Monday, April 30, 2012

4/30-Michael Horn talks with Mark Carter & Zachary Rasmuson

Mark Carter - Vintner, Carter Cellars

The origins of Carter Cellars began in the mid 1980’s when the historic Carter House Victorian was built.  When this small bed and breakfast became too popular for the crowd from the cities up and down the west coast the Hotel Carter was added and a restaurant (the highly regarded Restaurant 301) was needed for the guests.  For the guests at the restaurant Mark Carter began compiling what has become (since 1998) a Wine Spectator Grand Award winning wine list.  He began sourcing the best wines the world had to offer from first growth Bordeaux to the top Napa Cabernet and even the high quality, little-known gems that helped the wine list stand out.  Because of the great recognition of the restaurant and its wine list Mark was able to host winemaker dinners with the likes of Dan Duckhorn and Nils Venge.
Mark and Nils became fast friends at these dinners while sharing their all encompassing passion for great wines.  Mark wanted to expand his love of wines and start a new age wine label devoid of a brick and mortar facility but sourcing only the best fruit from the most renowned vineyard in Napa.  His goal was to create the best Napa Cabernet that could be made.  Nils Venge, the superstar winemaker responsible for receiving the first “perfect score” on a domestic wine from Robert M. Parker Jr. while at Groth in 1985, seemed like the perfect match on this quest for perfection.
Carter Cellars first vintage was in 1998 sourcing grapes from the steeply terraced Coliseum Block of the Hossfeld Vineyard.  In continuing to source wine from top Napa vineyards Mark and Nils made a svelte Fortuna Block Cabernet from the ancient red volcanic soils of the Fortuna Vineyard in 1999.  In 2000 Carter Cellars began a long and deeply rewarding relationship with the most iconic vineyard in the western hemisphere: the Beckstoffer portion of the original To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville.  Thus began the rise of the famed and highly rated Carter Cellars Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet, a wine that to this day continues to receive top scores from critics worldwide. 
In 2001 Carter Cellars deviated from solely making large and powerful Cabernet when they acquired Merlot fruit from the Truchard Vineyard in Carneros.  This vineyard has varied soils and a marine-influenced climate which makes the ripe and rounded fruit which goes into our lush and ultra-premium Merlot.  In 2004 Carter Cellars expanded again when they began sourcing Cabernet fruit from the Revilo Vineyard in St Helena right next door to some of the highest rated Napa Cabernet and farmed by Reg Oliver of El Molino.  The Revilo Vineyard fruit makes for large and austere Cabernet with incredibly smooth tannins which benefit from some bottle age and will greatly reward those with the patience for fine wines. 
Mark and Nils began looking for a permanent home for Carter Cellars and for a small Napa Winery at which they could produce wines from estate grown fruit.  In 2006 they founded Envy Winery on Tubbs Lane in Calistoga.  This 17 acre property would specialize in Estate grown Merlot, Cabernet and Petite Sirah and would become the new home of Carter Cellars. 
In 2006 Carter Cellars expanded again.  Still with an extremely small case production they made the Hossfeld Red Blend also from the Hossfeld Vineyard in Soda Canyon.  This Predominately Merlot blend contains Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot and is modeled on one of Mark’s Favorites: Chateau Petrus with a uniquely Californian side.
As Carter Cellars continues to create amazing wines from some of the best vineyard sites in Napa and Envy begins to receive recognition for its high quality hand crafted wines Mark finds his time increasingly split between his Hotel/Restaurant, the inspiration for his love of wine and pursuit of perfection and the Vineyard and Winery which requires much attention.  At this point Mark has one of the longest commutes around, generally making the drive from Napa to Eureka every other week.  He does this happily knowing that it is this kind of dedication and constant attention to detail that brings satisfaction to those who drink his wine and enjoy his hospitality.

In the story of great winegrowing appellations, there are always a few individuals who help to raise the bar and chart the course for a region. As the winemaker for Goldeneye since 2003, Zach Rasmuson has spent a decade helping theAnderson Valley achieve its full promise. While doing so, he has contributed to the valley's reputation as one of the world's preeminent locations for growing cool-climate Pinot Noir and established Goldeneye as one of North America's great Pinot Noir wineries.
In many ways, the path that led Zach to make Pinot Noir in the Anderson Valley paralleled the evolution of Goldeneye. Just as Dan and Margaret Duckhorn sought out the Anderson Valley in their search to make a Pinot Noir of equal stature to their Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlots, Zach also came to Mendocino County searching for Pinot greatness. After beginning his career at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Zach found himself fascinated by the challenge of producing Pinot Noir. During a trip the Anderson Valley in the late 1990s, Zach tasted through many of the area's Pinot Noirs. While he found the execution of the wines to be hit or miss, he was deeply impressed by their phenomenal potential. He also fell in the love with the valley.
Though he knew he was taking a big career risk leaving the center of California's winemaking universe for the then little-known Anderson Valley, he moved his family to Mendocino and became the winemaker for Husch Vineyards in 2000. There, he further refined his Pinot Noir philosophy before joining Goldeneye three years later. At Goldeneye, he dedicated himself to creating what has become the valley's most diverse and expansive estate Pinot Noir program which today includes over 200 vine acres and more than 20 distinctive clones. This estate program also helped to establish new standards of excellence in the appellation through the introduction of cutting-edge viticultural practices. Zach also began a thoughtful evolution of the Goldeneye style, moving away from the big, ripe wines that marked the winery's early offerings to a more terroir-inspired expression of Pinot Noir that balances depth and power with Pinot's natural elegance.
"I wanted the essential Anderson Valley-ness of our wines to shine through," says Zach. "I didn't want it lost behind too much oak and ripeness. So we started picking at lower Brix and dialing back the amount of new wood." This measured fine-tuning took place over a decade—a decade in which Zach earned a reputation as a master Pinot Noir winemaker. He also established himself as a respected member of the Anderson Valley community and an advocate for ethical and sustainable practices. Under his stewardship, Goldeneye was one of the first wineries to earn the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing distinction from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Zach also spearheaded the building of Goldeneye's state-of-the-art Pinot Noir winemaking facility, which was only the second winery in California to achieve LEED Gold certification. Beyond Goldeneye, Zach has played a key role in developing a pioneering program to build farm worker housing on winery land, and he is the vice president of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

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