California’s Martin Ray Winery -
Created by Chance, Inspired by History
Martin Ray made his mark as an innovative winemaker
in California’s post-Prohibition years. A visionary,
he bought Paul Masson’s Mountain Winery in 1936,
just three years after Prohibition ended, running the
operation until it was destroyed by fi re in 1943. He
relocated to a Mt. Eden property, producing under
his own label from 1946 to 1972. Over the years, he
stood out as being one of the fi rst to produce 100%
varietal wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains region
and to champion quality controls. This often put him
in confl ict with the California wine industry, which was
turning to commercial bulk wines, as many producers
lacked the depth of grape production to compete on
varietal, rather than blended wines.
His page in history would have been forgotten if not for
Courtney Benham’s chance discovery of 1,500 cases
of Martin Ray library wines at an old warehouse in San Jose in 1990. He bought the library and rights to the
Martin Ray label, having had quite a background in
wine himself at the time. Courtney had worked for 8
years in his father’s wine operations in the Sacramento
Delta before co-founding well known Blackstone
Winery with his brother Derek in 1991. They sold it 10
years later to Constellation Brands for $144MM. The winery relocated to the historic Martini & Prati
Winery near Santa Rosa in Sonoma’s Russian River
Valley appellation in 2003. It produces three labels – Martin Ray (40% of production, 100% varietal
blends of grapes from different vineyards), Angeline
(40%, a label launched in 2000 made in a lighter, fruit
forward style), and the Courtney Benham label (20%).
Angeline Chardonnay and Pinot Noir essentially
doubled the winery’s production over 2003-2004 to
Angeline Winery Sauvignon Blanc Russian River
Valley 2008 ($14; 13.9%) is a soft, gentle wine that was
cold fermented in stainless steel, with honeydew melon
and bright citrus fl avours. Angeline Chardonnay
Sonoma County 2007 (13.9%) shows green apple,
peach and vanilla fl avours, and touches of vanilla
from 18 months in French oak. Angeline Pinot Noir
2007 ($16; 13.9%) is a blend of 75% Sonoma County
and 25% Mendocino County fruit that was aged for 12
months in French oak. The most popular wine of the
Angeline line, this has luscious raspberry, strawberry
and cherry cola characters, with vanilla and spice
notes and an appealing silky grip on the finish.
Martin Ray Chardonnay Russian Rivery Valley
($20; 14.4%) shows apples and peach fl avours,
underpinned by vanilla, caramel and toasty notes
from 18 months aging in French oak. Martin Ray
Pinot Noir 2007 ($25; 13.9%), from Santa Barbara
vineyards, shows raspberry, strawberry and candied
fruit fl avours, with a creamy texture and soft tannins.
Martin Ray Sonoma Mountain Reserve Cabernet
Sauvignon 2004 (14.6%) is an intensely fl avoured,
elegant wine, with silky tannins and layers of chocolate,
mocha, tobacco and coffee.
For more information, contact Profi le Wine Group
Perspective on South African Terroir– by Cape Legends Wine Master
Peter Mielzynski Agencies (905 257-2116) invited
Berenice Barker, Wine Master at Cape Legends, to
discuss South Africa’s terroir at their gala event last
spring. Staged at the Toronto Hunt Club, the evening
also included a tasting of Cape Legends wines.
The major wine growing regions of South Africa are
situated in the southwestern end of the Western
Cape. Because they are at the southern tip of the
continent, it is an area heavily influenced by two
oceans – the warm Indian to the east and frigid
Atlantic to the west. This creates temperate weather, because of the convergence of a cool, Maritime with
a warm, editerranean climate. Winters are wet and
cool, summers are hot and dry, and the winds blow
year round, often at gale force strength. High rainfall
over the coastal vineyards tapers off over inland
properties to the east of the coastal mountain range.
The Cape has experienced a significant amount of
tectonic plate shifting in the past, creating some of
the oldest and deepest soil types in the world (up to
50 metres in depth) and a tremendous diversity of
terroir. Stellenbosch, where most of Cape Legends’ properties are situated, is in the Coastal Region, just
outside Cape Town. Sandy soil on the valley floor
gives way to well drained red and yellow Hutton and
Clovely soils with high clay content on the hillsides,
and to granite soils in the more mountainous regions.
