MOUNT EDEN RETROSPECTIVE: THE 1980S, WITH WINEMAKER JEFFREY PATTERSON – The Plumed Horse Restaurant, Saratoga, California (6/14/2008)
Paul Homchick, Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson
This was a delightful event — a chance to hear from Mount Eden’s longtime winemaker Jeffrey Patterson about his approach to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and winemaking in general, and to taste with him through wines he made in his first several years at this historical site. (My handwritten notes were misplaced for awhile, so although I recorded the tasting notes nearly two years back, I only had a chance to write up my summary of what Jeffrey shared with us that evening tonight.)
Jeffrey is a very modest man, and a very thoughtful and self-critical winemaker. I’m a big fan of what he’s done with Mount Eden over the past nearly 30 years now. To hear him describe his journey as a winemaker, remaking the legendary Martin Ray plantings at Mount Eden, and putting his own stamp on the wines after Dick Graff’s tenure there was very informative, and his lifelong dedication to the site was quite moving.
Jeffrey Patterson graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1975 with a degree in biology. An enthusiastic wine drinker and collector, Jeffrey decided to pursue a career in the wine business and, in 1979, enrolled in the U.C. Davis viticulture and enology program, where he studied for two years. In 1981, Patterson became assistant winemaker at Mount Eden Vineyards. A little over a year after his arrival, Patterson was promoted to head winemaker and general manager, and his wife Ellie became the winery’s business manager. In 1986, they became significant shareholders in the company and, in 1993, Jeffrey became the winery’s president. Today, Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson live in the house Martin Ray built on Mount Eden in the early 1950s, surrounded by the winery’s historic estate vineyard.
The legendary wine entrepreneur and promoter Martin Ray originally planted Pinot Noir at Mount Eden back in 1945. Those plantings, the bulk of which were replaced by Jeffrey in the past two decades, currently make up 7 acres at Mount Eden. Martin Ray also planted Cabernet Sauvignon in the mid-’40s, with cuttings from the La Questa vineyard, which had been planted in Woodside in the 1890s with cuttings from Chateau Margaux. Cabernet was replanted at Mount Eden in the ’80s, with cuttings taken from the vines originally planted there in the ’40s.
Jeffrey had attended a Mount Eden retrospective the year before with many of those in attendance that had focused on the ’60s and ’70s, the period prior to Jeffrey’s arrival at Mount Eden. He told us he found some of the wines at that tasting a little volatile and rustic, but “off the charts delicious.” He was less impressed by the ’70s wines at that tasting, however, finding them very structured, and still fresh, but over-extracted. They didn’t impress him as being interesting to drink. He approached the making of Pinot Noir in the ’80s with a style aimed at transparency and delicacy. He wanted to produce a strongly varietal wine in which the fruit spoke clearly, with no tannic extraction.
Jeffrey explained that he makes wine differently now, with different equipment and from replanted vineyards. Martin Ray’s original plantings were 10 foot by 10 foot, except for the Chardonnay. Their growth was random and haphazard. When Martin Ray had started at Paul Masson in the ’30s, plantings were tighter–6 foot by 6 foot, with no trellising, and all head trained. Martin Ray tried out his own system in planting at Mount Eden, using a basket cane idea, tying the cane to the stake, which he’d seen in Germany and Cote Rotie. When Jeffrey replanted, he wanted to dry farm, making a more natural wine. He wanted more wildness–and wines that reflected the vintage. He used a drought tolerant rootstock, 1103 Paulsen. Having made it through two very hot years, the vines don’t seem to be suffering. He took out the old plantings of Pinot in two chunks, in ’96 and ’98. And a lower plot of Pinot Noir was planted in 1981. 1997 was the only year they did more than one bottling of Pinot–the Vieilles Vignes and the regular Estate.
Jeffrey claims that it’s the rare year that all three varietals–Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet–come in well. Monte Bello is cooler and higher in elevation, and picks later. Mount Eden is lower, more easterly, and warmer. The wines are all below 14% alcohol. Jeffrey doesn’t like wine over 14%, as it “feels pushed.” He strives to make something that tastes good in its youth, but that ages well too.
