Claire Hill Wines - Classic Old Vine California Varietals - 20% Off

Hello there! I’m Claire Hill. I’ve been making wine for the past 8 years and under my own name since 2017. I make only about 300 cases per year from carefully choosen sites around Northern California that have older vines and the ability to maintain acid without underripe flavors. All of my wines are made with neutral French oak, native yeast, and careful attention to pH.

After working at Rhys, Mount Eden, and Unti in California, I moved to the Rhône for a year to work with Éric Texier in his vineyards and learn traditional Syrah winemaking and growing practices. From there, I returned to California to start making my own wines and worked for a wine import company (Farm Wine Imports) where I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit and speak with winemakers I admire in France, Spain, Italy, and here in California (Jean-Louis Chave, Elisabetta Foradori, Alice and Olivier De Moor, and other greats).


****I have three wines currently available, all of which are discounted by 20% for Newbie Palooza using the code NEWBIE. Shipping is free on case orders.
Branciforte Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains 2019
Discounted from $38 to $30.40

Though many people are drawn to Rhys for their Pinots, I fell in love with their Chardonnay, which is how I ended up working 2015 harvest there. This wine comes from a very small plot in Scotts Valley surrounded by redwood forest, adjacent to Branciforte Creek.

Alcohol: 13%
pH: 3.54
TA: 5.3 g/L
VA: 0.43g/L
Brix at harvest: 22.7°
Harvest date: September 28th, 2019
Sulfites: 53ppm total SO2

Vinification
The grapes were picked just before sunrise to keep the fruit cold. Whole cluster pressed and transferred to stainless steel for debourbage and browning, using the same approach we employed at Rhys (lifted from the traditional Burgundian practices that Roulot and others have embraced in an effort to turn back the tides on premox). The must went to barrel for fermentation the following day, in 4th and 5th use Taransaud barrels.
You’ll notice a bit of fine lees sediment in the bottom of the bottle – a few months before bottling, I still had 2.1 g/L of RS in the wine, and so I did some battonage to encourage the yeasts to get below 1 g/L RS (making the wine dry and stable without sterile filtration). As a result my final racking before bottling didn’t quite leave behind the very fine lees which have a clumping tendency.

Branciforte Vineyard, Scotts Valley, California
Like many Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards, Branciforte is attached to a private residence. Many premium growing sites in the Santa Cruz Mountains are also highly desirable real estate, and so there’s a bit of an ecosystem where those who want bucolic landscaping partner with those who want to make beautiful wines. Because the sites are so difficult to farm, and there’s so much disease pressure in these liminal growing sites, the cost of farming just covers the cost of the grapes which sit upon millions of dollars worth of land per barrel.
This very small vineyard gave 0.881 tons in 2019. It is farmed according to organic principles, though is not certified. It is sprayed with a range of organic treatments including Sonata, Serenade, Stylet oil and sulfur.
This vineyard is so special because it is nestled in an incredibly diverse coastal forest among cedar, pine, Doug fir, bay laurel, and Coast redwoods. For a neutral grape varietal like Chardonnay that tells one more about where it was grown than the varietal itself, this is a very special site. The vines are 12 year old Dijon clone 96, the most common Chardonnay clone found in Oregon as it does well with cool climates.

Label Art
For each of my wines, I paint a branch in gouache and watercolor that ties in some way to the wine. The redwood branchlet is a nod to the vineyard’s site among the coastal redwoods.

Del Barba Vineyard Mourvèdre, Contra Costa 2019
Discounted from $28 to $22.40

This is a lighter style of California Mourvèdre - between the earlier pick and ability for old vines to retain acid, this 12% alc wine manages to be fresh and lithe without any greenness. The vines are ancient trees planted in the 1880s.

Alcohol: 12%
pH: 3.53
TA: 5.8 g/L
VA: 0.47g/L
Brix at harvest: 20.1°
Harvest date: August 23rd, 2019
Sulfites: 21ppm total SO2

Vinification
The grapes are mostly destemmed (90%) and uncrushed. The grapes see gentle punchdowns throughout their 14 day maceration with about 3 pumpovers at peak yeast activity. After pressing, the wine settles in tank overnight before being racking to used French oak barrels, where the wine rests for 11 months on fine lees. A small amount of sulfur is added before bottling the wine unfined and unfiltered.

