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WINE STORIES

The Halleck Family Journey

A one-acre site, Halleck Vineyard is perched above the Russian River watershed and flanked on the west by the slopes to the Pacific Ocean. It commands an expansive view of the rolling Sonoma County hills to the northeast.

We planted Halleck Vineyard in 1993, the very first in the hills of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County. A passion for Pinot led the charge.

It was intended as a college fund for our infant son. Two more sons and six years later until our first harvest, this seemed a flight of fancy.

Each wine tells a story.  We invite you to read more.

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LITTLE SISTER SAUVINGON BLANC

The grapes for our Little Sister Sauvignon Blanc are sourced from “Patient Terrier” Vineyard named in homage to the faithful companion of its owner, Greg Conklin.

Rather than “Patient Terrier”, we chose to name the wine for a family story.

In 2002, we were judged #1 Pinot noir in the United States for the first crop from Halleck Vineyard Estate, harvested in 2001. This gave us the street-cred to make any wine we chose. I hoped to make a Sancerre. I fell in love with Sancerre as a young man. It’s a remarkable Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. It was an accessible luxury at $5, back-in-the-day (OK, I’m dating myself:) Sancerre is bright crisp, refreshing and surprisingly complex, unlike its New World cousins.

Prior to making a white wine, our fans were expecting another Pinot Noir from Halleck. We only had a few cases of our Estate Grown wine available. So we made our Three Sons Cuvee on the heels of our Estate Grown. We called it the “little brother” to our Estate, naming it after our three sons and included their names and ages on the bottle. This wine was an instant success, providing the opportunity to make our little passion project, the Sauvignon Blanc. We launched Little Sister in 2004.

We chose the name “Little Sister” because we didn’t have a daughter, a little sister to our sons. Nor did we have a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard, a partner to our Estate Pinot Noir. So this wine is named as the Little Sister to our Three Sons.

True to French style, the Little Sister Sauvignon Blanc is made like a crisp, but rich Sancerre. It displays classic neutral citrus notes, with a floral nose that hints of sea breeze, with its earthy complement. The delivery yields bright acidity, offering a mid-palate of flinty minerality, a hint of tart passion fruit with pineapple and the long lingering, yet crisp finish for which Halleck Vineyard wines are noted.

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``NOT YOUR MOTHER'S`` DRY WHITE ZINFANDEL

European semi-sweet wines were the rage in the 1970s. Blue Nun, a German Liebfroumilch, was a fave. Mateus Rosé from Portugal was the most popular wine in the world.

At the same time, a new entrant, White Zinfandel, joined the ranks of American wines made by Sutter Home.

Sutter Home employed a winemaking technique called “saignée,” draining some of the free-run juice from Zinfandel to create a concentrated, robust Zinfandel. “Saignee” literally means “to bleed” in French. The run-off is considered the bleed and is a traditional method for making Rosé. The runoff Zinfandel juice was then fermented, but got stuck, creating a semi sweet rather than dry White Zin. It was a mistake. But the Sutter Home White Zinfandel swept the American palate like a tidal wave. Pink, semi-sweet, and inexpensive, it became THE “libation of choice.”

Following Sutter Home, almost every winery launched its version of White Zin, establishing tiers by price and status. Never considered a fine wine, it however set the stage for America to become a wine drinking culture.

America discovered Chardonnay in the 80s and sales of White Zin plummeted. As did any status it had garnered. White Zin fell from grace.

With the recent rise in popularity of rosé, many asked for a Halleck Vineyard Rosé.

We purchased a selection of Rosés from our “neighborhood” to see what all the fuss was about. We didn’t like a single one. In exploring further, we discovered all were made in the “Saignee” fashion.

Rick Davis, our esteemed winemaker, coached us to try some Rosés from Provence, France. We were floored! They were gorgeous, delicious and, by the way, more expensive. Why? Because they are made in a style called “Direct Press.”

There is the intention to make Rosé at the outset. There is no “bleeding.” The grapes are pressed, the skin given a short time with the juice to impart it’s distinctively pink hue, and then removed. They are also bone dry; the juice if fully fermented with no residual sugar.

Our fans are our friends, so we thought, “Why not reinvent a classic?” We have a small audience who trusts us. Let’s redefine White Zin. It seemed adventurous, a hallmark for Halleck Vineyard.

So now the rest is history.

“Not Your Mother’s” Dry White Zinfandel is both elegant and casual. There’s no cloying sweetness one expects from White Zin. It’s fully fermented from Zinfandel, not bled or altered in any way. The skins are left for just a short time, resulting in a gorgeous pink hue. The expressive nose is full of floral notes and delicate fruit.  Bright crisp acids blend with minerality on the mid-palate offering notes of subtle cherry, hints of apricot, rose petals, and other floral tones.

