One of the most impressive vineyard visits I’ve made this year was to the Wayfarer Vineyard in Sonoma Coast’s relatively newly formed Fort Ross-Seaview AVA (established in 2011). I cannot say that I’ve seen a happier looking vineyard in a long time, and by “happy” I refer to the immaculately trimmed, healthy, vivid green vines supporting well-balanced canopies and crop loads. And what a site! Apart from being incredibly remote, down a long, winding mountain road paved by gorgeous old redwoods and leading away from the Pacific Ocean, it’s perched fairly high in the mountains at about 1,100 feet. So, altitude and proximity to the ocean both have a cooling influence, which can be felt when you drive up from the warmer Sonoma plains. But don’t let the cool air fool you—this mountaintop vineyard is a real sun trap!
The 30-acre vineyard site was originally brought to the attention of Jayson Pahlmeyer of Pahlmeyer Estate in Napa by eagle-eyed Helen Turley, whose Marcassin vineyard is just down the road. The vineyard was designed and planted by David Abreu in 2002, exclusively to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are twelve Pinot Noir clones and four Chardonnay clones planted, among which there are only five Dijon clones, the rest are local heritage clones with the exception of the somewhat mysterious “Wayfarer” Pinot Noir “suitcase” clone. (Meaning, it arrived via someone’s suitcase from the motherland of Burgundy, presumably from a pretty snazzy vineyard there.)
The property is now adeptly managed by Cleo Pahlmeyer, Jayson’s daughter, while Bordeaux and Burgundy-trained Bibiana Gonzalez Rave is both winemaker and vineyard manager. Bibiana told me, “Acidity is naturally very low here, so all the wines go through 100% malolactic. All the clones are fermented separately and then a barrel selection is made for the wines—therefore not everything makes the Wayfarer grade.” Bibiana explained she makes all her winemaking decisions by taste, not by formula, which is absolute music to a wine critic’s ears.
I had the opportunity to taste through all the Wayfarer wines that Bibiana has made thus far, since she joined the winery in 2012—four vintages. Her sensitivity and bonding with this vineyard is clear in this outstanding collection of wines—brava! Regarding the newly released 2015s, she commented, “2015 crops were down 60% due to flowering, mainly the Pinot was affected.” Thin on the ground they may be, but man, are the 2015s good. Lovers of great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this is unquestionably a winery to start following.