Laurel Hill Winery
Sonoma County region
Gold Medal winner and Platinum Series exclusive offering!
Several months ago Laurel Hill Winery owner, Jeffrey Mayo, spoke to us about a very special wine he had just finished and was ready to release for sale. Intrigued by his unusual enthusiasm for the wine, we convinced him to delay the release until we had a chance to check it out. What we discovered (as you will also) was a truly exceptional Syrah, well suited for a Platinum Series feature. This beautiful wine is attractive not only for its character but also for its sheer rarity. Only a miniscule 178 cases were produced. Other than at the winery tasting room, the Platinum Series is the exclusive source for this wine.
The bottle in front of you actually says the wine is a “Shiraz.” Shiraz is the Australian name for the Syrah grape. The difference between the names is essentially the style in which the wine is made. Shiraz is more of a full-throttle, fruit driven wine with rich, ripe full-blown flavors and without a lot of the gamey, smokey characteristics of a Rhone style Syrah. Some might say it’s a friendlier, more approachable wine than the usual Syrah style.
The Laurel Hill label is an offshoot of Jeffrey’s parent’s establishment, Mayo Family Winery. The name Laurel Hill comes from the family’s Laurel Hill Vineyard that was the Mayo family’s initial step into grape growing in Sonoma County.
The Mayo Family Winery estate is located in Bennett Valley at the foot of Sonoma Mountain, two miles northwest of the Sonoma Valley village of Glen Ellen. The property was purchased by Henry and Diane Mayo in 1984. After building their home, the idea of planting vineyards was a constant thought. However, it wasn’t until 1990, after considerable research and discussions with longtime local growers, that Henry planted 7 acres on his property to Chardonnay grapes. He named the site, Laurel Hill Vineyard, marking the beginning of the Mayo Family Winery.
In 1994, the Mayo’s harvested their first crop from the Laurel Hill Vineyard and produced their inaugural Chardonnay that was produced in an old barn on the property that they had converted to a makeshift winery.
Over the next four years the Mayo’s purposely kept production low and focused on securing grapes from select vineyards that were best suited to the specific varietals they wanted to grow. They secured long term commitments from well-known vineyards such as, Sangiacomo Vineyard in Sonoma County to produce Pinot Noir; Peter Haywood’s top-notch Los Chamizal Vineyard on the base of the Mayacamas Mountain; and. Leach Vineyard in northern Sonoma Valley for Merlot.
And in 1998, the winery seized an opportunity to purchase the 10-acre Ricci Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, home of some of Sonoma County’s best Zinfandels. This particular Zinfandel vineyard was planted in 1960 and it’s head-pruned, old-clone vines are producing intense, richly flavored grapes.
With the varietal picture taking shape, the Mayo’s built a brand new 6,000 square foot winery, complete with the latest winemaking equipment. The new facility allows the winery to eventually increase production to 10,000 cases and help ensure a consistently high quality product.
Even as small as it is, the winery quickly outgrew founders Henry and Diane Mayo. In 1995, they convinced their son Jeff to join the operation. “It didn’t take much convincing,” says Jeff, smiling broadly. “If there’s a better place on earth to live and work than Sonoma Valley, I’m not aware of it.” Jeff grew up in Sonoma County before heading to USC to earn a degree in Finance. Following graduation, he took a position in the Acquisitions Department for half-a-billion-dollar company, Lewis Homes. Within two years he became the company’s youngest Vice President in their history. Does he miss that stressful fast-paced life? “I consider myself very lucky,” he says. “I don’t mind doing any of the work that is demanded at a small winery. And when a business is as small as our winery is, you get to see the results of your efforts almost immediately. That’s satisfying.”
Today, Henry Mayo focuses primarily on the farming aspect of the winery operations. Jeff Mayo runs the day to day operations, which means doing a lot everything—sales, marketing, pouring at wine events, even driving the fork lift!