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A Tale of Two California Wineries – One New, One Old

This is a history and tasting notes for two California wineries. One, the Hearst Ranch Winery, released its first wines earlier this year. It is located in the Central Coast. The other, Husch Vineyards, was founded in 1979. It is located in the northern part of the state in Mendocino County. So in that respect they are very different. But, in another respect, they are very much alike. Both are committed to making very high quality wines in small quantities. The wines may be found in retail stores and restaurants, but both also offer a wine club with benefits and discounts to members. I strongly recommend that you investigate them further and even plan a trip to visit their tasting rooms. Both are scenically located in beautiful, historically interesting parts of the state.

Hearst Ranch Winery

The Hearst Ranch Winery is a new venture formed by Stephen Hearst and Jim Saunders. Stephen Hearst is the great grandson of William Randolph Hearst and is a vice president of the privately-owned Hearst Corporation. His responsibilities include managing the Hearst Corporation’s real estate interests on over 214,000 acres of California property. Jim Saunders is a wine grower, contractor, and real estate investor.

The agreement calls for Jim Saunders to license the Hearst name and the Hearst Ranch brand. The Hearst Corporation will receive a percentage of sales after Saunders recoups his costs. And, a portion of the profit from the venture will be donated to the Hearst Cancer Research Center. This new winery is based on sound agricultural practices, impeccable winemaking, and the philanthropic involvement of Stephen Hearst and Jim Saunders.

The vineyards consist of 71 acres of vines planted by Jim Saunders over 20 years ago. They are located in eastern Paso Robles and are planted to Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Malbec and Tempranillo. The Hearst Ranch Winery also buys red wine grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Mouvèdre and Grenache) and white wine grapes (Chardonnay, Marsanne, Rousanne and Grenache Blanc). The winemaker is Adam LaZarre, formerly winemaker at Smith and Hook. All of the wines have names associated with the Hearst Ranch. The tasting room for the winery is located in the historic Sebastian Brothers General Store located across the highway from the famous Hearst Castle.

The first wines were released in March of this year and consisted of six wines: 2008 Chardonnay Glacier Ridge Santa Lucia Highlands, 2007 Merlot Pico Creek Paso Robles, 2007 Cabernet Franc Lone Tree Paso Robles, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Bunkhouse Paso Robles, 2007 Red Wine Special Reserve Cuvée The Point Paso Robles, and 2007 Late Harvest Zinfandel Enchantment Paso Robles. Subsequently, three other wines have been bottled: 2009 Chardonnay Glacier Ridge Santa Lucia Highlands, 2009 White Wine Three Sisters Cuvée Paso Robles, and 2008 Red Wine Three Sisters Cuvée Paso Robles. All are based on the “Legacy of Quality” that is synonymous with the Hearst Ranch. They are made in a small quantity. The production of the first six releases totaled 10,000 cases. Tasting notes on the first nine initial bottlings are shown below:

Hearst Ranch Winery 2008 Chardonnay Glacier Ridge Santa Lucia Highlands
Light yellow with a golden hue, this Chardonnay has lovely fruit and complexity with tinges of peach, vanilla, spice and tropical fruit – Highly Recommended.  $25       2-yellow-stars

Hearst Ranch Chardonnay 2009

Hearst Ranch Winery 2009 Chardonnay Glacier Ridge Santa Lucia Highlands
This 2009 was bottled in late July. It shows a similar style to the 2008, but with even more complexity and structure. Flavors of peach, apple and citrus are also followed by hints of vanilla and tropical fruit. Lush and rounded, yet with a long, crisp finish, this is a terrific Chardonnay – Outstanding.  $25   3-yellow-stars

Hearst Ranch Three Sisters Cuvee 2009

Hearst Ranch Winery 2009 White Wine Three Sisters Cuvée Paso Robles
The Three Sisters White Wine is a Rhone-style blend named after three of the highest peaks on the Hearst Ranch. Made with 40% Marsanne, 20% Rousanne and 40% Grenache Blanc, this is simply a stunning wine. Apple, pear and citrus are backed by faint vanilla and spice nuances. Rounded with great elegance and an underlying crispness, the wine is very fresh and flavorful and long on the finish. Bravo! – Outstanding Plus $19.99    Best Buy 3-n-half-yellow-stars

Hearst Ranch Three Sisters Cuvee 2008

Hearst Ranch Winery 2008 Red Wine Three Sisters Cuvée Paso Robles
Again this cuvée is named for the peaks located on the Hearst Ranch and is made with 40% Syrah, 30% Mouvèdre, and 30% Grenache. Like the Three Sisters Cuvée White Wine, this red wine is equally stunning. What a great pair! Dark in color, the wine has a great perfume of plums, cherries and berries with hints of vanilla, spice, and almond. The flavors are similar and are balanced and complex with cherries, berries and plums accented by spice and vanilla. This is a delicious red wine! – Outstanding Plus  $19.99  Best Buy    3-n-half-yellow-stars

Hearst Ranch Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc Lone Tree Paso Robles
Cabernet Franc is a varietal that deserves to be more widely planted in California. In the right areas it can produce a wine of great fruit and distinction. This one is blended with 7% Petit Verdot. It shows a cedar, blackberry quality and is very flavorful. A wine of character and firm structure, it should soften with a few years bottle age – Highly Recommended.  $35    2-yellow-stars

Hearst Ranch Winery 2007 Merlot Pico Creek Paso Robles
Dark in color, it has a lovely perfume of plums and cedar, with a hint of spice.  The wine is flavorful and rounded, with cedary plum flavors and good backbone underneath ending in a nice finish.  It is a lovely Merlot – Highly Recommended.  $30    2-yellow-stars


Hearst Ranch Winery 2007 Late Harvest Zinfandel Enchantment Paso Robles
Dark color, it has a deep perfume of berry fruit.  The wine is deep and rich, with intense berry flavors showing lots of spice, vanilla and cocoa.  Sweet and lush, reminiscent of a Vintage Port, this is a gorgeous dessert wine – Outstanding.  $30    3-yellow-stars

Hearst Ranch Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Bunkhouse Paso Robles
Dark in color, this wine has a deep perfume of blackberry, cassis and hints of vanilla and spice.  In the mouth, it has lots of blackberry fruit and is rich, full, structured and flavorful, with balanced tannins.  This is a really nice wine and will benefit from a few years age —  Highly Recommended Plus.  $30   2-n-half-yellow-stars


Hearst Ranch Winery 2007 Special Reserve Cuvée The Point Paso Robles
This wine is 54% Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Syrah.  Dark in color, it has a deep perfume that is spicy with lots of cherry/berry fruit.  Flavorful, rich and rounded, it has lots of cherry/berry fruit.  Well-structured and very flavorful, with balanced tannins, this is a terrific red wine – Outstanding.  $70   3-yellow-stars

Four wines were also tasted from barrel.  The Malbec and Tempranillo will be bottled as varietals and both have outstanding potential.  The Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot will be used only for blending.  And, as such, they are not scored, although both are excellent examples of the varietal.

Hearst Ranch Winery 2009 Malbec Paso Robles
This is an unusual wine as very little Malbec is grown in Paso Robles.  The current intention is to bottle this as a varietal and sell it through the wine club.Very dark color.  Deep perfume, smoky and faintly spicy, with intense blackberry fruit.  Lots of rich blackberry fruit, tinge of spice.  Balanced tannins.  Impressive.There are 12 barrels of this wine (about 300 cases), 10 in old barrels, two in new French oak.  The wine aged in French oak has even more blackberry fruit and is softer.  The resulting blend should make a well-balanced wine with impressive flavors and depth — Outstanding Potential   2-barrels

Hearst Ranch Winery 2009 Tempranillo Paso Robles
Tempranillo is a grape originating in Spain that is receiving well-deserved attention in other parts of the world. Dark in color, this wine from barrel is precocious and very delicious.  It is brimming with cherry fruit and with floral, vanilla and spice nuances.  The wine is balanced, soft and supple yet with a nice vibrancy that should make a unique and very tasty bottle – Outstanding Potential.  2-barrels

Hearst Ranch Winery 2009 Petite Sirah
This is another varietal that will be used for blending. It has a dark color, with a deep perfume of berries, cherries, floral, pepper and spice nuances.  It has great fruit, with a touch of spice and is rounded, with integrated tannin.  The exact blend into which this wine will be used has not yet been determined.  This is a really nice Petite Sirah.

Hearst Ranch Winery 2009 Petit Verdot Paso Robles
Petit Verdot is the largest parcel accounting for about 1/3 of the vineyard’s production.  It is grown to be used as a blending grape and whatever is not used will be sold.  Very little Petit Verdot is grown in Paso Robles.  Very dark color, it has intense blackberry fruit in the nose and on the palate.  Rich and full, but with heaps of fruit, flavor and tannin.  This will contribute fruit, depth, color and structure when used in a meritage wine.

