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Russian Hill Estate - Russian River Valley


95 Points - Pinot Report

The University of California Davis is usually associated with the wine industry through its oenology program and it is an accepted fact that its thousands of wine program graduates constitute the who’s who of today’s modern California Wine Industry. But such is not always the situation.

Take the case of this month’s Pinot Noir Series selection, Russian Hill Estate Winery. Russian Hill’s owners Ed Gomez and his wife Ellen Mack were both doctors connected with UC Davis, but neither was involved with the school’s oenology activities. Gomez was in fact head of the school’s Dermatology Department while Mack gained her degree in Neurology, and met Gomez while attending Davis as an undergraduate.

The two were later married and Ed Gomez and Ellen Mack began a long-term love affair with the wine business that actually had its origins in home winemaking. Several years later, Gomez began tiring of the rigors of academic medicine. He enlisted the help of his nephew Patrick Melley and started a small winery in a warehouse in Benicia sometime in 1993.

Four years later in mid-1997, Gomez and Mack began devoting their full time and efforts to their new Russian Hill Estate Winery. They purchased a prestigious 21-acre property in northern Sonoma County whose neighbors included Sonoma-Cutrer, Williams & Seylem, Kistler, Dehlinger and Rochioli to name a few. In other words, they were in the area of Sonoma County that arguably produced the finest wines in the region, if not the entire state.

Russian Hill Estate’s property actually touches the famous Dutton Ranch and an agreement was reached whereby Dutton Ranch provides actual vineyard management for Russian Hill.

However, all decisions regarding the property’s direction are made by Ellen Mack who was always interested in farming, after spending a good part of her childhood in Europe.

Several years ago, Mack left her medical practice to enter the wine business on a full time basis. “I tended to try and make the vines better than they were,” she offered. “When we started, many of our vines weren’t really robust. I guess it was the case of the doctor in me attempting to care for the sick vines.” Mack still does much of the vineyard work herself and has even planted her own block of Syrah. As a child, her German grandparents always provided wine with her meals and this initial appreciation for the grape and its products provided the impetus for her determination to propel Russian Hill Estate’s vineyards to superior levels.

Ellen Mack feels her winery’s prime location in Sonoma’s coolest growing area makes it ideal for the growing and production of both Pinot Noir and Syrah. “The area affects the flavor profile of each grape,” she explained. “The varietals grown here are actually better than from other areas around us.”

Her husband and partner, Ed Gomez, feels right at home in the Russian Hill facility as well. “Ed could probably be called a frustrated engineer,” she added with a smile. “He loves to design the winery and much of its equipment. Over the past several years he has modified much of the tanks and machinery we utilize on an everyday basis. We even have our own functioning bottling line that was rebuilt from used equipment that gives us a good deal of flexibility and allows us to bottle our own wines. Ed loves to purchase older items that are either broken or in disuse and make them work better.”

Patrick Melley, meanwhile, utilized his restaurant industry background along with an excellent palate, and stayed on to become the project’s award-winning winemaker. His insights into the complicated varietals the winery produces are well conceived and enthusiastically received.

Russian Hill’s present capacity is just over 5,000 cases with future case goals no higher than the 8,000 case level. Ed Gomez ‘s stated objective is to produce really world-class wines from his wife’s estate grapes, “wines that I myself can be really proud of.”

Given the incredible location of the Russian Hill Estate property and the unrelenting determination of both Ed Gomez and Ellen Mack to succeed, the wines of Russian Hill Estate stand alongside those of its well-known neighbors. We are proud to offer this Pinot Noir Series selection for your consideration and enjoyment.



Patrick Melley

Winemaker Patrick Melley gave up a career in the restaurant business to join his uncle Ed in the pursuit of making great wine. Melley was a restaurant manager and had enjoyed developing wine lists for a wide range of restaurants, both national and international, allowing him to not only study the changing styles in wine that were attracting new consumers, but to refine his own palate as well. When the opportunity arose for him to make his own wines, he went for it.

A largely self-taught winemaker, Melley began as a home winemaker and after specializing in Merlot and Cabernet at Benicia Cellars for 5 years, went on to co-found Russian Hill Estate Winery with his aunt and uncle in 1997.

At Russian Hill, Melley is able to pursue his love of Pinot Noir and Syrah and make wine from Estate vineyards. With the roots of his winemaking skills attained through home winemaking and self education rather than formal training, and with his wide exposure to the wine drinking public, Melley has developed an incredible understanding of wine styles and winemaking techniques and is showing great talent at Russian Hill.

About The Region

Russian Hill’s 2006 Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir comes from the Tara Vineyard and Sunny View Vineyard, both of which are estate grown and located near the winery in the Russian River Valley.

Tara Vineyard was planted for Russian Hill by the renowned Dutton Ranch in 1998 and its inaugural vintage Pinot in 2001 was awarded top marks including Best of Class and Gold Medals, and the vineyard’s success has continued unabated ever since. Sunny View Vineyard is found six miles south of the winery and is the site for much of Russian Hill’s Pinot Noir production. The site also has five acres of Viognier, which is sold to several prestigious wineries for their production.

The Russian River Valley’s fog-cooled climate and rich alluvial soils provide the perfect conditions for growing Pinot Noir and other ‘cool-climate’ grape varieties and its wines are increasingly recognized as among the best in the world, while the appellation is often quoted as one of the top in the country. It seems Russian Hill Estate Winery has found the perfect home.

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