Cape Legends is well versed in the different terroirs
of South Africa, because they represent 11 different
regional wineries, some of which they have an
ownership stake in.
Jacobsdal, located in the extreme southwest of
Stellenbosch, is just 10 kilometres from False Bay and
140 metres above sea level. Its gravelly, sand loam
on top of yellow clay provides good soil drainage and
water retention. Pinotage is Jacobsdal’s signature
wine, produced from bush vines on 18 of their 92
planted hectares. Jacobsdal Estate Pinotage 2004
was hand-made using wild yeasts. Deep inky purple,
this delcious wine has morello cherry flavours and
gamey, brambly notes.
Nearby Alto owns steeply trellised vineyards on the
granite slopes of the Helderberg Mountain that rise
100 to 500 metres above sea level in the Stellenbosch
region. The northerly facing vineyards feel the full
summer sun, but are cooled by sea breezes from
nearby False Bay, lengthening the ripening period.
Alto Shiraz 2005 is made from heavily pruned vines
grown in deep red, decomposed granite and clay
soils on a northwestern slope, with average yields
of 5 to 6 tons per hectare. It has a ruby red colour,
blackberry flavours and smoke and spice nuances.
Neethlingshof Estate is another winery in the
Coastal region, located just outside the town of
Stellenbosch. Flanked by the Bottelary Hills and
Papegaaiberg Mountain, it has a variety of different
soil types because of the eroding granite base across
its 165 planted hectares. The vineyards, located
85 to 250 metres above sea level, experience the
cooling effect of sea breezes from the Atlantic Ocean.
Neethlingshof Gewurztraminer 2008 was grown
on looser soil that needs more irrigation. Light in character, this pale lemon wine has muted lychee,
rose petal and perfumed notes, with a sweet aspect in
the long finish.
Tukulu Wines is also located in the Coastal region
near Darling, further northwest of Cape Town. Just
25 kilometres from the sea, it experiences cooler
temperatures and higher rainfall than most coastal wine
regions, while moderate hillocks provide protection
from the southeastern blows. The deep red, richly
textured Tukulu soils offer excellent water retention
for the bush vines. Tukulu Sangiovese 2006 is an
organically produced wine that was aged for 8 to 10 months in seasoned oak.
Berry driven, with notes of
strawberries and lums and touches of vanilla, it has a
typical backbone of acidity.
Allesverloren Estate comes from the phrase ‘all is
lost’. This is another Coastal region winery, located 100
kilometres northeast of Cape Town in the picturesque
Riebeek Valley of Swartland. Its 227 hectares have
elevations of 175 to 300 metres above sea level, with a
200 millimetre variance in rainfall. Winters are cold and
wet, and summers are dry and warm with prevailing
westerlies and the shadow from the mountains cooling
the vines in the afternoon. The stony structure of
the vineyards, with a mixture of shale and weathered
standstone, force the roots deep into the soil, resulting
in the powerful, concentrated red wines and ports this
winery is known for. Allesverloren Tinta Barocca
2007 was made in a style that straddles Old and New
World winemaking techniques, with half the wine aged
in French oak and half in stainless steel. This wine has
port like characteristics, with intense berry flavours and
touches of vanilla, mocha and spice.
Lomond Vineyards is one of the few wineries at the
very southern tip of the Cape in the Cape Agulhas
District appellation, located 8 kilometres from the
sea. It experiences mild temperatures and rainfall.
Sea breezes keep it cool, but winds can be severe.
The vineyards soil is sandstone as the region is part
of the Table Mountains, with gravelly stones that
reflect the heat at night. Lomond Sauvignon Blanc
Pincushion Vineyards Cape Agulhas 2008 is a pale
lemon coloured wine, with a gentle palate of passion
fruit, lime and gooseberry.
Barbara Ritchie is a wine writer and lecturer. Having travelled extensively throughout the main wine-growing regions of the world with her twin sister Ann, she regularly conducts wine seminars for major corporations and restaurant groups, while also participating in various wine judging panels worldwide, including Intervin. Her judging experience includes a session at Italy's prestigious "Banco d'Assaggio", held each year at Lungarotti's Le Tre Vaselle in Umbria, to assess wines from throughout Italy.