Mount Eden Estate
Mount Eden’s estate vineyards began to be developed in 1945 by the legendary vintner Martin Ray on a rugged mountaintop in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Today, the site consists of 40 acres of low-yielding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were propagated from selections brought to California by French winemaker Paul Masson, while the Cabernet Sauvignon came from Emmett Rixford’s historic La Questa Vineyard in Woodside, California. Mount Eden is considered to have the longest lineage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in North America.
Planted in infertile Franciscan shale, the vineyards are 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean and enjoy a cool, but sunny climate above the fog line. Harvest normally begins in the first weeks of September and finishes around the end of October, occasionally going into early November. The combination of a long growing season and naturally low yields allows slow, steady maturation of the grapes and the concomitant intensification of their flavors. This process is enhanced by vertically training the vines to maximize the exposure of the grape clusters to sunlight and by thinning the crop, when necessary, to ensure yields do not exceed two tons per acre.
In the late 1940s and early 1960s, Martin Ray planted six acres of Chardonnay vines propagated from a Burgundian selection grown in the original Paul Masson vineyard. 20 acres of Estate Chardonnay are now farmed at Mount Eden from which 1,200 to 2,000 cases per year are produced. Yields average one to two tons per acre, far below the average for Chardonnay in California.
The Estate Chardonnay grapes are harvested when slightly yellow to yellow-green and are pressed without crushing. All of the juice is barrel-fermented in new and one-year-old French Burgundy barrels, where the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation and is ages on the lees for ten months before being lightly filtered prior to bottling. The Chardonnay is then cellared for two years before being released for sale.
The full-bodied Estate Chardonnay displays fine underlying acidity and a long finish. Hints of cardamom, anise and hazelnut add interest to the core lemon, mineral flavors. Of all Mount Eden's estate-grown wines, the Chardonnay is most in need of further bottle aging at release, requiring an additional two to four years to fully reveal its true character. Many vintages are still fresh and enjoyable after fifteen years, explaining why Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay is considered one of California's longest-lived white wines.
The vines for the Reserve program are the same as the ones producing Mount Eden's Estate Bottled Chardonnay.
The difference in making the Reserve Chardonnay and the Estate Chardonnay lies solely in a curious practice sometimes used in the making of renowned white Burgundies.
Chardonnay that has been aged for ten months in barrel is then put it into a stainless steel tank with all the gross lees where it remains for an additional ten months. During that time, all of the sediments (mainly yeast lees) are magically absorbed into the wine, similar to the process of making Champagne. The Reserve Chardonnay is composed of eleven barrels of Estate Chardonnay that completes this process.
In the glass the difference is subtle but noticeable between the Estate and the Reserve. The Reserve has more earth, mineral notes, and texture coming from the lee influence. The Estate has more bright fruit. Aging potential is still unknown since the Reserve has only been made since 2007 but so far it seems to be aging more slowly than the Estate bottling.
Martin Ray planted Pinot Noir at Mount Eden in 1945. The budwood came from Paul Masson's original vineyard near Mount Eden. Because Masson was a good friend of the Louis Latour family of Burgundy, it is likely the selection came from one of Latour’s finest vineyards and was brought by Masson to California during the 1880s. The faith Ray demonstrated in this difficult red wine variety, at a time when America had little appreciation of fine wine, was remarkable. Today, Pinot Noir vines occupy seven acres of the estate vineyard and typically yield a meager one to one-and-a-half tons per acre.
Pinot Noir is the first variety harvested at Mount Eden, kicking off the vintage season. Using natural yeasts, fermentation is conducted in small open-top fermentors and extends ten to fourteen days, with the must punched down by hand. The new wine is immediately put into 75% new and 25% one-year-old French Burgundy barrels. It matures for eighteen months before being bottle unfined and unfiltered. Nothing is added; nothing is taken away.
Due to the soils in the vineyard, the Estate Pinot Noirs’ elegant, transparent style is more Burgundian than Californian, emphasizing wild strawberry, earth, blueberry and dill varietal characters. Cellaring the wine from five to twelve years pays handsome rewards.
The heritage of Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon dates back to the 1890s, when the famed viticulturist Emmett Rixford of Woodside, California, obtained selected cuttings from Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, France. Rixford planted his famous La Questa Vineyard with these selections, in the same proportions as found at Margaux.
In the late 1940s Martin Ray planted his first Cabernet vineyard with cuttings from the La Questa Vineyard. The present-day Estate Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in the early 1980s using cuttings taken from these vines. Yields are low, typically one to two tons per acre. Soils are very thin (1-12 inches), with a dominant base of Franciscan shale. The climate is cool, especially for Cabernet, and influenced by the vineyard's altitude and its proximity to San Francisco bay and the Pacific Ocean. The vines are trellised in a modern fashion, which allows for a more uniform ripening. The vineyard also contains small blocks of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
The Cabernet is fermented in small 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks, with the must punched down manually and macerated for six to ten days after fermentation completes. The new wine is transferred into new Bordelaise chateau barrels where it finishes its malolactic fermentation. During the twenty-two months in the cellar, the wine is racked three to four times per year via air pressure. It is bottled unfined, unfiltered and aged two years prior to release
Mount Eden Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a Bordeaux-style blend of approximately 75% Cabernet, 22% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc, although the cepage varies by vintage. This high mountain, cool coastal vineyard is an unusual site for California Cabernet Sauvignon, reflecting its refreshing acidity and moderate alcohol. Fine integrated tannins buttress characteristic flavors of red currant, blackberry and earth. Recommended cellaring is ten to fifteen years.
Old Vine Reserve Cabernet
Until 2000, five acres remained of the original Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted by Martin Ray in the 1950s. Yielding a scant one-quarter to one ton per acre, tending these vines was truly a labor of love. They were not trellised, somewhat wild in attitude and always the last grapes to be harvested in the fall.
Like the Estate Cabernet, the Old Vine Reserve was fermented in small 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks, punched down manually and macerated for six to ten days after completion of fermentation. The new wine was transferred to new Bordelais chateau barrels where it finished malolactic fermentation. During its twenty-two months in the cellar, the wine was racked three to four times per year via air pressure, then bottled unfiltered and aged two years prior to release.
The Old Vine Reserve, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, exudes classic Santa Cruz Mountain style with incomparable elegance and sauvage. The combination of old vines and minuscule yields produces concentrated aromas and flavors of red and black currant, licorice, violet and earth. Good natural acidity and moderate tannins give structure and length, ensuring the wine will develop in the bottle for many years. (The 2000 vintage was the last Old Vine Reserve produced.)