In Mendocino County near Ukiah, Cole Ranch might be the nation’s smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA), but its impact is pronounced, driven by its soil, history, terrain, and the hands that tend to it.
Mike Lucia of Rootdown Cellars is the steady hand steering the ship. Deeply connected to the land, Lucia combines organic farming practices with an understanding of tradition. Driving around in his quiet Rivian electric truck with his sidekick, Puddles, they epitomize the melding of old and new at Cole Ranch.
While riesling, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon vines mark Cole Ranch’s origins, Lucia’s innovative approach introduced grapes from Jura, an esteemed wine region in eastern France. With Jura sharing a similar cool climate, altitude, and soil with Cole Ranch, Lucia recognized potential.
Jura’s claim to fame rests in its unconventional wines from grapes like savagnin and poulsard. Lucia observes, “Merlot is a no-brainer here, it thrives. It’s resistant to disease and consistently high-yielding.” He also notes, “Our Rieslings, with their thicker skins, produce wines with a unique texture.”
But why introduce Jura grapes? The motivation traces back to Jura’s distinct wine profile. Trousseau produces wines with hints of wild strawberries, while poulsard offers light, refreshing notes. Savagnin imparts a characteristic nutty flavor.
Jura’s cool temperatures and limestone-rich soils produce wines with a unique freshness and mineral quality. Transferring these grapes to Cole Ranch, Lucia creates a fusion of Mendocino County and Jura wine styles. The vineyard’s bowl-shaped topography, alternating warm days and cool nights, ensures the grapes develop richly.
Introducing new grape varieties isn’t Lucia’s only forward step. A sophisticated electric tractor is now part of the mix, emphasizing worker well-being and efficient vineyard management.
At its core, Cole Ranch’s charm is in the wine and the philosophy behind it. Lucia’s blend of respect for the past and vision for the future sets this vineyard apart. As enthusiasts explore its offerings, they’ll find more than taste; they’ll discover the thoughtful effort behind each bottle.
In the vineyard, as the sun paints the vines with its warm light, Mike, Puddles, and their electric truck embody the essence of Cole Ranch: a commitment to uniting tradition with progress. Each bottle from Cole Ranch tells this story, offering a taste of both history and innovation.