Tamayo Family Vineyards
A unique portfolio of vineyard-designate wines and field blends
Like many others in the winemaking business, Jeff and Sara Tamayo had a dream to one day build a winery from the ground up; to make their own wines from their own grapes. The difference with their story, however, is the historical significance of their unique Contra Costa County property and the remarkable development of their distinctive portfolio of French, Italian, and Portuguese wines.
Although the Tamayo family roots are deeply secured in Mexico, Jeff and Sara are the third generation of their family to reside in the small county of Brentwood in the northern end of California’s Central Coast. Their grandparents actually participated in a harvest on Tamayo Family Vineyards’ current property about 100 years ago, making the site very personal to the Tamayo family.
Jeff Tamayo became quite the wine collector over time, enjoying his discoveries of unique, top-notch wines from around the world, and as the quaint grape-growing community of Contra Costa County started to expand, their once romantic notion of building a winery began to develop into a reality.
“There were a lot of old vineyards planted in the region at the time, and since a lot of their neighbors were doing extremely well, they decided to plant some vines and see what they could do with the land,” offered General Manager Mark Enlow. “I was good friends with Jeff and gave him some pointers on which varietals and styles would work best there.”
Enlow, who previously worked in the national wine wholesale business, has been in the industry since 1980 and came on board at Tamayo in the mid 1990s to help build the new brand. The Tamayo family produced their first wine, an estate CANA Syrah, in 1999 with just under 700 cases.
CANA, which is named after an ancient city where water miraculously turned into wine, was the chosen label name for any wine produced from the Tamayo’s estate vineyard. It was a fitting name since the Tamayos also found it miraculous that the pioneers who originally planted Italian and Portuguese varieties in their local fertile soils over 100 years ago, really knew what they were doing.
“In the beginning we were just producing estate bottlings from the vineyard on site – most of the grapes were going into our CANA field blend and if we had any leftovers we were making separate stand alone varietal wines,” Enlow explained. “I wanted to branch out though, and we knew Contra Costa County wasn’t able to grow all of the varietals we wanted to make, so we got involved with growers from other regions.”
Over the next few years, the Tamayos began making Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes in Napa, Chardonnay from the Carneros region and Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Each wine that came from outside of Contra Costa was bottled under the Tamayo Family Vineyards label, offering a clear distinction between the winery’s two portfolios and a unique way to express the best the appellations had to offer.
“Now, 10 years later, we’re hovering around the 7,000-case level, most of which is our CANA Red Blend,” Enlow explained. “I would like to see us get to 12,000 cases as soon as possible, and then eventually reach 25,000-30,000 cases in the future. With 53 acres under vine right now, we have a lot of room to expand with.”
Currently, all of the Tamayo wines are produced off site in a Napa Valley custom crush facility, which is central to the winery’s notable winemaker, Jon Engelskirger. “Eventually we would love to bring at least the CANA production down to Brentwood, and then own facilities in Santa Lucia and Napa for our other wines. It would be nice to be able to keep our grapes within their respective microclimates from beginning to end in the production process,” Enlow recently stated.
To say the Tamayo wines have been well received by the press is quite the understatement, with impressive 90+ ratings, Double Gold Medals and Best In Class awards making multiple appearances with recent releases.
While creating top-notch wines with a sense of place is a constant goal at Tamayo Family Vineyards, maintaining the value of family is also a central theme. The family’s emblematic crest with four arrows was designed to reflect their strong faith and spirituality. While the arrows represent Jeff and Sara Tamayo’s four sons, the shield and golden rope reflect the protection and binding of the mother, father and spirit.
Map of the area
About the Vineyard
Tamayo Family Vineyards is fortunate to source their fruit from a number of notable vineyards throughout Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Contra Costa County. The Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, which is the source for this month’s featured 2006 Pinot Noir, is located in the Sierra Lucia Highlands that is found just 13 miles south of Monterey Bay.
Originally planted in the early 1970s, this 450-acre hillside vineyard is arguably one of the most famous Chardonnay/Pinot Noir vineyards in the Monterey appellation. Its relatively close proximity to the Pacific Ocean moderates temperatures, resulting in long, mild growing seasons and excellent concentration of flavor components in the fruit. The vineyard’s mainly northeast exposure also contributes to the site’s cooler temperatures.
The Tamayo Family Vineyards 2006 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir is the first vineyard-designate wine to be released from the winery, and it stands as a superb representation of the caliber of Pinot Noirs that have been produced from this renowned northern California vineyard.
Jon Engelskirger - Winemaker
Winemaker Jon Engelskirger is a native Californian, who has had the good fortune of experiencing first hand the remarkable development of California wine over the last 30 years.
Born and raised in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Yosemite National Park, Engelskirger grew up with a profound connection to nature and found it only natural that his career would mirror this ongoing passion. After obtaining a degree from the Department of Enology and Viticulture from California State University, Fresno, Engelskirger honed his craft while working at a number of vineyards throughout Sonoma and Napa Valley. Most recently, he was for nine years the winemaker at Turnbull Wine Cellars in the Napa Valley where he had the ability to test his skills while working with some of California’s finest vineyards.
Engelskriger has now found a home with Tamayo Family Vineyards where his winemaking philosophy mirrors that of the Tamayos': coaxing the best from the earth and the vineyard and carrying it through to the final product.