19 Jan Please The Palate Wine of the Week: Eden Rift 2019 Terraces Pinot Gris, Cienega Valley
A few months ago, I traveled to the Cienega Valley. Before this trip, I did not know about the Cienega Valley or where it was located. But, after my visit, not only did I learn where the Cienega Valley is (20 miles from Monterey) but I also understood why Christian Pillsbury of Eden Rift was drawn to the area, as I wrote The Call of the Cienega Valley in the Napa Valley Register. Then this past week, I co-hosted a virtual tasting with Christian Pillsbury. As I tasted the Eden Rift 2019 Terraces Pinot Gris I was captivated by its beauty, from the nose to the palate to the finish and knew this was the Please The Palate wine of the week.
The Cienega Valley is one of only two places in California with limestone soils. And, surrounded by mountain ranges, the Cienega Valley is protected by the hot Central Valley in the east and the cool Salinas Valley in the west, resulting in a moderate climate. Warm days are cooled by the breezes from the Monterey Bay and a diurnal shift drops temperatures at night. This makes it ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production, which is the primary focus of Eden Rift. But Eden Rift also has Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Pinot Gris planted.
The vineyard at Eden Rift is the oldest operating vineyard in California. Under vine since 1849, the property has been under different hands. But in 2016, Pillsbury purchased the property and named it Eden Rift. The name “Eden” is inspired by a John Steinbeck reference and “Rift” is because the estate is directly on the San Andreas fault.
With 120 acres planted on the 500-acre hillside property, Christian found 10 acres of Pinot Gris, originally planted in 1996. He pulled seven acres but kept the three acres planted on the terraces. The terraces wrap around the mountain and each row ascends higher than the next. And, this is the only terraced Pinot Gris in California.
On the terraces, there is little dirt and little matter. As a result, the yields are low. In addition, the vines, which are planted in limestone and granite rock, have roots that go 30 feet deep. The grapes are hand picked at night and gently whole-cluster pressed. The juice spent 24 hours in tank before being racked half to neutral French oak and half to stainless steel where they undergo natural fermentation. The wine is the aged for 6 months before bottling.
Christian explained that “the vineyard is an element of a complete wine” and that is evident in this Pinot Gris. The wine has a pretty nose of nectarine, peach, lemon and honeydew, as well as stone fruit pits. On the palate, the wine has bright acidity but what is most captivating is the texture. There is a depth of texture to this wine which screams minerality, minerality, minerality. And on the finish, there is a vague herbaceous-ness which Christian describes as “a ribbon of green to keep the wine lifted, fresh and delicious.”
All of the wines I have tasted from Eden Rift are delicious but with only 192 cases made, this 2019 Terraces Pinot Gris, which retails for $32, is a special find.