Tales From: Russian River Valley–Halleck Vineyard

I really do not know when or where I first heard about Halleck Vineyard, but I have been meaning to visit for some time now. Finally, on my last visit to the West Coast this August, I was able to set up an appointment with Ross Halleck, the founder and co-owner (with his ex-wife) of the winery.

HalleckWhile I normally fly solo on tasting appointments, this go around I was joined by a blogging buddy: Loie of Cheap Wine Curious (if you have not yet checked out her blog, you should–she is a talented writer and has a great palate…). I let Loie know that, well, Ross’ wines were not exactly “cheap” but she was undeterred and decided to tag along (I might have then questioned her loyalty to her own “brand” but I will let her explain that dichotomy).

We pulled up to the “winery” which is actually Ross’ house, a beautiful hillside home with expansive views of the valley, and a small, one-acre plot of Pinot Noir. We knocked and waited, knocked again, and waited some more. Just as we were about to leave, out came Ross, chic-ly clad in jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers.

After quick introductions, he grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge, and we crossed the driveway and headed down into the vineyard for a tasting and a bit of background on the winery.

Ross, a native of Illinois, started his successful Public Relations firm, Halleck, Inc. in Silicon Valley in 1980. Initially, the firm focused on well-known technology firms, but his love of wine eventually led him to work with several Northern California wineries (Iron Horse, St. Supéry, Kendall-Jackson). Ross moved to Sebastopol in 1991 and planted the one-acre vineyard where we were standing two years later as “a college fund for their children”.

Ross poured us a bit of the wine that he had brought down with him, a Sauvignon Blanc, and it was impressive. It seems as though many Sauvignon Blancs in California struggle to find an identity—either leaning toward the grassy New Zealand style or, frankly, a thin, almost tasteless rendition that makes me wonder “Why bother?”IMG_2833

Not this one.halleck-sb5

Whoa.

2013 Halleck Little Sister Sauvignon Blanc: Retail $35.  On the nose, great tropical fruit and ocean salinity. In the French style, but richer and fuller. Ross called it “Sancerre on steroids” which was an apt description. Long, lingering finish. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

As the sun rose a bit higher in the sky, the vestiges of the cool morning faded away and the temperature rose considerably, we experienced why the vineyard was an ideal spot for Pinot. We also decided that the rest of the tasting would perhaps be more comfortable back up on the house’s umbrageous deck.

View from the deck.

View from the deck.

Ross brought out a few more wines and a plate of local cheeses to pair with them. The first was a dry Gewürztraminer—a variety that is tough to spell, pronounce, and to do right. Having “grown up” a bit in Alsace, home of some of the best Gewürz in the world, I was a bit dubious.

After the Sauvignon Blanc, I should have known better.

2012 Halleck Dry Gewürztraminer: Retail $30. Completely dry. Aromatics off the chart lychee, passion fruit, and dare I say hawthorn? (Yes, I have been using my Nez du Vin again). On the palate, completely dry with weight and incredible depth. Extremely long finish. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

Ross is a talker. So much so that there is really no point in “interviewing” him–it is better just to sit back and take it all in. He is also a bit of a free spirit, which when combined with his inherent loquacious tendencies, can result in a misunderstanding now and then. Even though he says he tries not to care what people say and think, clearly (like most of us), he does. Ross turned 60 this past summer, the culmination of a decade of self-reflection during which he stopped focusing on external rewards, preferring to turn inward instead.

Listening to Ross was easy as he is equal parts philosopher, bon vivant, and proud father–appealing all. But after a quick glance at his watch, he realized that we still had a few Pinots to get to and they would prove to be equally compelling as the conversation.

The winemaker at Halleck is Rick Davis, the protégé of Sonoma Pinot legend Greg Lafollette (the first winemaker at Halleck), and Ross’s ex-wife, Jennifer, is still very much involved in the day-to-day winemaking duties, and the experience and passion provided come through in the wines.

Halleck produced four Pinots (we tasted all but the high-end Estate), sourcing fruit from several sites, including some of his neighbors who have similarly small vineyards. The wines were simply stunning, I do not know if I have ever tasted a stronger trio of Pinots.IMG_2834

2012 Halleck Three Sons Cuvée Pinot Noir: Retail $45. Great sour cherry nose. Great midpalate with descent weight. Very nice finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2011 Halleck Hillside Cuvée Pinot Noir: Retail $50. Deeper red Sebastopol fruit with white pepper and some mushroom. The fruit was sourced from neighbors’ backyard vineyards and the “contracts” consist of a firm hand shake. This might classify as “whoa”. Pomegranate. Depth a go-go. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2009 Halleck The Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir: Retail $75. From 2 acres at practically sea level in Russian River.  Dark color and a beautiful nose. Unreal mouthfeel with seemless integration. And a finish that will still be there tomorrow. Best CA Pinot I’ve had? Not sure but it’s in the conversation. Incredible. 94-96 Points. Maybe more.
My first visit to Halleck was certainly memorable–the wines were among the finest I have had and the conversation (OK, it was more of a monologue), was delightful and informative. I will certainly be back, notepad and taste buds ready.