Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mount Eden

I doubt that there's a winery anywhere in the country with as interesting a history as Mount Eden. Its history goes back to the 1940s, when Martin "Rusty" Ray sold Paul Masson's old Mountain Winery to Seagrams and purchased Table Mountain to the north west. In April 1960, Ray incorporated "Mount Eden Vineyards" and sold a handful of shares at $10,000 each. A few years later there was a legal action led by one shareholder who had purchased a number of shares. This led to a legal battle, which Ray lost. The story - or a version of it at least - is told in the book "Vineyards In The Sky". Martin Ray died a few years later, in 1976.

Mount Eden had a series of winemakers in the 1970s. Dick Graff, founder of Chalone Vineyards was the first. He brought on Meredith "Merry" Edwards, who in turn was succeeded by Fred Peterson.

In 1981 Peterson recruited a young graduate from Davis named Jeffrey Patterson as assistant winemaker. Just two harvests later Peterson left and Jeffrey Patterson took over as head winemaker. He has since become the majority shareholder in Mount Eden Vineyards and lives in the house that Ray built.

The drive up the mountain is ... interesting. The road is unpaved; in fact 'road' is far too grand a word for what is little more than a dirt track. When it rains Jeffrey re-grades the surface but in the dry season it's two and a half miles of rutted, compacted dust.

But once you reach the top the views are spectacular, particularly on a relatively clear day. You are looking down from 2000 feet on an unbroken panorama from Mount Umunhum in the south to Mount Diablo in the north, encompassing the whole south bay - that's what the Pattersons wake up to every morning.

At 45 planted acres, Mount Eden is currently the second largest vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, slightly larger than Bargetto's Regan Vineyard. It has gradually been replanted over the years, with the last of Rusty Ray's original vines being removed in the late 1990s and replaced with new rootstock grafted with the small berried Mount Eden clones. At the lowest elevation lies the 5 acre Peter Martin Ray vineyard; still owned by Rusty's adopted stepson. The contrast between the viticulture is startling; the old vines are head pruned and basket caned, with leaves trailing across the floor. The fruit is not purchased by Mount Eden; instead it's sold to other local wineries including Downhill and Bargetto.

The estate has recently been expanded further by the purchase of Cinnabar's old vineyards in Saratoga. The 13 planted acres are being renovated, with all the Cabernet Sauvignon vines being grafted over to Pinot Noir.

2005 Estate Chardonnay
Deep yellow colour. (I rarely comment on the colour of wines unless it's unusual)
Nose shows caramel/butterscotch and lemon zest, with creamy, floral notes. A richly concentrated wine; creamy with red apple and lime, good acidity. The oak is reasonably balanced for a young Mount Eden. There's a chalky, mineral note on the finish. 94

2002 Estate Chardonnay
By contrast the 2002 has a lighter nose; cream soda, apple and lime. Not so much of the caramel, it's more creamy, smooth and rich but less concentrated than the 2005. 93

2003 Estate Pinot Noir
Great nose; cherry, oak and earth. Good structure, with nice, spicy fruit; notes of citrus pith on the front of the tongue and a long, lingering finish 92

2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Also contains 22% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc
Nose shows vanilla and coffee, with lots of savoury blackcurrant. The tannins are fine, with good blackcurrant fruit, mint and a hint of eucalyptus. Good structure and a nice, medium length, tannic finish. 92