A Passion For the Sonoma Coast

A Passion For The Sonoma Coast

Believe it or not, Pinot Noir was not my first love. Nor was the Sonoma Coast. That honor went to Syrah and the Northern Rhône region of France, where I studied as a young wine student from Colombia. There, I learned that it’s possible to achieve deeply beautiful characteristics in wine when vines grow on steep hillsides, in challenging climate conditions, and just on the edge of the window of time that allows fruit to ripen. Having worked with vineyards throughout California, I now know that the Sonoma Coast is also such a place.

In 2012, Jason Pahlmeyer gave me the chance to immerse myself in the far reaches of West Sonoma. I took a deep dive as his vineyard manager and winemaker to observe soil, vine, growth, and daily weather patterns during each growing season. Traveling to the remote Pahlmeyer-Wayfarer Vineyard with the play of fog among the redwood trees, the smell of the early-morning air drifting in through an open window, combined with nature’s silence made a very special impression on my vintner’s heart.

I knew those wild ridges above the fog line skirting the Pacific Ocean, born of ancient geologic upheaval, had the ability to convey pure fruit flavors, savory botanical aromatics, and mouth-watering acidity. I fell in love with the region including its challenges and rewards, and the spectacular Burgundian varieties it produces.

The attachment felt akin to relationships I’ve built with other special vineyards—something my fellow vintner and friend Anne Moller-Racke, former proprietor of The Donum Estate, where I’ve also acquired Pinot Noir, once remarked on: Bibiana “is so connected to the vineyard,” she said. High praise from a seasoned vineyard manager herself.

It’s the specific visceral connection to the Sonoma Coast that makes me very excited to share my Appellation Series in this 2022 Fall Release: the Cattleya 2021 Cuvée Number Eight Pinot Noir, a blend from two high-elevation vineyards in the Petaluma Gap sub-AVA (American Viticultural Area) of the broader Sonoma Coast region.

In contrast to this new Pinot Noir, I’m also bringing you my latest 2021 Cattleya Cuvée Number One Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. Those of you who are fans of previous vintages of Cuvée Number One won’t be disappointed. This wine offers up all of the perfumed aromatics, rich red fruit, warm spice, and velvety tannins that define Russian River Valley, itself also nested in the broader Sonoma Coast. The pair of Pinots reflects the range of character possible across microclimates when vineyards are farmed—and wines are made—to express the nuances of the special site where they were grown.

The third wine in this Fall Release is from the Russian River Valley too, but like the Sonoma Coast Pinot, it’s entirely new to my lineup: I call this 2020 Chardonnay “The Temptress.”For Chardonnay (as for Pinot Noir), the Russian River Valley provides the cool coastal mornings and evenings punctuated by warm mid-days that shape pinpoint balance between New World character and Old.

It’s natural for each vineyard to take on its own personality. I was captivated by the seduction of this region and pictured a temptress amongst its mysterious veil of fog that drapes and contours creating swales across the hillsides. As this wine has evolved in the cellar it has Indeed earned its name, The Temptress.

As these wines attest, the vineyards I draw from range widely among regions. When I decided to focus my entire attention on my own winery, I knew I would continue searching for those remarkable sites at high elevation along the Sonoma Coast, but I continue to be inspired by other California regions as well. Finding the perfect fit for Cattleya is no easy journey, and I’m often asked how I decide. How do I choose a vineyard? What makes one place special? And how do I know the wines will be exceptional? (An absolute requirement.) The answer lies in a simple checklist—but a complex process. The site must have a track record of quality and a trifecta of vine density per acre, particular rootstocks, and clones. But the over-arching question today is, Who owns the vineyard? And more importantly, What is their commitment to farming for exceptional fruit? The truth is, labor is challenging to come by these days, so that last is a commitment to performing arduous tasks by hand oneself—the attention to detail great winegrowing requires. And in that, I suppose, I loop back to an Old World ethic in farming as much as in regional character.

You’ll notice that this trio of wines includes no 2020 reds, only The Temptress Chardonnay. Unfortunately, in 2020, devastating fires swept through California’s coastal regions. While I had already picked most of my whites, smoke permeated vineyards with reds still on the vine, and I made the hard decision not to make any Pinot Noir or Syrah that potentially wouldn’t match the quality I aspire to. I feel lucky to have the two 2021 Pinots at a stage where they’re ready to release. But searching through the library, I found a handful of magnums of my 2019 “The Initiation” Syrah. They’re available—first come, first served.


Founder & Winemaker, Cattleya Wines

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