TN: Some Old DavidBruces...(long/boring)

We tried ystrday some (mostly) Old DavidBruce wines:

  1. DavidBruce Calif PetiteSirah Select (14.2%) Vinted&Bttld by DavidBruce 2011: Dark color; light toasty/oak
    rather earthy/loamy bit peppery/PS simple nose; soft/fat rather earthy/loamy/mushroomy light peppery/PS/blackberry
    light toasty/oak flavor w/ very light tannins; med.short earthy/loamy/mushroomy slight peppery/PS/blackberry
    light oak finish w/ little tannins; a rather dull rendition of PS much like a Bogle; overpriced at $19.00 (SFW&S)

  1. DavidBruce PinotNoir RRV (14.7%) Produced & Bttld by DavidBruce 2011: Med.color; rather toasty/smokey/
    oak strong black cherry/PN pleasant enough nose; tart bright black cherry/PN some smokey/toasty/oak slight earthy
    pleasant/simple flavor w/ little tannins; med. bright/black cherry/PN some earthy/dusty light toasty/smokey/oak
    finish w/ light tannins; a pleasant rather simple RRV PN; overpriced at $31.50 (SFW&S)

  1. DavidBruce WhiteRiesling SantaCruzCnty (16.2%) 1979: Dark gold/browning oloroso sherry color; very intense
    old German Auslese/R slight smokey/toasty/oak incredibly complex nose w/ no signs of oxidation; soft/rich/lush
    rather old German R Auslese some smokey/piney/toasty/oak textured/mouthfilling flavor; very long/lingering old
    German Auslese/R slightly bitter rich/lush/mouthfilling some toasty/smokey/oak very complex finish; no signs of
    either oxidation or alcoholic heat; a dead ringer for a '59 or '75 Rheingau Auslese; one of the most incredible
    complex aged Calif Riesling I can recall; amazing stuff for a 35 yr old R from any country.

  1. DavidBruce PinotNoir SantaCruz/CA (13.8%) 1975: 1/4’th the btl ullaged away; Med.dark murky/cloudy rather
    browning color; some oxidized/wet wool/funky bit sherry-like some smokey/toasty/oak rather tired nose; somewhat
    oxidized/wet wool strong toasty/charred/oak bit tangy rather tired flavor; long strong toasty/charred/oak/smokey
    bit wet wool/oxidized fairly tired finish w/ light tannins; some character of old RedBurg but rather tired; not
    really bad tasting but just doesn’t offer up much pleasure.

  1. DavidBruce CabernetSauvignon Calif (EB; 14.7%; HomeVnyd; NeverOak; “Tastings are held between 1AM and 3pm on
    Saturdays”) 1974
    : Med.color w/ some browning; strong smokey/toasty/oak light rather herbal/Cab somewhat
    earthy/dusty/slight wet wool very old-timey Calif Cab very complex nose; somewhat herbal/Cab rather earthy/dusty
    strong toasty/smokey/oak fairly structured flavor w/ light/bit drying tannins; very long rather herbal/Cab/dusty/
    earthy strong smokey/toasty/oak structured finish w/ light/bit dried out/astringent tannins; still very much
    alive and offering up good/pleasurable drinking; a fully-mature old-timey Calif like they don’t make anymore;
    resembles some of the old MountEden Cabs I’ve had; my favorite of the 3 reds by far.

  1. DavidBruce Zin Calif (LateHrvst Sweet; 17.5%) 1970: Light rather murky/brown color; very strong raisened/
    pruney/late hrvsty strong toasty/charred/oak complex/earthy rather tired nose; off-dry bit tawney-Porto-like strong
    raisened/pruney/late harvesty strong toasty/oak complex flavor w/ some dried out/tired/astringent tannins; very long/
    lingering overripe/late hrvsty/raisened/pruney strong smokey/toasty/oak slightly alcoholic finish w/ slight drying/
    astringent tannins; dominated by raisened/overripe Zin character & oak and not stood up to the test of time.

