June 11, 2021 – It began with a vineyard. And not just any vineyard, but the famed Trout Gulch Vineyard, planted 44 years ago in Aptos by the Turgeon family. Although not far from the Alfaro property on Hames Road, it’s just closer enough to the coast to have a chillier climate. And the impact is akin to sticking a bottle in the freezer instead of the fridge.
Everybody knows Richard Alfaro, he of the famous Alfaro Vineyards label, the bakery he sold and the outstanding food porn he posts on FB. He also began farming Trout Gulch Vineyard 12 years ago, turning the aging Pinot Noir and Chardonnay plantings around, replanting diseased and underperforming vines. His son Ryan has been his right hand man since he got back from interning at wineries in New Zealand. Ryan is now the winemaker of record for Alfaro Vineyards, taking over all cellar and winemaking duties. “It was awfully hard for my Dad to do all the farming, all the winemaking and run the growing business,” says Ryan. “Me taking over winemaking gives him a chance to do two of the things he loves most: being in the vineyard and being in the market selling wine.”
Ryan’s personal label, Farm Cottage, came about because in 2019, there was a bit of extra Pinot Noir for the first time since Richard started farming Trout Gulch. Normally, it’s all spoken for by the brands that have been purchasing fruit from this vineyard for years, including Arnot-Roberts and Ceritas. Alfaro Family Vineyards also produces vineyard designate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Trout Gulch.
With this rare opportunity, Ryan decided to do something unique in his winemaking career. “I have never done 100% whole cluster on anything for Alfaro Vineyards before!” he says, “I decided not to use any new wood. Not that I have anything against oak, but the Trout Gulch fruit is so bright and has such great acid retention. The whole cluster adds structure and a nice savory element.” He used fourth fill Sirugue barrels with medium toast.
The 2019 Farm Cottage Pinot Noir, which you can find on the wine list at Soif and Mentone, as well as on the shelf at Deer Park Wine & Spirits, is ripping with freshness, sporting nose popping aromatics of tart apples, red cherries and Alpine strawberries. The wine never loses focus from the first explosive sip to the time it finishes saying goodbye to your tastebuds. It has a pH of 3.45, which he considers beautiful.
“The Santa Cruz Mountains are ideal for Pinot Noir,” he says. “If grown correctly, we have dream juice. Our acids are great. At Trout Gulch, no matter how ripe the fruit gets, the acid never drops out. It just plateaus.”
The wine was fermented with native yeast, completely outdoors, where it drops down to 40 degrees overnight.
He admits he was a bit concerned about smoke taint in 2020, but all the ferments have come out clean. He even did 100% whole cluster again on the Trout Gulch pinot, although the fermentation came out lighter and went more quickly than in 2019.
“The big problem for us in 2020 was the loss of fruit to raisining, due to heat waves. It even got into the triple digits at Trout Gulch. The shrivel was pretty bad.” It’s a dry farmed vineyard, too, so the vines, which are own rooted in sand, are on their own.
In 2020, he only got two barrels worth of Pinot Noir and one of Chardonnay from Trout Gulch, despite wanting more. “I am low man on the totem pole,” says Ryan, who towers over his already towering father. They are both the ideal height for a totem pole, actually.
He released the 2019 Pinot Noir into the market in January of this year. “My timing was horrible! January is a tough month to see people anyway, and then the pandemic really complicated everything. I realize that me being in front of someone personally, presenting my wine, is going to help me sell and I’m grateful I’ve made so many placements, including San Francisco Wine Trading Company in San Francisco.”
He admits it’s gratifying to see the reception for his inaugural Farm Cottage wine: you cannot disguise your reaction when you taste it. Most people will be bowled over by the intensity of the fruit and the savory infrastructure created by the stems or rakus. There’s a soft hint of fresh pine that suggests its coastal mountain roots. “I just love the Mount Eden and Pommard clones of Pinot from there!”
He’s adding some Lester Pinot and Syrah to the Farm Cottage label for 2021. He’s entertaining adding other fun varietals as well.
In case you’re wondering, Farm Cottage refers to the dwelling on the Alfaro Estate site where his grandparents used to live. It’s a sweet spot right in the vineyard, with bucolic views. “I was very lucky to quarantine in such a cool place during the pandemic,” he admits.
There’s an upside to every downside.
Learn more at: farmcottagewines.com