based in Santa Rosa
“a model of site-specific vineyard success, with dozens of outstanding ratings” – Wine Spectator
Winery: Founded by winemaker Jeff Gaffner in 1997, he specializes in limited releases of single-vineyard wines from outstanding sites, making only 2500 cases a year. Winery is named after the willful heroine in Jack London’s novel “Valley of the Moon.”
Wine Spectator: “For Jeff Gaffner, winemaking is storytelling. And his best stories are driven by a relationship with the vineyards. Gaffner is also a highly regarded consultant for Ram’s Gate and Black Kite in Sonoma, as well as Napa’s Xtant and Stephanie.”
Inspired by his early work at the original, pre-Beringer Chateau St. Jean, he was exposed to working with multiple single-vineyard wines. Aiming to capturing site signatures, he does not want all his wines to taste the same. Making more feminine-styled wines with minimal extractions, he wants to emulate Burgundy in making age-worthy, bright and pretty wines, Gaffner: “I tend to under-extract rather than over-extract. I think wines should seduce you, not hit you.” Wines are released when ready, not by calendar.
Winemaking: Wine Spectator: “Gaffner does not employ assistants, preferring to stay tightly connected to his wine.” Doing all the winemaking himself allows him to respond better to individual characteristics of each lot and site. Greater attention to wines during winemaking keeps the wines brighter, tighter and more feminine. Grapes are harvested under lights in cool early morning darkness, and are taken immediately to the winery for whole-fruit pressing, cold settled for days then racked to tank. He keeps fermentations cold and slow, allowing indigenous yeasts to get started before the Burgundy yeast kicks in, avoiding temperature spikes. Battonage 2-3 times a week releases flavors, and Malolactic fermentation begins in the spring as the weather warms, enhancing almond and mineral flavors in Chardonnays.
Saying that “California wines have too much of everything,” he compensates for it with less extraction. The reds are pumped-over 3-4 times a day while the juice is cool and before much alcohol is created, minimizing the extraction. The reds finish fermentation and ML conversion in tight-grained, medium-toast barrels, (30-40% new oak). His winemaking process emulates the default winemaking of Burgundy, where cellar temperatures follow weather seasons, helping his wines progress naturally down the same path they would in Burgundy. The wines need at least a year in bottle before release, and benefit from time, air or a light decanting.
Vineyards: Wine Spectator: “Gaffner claims that each vineyard has a personality you get to know, the longer you work with it. For Gaffner, winemaking is about understanding the subtleties that make each vineyard site special.” Gaffner spends a tremendous amount of time in each vineyard, observing the unfolding of each season to better understand what the vintage has to offer. All of the single vineyards reflect his preference for small berries and clusters, a lower juice to pulp ratio, vine balance and full ripeness. He prefers vineyards with daily cool winds that shut down photosynthesis, creating a “wind signature” of concentrated sugars, lower brix ripeness and slight skin-thickening (for reds, this adds elements of violet, lavender and dried blossom). Rosella’s and Owl Box are sustainably farmed, while all the other vineyards he works with are farmed organically.
Etre Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast 2015 organic farming
91 Points, Wine Spectator: “This is deceptively complex, with nuanced citrus, light oak [there is no oak] and creamy shadings joining the core flavors of melon, apple and honeydew. Offers a long, clean finish.”
Made by Gaffner, the Etre label (from Raison D’Etre, or reason for being) is owned by his partner Tracey Walker. With outstanding fruit sources (75% Sangiacomo, 25% Durell), this lush and mouth-filling Chardonnay is cold-fermented very slowly for months in stainless tanks sur lie, with battonage for richness, although no malolactic conversion and no oak. Styled after Chablis, it shows more richness, roundness and persistence than expected. A delicious Value. 500 cases.
Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Green Acres Vineyard 2013, Carneros 93 Points, Wine Spectator organic farming
93 Points, Wine Spectator: “Strikes a nice tension between moderately rich fruit, lively citrus-infused acidity and light perfumed oak. Ends with delicate notes of pear, honeydew and spice. Clean and lingering.” Winemaker notes: “Vibrant mango, pineapple, golden apple and strawberry notes are accentuated by hazelnut, nutmeg, almond cream and subtle wet slate.” Sourced from the well-drained, root-drying creek bed soils, the Green Acres block produces tiny clusters with pea-sized berries, low yields, concentrated fruit and a Meursault-like style of higher crispness and brightness. The cool afternoon winds allow for slow ripening at lower brix. 50% new French oak. Unfined and unfiltered. 149 cases.
Chardonnay, Durell Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Coast 90 Points, Wine Spectator organic farming
90 Points, Wine Spectator: “The oak lends a spicy, peppery attribute to this rich, trim effort. Wood is evident throughout, but the fruit remains prominent, with melon, fig and baked apple notes. Drink now.”
From the rocky Stone Flats block of the famed Durell Vineyard, the vines struggle and produce tight, intensely flavored Dijon clone clusters with small berries, lower yields yet super concentrated juice. The 3 clones are night- harvested, pressed and co-fermented together in 50% new French oak, bottled unfined and unfiltered. 290 cases made.
Chardonnay, Hyde Vineyard, Napa Carneros 2014 90 Points, WS October Release organic farming 6-pack
90 Points, Wine Spectator: “Presents a direct core of ripe apple, spice and melon flavors, with light oak shadings. More elegant and understated than assertive, making for a graceful sip. Drink now through 2020.”
From the same rocky block that supplies Ramey, Kistler and Ram’s Gate, this east facing slope avoids warm afternoon sun and ripens slowly, producing small clusters. The acclaimed Hyde Vineyard is known for well-drained rocky soils, kept cool by the bay fog and breezes. Aged sur lie for 9 months in barrel. Unfined and unfiltered. 191 cases.