Jeffrey claimed that Mount Eden is a “great place to grow wine, especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.” Mount Eden is also special for having the longest continuous production of the same varietals in the state. Jeffrey asserts that the wines have a “certain tension” and a “lack of obvious fruit, especially the Chardonnays.” Jeffrey explained that California Pinot Noirs are typified by black fruit, and soft red fruit flavors, with a sweet impression. Mount Eden Pinot Noir is more savory, as well as more restrained and structured (i.e., more of a French style). In the marketplace of wines, they’re from California, but don’t fit the California mainstream.
Jeffrey walked us through the vintages, and changes in winemaking styles, as follows in the descriptions of the flights below.
Yquem and Foie Gras
- 1986 Château d’Yquem – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
Dark golden color; sugary, honey, coconut and pineapple nose; youthful and solid palate of tart apricot, pineapple, tart peach, with honey, minerality, good acidity and good depth; long finish 95+ pts. (95 pts.)
As we approached the Chardonnay flights, Jeffrey told us that Chardonnay in the Santa Cruz Mountains doesn’t ferment clear–it has to be filtered. Now the Chardonnay is trellised and achieves uniform ripeness. 1982 and 1983 were El Nino years, with double the usual rainfall. It was cold and wet, and there were issues with botrytis. The ’82 ended up with .6 residual sugar–they couldn’t ferment it dry due to the botrytis. They had very small yields, about 1 ton per acre. 1984 was the driest Spring on record, with no rain after January. The ’83 saw no malolactic fermentation and, in my view, its great acidity had helped preserve it beautifully for 15 years. It was definitely my WOTF.
Wild onion souffle with sweet corn and heirloom tomato veloute
- 1984 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium golden color; nice, soft lemon and vanilla nose; good tart lemon palate, with great acidity and minerality; medium finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
- 1983 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium dark golden color; mature lemon and lemon peel nose with a touch of oak; youthful, sweet and tart lemon palate with minerality and good acidity; medium-plus tart finish (no malolactic fermentation this year, according to the winemaker) (94 pts.)
- 1982 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium dark golden color; savory, butter nose that changed to a fresh lemon and tart orange nose after 10 minutes in the glass; tart rounded orange and lemon palate with minerality and a touch of botrytis; medium finish (improved and then held strong for over 2 hours in the glass) (93 pts.)
Jeffrey introduced this flight by telling us it was the same winemaker, but with new barrels. 1985 was very cool year, with a good, even growing season, and a moderate to late harvest. All three of these vintages were riper, warmer, with normal rainfall, but the 1987 was at the beginning of a four year drought. I quite enjoyed both the ’85 and the ’87, but our ’86 was leveled by TCA.
- 1987 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Light bright gold color; bright lemon, lemon rind and mineral nose; tasty, youthful, light bodied tart citrus with stony minerality, almost Chablis-like; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
- 1986 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium gold color; TCA on nose; slightly better on the palate, with tart lemon and minerality, but still flattened by the TCA NR (flawed)
- 1985 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium gold color; tight lemon nose; youthful, light-medium bodied tart lemon and minerals palate with good acidity, reminiscent of a 1er Cru white Burgundy from an average vintage; medium finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
In this flight, we were going back to wines made by Jeffrey’s predecessor, Dick Graff, and ending with a wine that Jeffrey was totally responsible for, the 1983. Dick Graff used whole cluster, 20 days in vat, then 20 months in barrel, racking a few times. They don’t rack the Pinot at all at Mount Eden any more. Jeffrey referred to 1980 as “Chalone style” winemaking, since Dick Graff had been winemaker at Chalone. Jeffrey arrived in 1981 just before harvest. 1981 was an early harvest year, harvesting in mid-August, and a good but not great vintage. 1982 was an El Nino year and cold, and the grapes were picked underripe. The 1982 was whole cluster too. In 1983, Jeffrey used no stems. The ’83 was by far the best WOTF for me.
- 1982 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
From magnum; medium cherry red color with clear meniscus; a little VA, tart cherry and chlorine nose; tart cherry, rosehips, minerals and a little stemmy on the palate, with high acidity; medium-plus finish (100% whole cluster that vintage) (87 pts.)
- 1981 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
From magnum; light red color with pale meniscus; ethereal mineral and strawberry nose with a touch of sour cream and a savory note; Pommard-like tart black cherry palate with iron and rosehips and good acidity; medium-plus finish (100% whole cluster) (86 pts.)
