Exploring Humboldt County with Joseph Jewell Wines

Humboldt County is located at the top of California, close to the Oregon border. It is California’s leading timber producer, as well as famous for Humboldt Fog Cheese. Despite the area being heavily forested, there are 150 acres of vineyards scattered throughout the county. The cool climate is ideal for Pinot Noir and Joseph Jewell Wines is exploring the diversity offered in this region, as I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and share here.

Exploring Humboldt County with Joseph Jewell Wines

When we think about products from Humboldt County, cheese production and cannabis might be the first thoughts that come to mind. But there is also a small wine scene going on in Humboldt, and Joseph Jewell Wines is part of it.

Humboldt County, located north of Mendocino County, sits on the southern edge of the Pacific Northwest. Centered around the city of Eureka, Humboldt County is California’s leading timber producer. In this rugged, heavily forested area, it is hard to find space to plant vineyards and there are only 150 acres of grapes planted in the whole county.

The climate in Humboldt is cool and wet with a huge coastal influence. Winters are cold and rainy, and summers are mild and foggy. Fog rolls slowly up the banks of the Eel River, which flows through Humboldt County. The growing season is shorter than in Sonoma and Napa. Bud break is typically two to three weeks later, and harvest is usually in October. These conditions drew Adrian Jewell Manspeaker of Joseph Jewell to Humboldt County to make Pinot Noir.

Exploring Humboldt County with Joseph Jewell Wines

Manspeaker was born and raised in Humboldt County. With a background in construction, Manspeaker was living in Sonoma, where he discovered wine. He began making wine in his garage, and later launched Joseph Jewell. Manspeaker focuses on small-lot Pinot Noir, sourcing fruit from independently owned properties in Sonoma and Humboldt.

It was in 2013 when Manspeaker first traveled up to Humboldt to visit the Alderpoint Vineyard, a 2-acre vineyard that was planted in 1992. The vineyard, with shale-like soils, sits at 500 feet above the middle fork of the Eel River. The site is warm for Humboldt but has a 40- to 50-degree diurnal shift in the summer and a cool afternoon breeze. Planted to the Martini clone of Pinot Noir, the resulting wine is structured, rich and ripe.

Today Manspeaker is working with five different vineyards in Humboldt County, and each vineyard offers unique soil profiles and weather conditions.

Exploring Humboldt County with Joseph Jewell Wines

Elk Prairie Vineyard is a 6-acre vineyard that sits on a steep hillside at an elevation of 1,200 feet. Planted in 1992, Elk Prairie Vineyard features own-rooted Martini clone Pinot Noir, as well as Dijon clones. This site offers the coolest climate Pinot Noir, resulting in elegant wines with red fruit and spice notes and lively acidity.

Fruitland Ridge is a 6-acre dry-farmed vineyard that was planted in 2000 to the Martini clone. Sitting above the fog line at 1,000 feet elevation, the vineyard is a half-mile from Elk Prairie Vineyard and was planted with cuttings from Elk Prairie.

Phelps Vineyard is a 6-acre vineyard planted by Todd Phelps in the early 1990s to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Located north of the town of Briceland and sitting at 1,700 feet elevation, the Phelps Vineyard is 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and overlooks the Mattole and Eel River valleys.

Ryan Vineyard is just outside the town of Benbow above the eastern branch of the Eel River. Planted in 2008, it doubled the Pinot Noir production in Humboldt County. Featuring soils short on nutrients, the vineyard produces small, concentrated berries with more tannins.

Wine from Humboldt County is, in many ways, undiscovered. But from these five vineyards in Humboldt County, Manspeaker produces single-vineyard Pinot Noirs that showcase the diversity of Humboldt.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.