I’ve enjoyed Steve MacRostie’s wines since the early 1990s, when a retailer recommended a MacRostie Carneros Chardonnay for me to serve at a wedding anniversary dinner for my parents. He told me the wine was food-friendly and certain to please everyone; it also earned points with me for the tartan label, which would appeal to my Scottish-roots mother.
The Chardonnay was a big hit, and I’ve followed Steve MacRostie’s winemaking ever since. The wines -- Pinot Noir and Syrah, in addition to Chardonnay and all from Carneros -- have been on the delicate, pretty side, with subtle oak influence, bright acidity and never over-ripe; nuance and finesse trump power and opulence. Showy, the MacRostie wines are not, yet put them on the table at dinnertime, and they truly shine.
Like many winemakers whose production isn’t small enough to be considered boutique, yet isn’t large enough to have a lot of clout in the three-tier sales system, MacRostie worked hard to work the market and sell his 30,000-case annual production. That’s like pushing a boulder uphill, so matter how expert the wines.
So in 2011, MacRostie sold his company to Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners, the U.S. arm of Australia’s giant Lion Nathan corporation. The key for him was to remain a winemaker and grape-grower, while shedding the distracting responsibilities of sales and marketing. While Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners owns the MacRostie brand, Steve MacRostie and winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen make the wines -- and they have never been better.
The partnership with Distinguished has allowed MacRostie to purchase Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from throughout the Sonoma Coast AVA, which includes Russian River Valley, Carneros, and what are unofficially known as the Petaluma gap and “true” Sonoma Coast.
Notable vineyards such as Sangiacomo in Carneros, and Keefer, Dutton Jewell Ranch and Saralee’s in Russian River Valley, are now in the MacRostie stable, joining Steve MacRostie’s own Wildcat Mountain Vineyard in the windy Petaluma Gap region -- as cool as the “true” Sonoma Coast and along with it, a viticultural goldmine for those who covet Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs with pure fruit, structured tannins and acidity, and that are unafraid to show a savory side.
The Sonoma Coast AVA is silly one, encompassing the Russian River Valley, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill and Carneros sub-AVAs, and a portion of the Sonoma Valley sub-AVA. It’s ridiculously large, extending from San Pablo Bay on the southeast, near the town of Sonoma, all the way north to the Mendocino County border. There is no way for an uninformed consumer purchasing a wine labeled as being from Sonoma Coast to know exactly what to expect. Warm Sonoma Valley? Chilly Annapolis hugging the northern coast of the AVA? A kitchen-sink blend of varying climates and soils?
Today’s MacRostie wines run the Sonoma Coast gamut, but in logical fashion, and with superb quality and character. And that’s not surprising, given Steve’s 40-year track record of producing marvelous wines. He was the inaugural winemaker for the once-great Hacienda Winery in Sonoma, with his Chardonnays winning awards in a region known more for red wines (the Hacienda label is now owned by Bronco Wine Co.). He left Hacienda to start MacRostie Winery and Vineyards in 1987, using purchased grapes and supplementing with his own, from Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, beginning in 1997.
Now under Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners, the MacRostie wines are sensational, created from a combination of excellent vineyard sources and the enological skills of MacRostie and Bridenhagen.
“This is my 40rth year in the wine business, and I don’t have to be an entrepreneur anymore,” MacRostie said about the sale to Distinguished. “I’m happy to be where I am.”
His 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, at $25, is a steal for its absolute deliciousness and complexity. A blend of grapes from Carneros, Russian River Valley and Wildcat Mountain Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap, it strikes a beautiful balance of rich golden apple and citrus fruit, bright acidity and barrel spice, with mouth-filling texture.
The 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($32) relies on grapes from Keefer Ranch, Dutton’s Jewell Ranch and Mill Station vineyards, and Saralee’s Vineyard. It offers moderate richness and bracing Meyer lemon, green apple and gooseberry character so typical from the cooler reaches of the appellation.
MacRostie’s 2012 Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay ($44) has an inviting spicy nose and juicy apple and citrus fruit, favoring delicacy over boldness and with a pleasant sweet-tart close.
The fog and ocean breezes of the Petaluma Gap – which most likely will be an AVA in the near future -- influence the 2012 MacRostie Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay ($38) and Pinot Noir ($48). The Chardonnay has an earthy, minerally edge to the honey and Meyer lemon flavors, its tautness balanced by creamy vanillin oak. The Wildcat Pinot Noir has similar tension and tang, with vibrant wild berry and blueberry fruit and hints of bergamot and forest floor. Give it a few years in bottle to blossom.
The shining star of the Pinot Noirs for drinking now is the 2012 Russian River Valley ($42), which melds rich black cherry and blackberry fruit with subtle spice and tobacco notes and mouth-filling texture and suppleness.
A companion Pinot for the cellar is the 2012 Goldrock Ridge Sonoma Coast ($54), made from grapes grown near Annapolis, in the “truest” of the Sonoma Coast AVA, a few miles from the ocean. The wine has come-hither aromas of red-flower blossoms and raspberry, and a dense palate of blackberry and cranberry flavor, with a smooth midpalate that turns tangy and crisp on the finish.
At a time when Steve MacRostie could be resting on his laurels, he continues to improve on what has always been skilled winemaking. The addition to the brand of the talented Heidi Bridenbaugh, and with the financial support of Distinguished Vineyards and Wine Partners, the MacRostie label has never shined so bright, nor shown such a promising future.