After a day of July 4th festivities and an evening full of fireworks in Healdsburg, CA the night before, we excitedly woke up Sunday morning to meet with Wendy and Frederic (Fred) Nunes of Nunes Vineyard in Santa Rosa, CA. We first met Wendy and Fred at Pinot Days in San Francisco. We were thrilled to have been invited by Wendy for a private tasting. As we drove up their driveway, we were met with a warm welcome. It was a bit overcast, but a perfect summer morning nonetheless. We started with a stroll in the vineyard, Fred as our guide while Wendy prepared the tasting.
Fred began with his story about his background and how the property came to be in his family. The Nunes Vineyard is on a 43 acres ranch that sits across the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast which makes it an ideal spot to grow Pinot Noir grapes. Fred’s Grandfather bought the ranch property in the 1950’s to farm hay and raise pigs, as well as a place to get away from the City on the weekends. Fred grew up with his father, Ed Nunes, in Salinas, CA, and looked forward to his visits to San Francisco where he would listen to his Italian grandfather, Fred Muzio, tell stories about winemaking and brandy distilling. At 12 years old, Fred provisioned a small vineyard down the side of their house and established his first vinegar barrel. His passion for the art of winemaking and growing grapes would come full circle in 1997 after retiring from his 30-year career as a firefighting helicopter pilot.
In 1997, Fred and Wendy sold everything and leased the ranch from Fred’s mother, Dorothy Muzio Nunes. They then built a house on the adjacent property and started planning Nunes Vineyard. Fred’s innate knowledge for working the farm naturally kicked in. With a degree in Systematic Biology and Ecology from San Francisco State University, Fred saw the opportunity to meld his interest in science with his loves of grape growing and winemaking. Wendy brought with her experience in business and graphic design. They both completed viticulture classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and became quick studies. Fred and Wendy took every viticulture and enology class they could find while at the same time reading every recommended book. In the Spring of 2000, they planted their first grapes – ten different blocks of Pinot Noir.
Many in the wine industry consider Fred a “Winemaker’s grower.” It is easy to sense his passion and enthusiasm for grape growing and tending to the vines when he is passionately speaking about his vineyard and all the hard work he has put into it over the years. Listening to him talk, you can sense his vast knowledge in the art and science of growing grapes. He can discus in full detail the terroir of his vineyard as well as the anatomy of his vines and his method of trellising and how he likes to manage his canopies (as compared to others). You can tell that he is hands on when it comes to his grapes and the vineyard. Fred and Wendy did not consider making wine until they knew how to grow grapes first. Starting with their first vintage in 2002, their carefully raised Pinot Noir went to several good wineries – think Papapietro and Matrix – and into some wonderful wines, many of them award winners.
In 2004, to fully understand the transition of their grapes to wonderful Pinot Noir, Fred and Wendy started making wine. They got the barn licensed as a winery and named it St. Rose after Santa Rosa. St. Rose Pinot Noir expresses the Nunes Vineyard’s unique location—the soil, weather, culture, tradition, and…well, the couple themselves. Fred and Wendy personally select from their favorite blocks to find the right balance and complexity. They cellar the wine in 50% new French oak, and then blend a few of their best barrels together before bottling. They make two wines: the Ten Block blend (named for the ten blocks of Pinot Noir covering their entire vineyard) and a single clone, the 777. Now, with the addition of a couple copper stills in 2014, they also make brandy and grappa, both of which are to be featured at the upcoming SF Craft Spirits Carnival.
We found our time at Nunes Vineyard be to such an informative and refreshing experience. We suggest that anyone interested in setting up a private tasting contact Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to request the Fred tour of the vineyard…and, of course, mention SIP & SAVEUR sent ya! Finally, for a special surprise (discount?) be sure to ask Wendy about her “e-mail wine club.”
We tasted (and, of course, purchased!) the following wines on our recent visit:
2011 Ten Block: This vintage is both easy to drink and complex at the same time. It’s what you expect in a classic Pinot Noir: light in color, but with just enough acidity. Not as earthy as you might expect, but a nice herbal finish with some minerality nonetheless. SIP & SAVEUR noted dark fruit, think cherry!, along with more floral notes of rose or violet.
2012 Ten Block: The flavors in the 2012 St. Rose pinot stood out for SIP & SAVEUR (ask about it in the e-mail club). As refined and restrained as the others, this one is perhaps the most complex in flavor. Aside from the now expected cherry, the 2012 brings in notes of rhubarb and raspberry. Low in tannins and with a nice, smooth finish (like the others) you are likely to taste anything from cloves to vanilla.
777 (2011): The 777 clone is a true St. Rose pinot. It has the same light color and smooth texture. The fruit, again, reminds SIP & SAVEUR of bing cherry. Although some might find this wine to be a lightweight, we were impressed by its long finish which brought out the nuance and herbal notes such as garden and oak.