It has been a while since I posted about my trip to Sonoma and Napa this past Spring, but I am determined to push these last few articles out soon as I had several visits that were nothing short of fantastic.
One of those trips was to Martin Ray Winery in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County.
Trying to understand Martin Ray’s history would take several articles, and frankly, I was a bit too busy staring at all the wines in front of me, making it somewhat difficult to pay attention.
Essentially, there are two strands to the Martin Ray story, with the first beginning after the second: Martin Ray Winery was founded in 1943 in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but the current location of the winery, in the heart of the Russian River Valley, saw its first winery in 1881 (originally called Twin Fir Winery), and eventually became the Martini & Prati, known for the production of high quality jug wine.
In 1990, Courtney Benham purchased the Marin Ray Winery in Santa Cruz, eventually moving the brand to the Martini & Prati location in 2003. A few years later, he agreed to buy the property outright, first changing the name in 2007, then finalizing the purchase in 2014.
The facility is impressive , interspersing modernity with history all over the property. The winemaker, Bill Batchelor, is a fascinating yet soft-spoken fellow. His degree from Sonoma State is in Anthropology (with a minor in Film & Photography) and he is an avid soccer player (although he seems to have the habit of referring to it as “football”—don’t get me started). After a few years as an aspiring screen writer in L.A., he moved back to Sonoma County looking for a more “stable” career, which landed him in the winemaking business.
He has been with Martin Ray since the move to the Russian River facility in 2003 and has a team oriented approach to making wine. One of the members of that team is none other than Philly native Dan Goldfield of Dutton-Goldfield fame who offers his intimate knowledge of Sonoma County and its vineyards to Martin Ray as they look to strengthen their premium and single vineyard bottlings.
In all, Martin Ray produces what seems like dozens of different wines from all over Sonoma County, Napa Valley, and, keeping true to their roots, the Santa Cruz mountains. We tasted through many of those wines that morning, and here were those that stood out.
2015 Martin Ray Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley: Retail $28. Saignée only available through the tasting room. Red berry fruit and nice acidity. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2014 Martin Ray Sauvignon Blanc Dutton Ranch George Vineyard: Retail $25. 100% stainless. Nice aeromatics and acidity. Bargain at $25. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2014 Martin Ray Bald Mountain Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay: Retail $35. Stelvin closure. A bit darker than the others. 30-40% new oak. Lemon curd. Really bright. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Martin Ray Chardonnay Bisordi Vineyard Russian River Valley: Richer and more vanilla. More of a big Chard-lover’s wine. I like big Chards. Yum. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2014 Martin Ray Chardonnay 809 Clone Russian River Valley: Retail $35. Only available through tasting room. Only 80 cases made. Really floral. Rounder still. But I like that style. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2014 Martin Ray Dutton Ranch “Mill Station Vineyard” Chardonnay: Retail $35. Oaky nose. On the palate though bright and tart. Definitely needs time. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
We then tackled some Pinot….
2014 Martin Ray Estate Grown Pinot Noir Russian River Valley: Retail $50. First vintage of the estate a field blend of all the clones planted on the estate. Big fruit. Not all that deep, but the vines are young, so in future years they have great promise. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2013 Martin Ray Pinot Noir Coast Grade Santa Cruz Mountains: Retail $40. The fruit comes from the same grower as Bald mountain. Perfumed and a bit spicy this is a solid Pinot from top to bottom. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Martin Ray Pinot Noir Green Valley of Russian River Valley: Retail $40. Mostly Tina Marie Vineyard, but labeled as Green Mountain. Perhaps the best Pinot of the tasting so far, with great cherry fruit and an earthiness that was not in the others. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2013 Martin Ray Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast: Small vineyard out near Annapolis, which was originally sold to J (the sparkling wine producer formally owned by Judy Jordan) and now owned by Gallo. Took several years to work out the tannins, experimenting with several barrel combinations. Best nose thus far. Bigger fruit than the Green Valley. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Martin Ray Dark Star Hill Pinot Noir Russian River Valley: Retail $55. Freestone vineyard. All of it is here. Big fruit, solid acidity, and earth. And a Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
We were not done—next were the Cabs. All of the wines spend about 18 months in barrel and then in bottle for another year. Bill feels any longer in barrel, the wine tends to lose some of its fruit, which he wants to preserve.
2013 Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Stags Leap District: Retail $65. One block is one row that wraps around the mountain. Earliest ripening of the lots. Only produces 1000 6 packs (500 cases). Whoa. Great fruit, but the structure here is amazing. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2013 Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains: Retail $65. Predominantly from right across from Monte Bello (Ridge). A little more floral and a bit green (which I like). Higher acid and a great food wine (which I also like). Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon Simpson Ridge: Retail $65. From a vineyard where Dry Creek and Russian River meet. Technically a Dry Creek appellation wine. Great fruit and acidity with a nice tang. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain: Retail $75. Big wine. Great nose and this is a monster. Big fruit and massive tannins. To call this a baby is an understatement. Potential? Off the charts. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.