- 1980 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium brick red color with clear meniscus; VA and savory palate with green notes; tart, mature, forest floor and stemmy palate with green notes; medium finish (100% whole cluster) (82 pts.)
- 1983 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Light medium red color with pale meniscus and light sediment; gorgeous, Burgundian, earthy, truffle and porcini mushroom nose; good, youthful palate of tart strawberry and minerals with structure; medium-plus finish 93+ pts. (100% destemmed that vintage) (93 pts.)
Single blind flight, with ’84 and ’86 Pinot
Jeffrey told us that 1984 was a dry year, and that the ’84 Pinot is aging at a glacial pace. It was quite tannic in its youth. In 1986, a little too much nitrogen was used by the vineyard manager. They had a very small harvest. He didn’t like it much at the time, and the vines seemed out of balance. They only had a quarter ton yield.
- 1986 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium strawberry red color; mature, porcini mushroom, earthy, savory nose with a charcoal note; big, earthy tart cherry and tart red fruit palate with charcoal note; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
- 1984 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus and light sediment; light cherry and herbal nose; tart, youthful red fruit with good acidity and minerality; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (should go for many years yet) (92 pts.)
- 1986 Faiveley Clos de la Roche – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
Light medium red color with pale meniscus and light sediment; tight savory nose; somewhat narrow palate of ripe cherry, and tart cherry with chaptalization; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
- 1985 Forey Père et Fils Vosne-Romanée – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée
Medium strawberry red color with pale meniscus and light sediment; mature cherry and mushroom nose; tart black cherry with good minerality; tart medium finish (91 pts.)
’87-’90 Pinot and mystery Pinot
Jeffrey told us that he didn’t start to feel totally comfortable with his winemaking until 1990. 1987 was the first year of a drought cycle, and they had to pick it very ripe. 1990 was a great vintage around the world, somewhat like 1985. In the mid-’80s, they started pulling out the canopy to give the vines more sun and air exposure. That helped make the wine fleshier. He’s very proud of the 1988, which was awesome at this tasting. In 2000, they slowly started to bring back the use of some stems. The new crusher they’re using is much more gentle.
Jeffrey’s favorite Mount Eden Pinot is the 1991, which I guess we’ll have to try in the next retrospective tasting.
- 1990 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; intriguing tart cherry and dried cherry nose; tasty, ripe cherry, rhubarb and strawberry palate; medium-plus finish (100% destemmed) (93 pts.)
- 1988 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Dark medium cherry red color, slightly cloudy; entrancing tart cherry, toasty oak and earthy nose; youthful palate of rich, rounded cherry and red fruit with good acidty; medium-plus finish 95+ pts. (100% destemmed) (95 pts.)
- 1987 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium cherry red color with clear meniscus; savory, mushroom and tart cherry nose; youthful rounded tart cherry and red fruit palate with minerality and good acidity; medium finish (100% destemmed) (92 pts.)
- 1981 Congress Springs Pinot Noir Private Reserve St. Charles Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Light medium red color with pale meniscus; baked cherry and brown sugar nose; tart baked cherry, sour cream and oak palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
Pair of Mature SCM Cabs
Our ’78 Cabernet was from before Jeffrey’s time at Mount Eden. Bill Anderson was the winemaker for that vintage. I thought it was holding up remarkably well. It easily outshowed the other SCM Cabernet from the same decade.
- 1973 Gemello Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium red violet color; herbal, tart berry nose; mature tart cassis palate; medium-plus finish (83 pts.)
- 1978 Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Dark red violet color; cassis and berry nose; tasty, extracted, ripe cassis, tart berry and black fruit palate with charcoal and a touch of mint; long finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)
Wine with dessert
- 1976 Château Doisy-Védrines – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
Medium apricot orange color with red lights; tart apricot and orange nose; good tart blood orange and red grapefruit palate with high acidity and depth; long finish (92 pts.)
Wes and Chef Peter Armellino
Our terrific chef, Peter, has been responsible for many memorable meals for me at The Plumed Horse. He’s originally from Long Island. He cooked in the Hamptons, then for 10 years in New York City, and spent 8 years at Aqua before coming to The Plumed Horse when it was remodeled and re-envisioned in 2007.