And the usual blatherings from TheBloodyPulpit:

  1. Since it’s been some time since I’d tried any DavidBruce’s, I picked up the only two I could find on the shelf
    here in NM. The Vinted&Bttld on the PS label indicates that it was probably mostly/all purchased wine. At one
    time, DaviidBruce used to make a PS from the Miller’s ShellCreekVnyd down in Shandon/PasoRobles that was pretty
    decent. I don’t think they have access to those grapes anymore.

  1. I have, of course, followed DaviidBruce from the very start, a '66 PinotNoir. DavidBruce was a dermatologist in
    LosGatos, got bitten by the winemaking bug, purchased land up on BearCreekRd and planted his Estate to PinotNoir,
    CabernetSauvignon, WhiteRiesling, and Chard. Before he went commercial in 1964, he made ho-made wine from Concord
    grapes following Burgundian techniques. I never tasted that wine but, reportedly, it fooled many a wine expert.
    PinotNoir was David’s passion. I tasted, in the early '70’s, many of his Pinots, made by traditional Burgundian
    techniques, from the '66 thru the early '70’s. There were probably the best Pinots being produced in the
    SantaCruzMtns at that time. Not sure if MartinRay was still producing Pinots then or not. David’s Pinots carried
    a lot of new/Fr.oak and were rather Burgundian in style to my palate but some of Calif’s best Pinots during the
    '70’s, well afore Pinot got much traction in that state.
    The Chards were also pretty incredible and mentioned in the same breath as StonyHill and Hanzell. The were
    barrel frmtd and barrel aged in new Fr.oak. They were large-scaled and very intense Chards. He even made a
    LateHrvst Chard in '73.
    David’s WhiteRiesling was the bizarre one of the foresome. It was widely reviled by the wine geeks of that era.
    It was made much like his Chard; barrel frmtd & barrel aged in new Fr.oak. Because it was not anything like
    German Riesling, it received much scorn & abuse. The new oak pretty much obliterated the R fruit when young.
    Not being one to worship at the altar of varietal typicity; I thought the wine an unusual expression of R and
    actually loved the wine.
    In the late '60’s, David started purchasing Zin and other varieties from MaryCarter’s vnyd down in Gilroy.
    In '68, he (and DaveBennion/Ridge) made the first Calif WhiteZin, using bled-off saigne juice. Contrary to what
    most folks believe, SutterHome did not invent WhiteZin. In the late '60’s-early '70’s, David began to push the
    boundaries of Zin…harvesting later & later and making huge/extracted/black Zins. In the '70-'71 vintage;
    he made a whole set of Zins…regular (around 15%), LateHrvst Dry, LateHrvst Sweet, Essence…all w/ alcohols
    well north of 15%. Those two yrs, he also made equally formidible PetiteSirah/Carignane/Grenache…again all from
    MaryCarter’s grapes. Some of the biggest Zins I can recall. The late JohnBrennan, a wine critic of the day down in
    SanDeigo, predicted the wines would peak between 2010-2020. They, by&large, expired by the late '80’s.
    David would hold these legendary tastings in his home in the early-mid '70’s (though not starting at 1:00AM
    like was reported on his labels). Around '74, Blair & I were prevlidged to attend one of these. David was a
    very genial and generous host, opening many btls from his stash. It was a heroic drive down BearCreekRd that
    In the late '70’s, David also begin to purchase GWT grapes from up in MendoCnty. The first ('78?) was made
    exactly like his Chards/WhiteRieslings; distinctly GWT, but heavily overlain w/ oak. It, too, was highly reviled
    by Alsatian GWT fans. I liked it quite a bit. In the '79 vintage, he held back on the oak and the GWT was
    absolutely beautiful…maybe one of the most Alsatian GWT’s I can recall. Alas, GWT was way too dificult to
    sell and David dropped the variety.
    In the mid-'80’s, David’s SCM Estate vnyd was devastated by Pierce’sDisease and the entire vnyd had to be
    replanted. At that time, the WhiteRiesling was dropped, though I’ve heard that there may still be a few vines
    surviving. I believe the Cabernet was also dropped at that time. In the replant, they added Syrah to the mix.
    The early Syrahs David released were simply stunning…a harbinger of what BigBasin would eventually do with
    that variety in the SCMs. The WebSite indicates that they now use those grapes to make a PetiteSyrah/Syrah
    blend. Not sure if they now have PetiteSirah planted there in the mix or not. It always sort of puzzled as to
    why David would label the wine PetiteSyrah, rather than PetiteSirah.
    My sense is that, has DavidBruce expanded production over they yrs; they were relying more & more on
    purchased grapes. I think that has led to the diminishing image many have of that wnry. The occasional ones
    I’ve tried over the yrs have not been bad…but not very thrilling as the DavidBruce wines of yore.

