In many ways Carl Stanton is a typical winery head: he is an East Coast finance guy who has always loved wine. Just over twenty years ago, he and two friends decided that they wanted to own a vineyard and perhaps, eventually, make their own wine. And in 1998, that is what they did, purchasing a plot of land just south of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County.
In one significant way, though, Carl is not “typical” at all: while his vineyard is in Sonoma County, he still lives in the Upper West Side. Of New York City. When he took sole control of the vineyard and brand in 2014, he was considering finally moving to Sonoma, but as he put it when I met up with him a few months ago in New York, “I decided to get divorced instead.”
Since his now ex-wife, with whom he maintains a “great relationship,” was staying on the East Coast with their school-age children, he had no choice but to stay in New York to be close to his kids and manage the big changes occurring with Westwood from afar, racking up frequent flier miles in 6,000 mile chunks.
Making it a bit more difficult, around that same time, Carl decided to convert the vineyard to biodynamic farming and to take its distribution beyond California (Westwood is now in approximately 30 states). He also hired David Ramey as a consultant, completely changed the vineyard and winemaking teams (after a few changes, Philippe Melka is now head winemaker), and designed a new, more sophisticated label, all of which were necessary Carl said to “kick Westwood into overdrive.”
What has not changed since starting the project in 1998 is Carl’s intense focus on the land. The Annadel Gap Vineyards are in the northernmost section of Sonoma Valley where the climate is cool and quite windy, more similar to the Petaluma Gap than the Russian River Valley. Carl and his partners had to start from scratch with then fallow land, obtaining permits, installing irrigation and, in 2001, planting the first vines. Just to make it interesting, they planted nine clones of Pinot and four of Syrah along with Mourvèdre, Counoise, Grenache, Tannat, Rousanne, Viognier, “and a few others.”
The property is 33 total acres, of which 23 have been planted, and Westwood makes about 3,500 cases of wine annually, all at a custom crush facility in Sonoma. The wines are almost exclusively sold direct-to-consumer (through a healthy mailing list and their tasting room on Sonoma Square) and on-premise in restaurants across the country.
During my time with Carl, one element was abundantly clear: he is passionate about his vineyards and his wines. Now many can no doubt claim the same, but as I tasted the wines below at my desk in Houston, I could not help but hear Carl’s hearty laugh and see that twinkle he gets in his eyes when he talks about Annadel Gap.
2017 Westwood Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Roberts Road, Sonoma Coast: Retail $50. When I see “Sangiacomo Vineyard” on a label, I have to be honest: I get as giddy as a virgin on prom night. Sure, there is no guarantee that everything is going to go as planned, but the odds are certainly in my favor. While many American vineyards claim to be of “Grand Cru” status, only a few actually are. Sangiacomo Vineyard is one. While Pinot grabs most of the accolades, for me, this is one of the premier Chardonnay vineyards in Sonoma (along with Dutton, Hirsch, Rochioli, and Clos Pepe–OK the last of those is not in Sonoma, but damn does it produce killer Chard). Quite light in color (at best a pale straw), but vibrant in aromas: lemon curd and peach, with dashes of honey and wet rock. The palate is even more delectable with said peach and lemon, but also a (slight) buttery and (even slighter) oaky goodness. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2016 Westwood Pinot Noir Wendling Vineyard, Anderson Valley: Retail $72. Fairly dark for a Pinot with dark red fruit, eucalyptus, and flashes of earth. Yum. Rich and fruity on the palate with intense acidity, is this a classic Sonoma Pinot? Perhaps. As it is juicy, earthy, luscious, yet lithe. Lovely. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2016 Westwood Pinot Noir Estate Grown Annadel Gap Vineyard: Retail $48. It was a Sunday night here in Houston and the in-laws were over for some seafood risotto (which was fabulous, if I do say so) and my father-in-law eschewed the champagne (Bollinger), and the Chardonnay (Littorai), instead requesting first “red” (I gave him Frapatto) and then “Pinot Noir.” And I pulled this. Fresh cherry and eucalyptus, with hints of tobacco and earth, this is a delight. Intense fruit (but far short of overpowering) with salivating acidity and just the right amount of earth. Whoa. Everything one would want in a Pinot. Perhaps more. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2016 Westwood Pinot Noir Estate Grown Clone 37 Annadel Gap Vineyard, Sonoma County: Retail $74. Simple: this is a fantastic Sonoma Pinot Noir. If you are looking for an Old World style wine, reminiscent of Nuits-St.-Georges or Corton, this is not the bottle for you. Similarly, if you are looking for an overly decadent fruit bomb, keep on moving, nothing to see here. But. If you desire a rich, red-fruit dominant, yet still earthy Pinot that remains true to the variety (at least in the New World definition), then this is your wine. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2016 Westwood Syrah Annadel Estate, Sonoma County: Retail $58. Really dark in the glass, even for a syrah with black fruit, anise, and black pepper on the nose. The palate is luscious and rich with those same black fruits, a healthy dose of acid, and plenty of spice. This is really close to a Whoa with its earthy aromas and fruit. Wow. As indicated by the somewhat drying tannins on the finish, this would likely benefit from some time. But right now? Holy cow! And a “yowza” too (but not quite a Whoa). Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2016 Westwood Legend, Sonoma County: Retail $60. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 7% Mourvedre. Philippe Melka is the consulting winemaker and it shows; an interesting blend, incredible fruit, a touch of forest floor, and mostly integrated tannins. Make no mistake, this is a fabulous wine that could benefit from a bit more time in the cellar (the tannins could us a little mellowing). But whoa, this is really good right now. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.