The refreshing finish lingers and cleanses. This is a wine you can enjoy with a meal, but and is also spectacular on its own sipping poolside or by anyone’s side.

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CALANDRELLI VINEYARD DRY GEWURZTRAMINER

I was introduced Gewurztraminer in, of all places, Kenya in the 1970s. I lived in Kenya as a young man. It had been a British Colony just a decade earlier.

India had also been a British Colony, a relatively short hop across the Indian Ocean. As part of the British Empire, Indian businessmen were the “merchant class” in Kenya. They owned businesses, real estate and restaurants along-side their British and colonial counterparts.

I was first introduced to Indian food in Kenya. Coming from the Midwest, where Italian was considered ethnic food, I couldn’t believe such a party could happen in your mouth! I fell in love with the wild and exotic flavors of Indian food. It was there I was introduced to Alsatian AOC, served not as a beverage, but as a chutney, with Indian cuisine. The flavors were explosive together!

The British have always had a love affair with French wines. This carried across the British Empire. Gewurztraminer is the grape varietal that contributes to Alsatian AOC. Alsace, France, bordering Germany, make their white wines from Gewurztraminer. Like all wines in France, it is named for place rather than grape; there is both Alsatian AOC or Alsatian Grand Cru AOC. These designations also apply to Riesling in Alsace. Gewurztraminer is made “dry” in Alsace, with little or no residual sugar.

Returning to the US in the 1970s, one could not find Indian food for love or money. But I found an Indian woman in San Francisco teaching cooking from her apartment. I took her classes for 6 weeks. I still cook Indian food to this day.

When we began making wine, I wanted to make a wine to go with my Indian food. Gewurztraminer was the obvious choice. But our distributors at that time told me I was crazy. First, they said, nobody eats Indian food. More importantly, they emphasized, no one can pronounce it! Wine is already so intimidating to most, if one is on the list that guests cannot pronounce, they’ll never order it.

We made it anyway. Our first release was in 2004. And it’s our first wine to sell out every year by November. It happens to be phenomenal with Thanksgiving turkey!

This vintage offers astounding fruit and minerality. Crisp, Refreshing!

The expressive nose is full of ripe lychee, rose petals and a hint of honeysuckle. There are bright crisp acids that blend with minerality on the mid-palate, offering flavors of lychee, rose petals, spice, and a touch of ginger. The finish lingers and cleanses with notes of fine spice.

Not only does it go great with Indian food and turkey, it’s phenomenal with roasted chestnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, truffle salted popcorn cuddled up for a movie!

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THREE SONS CUVEE, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY, PINOT NOIR

When we planted our Estate Vineyard in 1993, our goals were not lofty.

There had never been a vineyard planted in western Sebastopol, all the way to the coast. We were the first, and we began without a clue what we were doing. We purchased the rootstock from the Yellow Pages.

We thought it would be beautiful, relatively inexpensive landscaping and we could make “backyard garage wine.” In the best of all worlds, assuming the fruit good enough, we could sell it, pay for the agriculture, and have some left over as a college fund for our infant son. That was the big vision.

The vineyard produced fruit, but it was meager and took much longer than expected. It was six years before it bore a commercial crop. We had three sons by then. It seemed an unlikely college fund.

We sold it for blending to a small winemaker. He graciously made a couple of cases of the pre-blended wine from our vineyard as a gift to us. This was a courtesy often extended by winemakers to their growers.

Then we met Greg Lafollette. Greg had become a winemaking rock star with the meteoric rise of Flowers, the first “cult winery” in western Sonoma County. He oversaw the building of the winery and managed the winemaking for the Flowers family.

Greg’s kids were in elementary school with our kids. After a parent-teacher event one evening, I gave Greg a bottle of our first vintage to get his opinion.

He called at dawn the next morning with an offer to buy our grapes and make a Halleck Vineyard designate the very next year. He was starting a winery called Tandem. We couldn’t have been more thrilled.

It’s first vintage, the 2001 Tandem, Halleck Vineyard Pinot Noir was judged #1 Pinot Noir in the US in 2002. But with three sons, even with a vineyard designated wine, there was not enough for a college fund.

This launched Halleck Vineyard. Under Greg’s tutelage, we purchased fruit from a selection of young vineyards popping up all over Sebastopol. We created a Russian River Valley blend of some of the finest fruit in the world.

