Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stubbs Vineyard - Organic Grapes At Their Best

In April (this took awhile to finish and still feels unfinished), I had the opportunity to have a glass of wine and chat with Mary Stubbs of Stubbs Vineyard at her home far above the vineyard.  Mary is a friendly, intelligent, lively Marinite with passions for the organic movement, the environment, wine, art, and her family. Mary is steeped in knowledge from her winemaker, Don Goldfield, and her former vineyard manager Mark Pasternak.

She grew up in Mill Valley and graduated from Tam High. After working in San Francisco and falling in love, Mary and her husband bought this ranch in West Marin in the 1980s. They have two sons and a daughter. In 1996, after taking some courses on vineyards and figuring out which clones would be best for their soil and microclimate, Tom and Mary planted 6.4 acres of Pinot Noir and 4.6 acres of Chardonnay.

The ranch is part of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust of which Mary is a huge fan of. She was a bit flabbergasted that I had only seen the signs but didn't really know anything about it. MALT is a non-profit which maintains gorgeous open space in West Marin for agricultural use only. There are 44,100 acres with easements to MALT. As Mary put it, "MALT is the reason West Marin looks the way it does as opposed to Gravenstein Hwy."

Their ranch is so far in the boonies that they rely entirely on wind and solar panels for electricity on the farm and in their home. The water for the vineyard's drip irrigation system is fed from a small pond at the bottom of the vineyard. In addition to the vineyards, there are also chickens, sheep, and llamas on the property as well as a vegetable garden, lemon trees, and about a hundred olive trees lining the long gravel driveway. To further show their dedication to the environment all their farm vehicles run on bio-diesel. They also planted the endangered Baker's Larkspur in the woods on their ranch.

Mary took vineyard management classes, but since vineyard management classes can only give you the basics and not really teach you how to actually take care of a real vineyard, Mary hired the West Marin vineyard expert Mark Pasternak of Devil's Gulch Vineyards. Mark is super friendly and estimates that he has a hand in over 75% of the vineyards in Marin. After working with and learning from Mark for several years, Mary took over the management of the vineyard herself.

Stubbs Vineyard is the only certified organic vineyard in Marin. There are a few vineyards going through certification and ones that say they farm organically, but don't want the red tape of being certified. The certifying agency sends out thorough auditors every 2-3 months. Most winemakers and vineyard managers don't want to deal with that sort of headache when it doesn't even result in higher sales unlike other produce products. Mary estimates that the process of getting certified and maintaining an organic vineyard takes about five times as much work as farming conventionally, but she does it anyway because her kids played and worked in the vineyard and it is the right thing to do. One cool piece of equipment for organic farming is the "Dragon" which shoots flames across the green sprouting weeds in winter and spring to char them and keep them from growing. This is much less effective than Round-Up, but so much better for the environment and people in the vineyards.

The dilemma for vineyards going organic is organic wine has a bad reputation because in the '90s there were a lot of people who didn't know what they were doing and made some god-awful wine under the label of organic.  So now you will rarely see organic being front and center on a bottle of wine. The other problem is that although many people will pay a premium for organic produce, meats, dairy, and other food products they are not so willing to do the same for wine. Therefor even though your wine is more expensive to produce you can't charge twice as much for your fruit like an organic peach grower would. I should note that their wine is not organic as they use sulfites in the wine making process (99% of the world uses sulfites).  Most organic grapes/wines these days are of a much higher quality than the wines that destroyed their reputation.

Mary poured me a glass of her 2004 Pinot Noir ($44). The wine exhibited scents of sour cherry, earth, cinnamon, ginger, lavendar, and licorice. On my palate the sour cherries and cinnamon continued while the ginger got spicier and earth got darker and they were joined by hints of black pepper and cloves. The tannins were silky and the finish lingered for a long time. The wine had a good level of acidity which enables it to age very well, but isn't too sour and is far from biting. This is truly a wonderful Pinot Noir of the Burgundian style by which I mean it depends more on its structure and bouquet than bright fruit aromas. The 2007 Pinot Noir ($44) has a very similar profile for the fruits but instead of lavender, licorise, and pepper I tasted sweet tobacco and savory herbs. The wine is younger so the tannins are more soft than silky and the finish isn't quite as long, but that will improve with age.

They also have an '06 Merlot ($38) which was made in a cool year when their Pinot Noir didn't full ripen and had to be sold to Schramsberg for sparkling wine. This exemplifies how cool-climate their vineyard is.  They usually harvest Pinot when most wineries are harvesting Cabs.  The Merlot was sourced from a friend down the road. The Merlot has scents of bitter-sweet chocolate, mocha, earth, dark cherry, and other dark fruits. On the palate I tasted boisenberry, sage, herbs, and dark fruit. The tannins were soft, but still a little astringent. The wine displayed a long chocolatey finish.  They also have a Chardonnay which I did not try.

Stubbs Vineyard's wine can be found in high end restaurants and wine shops around the SF Bay Area as well as in New York and Florida. The easiest way to find it is to order directly from their website.

Their house and the grounds have many art installations including: wooden Chinese warriors that guard the hallway, the blue doors inside their home that remind me of India, stone statues outside, a table fit for a king, and many others.

All photography is courtesy of Sanae Burries.  If you want high res prints, then you can email me and I will let her know.

Challenge Question:  What is your favorite wine made with organic grapes?

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