Why Vineyards Matter
Winemakers like to say that wine is made in the vineyard—in other words, that it takes great grapes to create great wine. That explains why so many competing winemakers pay top dollar for fruit from the best vineyards. What makes a vineyard great is a complex equation of location, soil character and climate, but when those variables align, and the winemaker does his job well, bottlings from the best vineyards are more than simply delicious: They offer a portrait of a place in wine.
Because of the intense demand for a great vineyard's fruit, a winemaker may be able to purchase only enough to produce a few hundred cases. But the vineyard's size plays a role too. Wines made with grapes from the Bien Nacido Vineyard, which covers 900 acres, are easier to find than those from the Peay Vineyard, a mere 48 acres. If your local wine shop can't locate these bottles, try calling the winery directly, or check out a wine-finding site like wine-searcher.com.
10 Top Vineyards and Bottles
Monte Rosso Vineyard One of California's oldest vineyards, Sonoma County's Monte Rosso is known for firm Cabernet Sauvignons as well as intense, old-vine Zinfandels. First planted in 1880 and owned for decades by the Martini family, it now belongs to Gallo. TOP BOTTLE 2002 Ravenswood Monte Rosso Zinfandel ($32) This blackberry-rich Zinfandel shows clearly why Monte Rosso deserves its fame.
Seven Springs Vineyard A benchmark for Oregon Pinot Noir, this Willamette Valley vineyard was cut in half after a legal settlement in 2001 (the lower part is now the Anden Vineyard). But its quality is undiminished, and producers such as Bethel Heights, Patricia Green Cellars, Evesham Wood and St. Innocent all take advantage of it. TOP BOTTLE 2003 St. Innocent Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir ($32) Velvety black raspberry fruit plays against floral and herbal notes in this elegant Pinot.
Seven Hills Vineyard Now one of Washington State's best-known vineyards, Seven Hills was once an alfalfa farm—until its owners decided that grapes might be a better idea. Top producers like Andrew Will, Pepper Bridge, Amavi and Januik are happy they did. TOP BOTTLE 2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah ($37) This chewy Syrah pairs firm tannins with spiced-plum richness.
Hirsch Vineyard David Hirsch's Sonoma coast vineyard perches on a ridge above the Pacific, where the cool winds help it grow some of California's greatest Pinot Noir. Producers include cult names such as Littorai and Kistler; Hirsch also makes his own eponymous bottling. TOP BOTTLE 2003 Siduri Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45) Silky Pinot, filled with seductive, sweet cherry flavor that lasts and lasts.
To Kalon Vineyard First planted in 1868 by Napa viticulture pioneer H.W. Crabb and christened with a Greek name meaning "highest beauty," To Kalon is one of Napa's most storied vineyards. TOP BOTTLE 2002 Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($265) Star winemaker Hobbs fashions this extraordinary Cabernet from fruit harvested in the section of To Kalon owned by grower Andy Beckstoffer. Velvety and powerful, it's loaded with luscious black currant flavor.
Peay Vineyard Some of the fruit from this up-and-coming star in the far-northwestern corner of the Sonoma coast goes to top names like Williams Selyem and Ryan; the Peays keep the rest for their own label. TOP BOTTLE 2002 Renard Peay Vineyard Syrah ($35) This powerful, dense Syrah from winemaker Bayard Fox offers wild notes of roasted meat and black pepper.
Bien Nacido Vineyard A vast property in California's Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido supplies lush Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and other varieties to more than 40 producers, including Ojai, Qupé, Au Bon Climat and Testarossa. TOP BOTTLE 2003 Longoria Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir ($42) Winemaker Richard Longoria sources this coolly herbal Pinot full of red cherry flavor from some of Bien Nacido's oldest vines.
2004 Selene Hyde Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($26) The Hyde family's Carneros land is farmed sustainably, without fertilizers or herbicides. Selene winemaker Mia Klein uses its fruit for her sultry, melon-tinged Sauvignon Blanc.
2004 Patz & Hall Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay ($42) An ancient streambed runs through Sonoma County's stony Durrell Vineyard, which produces rich Chardonnays and imposing Syrahs. This Patz & Hall wine is suitably impressive, with deep pear flavors.
2003 Rochioli Estate Grown Pinot Noir ($47) The Rochioli vineyard is the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir benchmark. Wines from Williams Selyem, Gary Farrell and Davis Bynum carry its name, along with Rochioli's own raspberry-and-spice estate bottling.