Three Sons was born in 2003, the “little brother” to our Estate Grown, and a college fund for our sons, Connor, Adam, and Quinn. Their names and ages grace every bottle, by vintage. Of course, their names never change:)

It’s a classic Russian River Pinot with a hat-tip to Burgundy. Beautifully balanced, it leads with dark cherry, delivering a mid-palate of clove, cinnamon and forest floor, and a lingering finish of black pepper. A passion for Pinot leads the charge!

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THE FARM VINEYARDS, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY, PINOT NOIR

The Farm Vineyards was the first vineyard in our neighborhood from which we purchased fruit.

In 2003, after being judged #1 Pinot in the United States, we needed to make more wine than our Estate Grown could support. Greg Lafollette, our winemaker, started combing the countryside and met Ben and George, just down the road from the winery in western Sebastopol.

Ben and George were successful, retired San Francisco business attorneys who planted a two-acre backyard vineyard with modest aspirations for its future. They simply hoped to sell the fruit to support the agriculture. They dreamed of living on a vineyard, moving from the hustle bustle of city life. The Farm was their weekend getaway. They hoped to enjoy the Farm before having “bought the Farm.”

We purchased their very first crop in 2003 and blended it with a bit of our Estate Grown to make our first Three Sons Cuvee.

It wasn’t until 2005, after contracting more and more vineyards, that we realized the Farm Vineyard was quite special. The winery was enjoying exponential growth as our wines were distributed across the country, so we kept adding vineyards. The Farm stood out.

So we took a portion of the fruit from our 2005 crop and made our first vineyard designated wine from The Farm Vineyard. It followed in the footsteps of our Estate Grown and started winning award after award. We lobbied Ben and George to shift the vineyard to organic farming.

In 2019, our 2014 The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir took the Grand Prize. It was judged Best of Class in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It was the largest competition in the history of the country. 7200 wines were entered.

Then in 2020, the 2015 vintage was awarded a Double Gold.

This is a very special vineyard producing a wine of international repute.

The 2016 boasts a highly aromatic nose, showing rose petals, bing cherry, black tea and thyme. Rich earthy tones blend with fruit for great texture and structure. Notes of dark cherry, black tea and dried herbs for an elegant old-world style. The finish is long of tea and gentle tobacco, hinting of dried fruit. Truly sophisticated and stunning!

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HAAS VINEYARD, SONOMA MOUNTAIN, PINOT NOIR

The Haas Vineyard is really not named, as such. It’s a modest, two acre vineyard behind an equally modest home near Glen Ellen on the eastern foot of Sonoma Mountain. It’s currently owned by Peter and Ginny Haas, but we had purchased fruit from this site through two previous owners.

I met Pete some years ago after the first harvest since he had purchased the property. His daughter was getting married and he hoped to pour wine made from his vineyard at her wedding. Happy to oblige, Pete drove his truck over, we shared a glass and he walked away with a few cases of our Three Sons Cuvee. His vineyard contributed to the blend.

The vineyard was somewhat of a mystery. We’d no idea the clones, the age, or any pedigree whatsoever. But the fruit was consistently good and made for great blending.

Some years later, in 2015, I got a call from a young man in New York, Josh Groban. He was performing on Broadway, had tasted our wine, loved it, and inquired about making a special wine to benefit his foundation, the Find Your Light Foundation. The Find Your Light Foundation funds arts education across the United States.

Since we had three sons, all artists, all having attended public schools, the fit was synchronistic. We happily agreed.

During our first blending session with Josh in our Sebastopol winery, we lined all the barrels on a cement slab to taste through. We instructed Josh to choose his favorite. From there, we would build the blend for the Find Your Light Pinot Noir from our other vineyards. He selected the Haas Vineyard barrel from all others.

The following day, I called Pete Haas to alert him of the news. I didn’t think Pete would have known of Josh. He was about 10 years my senior and I’d not heard of Josh prior to that fateful call. To be candid, I’m somewhat culturally illiterate, living in the rural reaches of Sonoma County.

When I got Pete on the phone, I shared the news, expecting him to inquire, “Who’s Josh Groban? Tell me about the Find Your Light Foundation.”

Instead, Pete simply said “C’mon?!” I was confused.

He followed with, “Josh Groban was at your HOUSE!?”

I replied, “So you’ve heard of Josh?” And he shot back, “Ross, you hadn’t?!”
He proceeded to wax on about Josh’s many accomplishments, ending in, “He probably has one of the greatest voices of the century. We listen to him all the time.”

Then he inquired further, with a degree of knowledge that was telling, “And he’s making wine for the Find Your Light Foundation?”

I bit. “So you’re familiar, Pete? How do you know about that?”

He replied, “Well, we have a little foundation ourselves, and we’re aware of other foundations in our space.”

I was touched. “That’s so great Pete, you have a little foundation! What’s your foundation called?”

