90-Points - Tastings magazine
It is generally acknowledged that the finest growing area in Monterey County is centered in an area known as the Santa Lucia Highlands, part of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range that provides magnificent separation for the Pacific Ocean and the sprawling Salinas Valley to the East. Now that the Santa Lucia Highlands is an officially approved appellation or AVA as it is commonly referred to in California, it is not uncommon to see world class wines being produced from its grapes.
It is conceded that the Santa Lucia AVA accumulated less degree-days than other Monterey AVA’s because it is closer to the maritime influence of Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This causes the fog to dissipate early because of the high elevation of the alluvial benches, thereby extending the periods of morning sunshine. The soils are wonderfully texterous, mostly loam, gravely loam and silty loam, and excellent underlying gravely material. Such conditions favor excellent drainage, a must for insuring really top varietal production. The area is quite rugged, yet is provides one of the most flawless cooler growing areas in the entire Central Coast Region for a number of premium varietals, mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The key element to grape growing in the Santa Lucia Highlands is the fierce Pacific winds, or rather the control and containment of these winds which tend to cool everything in sight and historically have presented local grape growers with ongoing headaches for decades. By facing the double row terraces south, Smith insured that the vines are protected from the wind and therefore would benefit from the heat that radiates off the hillside.
Paraiso Springs is also fiercely concerned about the terroir, or microclimate that embodies its plantings. Among the local growers, its generally accepted that the Smiths vineyards are the finest in the southern section while Robert Talbott’s classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir acres are the top varietals further north.
Rich Smith planted his first vines back in 1976 and must be considered through tenure and proaction as one of the pioneers of the Monterey County fine wine group. With his wife Claudia, the Smiths now control more than 3,000 acres of vineyards of which a little over 400 is considered estate by Paraiso Springs Winery.
Even as their vineyard management prospered and grew, the Smiths have determined to keep Paraiso Springs a family affair. Their son Jason helps manage the vineyard operation and son-in-law David Fleming works along with several consulting winemakers to insure the quality aspects of the wines are in keeping with his family’s standards and ideals.
The Cobblestone Vineyard Chardonnay is from a 50-acre vineyard near Greenfield in Monterey County that is operated by the Smiths. The vineyard is appropriately named after the terrain that is littered with cobblestone-sized rocks that have smoothed and polished over time by the rushing waters of the ancient and now dry, Arroyo Seco River. Vineyard owners, Saul and Anita Levine purchased the property in 1972. The Smith and Levine families decided to work together to develop the property into a premium quality vineyard producing only Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc grapes—varieties very well suited to the Arroyo Seco appellation.
Over the years, grapes from Cobblestone Vineyard have contributed to the success of such labels as Morgan, Monterey Peninsula, Hess and many others. In 1993, Saul and Anita met Richard and Claudia to plan a small winemaking project with a goal of producing the finest Chardonnay possible from only the highest quality of fruit. The result—the Cobblestone Chardonnay, made in 500 case lots and winner of top awards each year.
Both Rich and Claudia Smith have been active for many years in Monterey County wine circles, a period that has seen the number of labels grow from six to nearly thirty in the past two decades. Education has been a paramount aim of the family and the entire family boasts various degrees from the University of California at Davis.
Even with a great amount of grapes from which to choose, the Smiths have chosen to keep Paraiso Springs Winery on the small side, with present production hovering around the 15,000 case mark. Plans call for Paraiso Springs to remain at that comfortable and efficient production level.
Outi Jakovirta is the winemaker for Cobblestone’s Te Muna Road project
Outi Jakovirta is the winemaker for Cobblestone’s Te Muna Road project in Martinborough, New Zealand. Originally from Helsinki, Finland, Outi moved to New Zealand in January 2004. Upon her arrival, she studied at Lincoln University and obtained a postgraduate diploma in viticulture and oenology. Outi has significant experience in the international wine industry and has worked as a harvest cellar hand in France, Germany, Australia (Yara Valley and Tasmania) and California. She became winemaker at Julicher Estate Winery in Martinborough in 2005 and crafted the number one wine in New Zealand with the family winery’s 2006 Pinot Noir (Champion Wine of the Show at New Zealand’s International Wine Show in 2007). Her efforts for Cobblestone Vineyards have proven her exceptional talents, garnering the prestigious Champion Wine of Show award (in addition to other accolades) for the winery’s inaugural launch of the ‘Te Muna’ Pinot Noir program.