Chardonnay, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands 2013 92 Points, Wine Spectator 13.5% Alcohol
92 Points, Wine Spectator: “Offers a unique flavor profile of peach, pineapple and guava. Maintains a distinctive personality, ending clean and pure, with a dash of cedary oak.”
Rosella’s vineyard is similar to Sangiacomo, with cool winds that shut down ripening every afternoon and extend hang-time, although it produces more golden and tropical tones, less minerality, but broader texture and length. The impeccable vine- by-vine farming significantly reduces yields for deeply concentrated and site-expressive fruit. Picked at 23.5 brix, cold soaked before 90 day cold-fermentation, then finished sur lie for 9 months in 40% new French oak for full malolactic conversion. Unfined, lightly filtered. 200 cases.
Pinot Noir, Fighting Brothers Sonoma Coast 2013 90 Points, Connoisseur’s Guide organic farming
91 Points, Prince of Pinot: “Demure aromas of black cherry and oak spice arrive slowly over time in the glass. Highly flavorful, with robust flavors of black cherry and black raspberry and a bit of spice.” Named for Jeff’s two sons who managed to blend their differences in something approaching harmony, this Fighting Brothers Pinot Noir is blended of three renowned Sonoma Coast vineyards: Gap’s Crown, Sangiacomo Roberts Road and Glass House, each of which offers ideal terroir and impeccable farming. 30% new French oak. Unfined. 206 cases.
Pinot Noir, Gap’s Crown, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast 2014 91 Points, Wine Spectator + WA organic farming
93+ Points, Wine Advocate: “An earthy nose of forest floor and black soil, a red and black cherry core with a waft of spice box. A solid structure of ripe, grainy tannins and refreshing acid; great intensity of earth and berry layers plus excellent persistence.”
Owned by Durrell vineyard’s owner, Bill Price, this original hillside block of tiny-clustered, cherry-laden 777 clone is cooled by Petaluma Gap winds and fog that give long hang-time, low yields and a site signature of bright cherry and rustic cherry pie flavors. 40% new French oak, unfined. 150 cases
Pinot Noir, Ferrington Vineyard, Anderson Valley 2013 91 Points, PoP [Spring Release] organic farming 6-pack
91 Points, Prince of Pinot: “Effusive aromas of spiced black raspberry and wine cave . Mid weight flavors of darker berries are framed by slightly astringent tannins. Energetic and forward drinking with an impressive, endless finish.”
Among California’s top Pinot Noir vineyards, Ferrington is in the heart of the cool Anderson Valley on a sloping, south-facing site with rocky soils that produce very low yields and complex flavors. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak and bottled unfined. 197 cases.
Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands 2013 91Points,WA+CG 6-pack
91 Connoisseur’s Guide: “Deep and detailed with very pure, ripe-cherry fruit, neatly placed oak and hints of dried flowers in the nose. Inviting flavors build on its aromas, very well-constructed, at once succulent and sleek with the balance and fruity stamina of a wine destined to age famously. Tasty now. A carefully made Pinot Noir.”
91 Points, WA: “Another terrific wine. A beautifully textured and forward style.” Blended 50% of the “Pisoni” Clone (DRC) for the wild, exotic and slow-revealing elements, and 50% of the baked cherry 777 clone. It shows flowers, spice, tobacco and a dark, brooding palate. 50% new French oak, bottled unfined. 226 cases.
Syrah, Flora Ranch, Chalk Hill Appellation, Sonoma 2007 91 Points, Wine Spectator 375 mL (2007 Library)
91 Points, Robert Parker: “Hedonistic and plush, this wine has licorice and black cherry liqueur intermixed with chocolate and blackberries. A hint of a floral/forest floor note adds to the complexity, but in the mouth it is silky smooth, with a velvety, voluptuous texture, and no hard edges. This is a real head-turner and quite seductive.” Cooler valley means slower ripening and longer hang-time Library Release. Very limited.
Syrah, Fighting Brothers 2013 Just Released
Always a blend of vineyards, Fighting Brothers combines Owl Box and a second vineyard. Picked in the cool early morning, then cold soaked, cool temperature-extracted and finished in less than 20% new oak. Starts off quietly, but soon expands in the glass to offer blueberry cheesecake, white pepper and spice in the nose, and tremendously seductive black and blue fruits, custard and earth in a seamless, juicy and alluring style of wine. 192 cases made.
Zinfandel, Fighting Brothers, Sonoma Valley 2013 93 Points, RP organic farming
93 Points, Wine Advocate: “Displays notes of Provençal garrigue, pepper, kirsch liqueur and black currants in a complex, intense style. Very Mediterranean in character, but full-bodied, hedonistic, and just a total joy to smell, taste and appreciate.” Older vines give complexity from field-blending multiple varietals (up to 15% Carignan, Grenache and Petite Sirah), while the younger sited give lively acidity and bright, focused flavors. This cool-climate Zinfandel was de-stemmed and cold soaked before co-fermenting all lots together for complexity and harmony, aged 11 months in French oak. Decant for air. 393 cases.
Zinfandel, Stonewall Vineyard, Sonoma Valley 2013 90 Points, WA organic farming
90 Points, Wine Advocate: “A full-throttle, beautifully pure, rich, berry-scented, peppery, meaty Zinfandel, with loads of black fruits, good acidity, and outstanding purity.” Winemaker: “This may be our richest and longest ‘Stonewall” Zinfandel to date, which makes the lilting floral aromatics that much more surprising. Owned by Durrell vineyard’s owner, Bill Price, the two blocks in this cool Sonoma Valley site are loaded with rocks (from which miles of walls have been built). The vineyard experiences coastal influence, the rocky soils drain away moisture, and produce modest yields of very concentrated fruit. 298 cases.