Del Barba Vineyard, Oakley, California
The Del Barba family has been farming in Contra Costa for the past 6 generations. These Mourvèdre vines are head trained and were planted at the turn of the last century on their own roots in Dehli blow sand. I find that all of the wines from this vineyard have the bright yet soft red fruit one expects from sand and a beguiling garrigue note that speaks to the complexity that comes from vine age.

North Ponderosa Vineyard Zinfandel, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills 2019
Discounted from $29 to $23.30

I sought out this vineyard after having the good fortune to be nearby when someone opened an old Renaissance bottling at a wine dinner. Despite the higher (though Zin appropriate) alcohol level of 14%, this wine has screaming acidity that makes it a fantastic pair to wintry dishes like Bolognese.

Alcohol: 14%
pH: 3.03
TA: 7.8 g/L
VA: 0.49g/L
Brix at harvest: 23.1°
Harvest date: September 10th, 2019
Sulfites: 15 ppm total SO2

Vinification
The grapes saw a long, cool fermentation (2 weeks’ maceration, temperature never above 75°F) to prevent extracting anything harsh and bitter. The grapes were pressed off while the must was still a bit sweet (at 4.3 brix), finished primary fermentation in stainless steel over the following few days, and then was barreled down to used French oak where it overvintaged for 18 months to soften and develop.
With the very low pH at this site (3.03pH), no sulfur was added until just before bottling (15ppm). Due to the extremely low pH, this wine (much like some German Spätburgunders or Emilia-Romagnan Barberas) did not finish ML, and was bottled with a small amount of malic acid (<1g/L). To ensure stability, I filtered at bottling.

North Ponderosa Vineyard, North Yuba, California
North Ponderosa Vineyard is an organically farmed vineyard located in North Yuba County, near Grass Valley. I was thrilled to work with this site as it has incredible natural acidity and excellent farming. This bottling comes from a block of 23 year old vines of Dupratt clone Zinfandel grown on iron-rich decomposed granite soils of the Sierra Nevadas.
Beyond the vineyard being farmed organically, the mowing and weeding is done by some extremely cute Baby Doll sheep whose short little legs prevent them from reaching the grapes. Unlike a tractor passing through to mow weeds between and under the vines, the sheep don’t compact the carefully cared for vineyard soils as they munch cover crops and fertilize the vineyard. Unlike goats who rip out vegetation, sheep nibble at plants and leave the roots intact. Compost is made at the vineyard each year to enrich the poor mountain soils.

Tasting Notes
Excellent with pizza dusted with red pepper flakes, cured meats, and bistro style fare, this wine hearkens to some of my favorite Barbera blends from Emilia-Romagna. In all of my wines, I aim for delicate, perfumed aromatics and structure. Here, notes of ripe pomegranate and red currant and ripe pomegranate balance with grapefruit oil and fresh thyme.

Use discount code NEWBIE for 20% off. Free UPS Ground shipping on cases applies automatically at checkout.

I had the honor of getting to taste these.

Tasting notes for Claire Hill Wines:

  1. 2019 Branciforte Chardonnay.

Tasted popped and poured, with and without food, started at refrigerator temperature and then slowly up to room temp to accommodate whatever conditions others may prefer.

Tasted with my wife and her mom (Nanny.)

Nanny took one sniff and proclaimed, “Chardonnay!” I mention this because she is not an avid taster by any means, yet she noted enough typicity to make her proclamation.

Immediate taste: I found it a very light style, and you could have told me ’Albarino’ and I would have gone along with it. Not as perfumed as a Viognier, but you get the drift: bright fruit. Quite fruit forward.

There was good acidity. I’d definitely call this a more modern light style vision of Chardonnay. You could tell some malolactic had been allowed, but, again, lightly to my palate. No overt butter sort of thing.

My wife said she could detect some limestone or mineral notes, and she was, as always, correct.

There was no overt oak. I would say the profile is ‘unoaked.’

There was a candy-ness to the nose. There is some evident residual sugar, so you have to be OK with that.

For findings similar for references, I would say the Hess lineup and going back in time (I am old,) similar to the original Steele Chardonnays of the past. I am not current enough with the Steele line to be confident if that is still true.

As the wine warmed up, my wife and I both noted more citrus notes coming forward. To a point where there was a lime custard, key lime, or even margarita note. Maybe with that margarita note, one could say saline?

The wine had a shortish top rear palate finish and also a small touch of ‘oiliness’ in its later mouth feel.