One of the most exciting things to look for in the Hearst Ranch wines is the wines that are made from blending different varietals.  This meritage type of wine began in California some 30 years ago.  It deserves to be more widely practiced as the blending of Rhone and Bordeaux varietals in particular can produce complex, balanced wines.  The initial releases of The Three Sisters Cuvees are most impressive and an indication of great things to come.  Check out www.hearstranchwinery.com [1].

Husch Vineyards

Husch Vineyards is located in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County in the very northern part of California’s winegrowing area.  The winery was founded in 1971 and was the first bonded winery in Anderson Valley.  The H. A. Oswald family, who were neighboring grape growers, purchased the winery in 1979 from Tony and Gretchen Husch.  The original Husch Vineyard is 21 acres and is planted to Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay.  Grapes that require a warmer climate (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Canelli and some Chardonnay) are from the La Ribera Vineyards located on the Russian River in the Ukiah Valley.

Today the third generation, Zac Robinson and Amanda Robinson Holstine, are in charge of 0perations assisted by their parents, Beelu Oswald Robinson and Richard Robinson.  It is a family-run operation with Zac’s wife, Krista, managing the Ukiah accounts and assisting in the tasting room while Amanda’s husband, Brad, is the winemaker.

The wines are made in an elegant style that retains fruit and balance.  They are food-friendly and fairly priced.  Look for them at your local merchant or online at www.huschvineyards.com [2].  They also have a Priority Release Program offering wines at a discount.

We tasted eight different current releases with notes below.  The winery currently has over 20 different wines available for sale priced from $9-$60 per bottle. With most in the $9-$25 range they are great values.

Husch Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino
Dark in color, this Cabernet has a cedary, vanilla-tinged perfume with underlying berry fruit and a slight peppery nuance.  It has very nice berry fruit with cedar and vanilla tinges and an underlying tannic structure that needs some time to soften — Recommended.  $21  1-yellow-star

Husch Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino
This is a lovely Chardonnay.  It is light yellow in color and has a nice vanilla-tinged perfume with hints of citrus and peach and a faint spice.  Elegantly-styled, the wine is finesseful, yet flavorful.  It has lovely fruit with vanilla and spice nuances followed by a nice, crisp finish.  Well-crafted and balanced, this is a very attractive Chardonnay to drink now and over the next few years – Highly Recommended Plus.  $15  Best Buy  2-n-half-yellow-stars

Husch Vineyards 2009 Chenin Blanc Mendocino La Ribera Vineyards
Pale yellow color, this Chenin Blanc has a lovely perfume showing hints of pineapple and citrus.  It is very fruity with a balanced sweetness and a nice, crisp finish – Highly Recommended.  $11  Best Buy   2-yellow-stars

Husch Vineyards 2009 Gewurztraminer Estate Bottled T-Bud Dry Cuvée Anderson Valley
Pale yellow in color, this Gewurztraminer exhibits a floral and faintly spicy perfume.  It is fruity with faintly floral, spicy nuances and a hint of bitter almonds on the finish – Recommended Plus.  $17   1-n-half-yellow-stars

Husch 08 GT

Husch Vineyards 2008 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer Anderson Valley
Pale yellow in color, this is a lovely dessert wine with a tropical fruit and spice perfume and a sweet, exotic fruit flavor with just a hint of spice and citrus, it is supple,  elegant and very tasty – Outstanding.  $20/375ml  3-yellow-stars


Husch Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley
This Pinot Noir has complexity and flavor, but is crafted in a very elegant style.  It has a deep color and a perfume of berry fruit, spice and vanilla with a faintly floral, herbal, smoky undertone on the palate.  It has lovely fruit with a nice underlying structure.  The flavors show lovely berry fruit with a spicy, very faintly smoky tinge – Outstanding.  $23   Best Buy  3-yellow-stars

Husch Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino
Pale yellow color, it has a perfumed nose with hints of citrus and melon, and a faint grassy/herbal nuances.  It is very well-balanced with a lovely flavor showing melon and citrus and a nice crisp finish – Highly Recommended.  Best Buy  $13.50  2-yellow-stars

Husch Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Renegade
This wine is made from grapes grown on the best vines at La Ribera Vineyards.  It was made by allowing the native or “renegade” yeasts to start the fermentation process.  The result is a stunning Sauvignon Blanc.  It is pale yellow in color and exhibits a lovely perfume with tinges of coconut, citrus and peach.  Elegant with lots of fruit, showing hints of coconut and citrus, this is a unique Sauvignon Blanc that is really delicious – Outstanding.  $18   Best Buy   3-yellow-stars