  1. Several months ago, it occured to me that I no longer saw much of the DavidBruce wines around nor heard any buzz
    of them on the InterNet. I took a look at their WebSite ( and found it totally stale.
    The “Featured” wines are all of the 2000 vintage. Most of the wines in the storefront are from older vintages in the
    early-mid 2000’s. Many of the wines are being bombed out at very low prices. The WebSite is pretty archaic,
    difficult to navigate, and provides nothing in terms of descriptions on the wines. It ominously cautions that
    ground shipments may be delayed due to weather. In the dead of Winter?? It badly needs some IT work. All not a good
    sign of a thriving winery.
    One of my tasting group members, Blair, had a stash of older DavidBruce wines, all stored in very good conditions.
    When I told him about the uncertain future of DavidBruceWnry, he suggested we get together and try some from his
    stash. These old wines were from Blair.

  1. Since 2004, the winemaker at DavidBruce has been Mitri Faravashi. I’m not sure how much David is involved in the
    day to day winemaking there, but my sense is not a lot. My sense is that Mitri is a talented winemaker and
    probably the glue that’s holding the whole operation together. David has made some great contributions to both
    Calif winemaking and SCM winemaking over the yrs and I certainly hope his legacy will live on.

Thanks Tom for the wonderful notes. A piece of California wine history.

To fill in a bit more. The bottles from the mid to late 70’s were probably made by Steve Miller who was the DB winemaker early in his career (now at Milliaire in Murphys). Then there was another winemaker named Michael Sones, who I believe preceded Mitri but uncertain if there were others in between.

On the 2011 Petite Sirah, you are correct; this is strictly bulk juice that they sourced from vineyards to the south, and in particular from LangeTwins in Lodi.

For the 2011 RRV Pinot, this was sourced from a couple of areas around Sebastopol including a small portion coming from property that DB bought on Pleasant Hill Rd with a mix of chard and PN. There were rumblings that they were going to make this an estate vineyard but the vineyard really only starting to kick out mature harvests in 2012. Man you guys need a Costco in your area…the PS you can get for around $11/btl and the RRV PN goes for about $23.

You are also correct on the production comments. David sold off some of his holdings (and arguably the best PN vines) to what became the now defunct Vine Hill. At one point DBW was up to nearly 60K cases per year, however for other reasons that you can infer, as well as the short crop, I think their total 2011 production was under 20K cases. In 2011 they also has a 100% turnover in their grower contracts which has not made Mitri’s life any easier and from what I have been told, DBW has burned their bridges with virtually the entire grower community in the SCM which only leaves David with his relatively tiny estate production for the SCM appellation.

Lastly, David is now in his 80s and in the summer of 2012 he took a fall and broke his hip. He does still have a hand in the winemaking but at his age obviously not the hands on that he used to in his younger days.

I too share your hope that David’s contribution to California winemaking will not be easily forgotten. He was one of the early pioneers and does not necessarily receive the recognition due for what he accomplished in the 60s and 70s…but as one of the country’s top somms said to me “meh…they have not made anything interesting since the early 80s”.

Pretty cool writeup! I plowed through a case of 2001 David Bruce Santa Cruz Estate Pinot Noir last year, and they were great with 12 years on them.

I still consider the 1980 and '81 DAVID BRUCE Santa Cruz Pinot Noirs to be some of the finest American Pinot Noirs I have ever tasted - especially the '81 - absolutely orgasmic in their youth -

Thanks, Andrew, for fleshing out some of the details. Sounds like sourcing grapes
is probably one of the harder parts of Mitri’s job. He doesn’t have an easy job methinks.
Hope I can meet him when I’m out there in April.

