Well Grounded

At 150 years old, Buena Vista Carneros zeroes in on terroir

In 1850, California became the 31st state in the Union. A mere seven years later came the genesis of Sonoma wine country when Hungarian nobleman Agoston Haraszthy founded the Buena Vista winery. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death, Congress in 1969 declared Haraszthy “The Father of California Winemaking.”

Two years ago, Buena Vista was renamed Buena Vista Carneros “to honor the terroir of the vineyard.” For the first time in the winery’s history, all of its wines were made with 100 percent Carneros grapes.

In the past, Buena Vista bought and blended grapes from throughout California. “We really value-priced at $8 to $10 a bottle,” says Winemaker Jeff Stewart. “Today everything we produce is over $20.” The winery refocused its operation from being a volume producer of a wide range of varietals to artisan winemaking of five varietals.

“The challenge was the consumer really had no idea what Buena Vista was all about,” Stewart says. “You really can’t be everything to everybody, in my mind. … Our biggest strength is this Carneros vineyard.”

At one time producing as many as 375,000 cases, Buena Vista now bottles 55,000 cases — though Stewart says the winery has the ability to produce 100,000 cases from the 800-acre Ramal Vineyard and has plans to expand increase current production.

Pinot noir and chardonnay, in that order, comprise the bulk (about 75 percent) of Buena Vista’s current yield. The winery bottles smaller amounts of merlot, syrah, and pinot gris (the latter two new additions in the lineup).

“We used to make cabernet,” Stewart says. “We felt we could make more consistent pinot noir and syrah and merlot.”

Over the past four year years, the winery has replanted half of its 800-acre vineyard.

“The big push has been just really trying to get every vineyard block, which may be only two or three acres, planted with the right rootstock, right varietal, and right clone,” Stewart says. “Each block almost has its own terroir.” However, he adds, each varietal bears the mark of Carneros. “Probably the most common thread across all of Carneros is you get pretty food-friendly wines. … The chardonnay has a lemon drop citrus character. With pinot noir, it’s more cherries and berries and good fruit, but the defining character is almost a mushroom earthiness in the background.”

Stewart, who has worked with Carneros grapes since the 1980s, uses his experience while trying new plantings or new techniques. “It’s a combination of experience and trial and error,” he says. “The beauty of this industry is that it doesn’t matter how long you have been doing it — you learn something every year.”

To read about terroir, click here.

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