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 2019 organic farming
Etre Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast 2019 13.8% alcohol New Release organic farming Winemaker Notes: “Bright mango, pineapple, golden apple, and alpine strawberry flavors seamlessly integrate with rich hazelnut, nutmeg and almond crème nuanced by hints of wet slate.” Made by Gaffner, the Etre label (from Raison D’Etre, or reason for being) is owned by his partner Tracey Walker. From the acclaimed raised alluvial, cool and windy Sangiacomo Vineyard, this lush and mouth-filling Chardonnay is cold- fermented very slowly for months in stainless tanks sur lie, with battonage for richness, but no malolactic conversion and no oak. Styled after Chablis, it shows more richness, roundness and persistence than expected. Unfined, lightly filtered. Great Value. 250 cases.
Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Green Acres Vineyard, Carneros 2014 organic farming 93+ Points, Wine Advocate: “A little closed to begin, but with coaxing opens out to beautiful lemon curd, pink grapefruit and marzipan notes with hints of honey-drizzled croissant and ginger. Elegantly crafted with a lively line of refreshing acidity cutting through the intense, creamy texture and citrus flavors, finish with minerals coming through.” Sourced from the well-drained, root-drying, rocky creek bed soils, their block produces tiny grapes and clusters, low yields, concentrated fruit that is crisp and bright. 50% new French oak. Unfined, unfiltered. 178 cases.
Chardonnay, Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast 2015 Organic Farming!
94+ Points, Wine Advocate: “Sultry notes of apricot tart, candied ginger, warm pineapple and allspice with wafts of orange blossom and honeycomb. Laden with opulent tropical fruit and spicy layers, it has a racy backbone providing oodles of energy and a long, seductive finish.” From the cold, windy, 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. 50% new French oak, bottled unfined and unfiltered. 212 cases made.
Semillon, Fighting Brothers, Sonoma County 2012
a delicious, slightly off-dry style 13.5% Alcohol
Chardonnay, Hyde Vineyard, Napa Carneros 2015
New Release! organic farming
92 Points, Wine Enthusiast: “Golden apple and pear flavors shine brightly in this beautifully made white, with its golden oaky quality of integrated wood. Gritty and grippy, it has texture and weight and balance, with a stony mineral quality and lingering succulence of white peach.” From the same rocky block that supplies Ramey, Kistler and Ram’s Gate, this well-drained, east facing rocky slope kept cool by the bay fog and breezes and ripens slowly, producing small clusters. Aged sur lie for 9 months in 66% new French oak. Unfined and unfiltered. 194 cases.
Chardonnay, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands 2014
93 Points, Wine Advocate: “Offers a classic Rosella’s signature with its exotic, fresh and lively bouquet of white flowers, lemon curd, white peach and honeysuckle. Surprisingly rich and textured for a wine from this site, and balanced.” One of only two Chardonnays made from this Rosella’s, it has cool winds that shut down ripening every afternoon and extend hang-time, producing golden and tropical tones, minerality, breadth and length. Impeccable sustainable farming reduces yields for deeply concentrated and site-expressive fruit. Picked at 23.5 brix, cold- soaked, cool-fermented over 3 months, finished sur lie in 40% new French oak for full ML conversion. Unfined, lightly filtered. 186 cases.
Semillon, Fighting Brothers, Sonoma County 2012
a delicious, slightly off-dry style 13.5% Alcohol
Pinot Noir, Fighting Brothers Sonoma Coast 2016 New Release organic farming
93 Points, Wine Advocate: “Pale to medium ruby, it opens with tart cranberries and Bing cherries on the nose with black tea leaves, wild blackberries and underlying potpourri. Light to medium-bodied, it offers intense spicy fruits in the mouth with grainy tannins and great freshness energizing the long, spicy finish.” 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 Durell, each of which offers ideal terroir and impeccable farming. 30% new French oak. Unfined. 151 cases.
