2018 Martin Ray Pinot Noir, Coast Grade Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
With more highly structured tannins than its Russian River Valley counterparts, this wine sets itself apart with a leaner core of focused acidity, earthy and raw herbaceous character and silky finsih.
Earthy notes of cherry bark, black raspberry, and cola nut, with touches of sweet clove and orange zest. Fresh pomegranate juice with herbaceous notes of spearmint, evergreen and a subtle hint of lemon verbena, flanked by racy acidity, refined tannins and a subtle salinity.
Vineyard & Vintage Notes
From start to finish, 2018 was a very steady season, offering weather that was reminiscent of years prior to drought. Higher than average yields and excellent quality brought about a fruitful harvest beginning in late August.
Located in the high stony slopes of the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the heart of Bonny Doon. Attentively farmed by Jim Beauregard and his family, these are steep hillside vineyards that enjoy morning and evening fog from the San Francisco Bay.
Fermented separately in small open-top fermenters with gentle punch-downs. Maintained at moderate temperatures until dry, basket-pressed, and racked to 40% new French oak barrels for 14 months.
Martin Ray did not submit this wine for review given its small production scale, but of note vintages 2015 and 2017 each scored 92 points and 91 points from James Suckling, respectively. Another producer making Pinot Noir from this vineyard received 96 points from this same vintage for context.
Varietal Composition: 100% Pinot Noir
Appellation: Santa Cruz Mountains
Sourcing: Coast Grade Vineyard
Brix at Harvest: 23.7˚
Total Acidity: 5.5 g/L
Production: less than 300 cases
Release Date: May 2020
Included in the Box
2x 2018 Martin Ray Pinot Noir, Coast Grade Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
12x 2018 Martin Ray Pinot Noir, Coast Grade Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
In 1990, Courtney Benham was walking through an old warehouse in San Jose when he chanced upon a forgotten treasure – some 1,500 cases of library wines, dating back more than forty years, made by California wine pioneer Martin Ray. Courtney explored further and found several old wooden crates filled with letters, press clippings, winery brochures and price lists from Ray’s four decades as a winemaker. It was clear that Martin Ray had quite a history, so Courtney contacted the Ray family and acquired the wine library and rights to the Martin Ray label. He decided to take up the Martin Ray brand with the goal of creating wines whose quality would make Martin Ray himself proud. This was no small task, for Ray was an iconoclast who rejected mediocrity and an innovator who was one of the first to use grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains to create premium wines.
Before re-establishing the Martin Ray brand, Courtney studied Martin Ray’s history and tasted the extensive library of Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. He explored the history of the wines for common threads and stylistically distinguishable components they could use as inspiration for the new Martin Ray wines.
For Courtney, the essence of Martin Ray is a no-compromise approach that insists on two compelling factors: hillside vineyards and intuitive winemaking. This is the tradition that inspired the original Martin Ray, and which inspires the wines that today bear his name.
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@losthighwayz@ttboy23 Many/most wineries source grapes from vineyards they don’t own. Even if they own estate plots, which Martin Ray does have an estate vineyard in RRV. To say that is the equivalent of what Cameron Hughes is doing is not really a fair comparison. No first hand knowledge but it appears from the website they have some solid relationships with their growers.
@kaolis@ttboy23 Thanks. I know many wineries source grapes from different vineyards under their label. I do remember reading an article mentioning Martin Ray in the same breath as Cameron Hughes but cannot recall where I read it. Old age I guess.
That being said, Martin Ray was revived by its current owner many years after the winery had disappeared and began operations in a completely different wine region and sourcing from vineyards that have no connection to the original winery. The new owner simply bought the rights to the name but that’s where the connection ends to the wine pioneer.
I know the current owner and his brother sold Blackstone to Constellation a few years back and they used a negociant model then. Maybe that’s what the writer who’s article I cannot recall was refering to?
