A Coastal Redwood stands watch over the foggy W.E. Bottoms Vineyard
Residing within ten miles of the Sonoma coastline, the three benchmark vineyards of Salinia Wine Company sit at an elevation of 800 feet on the second coastal ridge. With cool winds and fog that travel up the valley and over the vineyards at Heintz Ranch and at W.E. Bottoms, Salinia is perfectly positioned to produce their three signature wines under the Salinia banner: a beautiful Chardonnay and Syrah from the Charles Heintz Vineyard, and a Pinot Noir from a small two and a half acre parcel named W.E. Bottoms Vineyard, which is tucked away on a dead end street at the top of Harrison Grade in the Russian River region.
Equipped with a degree in Viticulture & Enology from Davis, Kevin Kelley then relocated with his wife Jennifer to Nuits Saint Georges, where he worked with Jean-Nicholas Meo at Domaine Meo-Camuzet in Vosne-Romanée for a few years, while living with Christian Gouges of Domaine Henri-Gouges. Living and working in such close proximity to these two icons gave Kevin incredible access to their lives as vigneron and to their purpose of making wines of place.
He writes: “As our name indicates, the Saline environment in which the grapes grow govern every aspect of each wines’ character. From the daily marine influence of fog and wind to the soil made up of prehistoric sea bed, our wines are inextricably linked to the ocean.”
“With the first smell, the first sip” says Brian Pilliod, our Domestic Portfolio Director, “I knew right away. He’s doing something that’s so different from everyone else, with the sites that he’s wedded to.
“Sequentially part Jura, Meursault and Rhone, these are true California wines, and there were very few people who took the stance to make wines without manipulation in California, ten years ago,” adds Brian. Currently on his ninth vintage of Chardonnay from the Heintz Ranch, “Kevin calls it ‘antique winemaking’, and though he has a lab to ensure that they wines aren’t flawed, he restrains from manipulation.”
With only one bottling of each varietal, the Kelleys wouldn’t accept any vineyards that fell short of greatness, and so, with this expectation in mind, they found the vineyard at W. E. Bottoms. Hand farmed, using organic techniques, W. E. Bottoms is planted not on south facing slopes as the surrounding properties, but facing due east, which helps protect the fruit from the afternoon sun and its impending heat waves that sometimes arrive during harvest. Managed by Atruto Robledo, the vines here are planted tight in soils of rock and sand, yielding “small quantities of intense fruit”.
Farmed by the Heintz family since 1912, Heintz Ranch was planted to 25 acres of Chardonnay in 1982, to which 3 acres of Syrah was added in 2002. Planted in well-drained Gold Ridge Sandy-Loam soil the vines here are meticulously tended by Charlie Heintz who grows some of the best Chardonnay in the state. Sitting atop a ridge with gentle slopes, the top soil here is followed by layers of clay. And as if such perfections and stellar associations weren’t enough, Kevin has also gets off on experimentation.
As an extension of his creations at Salinia, Kevin launched the Natural Process Alliance (NPA) a second project of “one-offs” that will continue to vary from vintage to vintage. Evolving expressions of Kevin’s interpretations of the vineyards with which he works, this addition to his portfolio allows for such experimental works that include a Skin Fermented Chardonnay from the vineyards of Charles Heintz, and a Red Field Blend of five red and five white grape varieties from the Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard Sunhawk Farms in Mendocino.
“When I tried the ‘one-offs’,” says Brian, “I knew I was in California. It’s not the new wood, or the extraction…It was a lightbulb moment for me. I knew he was on to something–the potential, the possibility of what he could do inside a region that has no rules.” In 2005, the Kelleys decide to hold onto their wines, and to not release them until they’re ready, which is why the current vintages at Selinia are 2006 and 2007. “He did it,” adds Brian. “There’s an integrity behind everything here that very much attracts me.”