Pinot Noir, Ferrington Vineyard, Anderson Valley 2015
New Release organic farming
93 Points, Wine Enthusiast, Jim Gordon: “This medium to full-bodied wine finds a great marriage of spicy oak and fascinating fruit flavors. Red and black cherries meet cinnamon and cedar in the aroma, before lightly smoky, meaty flavors join with bright cherry and rhubarb on the palate.” 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 in 50% new French oak and bottled unfined. Elegant, juicy, rustic and bright, yet with grip and depth. 168 cases.
Pinot Noir, Durell Vineyard, Hayfield Block, Sonoma Coast 2015
New Release organic farming
92+ Points, Wine Advocate: “Pale ruby-purple with a nose of spice cake, incense and dusty soil over a core of raspberry pie and cranberry sauce. A lovely juxtaposition between savory and perfumed characters. With chewy tannins and just enough freshness, it finishes with an herbal lift.” Part of a very rocky old creek bed, ‘Hayfield’ is one of Durell’s smallest and most coveted blocks; known for its compact clusters and late afternoon shade, which deliver both concentration and elegance. 18 months in new French oak. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 97 cases.
Pinot Noir, Gap’s Crown, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast 2015 organic farming
93 Points, Wine Spectator, James Laube: “Plump, rich and generous, with tiers of black and wild berry, plum, black cherry and licorice, offering depth and elegance. Gushing with fruit on the aftertaste.” 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. 98 cases
Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo – Roberts Road Vineyard, Sonoma Coast 2015
New Wine! 93+ Wine Advocate: “The 2015 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard is pale to medium ruby-purple and scented of red roses, kirsch and pomegranate with touches of powdered cinnamon, fallen leaves and fungi. Medium-bodied, finely grained and beautifully elegant in the mouth, it has wonderful poise and restraint, finishing on a mineral note.” Farmed by the legendary Sangiacomo family, their Roberts Road Vineyard is in a foggy, cool-climate site at the base Sonoma Mountain. On a dry creek-bed with alluvial clay soils it is ideally suited to world class Pinot Noir with long hang-time, structure and beautiful aromatics. Unfined, unfiltered. 78 cases.
Grenache, El Diablo Vineyard, Russian River 2016 New Vintage
Winery Notes: “We picked the El Diablo Grenache under the lights in the middle of the night so that they would arrive at the winery cold and before six in the morning.” Farmed by the late Ulises Valdez, the hilltop vineyard overlooks the Russian River from rocky, sandy soils producing tiny berries, low yields and concentrated fruit. Night-picked, 20% whole cluster, 20% new oak. Unfined, unfiltered. 119 cases.
Zinfandel, Fighting Brothers, Sonoma Valley 2015 organic farming
92 Points, Wine Advocate, Lisa Perrotti-Brown: “Reveals a pretty, floral note of roses and potpourri over a core of Chinese five spice, baked plums and redcurrant jelly plus a touch of dusty earth. Bull-bodied with earth and spice-laced berry preserves flavors, it has a chewy backbone and refreshing finish.” Winery Notes: “A mix of “old” and “young” vines, and named for my two sons, who have blended their age-related differences into something approaching harmony. The old vines give complexity from the field blend of multiple varietals, while the younger sites give lively acidity and bright, focused flavors.” Aged in French Burgundy barrels, unlike many California Zinfandels using American and Hungarian oak. This cool-climate Zinfandel was de-stemmed, cold-soaked before co-fermenting. 198 cases.
Zinfandel, Stonewall Vineyard, Sonoma Valley 2015 organic farming
91 Points, Wine Advocate, Lisa Perrotti-Brown: “Gregarious notes of baked red cherries, raspberry pie and blueberry compote with touches of hoisin, underbrush and raisin cake. Full-bodied, rich and decadently spicy in the mouth, it has a lively line and plush texture, finishing on a sweet and savory note.” This unusual cool-climate zinfandel is planted on rocky soils, from which the namesake stone walls were built. Technically this vineyard is part of the famed Durell vineyard, and lies 100 yards across an ancient stone wall from the chilly Durell Chardonnay block. The rocky soils. The site’s coastal influences and rocky, well drained soils drain away moisture, and produce modest yields of very concentrated Zinfandel fruit. Aged in French oak Burgundy barrels, unlike many California Zinfandels that are aged in American and Hungarian oak. 271 cases.