I have written often about Four Gates Winery, here in 2008, again for a Shabbaton, and then when I crashed Alice Feiring’s visit to the Four Gates Winery, and then my last writeup – the most complete to date. As always, I state up front that the winemaker, Benyamin Cantz (Benyo) is a good friend of mine and that in the end, the wine talks and scores and notes I give on wines are unbiased, as much as I can be.
I get a bunch of “smack” about being a good friend of Benyo, which is true, still I write what I smell and taste. Clearly, Four Gates Winery is one of those California wineries that is very different. It is different because of a few factors:
- Benyamin is a Vigneron – as explained before, Vigneron is French for wine maker and winery owner, but it also means that it is a person who does it all – wine wise. He manages his vineyard, he manages his cellar, and makes the wine – a nice way to say one-man shop. Is that good? Well, I can say it is awesome because he gets to know his vines and wines, but really it is just a view into the unique man who is himself the physical embodiment of the Four Gates Winery.
- The vines are grown organically and meet the CCOF standards of organic farming. Please do not think that a Vigneron is not a farmer. Remember he grows his grapes and knows his grapes and does so in an ecologically sustainable manner – since he started in 1997. This is NOT a fad for Binyamin – it is part of his way of life.
- His vines are dry farmed (there is that word again) – and for good reason. The Pinot pops because of it, as does the Chardonnay and Merlot. Essentially, dry farming allows for the fruit flavors to concentrate as the vine stresses. Stress, for a vine, is great. Too much stress, like in humans is BAD! Luckily it does not get that hot in the mountains and therefore, the water requirements are lower, keeping the stress constant – but maintainable.
- The climate in the vineyard and winery, as mentioned earlier, is indeed cooler than the city it overlooks and that helps the vines in many ways. The obvious benefit is that the vines need less water than they would elsewhere. It also allows the vines to cool down over night and it allows the vines to stay cool for longer, meaning more ripening time, but in a controlled manner.
- The cooler climate makes for perfect Pinot, Chardonnay, and Merlot and believe it or not Cabernet Sauvignon, which is why the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains is so FANTASTIC! Yes, I am sure you would think that Cabernet in a cooler region would be a disaster, as it would never fully ripen. Well, a not-so well-known fact is that the 2005 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. has a bit of Benyamin’s Cabernet Sauvignon in it. WHAT? Yes, Benyamin grows a very small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (I hope he does not kill me – LOL!) His Cabernet Franc also benefits from the cooler weather.
- Finally, what makes this winery unique is Benyamin Cantz himself! On this bullet point, I must pre-warn that I am very biased. To me Benyamin Cantz is one of those people where the expression stands true – good things happen to good people. Sure, he is my friend, but it does not take long to talk with him and feel the same way. He is like a few wine makers I found in Israel, that are humble, with so much to be arrogant about. The wine talks for themselves, but he is a unique man in that his actions may be wrapped up in the winery and vines, but they revolve around his religion, and that is more than most of us can ever say about ourselves. Read the rest of this entry