We have been ardent fans of the Russian River Valley AVA since before we developed our vineyard. Now, with Clay’s new responsibility as a member of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers’ Board of Directors, it feels more important than ever to get to know our neighbors and to promote their efforts.
With that in mind, we made an appointment to taste at Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery, a biodynamic vineyard and winery nestled between two redwood-covered ridges southeast of Guerneville, CA, just nine miles east of the ocean.
Although the area makes for difficult farming, with its thin soil over blue shale and scarcity of water, it has been farmed for over 150 years, according to Porter-Bass’ winemaker, Luke Bass. Luke’s parents bought the property, with its century-old Zinfandel plants, in 1980 and used biodynamic and organic strategies to renew the soil. They have kept a small mother block of the original Zinfandel and use it as budwood to maintain the character of the place. The rest of the vineyard has been replanted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. All of their wines are made from estate grapes.
Luke attended the Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm in Santa Rosa, CA, through high school, and there became passionate about biodynamics. Porter-Bass' family-run vineyard is organized as a self-sustaining entity with a goal of minimizing human input other than labor, maximizing output, and creating a balance between animals, plants and humans.
“The mysterious side of biodynamics involves the compost preparations,” says the Porter-Bass website. “These are a collection of plants, each selected for their particular qualities and in combination with different parts of an animal, buried in the ground. Adding these preparations to the compost pile brings a strong and harmonious animal energy to the soil.” Timing and even the stirring direction of the preparations are important.
Luke has merged his upbringing on a vineyard, his understanding of biodynamics, and his training as a winemaker (he’s worked under winemaker Greg LaFollette, at wineries in South Africa and Chile, and for Sonoma County’s Tandem Winery and Hirsch Winery) to create some fabulous wines. He likes to pick his fruit earlier in the ripeness continuum, and the results are wines that are great with food and show varietal character, great structure and acidity, and lower alcohol.
- He used neutral oak barrels to create his 2010 and 2011 Chardonnays. The 2010 Estate Chardonnay was clean and crisp.
- In 2011, the vineyard suffered some botrytis, a bit of which was in the harvested grapes. The botrytis added a wonderful, flowery character to the 2011 Estate Chardonnay.
- The 2011 Estate Pinot Noir had beautiful color and a delicate, refined flavor.
- The aroma of the 2011 Zinfandel was amazing. One whiff and you had to say, “THAT’s a Zin!” Celeste commented on how this wine tasted like what she expected a Zinfandel grape to taste like.
Luke said his efforts are to make his wines reflect the grape and the location. “The wines should be about the place,” he said, “not the process.”