16 Jul Jewell Box: July 2019 – Winemaker Reflections: Our Journey with Starscape Vineyard
As we look forward to our Dinner in Starscape, I think it’s important to look back and reflect on the history of this great vineyard and how our relationship and wine portfolio have grown with the vineyard.
Starscape Vineyard, previously known as Floodgate Vineyard, is in the Middle Reach area of the Russian River Valley AVA. It is in a highly sought-after part of the Russian River Valley with vineyards like Richie Vineyard to the North, and Kistler’s Vineyard to the North East. The vineyard is 70 acres planted, with about 50 acres planted to Pinot Noir with 7 different clonal selections: Calera, Pommard, Martini, and Dijon clones 828, 115, 777 and 667. There are also 15 acres of Chardonnay and 5 acres of Sauvignon Blanc. One of the things that makes this vineyard unique is that the current owner does not make his own wine from the fruit he grows, but instead chooses to custom farm his vineyard exclusively for 13 premium wineries. Each winery is designated specific sections of Starscape based on how long they have been working with the vineyard. I’ve been working with the Starscape Vineyard for 10 years now.
Long before I started working with Starscape, the vineyard was owned by a winery called Mark West. Mark West was actually making wine on the property in the 90s, but when they outgrew the winery facility that was onsite, they decided to move and sell the property. The property was then purchased by the Hambrecht Family in the late 90s. With a keen eye for Pinot Noir, they ripped out all of the old grapevines that were planted except for a 5-acre section of the vineyard that was planted to Pinot Noir in the early 1970s. This is the section of the vineyard that we refer to as the Old Girls. They began to replant the vineyard in 2000 and finished in 2005.
When I started Joseph Jewell in 2006, there was a huge demand for Pinot Noir. Because of the high demand, there was little to no fruit available in our first few years, especially for a budding winemaker. I had a business plan and a little bit of money tucked away for the venture, I just lacked the right vineyards to fulfill the dream.
Fast forward to 2009 when my persistence paid off. I reached out to the vineyard manager at Floodgate Vineyard and asked if he had any fruit available and later that year, we began our relationship. We started at the bottom with specific rows close to a tree line and by the soggy part of the block by the creek. We quickly realized that while we were getting good fruit to work with, there were plenty of other blocks of fruit we’d like to have as well but were already spoken for. We worked with what we had, and from 2009-2011 we made a Pinot Noir that was a blend of three different blocks in Floodgate Vineyard. The result was a very tasty three-clone blend from Dijon 667, 115 and 777. These vines were all planted on the hillsides in the vineyard, and while not the best blocks of the vineyard, a solid encouragement to maintain our relationship with the Hambrecht Family and Floodgate Vineyard.
Every year since our first vintage, I called the vineyard manager in mid-January and asked if any new sections of the vineyard were available. Finally, in 2011, I learned Block 15 was available, which is the nicest block in the vineyard, so naturally, I jumped on the amazing opportunity. From 2011-2013 we made a single-block, single-clone Pinot Noir from Floodgate Vineyard. This wine was the easiest drinking Pinot Noir we made with flavors of very bright red fruits and a silky soft texture.
At the end of 2013 the Hambrecht Family decided to sell the vineyard. The new owners decided on changing the name to “Starscape Vineyard “, which really is an ode to the glory of the vineyard if you have ever seen it after dark. We hope if you’re reading this you’re one of the fortunate few who will be joining us for our Dinner in Starscape this month, where you will get to see the beauty firsthand!
After the vineyard changed hands, we were delighted to hear that the new property owner would keep the current vineyard manager Chris Walden and that none of the contracts would change. That year in January, as I always do, I checked in with the vineyard manager and inquired about any new blocks of fruit that would be available for the upcoming year. Lo and behold the section of the vineyard that was planted in 1971 to Martini Clone that we affectionately refer to as the Old Girls had an opening! This block is a historic block. To my knowledge, this area of the vineyard is one of the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. As the vines’ age increases, its yields are smaller allowing for a greater concentration in the clusters — leading to some of the most beautifully complex wines. If you have tasted the Joseph Jewell Old Girls Pinot Noir before, then I’m sure you know what I am talking about when I say that the fruit and wines produced from this section are truly special.
Our enduring relationship with Starscape Vineyard has allowed us to be entrusted with more and more sections of the vineyard which has, in turn, enabled us to continuously produce wines that exemplify the quality and beauty of the vineyard. I cherish our history with Starscape and hope that you too will appreciate the story behind a few of our favorite wines the next time you enjoy a glass!