2022 Holdredge "The True" Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
As you travel through Europe, you’ll find that many of the ancient vineyards planted by the Romans were located in the hills. “Bacchus amat colles” is a Latin adage that basically means “Bacchus loves the hills”, and in a way, this was their mantra (since I’m only working as a lawyer these days, I figured I should use more Latin). And even though I’m not Italian, I think that is one of my mantras too; there is no denying that hillside and mountain vineyards have always been special to me. And no place speaks of mountains like the “true” Sonoma Coast (which I have always felt was the first 203 ridges in from the Pacific, and from as far south as Freestone and north to the border with Mendocino County.
Long before we started our brand, the whisper of the “true” Sonoma Coast was constantly in my ear, and the few wines which were then being produced out there spoke to me in a very special way. I began making wine out there in 2003, but even there, not all sites are equal, and while I worked with a couple places early on, and really liked them, I hadn’t found a place that I “heard”, which really means a place that touches your heart rather.
During the 2006 harvest I met Ulises Valdez. I was having beers with a friend, commiserating about being exhausted when in walked Ulises. Within a few minutes, I knew a good deal of his life story; his upbringing in Michoacan Mexico, his coming over the border to America at age 16 to work as a laborer in the vineyards, how a very few years later he became a partner with the guy he had been working for, and how soon thereafter he bought his partner out and owned the whole company. In many ways, I thought he exemplified the American dream, and I liked him immediately.
Ulises had very little formal education, something he wasn’t at all ashamed about, and without question he was a very intelligent person. As I watched him run his business over the years, I think “savvy” was a better term to describe; he just understood how to create relationships and how to earn people’s trust, including mine. He was charismatic, determined, hard-working, and played as hard as he worked. And, like me, he valued the weight of a handshake and his word over the weight of a written contract, which really tells me everything I need to know about someone.
When it came to installing vineyards, “genius” is the more apt descriptor. Ulises could look at some rolling hills, and tell you exactly how a vineyard would need to be laid out, what drainage would be needed, the capacity and discharge, where it would all be installed and so on. I witnessed one occasion where an engineer had gone through an existing vineyard Ulises had installed (without an engineer) to calculate everything that would be needed to be a proper and first-class installation under the then-current standards, and the work Ulises had done exceeded it across the board.
But as great a mind as he had for understanding the “lay of the land” for installing vineyards, what set him apart from many other farmers was an inherent understanding of what it took to grow the highest quality fruit. I suppose it can be taught and learned to some extent, but his knowledge just seemed deeper and more innate. I see it in growers who grew up in winegrowing families- it’s just part of their core. For him, it just came naturally. Every year, no matter what the conditions, Ulises grew some of the finest winegrapes in Sonoma County. He was simply an artist, and the vineyard was his palette.
Ulises and I became close over the years; and in 2009, he offered to sell me some fruit from a very special vineyard in Annapolis, which is in the far northwest of the “true” Sonoma Coast appellation. We drove up together, and from the moment I arrived, I knew I had found the part of the true Sonoma Coast where I wanted to make wine from. Because the Annapolis area exemplifies what I think the “true” Sonoma Coast in geographical terms (about as far north as you can go in Sonoma County and the second ridge in from the ocean), the wine was named accordingly, and since our first release, it’s been a favorite of our customers, as well as ourselves.
I got a call during the harvest of 2018 from Ulises’ son telling me that Ulises had passed away the night before. Only two days later, the fruit for the 2018 “True” was delivered; Ulises’ work ethic was shared by his family, and for them, and despite the loss, the work went on. Maybe it was just fruit from the vintage, but I always thought the 2018 spoke to me a little more.
As we made the 2022 “True”, I knew this was the last time I’d make wine from this special area that Ulises had first made available to me, and I wanted to be sure I honored that gift. I’d like to tell you it was something I did that year, and how I worked magic in the cellar, and how I “made” the wine. But truth be told, from a “chemistry” standpoint, the grapes were about as perfect as I’d want in terms of sugars and acid/pH, and as for flavor, they were just absolutely everything I could hope for. If there is one thing I have learned about making Pinot, it’s that when fruit is perfect, don’t try to improve on it, because you won’t. So, “making” it was mostly a matter of reminding myself to step aside and let the grapes do their job. Which I did.
The finished wine is simply joyful and a pleasure to drink, and adroitly tells the story of a higher elevation “true” Sonoma Coast vineyard. It has the dark berry fruit, the focus, and the presence I love, coupled with the weight of a fully ripe wine. I think (for now) it should be briefly decanted, but within a few months it won’t be needed, and although you can drink it now, I think it will really begin to “shine” in another year or so. In other words, if you can just be a little patient you’ll be rewarded, it will only improve with time. If you can’t, you’ll still be drinking a great wine.
If you’ve enjoyed The True over the years, you may find yourself asking yourself if this is the best one ever. I’m too close to it emotionally, so I won’t try to answer that (nodding head), but I can say, it’s one that can be laid down for a very long time if you like, and I intend to do just that. How long? I feel like this is a wine that will be great for the next 10 years, and I fully expect it to be alluring for twice that long. Given my age, I hope that I’m still here in 20 years, and if I am, as I drink it, I’ll toast my friend Ulises. I fully expect this wine will be worthy of the moment.
Only 148 cases made.