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Our perception of what’s possible in wine changed in the late 2000s, when we first tasted a wine made by Ceritas’ John Raytek. The wine was 2007 Porter-Bass Chardonnay, and its powerful minerality made you think we were drinking Grand Cru Chablis.
Subsequent vintages—not only of Porter-Bass but of other Ceritas Chardonnays and Pinots—have convinced us that no one in California comes closer to capturing the magic of great Burgundy than John Raytek.
But while Porter-Bass was the whole show in 2007, today the spotlight is shared by a host of incredibly nuanced and precise Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs that span 200 miles of great Northern California terroirs.
We often hear about California Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays being “Burgundian.” But how often are they really? For our money, no one in northern California comes closer to the Burgundian ideal than John Raytek does.
From the very hands-on farming to his flexibly traditional approach in the cellar, John strives for the purest articulation possible of variety and terroir. To this end, he works only with fruit from cool sites that he deems worthy of such expression. Our offer of John’s 2016s included, for example, five wines from “The True” Sonoma Coast, rounded out with a selection each from the Santa Cruz Mountains and Anderson Valley.
Through perfectionist farming and minimalist winemaking, John’s wines take you on a tour of some of northern California’s most geologically and climatically challenging sites, their individual characters rendered with his hallmark clarity.
Chardonnay from “The True” Sonoma Coast was Ceritas’ original focus. Here the Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay’s rich fruit and saline minerality contrasts with the high-toned Chablis-like personality of the Chardonnay from John and Phoebe’s home vineyard, Porter-Bass.
Porter-Bass’ Pinot Noir is also exceptional. Deep, darkly fruited and firmly structured—yet light on its feet—it shows that this vineyard is as gifted a terroir for Pinot Noir as it is for Chardonnay.
Further west in “The True,” adjacent to the iconic Hirsch Vineyard, is the Old Shop Block in the Hellenthal Vineyard, one of the Sonoma Coast's oldest Pinot sites, having been planted, on their own roots, to the prized Calera clone in 1980. This direct transmission of Hellenthal’s sandstone soil provides a brightly red-fruited, deeply concentrated complement to Porter-Bass’s, darker-toned character.
Our final stop in “The True” is the Elliott Vineyard, situated between Hellenthal and the Hirsch Vineyard’s eastern border. Its ridge formation of shale and decomposed marine sediment soils, providing both northern and southern exposures, produces a Pinot Noir of delicately perfumed character, balanced with old vine depth and concentration courtesy of its 1978 planting of Mt. Eden clone vines.
Farther north, John makes Pinot Noir from the Hacienda Secoya Vineyard on a southwest-facing bench in the cool, northern Deep End of the Anderson Valley. This red-fruited Pinot beautifully expresses the site’s volcanic sandstone-based soil.
Finally, we end up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where John produces the Peter Martin Ray Chardonnay from vines planted four decades ago on the site of the mythic Martin Ray Vineyard. In John’s hands, this vineyard produces Chardonnay of riveting concentration and complexity, characterized by aromas and flavors of orchard fruits, flowers and crushed stone.
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