He said simply, “ The Haas Family Foundation.” My jaw dropped.

I said, “You’re THAT Haas?” embarrassingly.

The Haas Family founded a little company back in 1853 called Levy Strauss. After retiring two decades ago, Pete is involved in their extensive philanthropic arm. The Arts is a primary focus.

He proceeded without skipping a beat, “Ross, we might like to participate a bit more than providing fruit for this endeavor. Would you have an opportunity to introduce me to Josh and his Executive Director, Jake.”

This was in March of 2016. In April, Josh was hosting his second Gala for the Find Your Light Foundation at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay. Only 200 people were to attend. Josh was performing with Jason Mraz, accompanied by some of the young beneficiaries of the Find Your Light Foundation. Halleck Vineyard had two tables.

I invited Pete to join as our guest. Rather than accept my offer, he suggested he’d like to bring some friends. Would I make an introduction to Jake so he might secure a table for he and his guests. He only asked that his table be next to ours.

Pete sponsored the last table at the Gala, situated between our table and Josh’s table in the center of the room. I had the opportunity to introduce Pete and Josh and Jake and discussions ensued about a greater involvement of the Haas Foundation with Find Your Light.

It touches me deeply that our little back-yard vineyard in Sebastopol provided the connective tissue to be in this place at this time.

We took the remaining wine not employed for the Find Your Light and created a small release of our vineyard designated, Haas Vineyard. It earned a Double Gold in the San Francisco Chronicle and 99 points in the California State Fair.

This backyard vineyard of Dijon clones 667, 777, and 115 produces rich fruit with great texture and structure. It’s a luxurious wine, displaying the finest qualities, sort of a hybrid, of Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley. It leads with full rich flavors of cherry, a mid-palate of minerals and spice with a long rich finish. Great mouth feel of silky texture.

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HILLSIDE CUVEE, SONOMA MOUNTAIN, PINOT NOIR

Similar to our approach with our Three Sons Cuvee and the Russian River Valley, we hoped to create a signature blend of vineyards to represent the Sonoma Coast. We introduced the Three Sons in 2003, but awaited until 2006 to introduce its Sonoma Coast brother.

For Hillside Cuvee, we sourced vineyards close to the Halleck Vineyard Estate, of similar elevation and character. Our desire was to express our region in a single wine that aggregated the best qualities for which the region is known.

All our other wines are single vineyards. These represent place at a micro level. In making the Hillside Cuvee, we had the creative opportunity to select vineyards that, together, spoke, “Sonoma Coast.”

Hillside Cuvee does not disappoint! This wine leads with red fruits like pomegranate and fresh cranberry, but delivers bright minerality, referencing river stones in a crisp mid- palate. It finishes in white pepper, lingering for many minutes.

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CLONE 828, SONOMA MOUNTAIN, PINOT NOIR

By 2006, Halleck Vineyard had emerged as one of the top wineries amongst a handful of boutiques in our neighborhood. To say we were a big fish in a little pond would be overstating. We were a small fish in a small pond, but showing some bright colors.

One of the big fish in our neighborhood was a gentleman named Brice Cutrer Jones. He was the founder of Sonoma Cutrer, a poster child for success in the region. Sonoma Cutrer was known for Chardonnay. In 1999, he sold Sonoma Cutrer to Brown Forman, an American alcoholic beverage giant, represented in 170 countries. He took the money and founded another winery in Sebastopol, Emeritus, and planted Pinot Noir vineyards in aging apple orchards.

Adventurous by nature, in 2000 Brice planted the very first Pinot Noir Dijon Clone 828, originating from Dijon, France. He had a small vineyard on the northern Sonoma Coast.
In 2004, the movie Sideways was released and Pinot Noir became a craze. Having been judged the #1 Pinot in the US in 2002 put Halleck Vineyard on the Pinot map.

Brice’s first crop of Clone 828 was ready in 2006, prior to his winery, Emeritus. He selected a half dozen of the best winemakers in our neighborhood and offered the fruit at a bargain price. Of course, none of us knew if it was a bargain or not. No one had made wine from this vineyard before, nor this clone.

We were flattered to be included, though little could we afford this gamble. But we bit.
Our 2006 Clone 828 was one of the most dazzling wines to come from Halleck Vineyard. It sold out quickly and we anticipated getting it again. We were disappointed.

Brice bought cases from all the winemakers to whom he sold fruit and used the results to craft his own wines for Emeritus. Discouraging further, there was no Clone 828 to be had anywhere. It was just too new. Farmers are conservative, as a rule. They’re not looking for the latest Dijon Clones to consume valuable real estate. They want grapes with a track record and a predictable market.

