If you were writing the history of Sonoma Coast wine, you could basically just tell the tale of Heintz Vineyard. Started just after the turn of the 20th century, Heintz’s great grandparents had immigrated from Europe, only to plant what everyone planted then. Grapes. Then Prohibition came and Sonoma, instead of trying to find a series of work arounds like many Napa spots, switched to apples. Apples largely stayed until the 1970’s when grapes came back in. At some point most recently, a bunch of people noticed that the grapes were world class.
Ted Lemon deserves a mention in this space as he helped to make Heintz Vineyard what it is today. Lemon is the winemaker at Littorai and had one of the first contracts to make Pinot Noir from Heintz.
Like most winemakers, Lemon vastly prefers to pay by the acre, instead of by the ton. Having their initial contract structured that way, is probably the only reason why Heintz allowed Lemon, during his first pass through the vineyard, to drop half the fruit. We often talk about winemakers and their genius, or at least in terms of some small innovation. But, recognizing and being able to articulate that lessening quantity, improved the quality of fruit is something that Lemon was among the first disciples of within the California winemaking community.
Heintz sees himself, first and foremost as a farmer. I think that’s probably common if you’re already the 3rd generation on a plot of land, with every expectation that a 4th generation will one day take over. But, he’s honest about it all. He’ll tell anyone that Chardonnay is a ton easier to farm than Pinot Noir. After all, Pinot Noir gets sunburned and the sun in Sonoma, is bright.
The Henitz Vineyard is just outside the town of Occidental, by some count it’s between 4 and 8 miles as the crow flies to the Pacific Ocean. It’s hard in this part of Sonoma County to get a 100% accurate measure, the terrain is hilly at its best and while Google Earth could in theory tell us the exact distance….winemakers swear it’s either further, or not quite that far, based on their own experience. That’s the thing, as you drive through western Sonoma County a couple of things often strike me. First, it’s hot. Much, much hotter than where I live about a mile from the San Francisco Bay and directly across from the Golden Gate Bridge, which evidently does a poor job at deflecting fog, wind and cold temperatures. Second, while it always seems hot, when I am in the car and when I’m in town and while I often find myself sweating when walking through the vineyard, I’ll also often find myself with a long sleeve shirt because when the breeze blows….it’s cold. Plus the vineyard is pretty high up, about 900 or 1,000 feet depending on whom you ask (see, winemakers can’t agree on this kind of stuff) so the fog comes in pretty early and stays late.
Why Heintz instead of others in the neighborhood? So a quick question, over the long term if you were serious about building a wine brand, would you continue to sell your best fruit? Or as contracts expired, would you plan on keeping it? Most people know the vineyard from Williams Selyem, or Littorai, but personally my first bottle from Heintz was made by Dumol-still among my favorite Pinot Noir producers in California.
People in San Francisco talk incessantly about Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Sommelier’s in New York City and Chicago are obsessed with the stuff. I’ve wanted to tell the tale of what an actual Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir really does taste like for a while. This is the answer to what does Pinot taste like in the vineyard most likely to get ripe, but only just so (it is said in the wine industry that first you pick a soil and after you buy your vineyard, plant whatever will ripen the day before it gets picked).
Plus, Heintz deserves our attention for making a small, family owned farm work for over multiple generations these days, no matter the ultimate disaster of a political climate (in the wine industry, that’s Prohibition).
I hope you enjoy the wine.
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