This past summer, my family and I flew into San Francisco, pieced together equipment from my brother and father-in-law, and headed north. I had seen them before. I was probably eight. At that age, everything seems a bit taller than it does now. You tilt your head back, way back and gaze up, up, up until the weight of your upper body nearly tumbles you backward. Even then, I knew I was in a special place. There was nothing that approached that size in the Adirondacks. No cone that large, no trunk so vast. And there was a stillness, a sense of reverence.
I knew the Sequoia Groves were magical then. My children felt that same sense of awe. They looked up,up,up and were delighted when they could see the top. They climbed, giggled, wondered as I had years before. What have these trees seen? How much more will they see? The sense of time palpable, I thought of how much life I’ve lived since I was there last and how little time frame was in the life of the tree. I thought of how my mother taught me about what I was seeing, how I hoped my daughter would do the same one day. Tradition, strength, a sense of place.
I had the honor of attending a winemaker dinner a few weeks ago. Molly Hill of Sequoia Grove Winery was in town with her representative from Kobrand, Mike Zinni. The dinner was at The Salty Sow and even though it occurred in a week already filled, I did not want to miss the opportunity. I had read about their history, their approach to winemaking and knew the wine would be something special.
Founded by Jim Allen in 1980, they began making classically structured Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Michael Trujillo began as a cellar worker and is now President and Director of Winemaking. Molly Hill began in 03 and was promoted to winemaker in 08.
Together, they have refined, acquired, and revised to produce the best wine possible. Being in Rutherford AVA, the Bordeaux varieties flourish. With the acquisition of the Tonella Vineyard, they’ve been able to go from 80% sourced to 80% estate grown. Through relationships with other growers, they are able to source the highest quality fruit, continually evaluating and striving. Each lot is sorted twice, kept separate through fermentation. In Trujillo’s words, they “like to use Andre Tchelistcheff’s analogy for making tea. You steep and taste, steep and taste, until it’s just right.”
I think they are on to something. Each wine we tasted was “just right.” Not overly manipulated, great fruit, balance. We started with the 13 Chardonnay. The color was phenomenal. Beautiful nose: apple, stone fruit. The fruit was intense and rang through. It begins fermentation in stainless and ends in French oak. Citrus, apple, minerality, often lost with too much oak, were pronounced.
We then moved on to the 10 Cabernet Sauvignon. I got stuck just on the nose. Super layered, structured, enticing. Black fruit, cocoa, maybe coffee? something vegetative? On the palate, black cherry and cocoa with a beautiful finish. Approachable and complex.
The final wine of the evening was the 09 Cambium. This wine was perfectly balanced, incredibly smooth. Black and red fruit, earth, floral notes, and bit of cocoa. Subtle fruit, layered, incredible mouthfeel. A gorgeous wine.
Reading through the marketing literature, I found out more about the origin of the Cambium wine. The term “Cambium” refers to “a living layer of cells, between the bark and hardwood, that each year produces additional wood and bark”. It is the living force that grows the massive Sequoia and the delicate vines. As Michael Trujlllo said, “The cambium imprints the memory of the vintage on the grapes and that’s what I want in the wine. Each bottle holds the memory of the sun and the soil-the memory of the season.”
There are Sequoia on the property for which the winery is named. They towered over the Rutherford valley long before they were colored with vines. The vines have their own stories to tell. They may not have seen all the towering trees have seen, but they are capable of sharing those stories with us. Molly Hill and Michael Trujillo have become the storytellers, giving the fruit a voice. And just as the place for which it is named, each bottle of Sequoia Grove contains a tale of tradition, strength, and a sense of place.