However, with the colossal impact of the movie, Sideways, people were planting Pinot Noir everywhere. Normally it would take a generation for a new Clone, sold in nurseries to wineries, to create a footprint in a region. There are about 20 clones of Pinot Noir being used for wine in the US. Demand for new clones is generally low. Due to the movie, however, Clone 828 flew out of the nurseries into the ground with all the other clones, cleaning out the nurseries for years running.

By 2013, a small vineyard right on Burnside Road had Clone 828 available for sale. We purchased that fruit right out-of-the-gate. Unfortunately, the craze for Pinot continued, and that vineyard was sold to a large Napa Valley winery just two years later. Scouring the area, we were able to locate yet another vineyard of Clone 828 nearby. We immediately drew up a contract and have secured that fruit for the future. It continues to make a stunning wine. We’re the only American winery to make a single vineyard, single clone wine of this grape.

Our 2015 vintage earned a Double Gold. Then our 2016 vintage was judged #1 Pinot Noir in North America in the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine competition.

The 2017 is equally outstanding!

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ESTATE GROWN, SONOMA COAST, PINOT NOIR

When we planted our Estate Vineyard in 1993, our goals were not lofty.

There had never been a vineyard planted in western Sebastopol, all the way to the coast. We were the first; we proceeded without a clue what we were doing. We purchased the rootstock from the Yellow Pages.

We thought it would be beautiful, relatively inexpensive landscaping and we could make “backyard garage wine.” In the best of all worlds, assuming the fruit good enough, we could sell it, pay for the agriculture, and have some left over as a college fund for our infant son. That was the big vision.

The vineyard produced fruit, but it was meager and took much longer than expected. It was six years before it bore a commercial crop. We had three sons by then. It seemed an unlikely college fund.

We sold it for blending to a small winemaker. He graciously made a couple of cases of the pre-blended wine from our vineyard as a gift. This is a courtesy often extended by winemakers to their growers.

Then we met Greg Lafollette. Greg had become a winemaking rock star with the meteoric rise of Flowers, the first “cult winery” in western Sonoma County. He oversaw the building of the winery and managed the winemaking for the Flowers family.

Greg’s kids were in elementary school with our kids. After a parent-teacher one evening, I gave Greg a bottle of our first vintage to get his opinion.

He called at dawn the next morning with an offer to buy our grapes and make a Halleck Vineyard designate the very next year. He was starting a winery called Tandem. We couldn’t have been more thrilled.
It’s first vintage, the 2001 Tandem, Halleck Vineyard Pinot Noir was judged #1 Pinot Noir in the US in 2002. This launched Halleck Vineyard. We have never since entered it in any competitions. There’s simply not enough.
In 2009, Dan Berger, respected and nationally syndicated columnist, declared it worthy of 100 points. In 2018, Somm Journal Magazine put Halleck Vineyard in the top 5 vineyards in all Sonoma County. One bottle of our 2001 vintage, our first, sold last year to a collector for $2500. He had tasted it at our annual Harvest Party.

In 2014, Canadian shaman Ari Nelson, worked with me in burying crystals within the vineyard to “grid” an area for enhanced energy and growth. We performed a ritual ceremony to introduce the crystals to the vines. This dedication to the mystical nature of agriculture has always been a cornerstone to our efforts. Though not biodynamic, our vineyard was the first organic vineyard in western Sonoma County.

Our Halleck Vineyard, Pinot Noir, remains the flagship of our fleet of wines. It is complex, boasting a nose of earth, fruit and spice in equal measure. It’s hard-telling whether the lead are earth tones one would expect of a Gran Cru Burgundy, or the deep red fruit notes of a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It’s certainly not a competition, as the wine delivers in full measure on both counts. Then it surprises with spice, minerals and white pepper as it unfolds and unfolds in a long languorous and mouth-watering finish. Time for another sip.

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FIND YOUR LIGHT PINOT NOIR

In 2015, I got a call from a young man in New York, Josh Groban. He was performing on Broadway, had tasted our wine, loved it, and inquired about making a special wine to benefit his foundation, the Find Your Light Foundation. The Find Your Light Foundation funds arts education across the United States.

Since we had three sons, all artists, all having attended public schools, the fit was synchronistic. We happily agreed.

During our first blending session with Josh in our Sebastopol winery, we lined all the barrels on a cement slab to taste through. We instructed Josh to choose his favorite. From there, we would build the blend for the Find Your Light Pinot Noir from our other vineyards. He selected the Haas Vineyard barrel from all others.

This has become the foundation of this wine, blended with The Farm and contributions from other stunning Halleck Vineyard wines.

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