Keep your eye out for the 05 Estate; if they get around to having them on sale, grab them.

16.2% Riesling, that is a new one for me.

Andrew, IIRC David Bruce sold the property that eventually became Vine Hill to Ken Burnap (Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard) in the mid 70’s and that when Ken retired he sold the property to the Vine Hill people and the label to long time assistant winemaker Jeff Emery.

Thx, Sean. Yes I skipped over the Ken part which makes the story longer. Though something I didn’t know was the Ken owned The Hobbit down in OC…I remember that restaurant well.

As a winemaker told me, it was a shame that David had to sell off those vineyards (to pay for his divorce) because it was great land (as Ken later proved) and that when DB pulled out the Zin vines to plant the PN, it was even better than the current DB estate because by that time DB had finally learned in which direction he needed to run his rows!!

Why, Glenn…that’s pretty much the standard alcohol level for any routine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling these days!!! [stirthepothal.gif]
Back in those days, Daviid was pretty well known for pushing the envelope.

The last Martin Ray produced wines were 1970, so yes, he was still producing then. I’ve had '66, '68 and '70 PNs. Unfortunately, the oldest DB PN I’ve had were early '80s.

Do you have any of his 1974 Zinfandel Essence, which I found wonderful 30 years ago, but drank fairly young. Of the wines you tasted, I had only the 75 Pinot Noir. I believe there were two lots, one of them not memorable, and the other gorgeous, although it didn’t taste much like Pinot Noir, at least to me.

As an aside, which of the Zind Humbrecht Rieslings have 16.2% alcohol?


No more of the Essence left in these here parts. David did a lot of different things and sometimes there’d be the standard release,
then another comes along w/ a hand stamp of “Lot II” or some such notation.

As an aside, which of the Zind Humbrecht Rieslings have 16.2% alcohol?

TFIC. None of them, probably, are that high in alcohol. But they sometimes push it up to 15%, maybe beyond.
Back in the old days, before Parker annointed Z-H w/ greatness, Alsatian whites were routinely around 12% (and cheap).
Post Z-H and ParkerPoints, those traditional Alsatians are kinda hard to come by.

I’ve told this story on here before - but it’s pretty relevant here -

I believe it was 1981, but my first trip to wine country brought me to Santa Cruz and a visit to the David Bruce winery (that was my favorite at the time) - David took us to his house and gave us all a glass of white wine - I being the precocious prick “know-it-all” wine buyer at 25 years of age, went on and on over how much I loved David’s Chardonnay (“It is so buttery!”) turning to my travel partners and waxing poetic about how this is “California’s best Chardonnay!” -

When David turned to me and said “…uh, that’s my Riesling…”

Back in the mid 1980s, I bought a huge closeout of Martin Ray wines out of a warehouse in San Francisco - I believe it was Peter Ray doing the selling - but we bought a large amount of late 1960s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for pennies on the dollar. In particular I remember a couple vintages of “Dutton Ranch” Chardonnay that were absolutely remarkable. When I first started reading about California wines, Martin Ray was still considered a “god” in the industry and those old stories of his “uniqueness” really resonated with me.

MartinRay was a legend in his time. His wines were ungodly expensive for their time. I never met him, but he was
a guy, I understand, did not suffer fools gladly. I bought, at Beltramos, a few of those close-out MartinRays at Beltramos, Chards & Pinots,
and thought they were terrific. A man before his time.

More info on the history of Martin Ray Winery can be found here I don’t know when the last vintage Martin Ray actually made himself but the winery was still putting out wine until 1981 or 1982.

My wife and I stopped by David Bruce in 2006 as the PS was one of our ‘gateway’ reds.

Nice guy, tasting room was dead and the wines so-so but the history was intriguing.

I’m guessing that Dutton Ranch was one of Peter’s wines. He made some great wines. From what I’ve read, Ray didn’t use purchased fruit (other than La Questa at the very start). Peter had to use mostly purchased fruit, and found excellent sources.

The celebratory DB 1992 Pinot Noir estate reserve, in a sealed wooden box and a wax capsule, the last vintage before those grape vines were ripped out, was astounding a few years ago.