One of our first discoveries in California wines was the Louis M. Martini Winery. My Dad had a customer who was in wine sales and would sell him Louis Martini, Charles Krug, and Wente Bros. wines by the case. This was in the mid 1960’s. Get this: A bottle of Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon was slightly under $2 a bottle. My Dad’s gifts of these wines started us on our wine journeys. My first trip to the Napa Valley was a visit to the Louis Martini winery where I learned about the Monte Rosso Vineyard. I had aways wanted to visit the Monte Rosso vineyard and find out more about this mysterious vineyard located in Sonoma. Last Tuesday I, along with my friend and fellow wine blogger Mike Beltran, had an amazing two-hour educational tour of the prized Monte Rosso Vineyard on the Mayacamus mountains in Sonoma County. Thank you, Gallo, for this fabulous and informative tour. So what is the Monte Rosso mystique? After our dazzling tour, I think it has to be the place and the people.
The Monte Rosso location is near the town of Aqua Caliente on what is called Mount Pisgah. The elevation is 700 to 1200 feet, bringing an array of microclimates to the 250 acres planted to vines. In the late afternoon, cooling breezes flow from the San Pablo Bay, bringing daily temperature relief to the baking vineyards. But it is the soil that gives the Monte Rosso grapes their special characteristic. The soil is Red Hill Loam. This is volcanic soil deposited when Mount Veeder erupted eons ago, building the mountain and the rolling topography. The Red Hill Loam among the green rows of vines is a beautiful sight to see. If you have ever tasted a wine made from Monte Rosso grapes, you’ve probably noticed that there is a distinctive character to the wine. It’s generous but elegant, with a perfumed characteristic. Is it the iron in the red soil that gives the wine this distinction? Besides Louis Martini, there are a host of wineries that purchase Monte Rosso grapes to produce Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Among the wineries are Biale, Bedrock, Stryker-Sonoma and Sbragia.
First, there was Emmanuel Goldstein who purchased the property and planted the first vines in 1880. It’s hard to imagine how he was able to plant these acres in the rolling and sometimes steep hillside of volcanic soil. He also built a gravity-flow winery in 1886 that produced 20,000 cases of wine a year. The grapes were delivered to the top floor and the crush brought the grapes down to the lower level. The gravity flow winery is just a shell these days and fenced in after the most recent earthquake that shook the area a few months ago. In 1938, Louis M. Martini purchased the property after Goldstein’s death. Louis feared he would no longer be able to source Zinfandel from the Pisgah Vineyards. Louis changed the named to Monte Rosso (red mountain). He added Cabernet Sauvignon to the vineyards and increased the vineyard acreage to 240 from the original 180.
In 2002, the Gallo Family purchased Louis M Martini, and with that purchase came the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard. The Gallo Family has a partnership with the Martini Family and grandson Michael Martini. Monte Rosso will continue as it is with no plans to increase vineyard acres on the 525-acre property. Gallo would like to keep things on Monte Rosso much the same as Louis Martini had done. One example is a 3.8-acre vineyard block of 108-year-old Semillion. One might think that replacing those vines with Cabernet would make more business sense. But Gallo will keep those old vines. Ranch manager Brenae Royal toured us around the vineyards and we were impressed with the reverence given to the vineyards. Full-time employees treat the vines as though they are their own. The veterans of the farm referred to several of the blocks by nicknames rather than just numbers. El Banco block is the one they think makes the most prized wines. One interesting note to further the Monte Rosso Mystique: Brenae lives on the property in a Victorian house built in 1903. The Victorian is located near the old gravity-flow winery. She says with all sincerity that often she awakes in the middle of the night to hear music, singing and dancing coming from the ghost winery. Perhaps it is the ghosts that are keeping Monte Rosso unchanged and mysterious!
Monte Rosso Vineyard Slide Show
More resources for Louis Martini Winery
- Napa Valley Wine Trail – Historic Wineries to Visit
- Top Ten Tips for Enjoying the Napa Valley
- Napa Valley Towns – where to make your home base