January 20, 2021 – If you still haven’t been out to Eden Rift Vineyards in Cienega Valley, now would be a good time, as there’s a bit of green showing up in the hills. Hopefully with more rain, they will turn a shade of emerald so brilliant, it might hurt your eyes. Although the winery is not open for tasting at present, you can still order wine for pickup or delivery.
Eden Rift is holding a Master Class via Zoom, on Wednesday, January 27, featuring four of its single block wines grown on the steep hillside terraces. Proprietor Christian Pillsbury and vineyard manager Sandy Matthews will take you on a tour of the estate’s unique geography, sharing the impact of terroir on the 2019 Terraces Pinot Gris, 2018 Terraces Chardonnay, 2018 Lansdale Pinot Noir, and 2018 Palmtag Pinot Noir. Tickets are $242 for non-members or $206 for members and include one bottle each of the four wines, vineyard maps, winemaker’s notes and more.
The class runs from 6-7:30pm. Zoom link and materials will be sent on January 22nd, or can be picked up anytime before the tasting, by visiting Eden Rift. It’s the former site of Pietra Santa, just behind DeRose, and less than a mile from Calera.
A drive out to Hollister through the pastoral landscape of San Benito County will do your soul good. From the parking area, to the north, you can look up at The Terraces—the steep upper portion of the vineyard—and get a sense of what makes it so unusual. To the southwest, you can see the vast limestone quarry on the other side of the hill from Calera. To the east and slightly south, a huge uplift of bleached sand created by the San Andreas fault will rivet you.
We asked proprietor Christian Pillsbury what makes The Terraces unique? “The terraces are one of Eden Rift’s more unique attributes. They make up 20% of the estate and are challenging to farm. The low yields and low organic material creates wines with intense minerality, sense of place, and wonderful density.”
Having sat atop the terraces, admiring the view with a glass of pinot gris in hand while surrounded by vines, I can tell you I was glad we had driven up in a 4×4 truck, instead of hiking it. This would be a good spot to get around via llama.
The vineyard is currently planted to 90 acres of pinot, about half of which are currently in production. Clones include Mt. Eden, Swan and Calera, as well as Pommard (4) and Dijon clones 115, 667, 777 and 828. There are 22.5 acres of chardonnay, of which 16 acres are producing. Clonal selections are focused on Calera, Wente 4 and 72, as well as Dijon clone 76. Pinot gris, clone 9, is exclusively planted on the hillside terraces.
Winemaker and Santa Cruz resident Cory Waller has been making wine from the estate since 2016. He’s getting his arms around the 120-acre property that has been producing grapes since it was planted by Theophile Vache in 1849. We asked Waller to shed some light on how he approaches the different areas of the diverse vineyard.
Do you typically pick the Terraces fruit before or after the Estate?
Yes and no. It depends on the vintage and vineyards. We generally pick each terraced block several times, depending on fruit set, canopy coverage, exposure, etc. It’s kind of all over the board.
Do you process them differently in terms of fermentation?
Each fermenter is looked at differently. Generally, the end product of the Terraces blends is between 66—100 percent whole cluster, whereas the Estate has 25 percent, give or take. Each lot varies. Generally, we leave the lots on skins for approximately 14 days, but it isn’t uncommon to extend that by 2—30 days, depending on the wines and levels of extraction. The élevage on the estate is usually 9 —11 months, whereas the Terraces is anywhere from 12—16 months, depending on the wine.
Do you use different barrels and if so, what do you prefer for chardonnay and which for pinot?
We generally use less impactful barrels for the Estate programs. They tend to be very transparent and lean more towards elegance than brawn, so we try to match the oak with these wines. I’ll use a plethora of barrels for the Estate, and am now experimenting with some light toasts. The Terrace pinots have more whole-cluster, more depth and structure than the estate fruit. I generally am geared towards François Frères, Dargaud & Jaegle and Marcel Cadet, with these wines. All are medium toast levels.
For chardonnay, I’ve been using a lot of lighter toasted barrels I like François Frères light toast, Dargaud & Jaegle, D’Aquitaine and Sirugue. I am always trying new coopers, so it’s always a moving target.
Eden Rift Vineyards is at 10034 Cienega Road, Hollister, CA 95023
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.