We all know Constellation is disliked by most small producers
@kaolis@losthighwayz@ttboy23 First the disclaimer that I don’t know anything about the business model of Martin Ray or the history. And even if it is a “negociant model,” it doesn’t necessarily indicate an inferior or “bulk” wine – especially from an (apparentlly) 18-acre vineyard with production < 300 cases.
But I do see a difference between “contract vineyards” which is very common if you read the winemaker discussions on this board. Especially for the small-volume producers, to be able to work with vineyard owners over many years, that they know and have some control over pruning and watering (if any).
And in contrast, what I interpret as “negociant” where it is largely buying “surplus juice” found in warehouses. That’s probably an oversimplification, but when I used to get the CH newletters many years ago, I believe he basically said as much. Which again doesn’t mean a bad product, and often can mean really good deals (or QPR as they say here, except that some recent wines named that seemed to fall short of the Q expectation).
But with a negociant what you get from year to year or batch to batch will vary greatly (why CH uses Lot #s). Whereas a winemaker that uses contract vineyards will often “farm” that vineyard for years to develop a consistent product.
I don’t know what model Martin Ray winery operates under – I suspect somewhere in-between. CH is admittedly the endpoint of the spectrum (full-negociant-mode) but is clear about the fact that that is what they are.
As you can see from the photo, this bottle comes with a screw top, I know some are put off by this but it doesn’t offend me much.
Wine has a beautiful translucent ruby red color to it, very lovely and appealing.
Primary nose is floral fragrance, violet essence followed by apricot notes, and lastly light caramel. The aromas were not hitting like a floral bouquet but quite elegant and subtle.
This wine felt soft and smooth, medium tannins leaving the roof feeling somewhat dry but not teeth sucking dry. Wife and I felt it was not quite bold but had lots of complexities happening in the background. The wine was definitely asking for our attention but wasn’t overly bearing and demanding, subtle but present. I didn’t pick up on a lot of earthiness from this wine or what i can only describe as pungent characteristics, which I am okay with, but rather red currants and some mild raspberry tart.
This pinot was paired with a lemon butter sauce over salmon, grilled asparagus and sautéed mushrooms.
My wife and I were very pleased with this bottle…Day 1.
Day 2 – It lost a lot of the complexities and interest we enjoyed on the first night, the tartness stood out more but also almost flattened out. We weren’t sure if this means it’s a young wine, maybe the wino’s can chime in on this phenomenon to help us understand the short journey this wine had in a little over 12 hours after first opening and vacuum sealing. We paired this with Korean style short ribs, over the grill and it again paired nicely with the meal.
Overall, my wife and I were very satisfied with this Pinot Noir to which my wife said, “I wouldn’t be upset with getting a case despite how quickly it changed overnight.” Mind you, when we open up a bottle it typically doesn’t stand a chance at a day three, so we are okay with a one night challenge ha!
@i8dacat To me, I don’t see the “screwcap” as a negative at all. Since this is “Santa Cruz Mountains,” it reminded me of a time around 1990 when I went to the Bonny Doon tasting room which was a small building up the hill (from the nude beach…) and learned that they went to screwcaps first on their most premium wine, just to make a point. I lived in Santa Cruz at the time.
At least that is how I recall the screwcap story. I’m not sure if it was Randall Graham I talked with in the building, because at the time I didn’t know much about the wine industry or its people.
We enjoyed this wine with a cheese plate. Medium bodied with a complex smooth and velvety mouthfeel. Fruit forward with plums, raspberries, cherries and a vanilla finish. Fresh leather and almost a cocoa flavor once it opens.
Excellent wine from the Russian River region.
@BCwine To clarify, the Martin Ray winery is listed as in the Russian River region. This wine, however, is sourced from grapes from the Coast Grade Vineyard, about 100 mi south, in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
I’m a huge fan of this Winemaker’s work over at Martin Ray. I haven’t had this particular Pinot but I’ve had her Sonoma Coast Pinot and loved it! Coming from the Santa Cruz Mountains, this should be even more nuanced and subtle, considering her terroir driven style. I would highly recommend this wine!