mouthfeel, crisp acidity with decent cherry/cranberry fruit and a mineral finish.
2006 Alesia San Mateo
Initial nose of candy and caramel, with some cherry notes. Medium bodied with rich cherry fruit and a nice mouthwatering finish. Made from declassified fruit from the Rhys vineyards, in particular the "Family Farm" vineyard, located above Sky Londa.
Overall each of the wines showed great finesse; ranking them was very difficult. With hindsight it's clear that they need time; I didn't rate any of the 2006 vintages in the top 3, though it's possible that says something about the conditions in 2006; it'll be much more interesting to try this with the 2007s.
Another interesting fact is the good showing for the two Sonoma Coast blends. I've always found it curious the way that Pinot aficionados stress the attributes of particular vineyards and the perceived superiority of vineyard designated wines; while I wouldn't argue for one moment that location wasn't important, in my experience there can be as much difference if not more between different clones grown in the same vineyard than between wines from different vineyards. Clearly not only do blends offer good value, they can be at least as good quality as their pedigree stablemates.
The only real disappointment was the lone Rhys in the lineup. To be honest I wasn't expecting a great showing; it's perhaps the 'entry level' wine of the range from a vintage that's generally acknowledged to be weaker than average; Wine Spectator rated it an 82 (which I'd say is a little low, but not far from the mark). I think that it has the potential for improvement with age - I'll certainly be letting my lone magnum sleep a while longer. It would be nice to have tried others for comparison, but as I said at the start, these are sought after and collectible wines. Hopefully the opportunity will arise with the 2007s, which by all accounts are stunning.
There's another set of tasting notes on Wes Barton's blog.