In pursuit of the perfect Pinot Noir
While Saul Levine is considered by many as an industry pioneer, he is quick to point out that this laudatory designation was earned in another business - the FM Radio industry. When the Northern Michigan native first came to California in 1945, the fledgling FM radio domain was in its infancy. In Southern California, only a third of all radios were able to pick up the few FM signals that existed. Even though he knew little about the FM field, in 1959 Levine jumped right in and soon became an FM leader through his Mt. Wilson FM broadcasters, an operation he continues to run today.
At one point during the late 1960’s, a close friend introduced Levine to some of his favorite French Burgundies and Saul Levine became interested in wine. That interest grew into a fascination that turned toward California wines and by 1971, Saul and his wife Anita knew they wanted to grow grapes and become part of the wine business.
After seeking help from a number of sources, including the late Karl Wente, the Levines decided on a 30- acre parcel in the Salinas Valley, in the town of Greenfield to be exact. Saul Levine recalled he liked the “lay of the land” and the fact that it was almost entirely covered with river stones left by an ancient river ions ago.
“It was from the stones (3 – 4 inches in diameter and also known as Greenfield Potatoes) that we got the name for our operation,” Levine related. “Of course, at this time there weren’t many plantings so it was all quite primitive. But everyone thought it was the growing place of the future, so we took our chances.” Levine’s Salinas Valley vineyards (which have grown to 50 acres at this time) became part of the storied Arroyo Seco Appellation in 1983 and are considered one of the true prime growing areas on the Central Coast.
After trying some red varietals on the property with little success, Saul Levine replanted the entire acreage in Chardonnay. The vines prospered and soon Cobblestone Vineyards were supplying the likes of Napa Valley giants Robert Mondavi and Hess Selection to name a pair. At the same time, the Levines began a 32-year quest to find a suitable vineyard in the Napa area that was finalized with the purchase of a 25-acre piece in 1997. Located just north of the fashionable Silverado Resort and Country Club, the property was part of the Atlas Peak Appellation and incredibly well suited to growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Saul Levine’s favorite Bordeaux varietal.
When the grapes became mature enough to use, Saul made the decision to begin making a small amount of wine under the name of Cobblestone Vineyards. The company released its first wines in 2001 (around 800 cases) and the rest is history. Bolstered by exceptionally high ratings on its wines, Cobblestone Vineyards quickly became a buzz winery in the area and also by the national wine media.
For the following several years, Cobblestone Vineyards focused on its limited production, single-vineyard wines from estates in Napa and Monterey – but something was missing. The team wanted to add a Pinot Noir vineyard to their program, but hadn’t found the ideal spot and decided that the answer was going global. In 2008, the Levines acquired a New Zealand vineyard specializing in high end Pinot Noir and teamed up with local growers and winemakers to help get the project underway.
The vineyard is situated on the Te Muna Terrace, an elevated and recently developed section of Martinborough, New Zealand, known for producing high quality Pinot Noir grapes. Adjacent to distinguished winemaker Larry McKenna’s Escarpment Vineyards, and near Craggy Range’s acclaimed Te Muna Road estate, the new Cobblestone vineyard seemed a promising investment. After the inaugural 2008 vintage took home the top trophy (out of 1,655 entries) at a New Zealand wine competition, they knew they were on the right track.
Cobblestone Vineyards has continued to dominate since its inception. Even though it will produce just over 2,000 cases this year, Saul Levine feels that somewhere around the 1,000 case annual production level is his small company’s ideal goal. He has no intention of Cobblestone becoming any larger than it is now.
Levine feels a tasting room in proximity to his Napa Valley vineyards is his next goal and is actively looking for the right location. He hopes to be as lucky with it as he has been with his vineyard choices. “I was told early on that the harder I work, the luckier I get,” he added with a chuckle. “Well, I’m still working hard if you get my meaning.” Through their winery, the Levines also support a number of charities and have truly become one of Napa’s, and New Zealand’s, authentic shining assets.
We are pleased to introduce Cobblestone Winery to our Wine Club members and hope you enjoy their wines as much as we do!
Dear Platinum Series Members,
It’s with great pleasure that through the Gold Medal Wine Club we are able to share this very rare and special wine with you.
Cobblestone is a family owned and operated labor of love. We make limited-production wines from only our own single-vineyard estates, which are situated in what we consider to be the ultimate locations for the grape varietals we grow.
Case in point – our Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley Cabernet is superlative among New World wine and arguably the finest marriage of appellation and varietal in America. More specifically, we’re partial to Napa’s mountain sub-appellations, which we find to deliver even greater fruit structure and complexity. So we found a 25-acre property 1500-feet high on Napa Valley’s Atlas Peak, which became (with the help of some dynamite) the birthplace of our Cabernet.
The 2004 Reserve Cabernet represents a barrel selection from the juice of our Estate Cabernet, and we made just 300 cases. Also note the vintage. We pride ourselves on an extended aging program, not releasing our wines until they are entering their age of approachability. So you can thoroughly enjoy this wine now, or cellar it for many years to come.
I wish you many happy sips.
About the Vineyard
Cobblestone Vineyards searched the world for the ultimate Pinot Noir vineyard, and discovered a small, exceptional property along Te Muna Road, an especially remarkable terrace in the celebrated Pinot Noir village of Martinborough, New Zealand. Te Muna is Maori for “special” or “secret place.” The Levines felt this hidden jewel was appropriately named and well worth the commute.
This remote vineyard site has proven to deliver the perfect balance of Burgundian structure and complexity with the brightness of New World fruit - a style that falls directly in line with Cobblestone’s Arroyo Seco Chardonnay.
Perched at the south foot of New Zealand’s North Island, Martinborough Wine Village mirrors its small community - old world style with new world flair creating simply superb handcrafted wines.
Outi Jakovirta - Winemaker
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.