Wednesday, August 27, 2008

La Honda Winery

Silicon Valley is of course well known for its dot-com millionaires. Having made a fortune in the tech industry many of them purchase large properties in the Santa Cruz Mountains and, rather than maintain a huge garden, some of them have a vineyard installed. There are several local companies that specialise in installing and maintaining home vineyards; one of them is called Post and Trellis.

A former geologist, MBA and amateur winemaker, Ken Wornick has installed a number of vineyards from Woodside to Saratoga, including his own 2.5 acre Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese vineyard in La Honda. In 2001 the company purchased an industrial unit in Redwood City and began making private label wines for the vineyard clients. Ken also began making his own wines under the La Honda Winery label.

Skip forward to the present day. With around 25 vineyards being managed, 15 of which are over an acre in size, and a growing inventory of his own label wines La Honda Winery finally decided to emerge from stealth mode and release the wines to the general public. My friend Wes and I made an appointment with Ken for a private tour and tasting one Tuesday afternoon.

The winery is located in a largely residential part of Redwood City. What was once a fairly ordinary industrial unit has been greatly embellished with stonework and art over the course of several years. Trucks carrying fruit can drive through the winery to the crushpad at the rear. Fruit is destemmed, but not crushed, and the individual berries are fed onto a table where they are sorted by hand. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Ken aims to keep alcohol levels reasonably low; all the wines we tasted were a little over 13%. Despite the fact that the law permits a margin of up to 1.5% in the declared alcohol content, Ken insists on labelling the wines to two decimal places. The winery has the capacity to handle up to 5,000 cases, but currently is at around a third of that capacity, and plans to remain there.

For a new winery, La Honda certainly has a wide range of wines. The current release list includes three whites and six reds, four of which are sourced from local vineyards that he manages. An additional 4 or 5 reds are planned for release in Winter 2008; two from Chalk Hill AVA in Sonoma, the rest from local vineyards. Case production varies from less than 25 cases up to 235 cases. We tasted four wines; two from local vineyards and two from purchased fruit. Unfortunately I lost my notes, so this is from memory - for an alternate perspective check Wes's blog entry

2006 Syrah, Santa Cruz MountainsFruit for this Syrah is sourced from several vineyards, but the bulk of it comes from a vineyard in the Los Altos Hills. The nose is pretty subdued initially; plenty of tannin but not a huge amount of acidity. Spicy flavours of blackberry and liquorice, and a decent finish. Stylistically it's more like an Australian Shiraz than a Syrah. Decent value at $19 and drinkable but would certainly benefit from short-term cellaring. 58 cases.

2006 Pinot Noir "Black Capsule North", Santa Cruz Mountains Ken manages several Pinot Noir vineyards; this is a blend of fruit from four different vineyards at the northern end of the AVA, from Los Altos Hills to Woodside. It's matured in American oak. In contrast there's another blend called "Red Capsule South" (which we didn't taste) that comes from four vineyards between Los Altos Hills and Saratoga. Frankly if it didn't say Pinot Noir on the label I doubt that would have been my first guess; it has a rather dark colour and initially is very closed, showing mostly oak and tannin. With time in the glass I got flavours of blackcurrant, orange peel and some black cherry. Should really be cellared for at least 2-3 years. 93 cases. $34

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon "Naylor's Dry Hole", Chalone AVA Duncan Naylor has a 2 acre vineyard next to Brosseau Vineyard in the Chalone AVA. When planting the vineyard water was a problem; he dug several wells that came up dry before finally finding water. Consequently he named the vineyard Dry Hole. It's mostly planted to Pinot Noir, which goes to the Loring Wine Company.
Initially the nose has a lot of vanilla from the oak; my first thought was "ice-cream". On the palate it's a nice, soft, drink-me-now cab with good blackcurrant flavour. I preferred it to the Perrucci Family Cabernet that I tasted last weekend, and at $26 it's $7 cheaper. 72 cases.

2005 Viognier, Napa Valley Most of Ken's wines have a story behind them. This fruit came from three rows that were surplus to requirements and so hadn't been picked. The resulting wine is still around 13% but has 3.8% residual sugar; though not sweet enough to be a dessert wine it would make an excellent aperitif. The nose is typical Viognier; sweet and floral. On the palate there are concentrated flavours of peaches, pears and canteloupe with just enough acidity to counter the sweetness. $24 - 235 cases.

La Honda Winery seems to be doing all the right things. Ken is clearly doing something that he enjoys and the wines I've tasted have all been well made and reasonably priced. I'm looking forward to following his progress.