Griffin's Lair

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Petaluma Gap Syrah named Year's Best by Wine & Spirits Magazine

Griffin's Lair Vineyard Syrah honored by Wine & Spirits Magazine

California's best lesser-known vineyards
Jon Bonne
Sunday, June 21, 2009

Excerpted from an article published June 21, 2009, San Francisco Chronicle

What separates these vineyards is not only their amazing potential but also their owners' willingness to work with a range of winemakers. It is one thing to build an estate property and make memorable wine under one label, quite another to entrust your fruit to multiple hands and hope they make you proud. In turn, vineyard owners enjoy the fame of their name on the bottle when accolades arrive. Inviting talent to work your fruit is at the heart of discovering terroir.

In that way, vineyards serve as talent scouts of a sort. Follow the lesser-known vineyards discovered by notable winemakers and you'll find the next big names. The converse is crucial too: Great vineyard sites are magnets for outstanding new talent, and their owners often good judges of ability in the cellar. 8 vineyards to watch

Brosseau: One of two independently owned vineyards in Monterey's remote Chalone appellation. Though it has been growing fruit since 1980, the rising quality of the wines lately should put it on your radar.

Clajeux: This site in the Chalk Hill appellation is demonstrating a rugged potential for Cabernet that should again draw red wine lovers' attention to the western slopes of the Mayacamas range.

Dr. Crane: Located behind St. Helena High School, this site, now controlled by Andy Beckstoffer, may not have the cachet of To Kalon, but it's the source for an increasing number of cult Cabs.

Duarte: Not new by any stretch, but as new winemakers turn to Contra Costa County vineyards, this parcel of old-vine Zinfandel - mostly known for the bottling by Turley - is likely to get more attention.

Griffin's Lair: On the eastern edge of the Sonoma Coast appellation, not far from Rodgers Creek, Joan and Jim Griffin's vineyard is establishing a reputation with excellent Syrahs from winemakers like Karen Culler that mix ample ripening with cooler climate characteristics.

Manchester Ridge: This aerie of a vineyard in southern Mendocino, east of Point Arena and nestled in the Mendocino Ridge appellation, aims to produce dramatic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with on-the-edge viticulture. Parmelee-Hill: The next-door sister of the famed Durell vineyard. Run by Durell owner Steve Hill and son Ned, it borders Carneros but is gaining a reputation for nuanced Rhone varietals.

Presidio: Doug Braun's biodynamically farmed site sits near the town of Lompoc, just outside the boundary for the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. The fruit goes to only a few other wineries, but those examples - like a finessed Pinot Noir from sommelier Raj Parr - show a potential for subtlety (and lower alcohols) similar to the best Sta. Rita fruit when it's picked at more modest ripeness.

Jon Bonne is The Chronicle's Wine editor. E-mail him at This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle