Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fellom Ranch

Montebello ridge has long been known as an ideal place to grow Cabernet. From the earliest plantings at the end of the 19th Century to the present day the area has hosted dozens of small wineries. And while the mountain top is now dominated by one of the finest wineries in the world, there is still room for lots of smaller vineyards and wineries such as Vidovich, Naumann, Relyea-Wood - and Fellom Ranch.

Looking south from the vineyards
In 1929 Senator Roy Fellom purchased a 250 acre ranch on Monte Bello Road. A few acres of land had been planted with vines by the previous owner, Paul Cena and the family traded the grapes with a neighbour, Andrew Mikulaco, who paid them back in wine.  

In the early 1980s Senator Fellom's son and grandson decided to replant the vineyards and open a winery. Around 10 acres were terraced and planted, almost entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon, with a small block of Petite Verdot. The winery was bonded in 1987.

I recall first encountering Fellom Ranch Vineyards at a Santa Cruz Mountains vintners festival in the mid 1990s. At the time they had a barrel sample of their Saratoga Zinfandel which so impressed me that I ordered a case. I was invited to the release party at the winery - up near Ridge, a half mile from Monte Bello Road down a winding single-track lane called Flintlock Road, and thankfully was able to persuade a friend to act as a designated driver.

Bud and Brookes Fellom
The wines could occasionally be found at local retailers and restaurants, but they gradually became harder to find and I haven't seen any since the 1999 vintage. When I first started writing the blog and wiki I contacted the winery and saws told that they were temporarily closed to visitors, but planned to re-open. Due to family legal issues the winery remained closed until last fall. I heard about the opening in time to visit on the spring Passport day.

Roy 'Bud' Fellom III is the current owner and winemaker. Assisted by his family he has been making wines continually since 1987, though in recent years he got disillusioned in dealing with wholesalers and distributors and decided to concentrate on sales direct from the winery.

The temporary closure has certainly impacted production - at present they are down to 400-500 cases annually, but plan to get back to their earlier peak of 1500-2000 cases. The winery no longer has the lease on the Saratoga vineyard that produced the Zinfandel that I enjoyed so much; instead they source fruit from a number of vineyards both locally and as far afield as Shennadoah valley and Paso Robles.

The winery should be open at weekends during the summer months for tasting and sales - the web site is

2012 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Sourced from an unnamed vineyard over by Cooper Garrod this is fairly typical of the more restrained Santa Cruz Mountains style - plenty of lemon, pear and chalk with some tropical fruit notes. Recommended. $20

2011 Pinot Noir, Central Coast
From vineyards in the Paso Robles area the nose is floral, with strawberry and preserved cherry. Smooth flavours of chocolate and cherry - an easy drinker, similar in style to those from Carneros. $22

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Douglas Crest Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
From a nearby vineyard opposite Vidovich this has a perfumed, floral nose and nice berry flavours. There's some good acid and soft tannins. Doesn't seem like a candidate for cellaring, but tasting very nice right now with a little air. Recommended. $25

A magnum from the first vintage
of Fellom Ranch estate cabernet
The winery were also pouring two barrel samples from the 2013 vintage:

2013 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley
A bright raspberry nose with a hint of VA. Lots of sweet raspberry fruit; quite a bit of residual sugar - more than I care for, but the other tasters seemed to enjoy it.

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Similar in style to the Zinfandel; nose and palate showed blueberries with some apparent residual sugar.

And finally there was a magnum of the estate Cabernet Sauvignon from the maiden vintage:

1987 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains, from a magnum
Lovely old nose, with lots of leather, cedar and herb. Nice acidity. Still has plenty of good blackcurrant fruit supported by lots of secondary notes. 1987 was a very good, ripe year and this wine has held up beautifully. showing the true potential of the site. A real treat.