WINDY OAKS ESTATES PRODUCES ELEGANT, FOOD-FRIENDLY PINOTS
Santa Cruz Sentinel | Stacey Vreeken, Wine Press
JUN 22, 2011 - Windy Oaks Estate sits on a ridge in Corralitos overlooking Monterey Bay in the distance. The vineyard's 990-foot elevation, soil, and its orientation to the bay all are factors in creating a long growing season perfect for Chardonnay and pinot noir grapes to ripen slowly and evenly. Winemakers Jim and Judy Schultze believe in their fruit so much that they only make wine from grapes grown on 15 acres in Corralitos and Aptos. ''The climate, elevation, mountain soils, and large temperature difference between night and day are unique to this area,'' Jim Schultze says. He sat down in the new tasting room recently to talk about how the Santa Cruz Mountains have a suitable terroir, or soil and climate, for pinot noir. ''Pinot noir is all about elegance and delicate nuance of flavor,'' he said. The long growing season at the estate produces wines ''that develop nice complexity without high sugars. These wines are not high alcohol.'' In the tradition of Burgundy, where the Schultzes refined their love of the Burgundy grape pinot noir, wines enhance a meal and complement food. ''When paired right, you get flavors from both that you can't get on its own,'' says Schultze. The Schultzes strive to create the earthy, elegant, complex flavors of the Burgundy-style pinot noir in the ocean-influenced climate of South County with a hands-on, labor-intensive approach in the vineyard and hands-off, minimalist approach to the winemaking. When the vineyard was started in 1996, Schultze would sell his grapes to David Bruce Winery, among others. The vineyard is sustainably farmed, using cover crops and no herbicides. But with the time and money spent tending vines, and the quality of wine that the Schultzes could make on their own, it made sense to focus on winemaking instead of selling grapes. Their approach is ''extreme minimal intervention'' to preserve grape flavors in an all-gravity system from crush to bottling. To keep oxygen out, and flavors in, no pumping, additives, filtering, or fining are used. Jim Schultze takes his time all the way through the process. Breaking down the lots into 45 to 50 separate fermentations, techniques include using wood tanks, wild yeast, or whole clusters -- stems, seeds, and all. ''The native yeast provides an earthy, forest floor taste and is Judy''s favorite,'' Schultze says. It makes the case for the expression of terroir. The wine made from whole clusters can only happen when everything is ripe, all the way to the stem. Long fermentation, 32-45 days, and long barrel time, 51-53 days, reflect the climate and vineyard techniques and create a structured wine. ''All of these things show the characteristics of the wine,'' he says. ''Winemaking is all about details. A combination of art and science, but science has just scratched the surface of what makes flavors in wine.''