Sunday, October 19, 2014


Stefani at Savannah-Chanelle
The history of Savannah-Chanelle goes back to the early days of the California wine boom. Pierre Pourroy emigrated to California from France in 1887 and was joined by his brother Eloi six years later. Together they bought land - including a vineyard - in Saratoga from the Bonjetti family and planted Zinfandel, Carignane and Cabernet Franc, among other varieties. They also planted fruit trees and produced prunes. By the 1920s the family owned over 400 acres.

The winery was established in 1917. The Pourroy wines were sold in jugs or small barrels - there was no commercial bottling - and Eloi Pourroy did not even own a truck, preferring to use horse drawn sleds and wagons. They continued producing wines and selling grapes even during prohibition, finally stopping in the mid-1950s. Many of the Pourroy family were buried in the Madronia cemetery in Saratoga.

By the late 1960s the vineyards were largely derelict. A group of Lockheed employees got together intending to purchase a parcel of land to establish a Christian camp ground. However they ran out of resources and asked a local businessman, Victor Erickson, for help. He eventually purchased 53 acres of land and raised vegetables.

A neighbor tended to the old vines and took the crop, and through him Daniel and Robin Gehrs learned about the property and persuaded Erickson to re-open the winery. In 1976 Congress Springs was established, with Gehrs as winemaker and Erickson as owner. Together they refurbished the old vineyards and planted some Chardonnay. In the mid 1980s Erickson sold the company (but not the land) to Anglo-American, a world-wide agricultural business who also owned vineyards in the San Ysidro District. However the company lost millions when a venture in Australia failed, and were bought out by some east coast bankers, who had no idea how to run a winery, and so it went bankrupt. Daniel Gehrs left to become winemaker for Zaca Mesa and eventually established his own label in Santa Barbara.

In the early 1990s the property was leased and then bought by John Del Mare, with the intention of resurrecting the Congress Springs winery. In 1996 he then then sold it to Kellie and Mike Ballard, who renamed it after their two young daughters - Savannah and Chanel. Today The winery produces Pinot Noir from a variety of sources, and a tiny amount of estate wines from the original Pourroy plantings, which are among the oldest of their kind in the country.

2013 Pinot Noir rose 
A bone-dry rose showing strawberries on the nose and palate.

2013 Chardonnay, Tondre's Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands
An unoaked Chardonnay; notes of asian pear on the nose. 
In the mouth there is crisp acidity and minerality with a chalky, lemony finish.

2010 Pinot Noir, Regan Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Savory nose with some black cherry. The palate has rich, dark fruit and some soy or nori notes. 

2011 Pinot Noir, Tondre's Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands
Despite its youth the nose shows notes of leather and earth. My friend said it reminded him of "a wet dog running in the countryside". Good red cherry fruit, with a longish finish.

2008 Syrah Coast View Vineyard Herbal nose; there's a good core of fruit, but it's under a mass of tannin. Definitely needs cellar time.

2011 Estate Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains Good as the other wines are, the stars of Savannah-Chanelle are the estate bottlings.
 This Zinfandel comes from century old vines, producing around 1.25 tons per acre.
Nose is minty and herbal, with a slightly metallic note. In the mouth there's stacks of concentrated ripe raspberry fruit.  The finish is long, rich and peppery. Wonderful stuff; highly recommended.