Florèz Wines was started by James Jelks in 2017. James grew up in the Santa Cruz area and was schooled in winemaking at nearby UC Davis. He worked in wineries all over the world for 10 years before returning home to make wine in the Santa Cruz area. He is farming some vineyards himself, always dry-farmed, and is also sourcing some fruit from organic and sustainable vineyards. He always works with native yeasts, does not use additives except for a minimal amount of sulfur at bottling, and does not filter the wines. The labels are Japanese-style woodcuts by James’s friend & tattoo artist Drew Nelson.
Read more about James and his fellow young Santa Cruz winemakers shaking the habitual in this San Francisco Chronicle article.
- Free Solo
- Shangra-li Mendo Savvy B
- Noble Oble
- The Pope’s Smoke
- Chardonnay Moonmilk
- Moonmilk “Gold Top”
- White Rhino Grenache Blanc
- Oyster Pal
- Pegleg Chardonnay
- Kind of Orange
- Poilu’s Pinard
- Smell Me As I Am Pet-nat
- Sweet Cavendish Cab Franc
- Monsieur Mysterieux Cabernet Pfeffer
- Flrz x Nuki Apple Grape Hybrid
Free Solo — Back to the top
Winemaker’s note: “This is California heritage. I fell in love with mixed vineyards because they are relics from the past, and they represent what the first settlers were planting to drink. From a tiny family vineyard just about 100 years old. This is a finite resource and it’s a privilege to be the only vintner to make wine from grapes grown there. This unique vineyard creates a wine with a singular personality that can’t be replicated.”
Grapes: fieldblend of Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Carignan, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Black Muscat
Vineyard notes: Locarnini, Santa Clara Valley. Planted ~1920. Alluvial loams. 5th generation Italian-owned by a family that farms how they learned from the previous generation. It used to be about 18 acres until the 101 was built, now only 0.6 acres remain. Organic with one watering per year.
Making of: This season the fruit was picked a little riper and destemmed. (Previous vintages were carbonic ferments.) Native fermentation lasted about 2 weeks before being pressed off at dryness. Left ‘sur lie’ in neutral French oak for ~10 months. Racked once before bottling. Unfined, unfiltered, and no added sulfites.
Personality: Red cherry, cola, and menthol are the dominant notes. This vintage is opulent and produced rich wine.
Making of: All varieties were picked together and co-fermented. The fresh fruit was picked early in the morning and put into stainless tanks for carbonic maceration. Natural CO2 from an established vigorous fermentation was used to gas the tank. After three weeks the fruit was foot tread, pressed off, and sent to neutral French oak. Left on lees for 10 months. Racked once before bottling. No additions including no added sulfites.
Personality: Herbal, blackberry, cigar box, anise and cherry cola. A nice core of fruit with medium acid and soft tannins.
Vinification: All varieties picked together and co-fermented. 1/3 whole cluster was incorporated in the fermentation with destemmed fruit on top. Slow pump overs once to twice a day, and the occasional gentle punch down. The wine was pressed at 7 brix to mitigate alcoholic extraction and to preserve freshness and vibrancy. Fermentation finished in neutral oak. Left sur lie for 10 months. Racked once before bottling. The wine was produced without any additions. Unfined, unfiltered, no sulfites.
Personality: Bright-eyed red fruits. Pomegranate, cranberry, & dried cherry with a mentholated signature.
Shangra-li Mendo Savvy B — Back to the top
Grapes: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Vineyard: Upton Ranch, Redwood Valley, Mendocino. CCOF Organic, Pinole Gravelly Loam
Originally planted in 1969, these old Sauvignon Blanc vines thrive under the honest and hardworking care of the Upton family. They apply compost and cover crop to keep up soil nutrition, and thanks to regular canyon winds they are able to be minimalist in the organic management of powdery mildew; they have maintained CCOF organic certification since 1990. The yield is rather modest (~3 tons/acre) due to the well-drained soils.
Making of: Manual harvest. Fermented with native yeast in stainless steel and aged 6 months on the lees. No ameliorations, filtration or added sulfites.
Personality: Aromas of lime, white peach, and pineapple. Low yields and a slightly riper vintage give this wine a round-mouth feel.
Making of: The fruit was destemmed and left to rest on their skins overnight. This allows flavors and aromatic compounds to
leach from the grape skins, as well as contribute some texture. The juice was then fermented with native yeasts in stainless to preserve aromatics and freshness. In this vintage, 35% was aged in neutral oak to explore differences in elevage. Aged sur lies for 6 months before being racked once in preparation for bottling. No filtration, no ameliorations, and no sulfite additions at any point.
