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An Education

A THOUGHTFUL STUDY IN WINEMAKING

  • Sustainable practices on the site include the use of a falconer to ward off birds
  • The Grace Benoist Ranch is the spiritual home of Etude Wines
  • Jon Priest and viticulturalist Franci Ashton take a meeting
  • The Grace Benoist Ranch is the spiritual home of Etude Wines
 
We are situated just of the San Francisco Bay and we get this cooling breeze from the Pacific Ocean that's perfect for growing Pinot.

A WINERY ORIGINALLY ESTABLISHED TO study and explore Pinot Noir in California, Etude Wines comes by its name honestly. The brainchild of celebrated winemaker Tony Soter, the Napa-based winery was founded on a vision of giving the reins to the vineyard in order to make great wines.

Jon Priest, winemaker and general manager at Etude (named after the French word for study), explains the Etude philosophy: If you grow the grapes in the right place and employ superior farming techniques, there is less of a need for intervention in the winery.

That belief really took root following the planting of vineyards on the Grace Benoist Ranch, a 1,600-acre estate in the far northwest corner of Carneros in Sonoma County, formerly used for cattle grazing. Since 2004, 100 percent of the Pinot has come from the site, which boasts almost 600 acres of grapevines.

"It's a special place to grow cool climate varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay," Priest explains. "We are situated just o the San Francisco Bay and we get this fog and cooling breeze from the Pacifi c Ocean that are perfect for growing Pinot Noir. We are also situated at the base of Sonoma Mountain, where well-draining rocky soils keep the vines small."

These are the best ways to display the transparent thread between the wine in the glass and the land where the grapes were grown.

The site is home to mostly Pinot Noir, including nearly 20 clones and 10 heirloom selections from California's historic vineyards, with smaller plantings of other varieties, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Etude's Cabernet comes from off-site growers, an established network of benchland vineyards up and down the Napa Valley.

In a bid to make authentic wines that, in Priest's words, are a real expression of the variety and the place, Grace Benoist is carved into 24 small vineyards that are farmed and harvested separately. The borders are based on soil types, grape variety, clone type and rootstock.

"There's such diversity across the ranch," he says.

Priest has a strong passion for fostering that variety, in part by practicing sustainable viticulture on the property. He outlines how native plant life, wetlands and creeks have been protected, wildlife passages maintained and how a falconer has been employed to keep birds away from the tender fruit on the vine before harvest.

These, and more, are necessary practices, he says, if your intended goal is to display the "transparent thread between the wine in the glass and the land from which the grapes were grown."



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