Over-all: light style, very fruit forward, some overt sweetness.

  1. North Ponderosa Vineyard Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills 2019.

Served at 53 degrees, with a homemade Salisbury Steak with mushroom sauce.

This wine created a divided opinion. So my note may seem fragmented.

A decent summary, I think: This Zin is in the ‘port-like’ family. I would put it near the Prima Materia wines if people have had those. Or, perhaps like some of the Scholium wines. This is my utter amateur take, but would this profile be an ‘open cap’ sort of impression?

The wines I mentioned have a first pass feel of oxidized notes, but there was a load of blackberry jam…I mean packed! Like the Chard, it is also what I would categorize as fruit forward/fruit predominant. It also has a notable sensation of residual sugar. I would definitely say that a buyer should be comfortable with that style of wine. (Pre-pandemic, my wife spent a lot of time with many mainstream wines, and she thought there was a family resemblance with Conundrum red and Emmolo red wines.)

For finding a similar wine I would remember, I would maybe harken back to the days of the Christian Brothers zins that were made/aged in redwood.

As the wine warmed up, it leaned out a little and the oxidized notes were greatly diminished.

It is listed at 14% alcohol, I would have guessed a tidge higher.

At two hours, it had a much lighter touch, and developed very notable redwood/cedar notes. It had a longer finish than the Chardonnay.

We tried some on night number 2, but I would say this is really a night number 1 wine.

  1. Del Barba Vineyard Mourvèdre, Contra Costa 2019.

Served at 53 degrees to start, with some Mac and Cheese.

This was a much leaner wine than the zin, I liked it better than the Zin, as did my wife. Nanny preferred the Zin.

Right up front, there were cedar notes, much less fruit forward. It was almost like it already had some flavors I think of in a more middle aged wine.

But, my wife and Nanny both commented on “sour cherry” also being forward in their impressions.

It was somewhat reticent regarding fruit, to my palate. I am OK with that, others might want a fruitier experience.

As it developed, wood and tobacco persisted, and it had some of the type of oxidized notes I mentioned for the Zin.

It also had a lighter structure, and had a citric acid feel…I guess to say it more accurately, this would be tartness.

This also reminded me of Prima Metria wines.

It was lower in alcohol from the Zin, and as we went, I did come to agree with my wife about sour cherry and tartness….but vastly less fruit forward than the Zin.

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Great notes, wines sound great. My grandmother was nanny, love it!

Claire- thanks for participating in NewbiePalooza! These sound like really fun and exciting wines. Eager to try them.

I went to check out, but seems like Vinoshiper won’t stack the free case shipping with the NEWBIE discount code. Please let me know how to proceed.

Hi Rodrigo - just fixed that! Thanks so much for letting me about the issue.

Thanks Claire. Order placed!

I’ve been able to try Claire’s wines as I’ve helped with bottling them as well as helping to sort once or twice during the 2019 crush season. I haven’t yet opened a bottle of her Zin but I’ve tried both the Chardonnay and Mourvèdre and enjoyed both of them. While I didn’t take any specific notes, I thought they shared some stylistic similarities of being relatively fruit forward yet in a restrained rather than bold way, with good acidity. I think that Claire is off to a very promising start with her own wines and I’m sure they’ll be even better in the coming years. This is a perfect opportunity to give them a try! [cheers.gif]

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Claire - I owe all an enormous apology as my wife signed for these wines in my absence and did not alert me they arrived. Whether they came UPS or FedEx I got no email from either company, which is how I normally know wine is arriving.

I’m on the road for work until November 30 but I’ll attend to this as soon as I’m home.

At least there won’t be travel shock. Again, my apologies.

Claire, I’m so happy to see your wines here! Been following your progress from afar ever since we met back in your Bi-Rite days. Happy to have ordered some Chardonnay, sounds delicious. Congratulations!

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I cannot buy any more wine right now - a simple matter of money (I have none) and storage (I have none) - but I’ve noted the Winery for the future. Ms. Hill’s mentors and admired winemakers certainly dovetail with mine. Thanks for participating and I hope that it’s a great experience.

Got a few bottles!

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Just picked up a mixed case and am excited to try some new wines!

Thanks,
-J

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Saw these at JuiceBox in Redwood City, will give them a try!

Hadn’t heard of them. Cool list of small local and imported producers. Right in my wheelhouse, so thanks for posting.