Have you ever been somewhere and thought, “I will always remember this moment.” That's how I felt driving onto the extraordinary Clos de la Tech property. I was struck by the beauty of the incredibly steep vineyards sloping off the precariously narrow ridge of road...like one of Wayne Thiebaud's California Landscapes.
Often, I visit tasting rooms and wineries that pour wine on site. This visit was different. Today's visit was guided by David Goldfarb, vineyard manager. All the grape vines—disappearing, dropping off the ridge, or climbing up the hill at neck craning angles—all the vines grow Pinot Noir grapes.
David came to a fork in the road in his studies and his career. He was interested in the wine making side of the industry but as he told me, he enjoys being in the vineyards the most. Some of his Master's research in Aroma Recovery lined up with Clos de la Tech so he reached out to them.
He graduated from Cal Poly with a Master of Science in Viticulture and Enology, Agriculture, Food Science. Now as vineyard manager, his lab-to-harvest experience and education has brought his job full circle. Having had a part of each step of the wine process helps when making decisions in the vineyard. He said, “ The Santa Cruz Mountains offer high quality, world class wines. There's an incredible diversity in this small area that would excite tasters.”
T.J. Rogers, owner and Chief Winemaking Officer, and Valeta Massey, owner and winemaker, planted their first vineyard in '96. T.J.'s venture into wine started when Bob Mullens of Woodside Vineyards (see my feature on his Chardonnay) suggested T.J. plant vineyards instead of landscaping their property. Bob even offered to help. I've chatted with Bob a few times and he has wisdom and history in the Bay Area wine industry. Hands down, if Bob suggested that to me, I'd do the same.
That first vineyard, Domaine du Docteur Dodgers, was planted and T.J. was hooked. Next came Domaine Valeta, another 4 acres of vineyards. The Clos de la Tech vineyards are named Domaine Lois Louise. Here, the land was too steep for cows so the owners were able to acquire the property at a great deal. The vineyards were planted in five stages—meter by meter—on the plummeting hillsides.
If you've ever hiked onto a ledge and felt cool ocean breezes mix with the warm hillside air, then you get a picture of what Clos de la Tech's grapes get to grow in every day. The breeze cuts down on pest damage. The grapes are primarily dry farmed, needing up to seven gallons of water per plant per year, and are organically grown.
The staff tend the vines starting their work from the top, carefully working their way to the bottom. It's so steep they're picked up at the bottom of the vineyards, driven back up to the top, and start the whole tending process over. Top to bottom. Repeat. That takes time.
Clos de la Tech is not in a rush to produce excellent wines. As David guided me around the property, he shared that every decision Clos de la Tech makes hinges on the question. “Will this make better wine?” To add to that singular focus, they only grow and make Pinot Noir. They set the wines aside to age so that we tasters can open a more complex and luscious bottle of wine.
Planted and farmed block by block, half acre by half acre, the property is a checkerboard of Pinot Noir clones (a sub-type, specific cutting of a type of grape.) David keeps each section of Pinot separate to see what each block is offering. The wine produced from each block has its own personality, is known, and is fermented in small batches. Vines even change as they age. The lower vigor root stock struggles to grow. The adversity brings out the flavor and quality of the grapes.
Working with a small footprint of land, the winery is built into the hillside. Caves house the winery, production facility, bottling area, cellars, and even the property's suite. Three caves are built into the hillside at three elevations. By going underground, the Caves are at just the right humidity, no heating is needed and no pumps are needed in the winemaking process. The top Cave is the fermentation/production area, the middle Cave is the barrel room, and the lower Cave is the bottling site.
I have a confession. As a kid, when I visited people's houses I used to sneak around and look at the home. I've always been fascinated with homes, buildings, and spaces. So I was beyond-words-happy to have an inside look at Clos de la Tech. David walked me through the different Caves. As we walked from one Cave to the next, down subterranean staircases, I was struck by the genius of the design, creativity, and forward thinking to build such a site.
With a background in Chemistry, Physics, and Electrical Engineering. T.J. designed and invented a wireless fermentation system. Instead of donating monies to UC Davis he took wine advancement a step further and donated 150 of these machines to the university. At 3.5 million dollars, these individual fermentation machines take the human element, and human error, out of documenting changes and processes during the wine fermentation process. This type of documentation will help those in the industry by offering real time statistics. (Link to UC Davis)
But what's also appealing is Clos de la Tech includes old world methods in their winemaking such as foot crushing, using the whole cluster (delicious!) the use of native yeasts, and the wines are not filtered. Their berry (wine-grape) yield is limited. The Pinot Noir berries are small; like the size of a Canadian Boreal blueberry.
Swirl a glass of Clos de la Tech Pinot Noir in your hand and you'll notice the color! It's saturated with hue; more than most Pinots. That's from the “Solar Radiation,”a.k.a. the sunshine. The grapes get sunshine all day long, but the coastal breezes prevent heat spikes.
The only difference with their winemaking, compared to 100 years ago, is the use of stainless steel tanks for production. Then the wines are aged in oak barrels from specially grown and selected French oak trees. Clos de la Tech produces about 4,500 cases of wine a year and have room in the Caves to grow to 10,000 cases.
My host, David, pulled four bottles for the tasting:
The hilltop vineyards and hillside caves don't leave much room for a road for visitors.
So Clos de la Tech wines can be tasted and purchased at Half Moon Bay Wine
and Cheese Company and Tasting Bar (Link.)
You can also purchase Clos de la Tech wines online on their site (Link.)
The Caves, inventions, and level of excellence may catch your eye.
But Clos de la Tech does keep its focus on making beautiful wines.
“It's a legacy project. Not about the dollars. ” David shared with me.
“Do one thing and do it to the best of your ability...
to do it well and produce something lasting.”
And for Clos de la Tech, that's Pinot Noir.
Here's to your next tasting of Pinot Noir!
For more Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir, read about my time at Lester Family Vineyards.
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