Four Gates Winery
It was a beautiful Sunday morning that had us driving up to the Four Gates Winery which is on top of a hill in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The drive up the hill to the winery used to be a dirt road long ago, and with all the switch backs and the almost vertical climbs, it dumbfounds me how Binyamin (and many others who lived on the hilltop) ever drove up and down that mountain side many times a day. Since then, the road has been paved and now by comparison, it feels like a highway.
As we drove to Santa Cruz we were greeted with the usual California traffic on a holiday weekend. However, as we got further into and by Los Gatos, the road cleared up. The drive in was truly beautiful for a couple of reasons. First, I was not driving, a buddy of mine kindly agreed to drive us there. Secondly, the day was just beautiful, and finally, as a passenger, it gave me a chance to look at the Santa Cruz Mountains long and hard with all the traffic! Once we got the winery road, we drove up the hill and past the vineyard and to the winery itself.
The Four Gates Winery is owned, operated, run, and managed by a single man – Binyamin Cantz. He is the chief and only winemaker, along with being the CEO, and sole vineyard manager. Parenthetically, he is a man I am proud to call a friend and I state it here for full disclosure. He has people help him every so often, which is great, but he is really the sole proprietor of Four Gates Winery. Binyamin has been making wine for some 25 years now, more as a home winemaker to start, but that turned into a real passion for wine some 17 years ago, when he planted the vineyard. The vineyard is planted on a lovely hillside with views (far away views) of the Pacific Ocean and parts of Santa Cruz. In 1997 he released his inaugural vintage, which was a success, and to this day, some 11 years later, his 1997 Merlot is still quite lovely.
We met Binyamin in his house where he was cleaning out glasses for the wine tasting. The house is a rustic home rebuilt recently with exposed roof beams and original wood floors. Binyamin built his winery with his own hands and it is quite an ingenious layout. The winery is built on a hillside with no sun direct exposure, as it is surrounded by large mature trees. The winery building has two floors. The top floor is where the crush and press occur for the wines and where the fermentation occurs for the red wines, the Chardonnay is fermented in barrels below (sur lie). It is also used for bottle labeling after they are filled downstairs, and is a general storage for previous year vintages. The ground floor is dug into the hillside and is cool in the hot summer days. This is the perfect place to let sleeping wine lie, and as such, it is the winery’s barrel room. After crush or press, Binyamin funnels the wine to the barrel room via gravity into the stainless steel settling tank. From there it can be pumped into any of the barrels or smaller tanks, for whatever the situation calls for. Once the particular varietal is finished living in its woodsy confines, the wine is blended in the tank before bottling.
We followed Binyamin into the fields to look at the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines. The Pinot Noir was already picked in part, at this time (Labor Day weekend), but the vineyard was alive with the smell of fruit and clippings. All around the vines, Binyamin had let lay the clippings of the green grapes, exuberant grape leaves, and prunings. More and more vineyard managers are crafting their grapes to meet the need of the winemaker’s vision. It may be in the interest of getting more sun on the fruit to get more tannin, color, and bigger flavor. It may be the need to pare back slightly on the vine’s exuberance to concentrate the vine’s efforts on fewer grapes. Or it may be the interests to not only manage the grape’s overgrowth, but also to manage the environment (hillside versus plateau) or other such matters. As we walk through the vineyard Binyamin explains that he is one of the few kosher wineries in the world that grow his grapes organically. The winery is CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certified. Also, the vines are dry farmed which creates fruit flavors that are bursting in the mouth. As we were walking along, Binyamin explains that his objective is to maximize the sunlight on his grapes, while also keeping steadfast to the grape’s true nature. The vineyard is in the Santa Cruz Mountains at an elevation of 660 feet, where temperatures do not reach high extremes like in Lodi and Napa. Further, the evenings are quite cool in the summer, and fog is a common sight in the early morning or late evenings, this temperature variation helps to increase the fruit’s flavor. The Merlot vines are partially on the top of the hillside and lower down as well, with the topside vines being harvested separately for the M.S.C. line (Four Gates’ Reserve line) of wines.
Once we completed our tour of the vineyard, we adjourned to the home and got down to tasting the wines. The tasting notes are listed below in the order that they were drunk. I have also listed other Four Gates wines below (that were not part of the tasting) for completeness. We would like to thank Binyamin Cantz for his hospitality, for lunch, and for a beautiful afternoon in the hills, overlooking Santa Cruz.
Four Gates Cabernet Franc 2005 – Score: A-
Our previous notes hold well with addition to notes of mint and chocolate that appear on the nose and in the mid palate.
Four Gates Cabernet Franc 2006 (Barrel tasting) – Score: A-
The nose on this bright garnet colored wine scream with classic Cabernet Franc floral notes, mint, cherry, cranberry, and asparagus. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is more flush and tannic than its older sibling, which plays to its youth. The wine starts with cherry, cranberry, and what I can only call chicken cherry cola. The mid palate has strong vegetal notes of asparagus and eucalyptus. The finish is a long vanilla walk into the sunset.
Four Gates Pinot Noir N.V. – Score: A-
The nose on this bright ruby colored wine is packed with cherry, vegetal notes, raspberry, and sweet oak. The mouth on this medium bodied Pinot is luscious almost velvety. The cherry, cassis, and cranberry hit you right away. The layers of fruit come at you in waves after that. The mid palate almost rolls right off the waves with acidity and vegetal flavors. The finish is long with vanilla and cherry.
Four Gates Chardonnay 2004 – Score: A-
Our previous notes are holding strong. Though I must reiterate how nicely the wine has come together and is now poised to be a huge success.
Four Gates Syrah 2004 – Score: A-
Our previous notes are holding quite nicely (reset here as the previous note was in context to a different setting). The nose on this deep to brooding garnet colored wine is screaming with cassis, blackberry, eucalyptus, and oak. The mouth on this full bodied and velvety wine hits you in waves of cassis, blackberry, and plum. The mid palate of this wonderfully complex wine, is still tannic in nature, and will settle down in a couple of years. The finish is long with tar extraction, and wood.
These wine notes are listed for ease of access:
Posted on August 31, 2008, in Kosher Red Wine, Kosher White Wine, Winery Visit and tagged Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Four Gates Winery, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Wine Tasting at Winery. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.