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08.12.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Blake Davis
Priest of Eden : Winemaker Jeffrey Patterson examines ripening pinot grapes on Mount Eden's estate overlooking the Santa Clara Valley.

A Taste of Mount Eden

An intensive afternoon tasting reveals levels of complexity in the Santa Cruz Mountain winery's offerings.

By Christina Waters


By 2pm the tables of Soif are laden with wine glasses and plates of bread, cheese and olives and ready for two hours with acclaimed Mount Eden Vineyards winemaker Jeffrey Patterson. "Citrus, nuts and earth," pronounces Patterson as the roomful of tasters samples his 2006 Saratoga Cuvée Chardonnay. The atmosphere amps up, still casual but definitely on its toes.

It's Sunday afternoon, and three dozen wine lovers of all degrees of expertise have paid $20 to hear Patterson work the room through six of his award-winning Santa Cruz Mountains vintages. This sort of event is arguably the best way to understand the character of these wines, comparing and cross-checking their expression of the fog-cooled, mountaintop terroir first planted by legendary maverick Martin Ray. Since 1981, UC-Davis-trained Patterson has been at the helm of this small historic estate situated 2,000 feet above Silicon Valley. "I'm looking for tension--a nervous quality," he explains. "My wines are all about delicacy and nuance--a more classic style than big, fruity California wines."

Priced $20 higher than the Cuvée, the Estate Chardonnay offers increased complexity, layers of minerals, citrus, fennel and a slow, longboard finish. The winemaker admits to desiring "heightened earthiness and acidity, and an absence of overt fruitiness" in his Estate label. I could drink this all week.

We clear our palates with grana cheese and bread as the first pinot noir is poured. In the case of the 2006 Cuvée Pinot Noir, Patterson admits that this blend of estate and neighboring vineyard grapes exhibits "a more hybrid style," combining California fruitiness with Burgundian austerity. Again, the 2006 Mount Eden Estate Pinot Noir is more expensive and much more impressive. Loaded with leather, blueberry, mint and enough grip to age for another decade, this is one glorious wine. The room hums with appreciation. Even the winemaker grins as he swirls the garnet elixir in the late afternoon sunlight.

We write notes, ask questions and chase each sip with water, bread and some cheese. Dump buckets are provided for those who want to "save themselves" for favorite varietals and from overindulgence.

Patterson talks about harvest time and how exquisitely crucial temperature is to the ripening of costly grapes. "You want the weather to be perfect those last six weeks. Heat spells are your nemesis," he says. The last varietal--cabernet sauvignon--is poured. A pattern now emerges. The cuvée selections' blend of estate and neighboring grapes taste more general. The winemaker explains that this is, in many ways, a no-brainer. If it comes from several vineyards, it can't express a sense of place like single-vineyard wines. The 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon makes the boldest statement. "Balance, concentration and elegance--these are really striking to me," he says of this showpiece wine. Leather, cassis and violets, a whisper of tangarine peel: The wine is rich with spatial identity.

The afternoon ends with an enological time trip, thanks to special pours of Mount Eden's still lovely, if shy, 1978 and 1979 Estate Cabernets. The two-hour journey through an outstanding vineyard leaves me wishing for a bank account to match my newly expanded taste buds. Learn more at www.mounteden.com.

A WINE TO LOVE
Crane Lake Sangiovese 2008--for $2.99 and drinkable to boot, it needs no further endorsement. At New Leaf.


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