Personality: pale yellow color. Aromas of guava, lemon peel, white peach, fresh-cut hay, and yeast. A very slight effervescence from dissolved CO2 due to the stainless aging gives liveliness to the palate.
Making of: The fruit is destemmed and allowed to rest on their skins overnight. This allows flavors and aromatic compounds to
leach from the grape skins as well as contribute some texture. The fresh juice is then fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel to preserve aromatics and freshness. No filtration, no ameliorations, and no sulfite additions.
Personality: Zesty and refreshing aromatics of passionfruit, lime, and white flowers are balanced with a mineral austerity. Light and fresh, this wine does well at a garden party, or down at the beach.
Noble Oble — Back to the top
Winemaker’s note: “I acknowledge that I am subject to the time frame in
which I first took interest in wine, circa 2009. The interest in Pinot Noir was peaking! A generation before obsessed over Bordeaux and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, but for myself and my peers it was all about Pinot. Needless to say, I spent a tremendous amount of time learning about Pinot Noir. My interest began during the UC Davis’ 2009 ‘Introduction to Winemaking’ course in Burgundy, France. I would return to the Burgundy region and work at Louis Latour in 2014. Santa Cruz is a special place for the variety, and we have worked with it since our first vintage.”
Grape: 100% Pinot Noir
Vineyard: 2021 and 2020 come from Hunter Hill, Santa Cruz Mountains. Located 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean and tucked into the misty redwoods, the entirety of this vineyard is on a slope and experiences a cool climate. Tended by James’s friend and grower German who is working organically, no-till, dry-farmed. Weathered Sandstone and Shale Loams.
Making of: The fermentation vat was filled with 50% whole cluster, and 50% destemmed fruit. The native fermentation was cared for with pump-overs and gentle punch-downs. Being pressed after about 2 weeks at dryness, the wine was barreled down ‘sur lies’. One new medium-toast barrel (~20% of the blend) was used as a nod to the Burgundian tradition – the interaction of oak tannin and wine helps to naturally stabilize Pinot’s delicate color and aid in the ability to quench oxygen during aging, helping to build a ‘vin de garde’. After ~10 months, the wine was racked once and bottled. Unfined, unfiltered, 10ppm SO2 added.
Personality: “2021 was a great vintage with lengthy ripening. This wine showcases a full development of flavor. Black cherry, violet, and cola. Silky and succulent,” James says.
Making of: with the conversion to Organics, 1/3 of the fruit had some small organic blemishes and was direct-pressed, 1/3 of the good fruit was destemmed, and the last 1/3 of perfect fruit was left whole-cluster. Attentive pump-overs were initially used to get a healthy native ferment, and gentle cap wettings were applied in the later stages of fermentation. Gently pressed and sent sur lie to 1 puncheon and 1 barrel. After 10 months, the wine was racked once and then bottled. Unfined, unfiltered, and no added SO2 at any point. Cellared for an additional 9 months in bottle before release in spring 2022.
Personality: “Pomegranate, red raspberry, redwood duft & cedar define the aromatics of this wine. There is no shortage
of structure with driving acidity and firm tannin. Pork & Pinot is a classic pairing and the bracing acidity will cut the fat of a pig roast or salamis beautifully,” James recommends.
2018: Aptos vineyard grown sustainably without herbicides (glyphosate free), or pesticides, dry-farmed. Heavy coastal influence.
Tasting Notes: An intensely distinct pinot. Wild black plum & cherry, herbal & smokey, hazelnut & crushed acorn. A very attractive build. A good acidity, a gentle but firm tannin, and toned flesh.
Vinification: Clones include La Tache and Dijon selections. 1/3 whole cluster was incorporated in the fermentation with 2/3 whole berries destemmed on top and allowed to ferment to dryness for about 2 weeks. The wine was aged in puncheon and barrique for 10 months sur lie. Racked once before bottling. Unfined, and unfiltered.
The Pope’s Smoke — Back to the top
Grape: 100% Grenache
James on this wine: “During my ‘stage’ (internship) in Burgundy in 2014, I was presented with a blind wine that was unlike anything I had previously experienced. A pale color with endless perfume, florality, unctuous flavor and a viscous mouth feel. I really had no idea of the variety, yet I knew it was a special wine. I guessed Pinot Noir, as I was in Burgundy after all. It was a 2005 Grenache from Chateau Rayas. I had never heard of the winery. But was quickly educated on the winery and their most esteemed 100% Grenache. Ever since that tasting, I took a serious interest in the potential of Grenache. Also through experience, I have observed Grenache is one of the most terroir-influenced grapes I have ever worked with. In 2021 we worked with a new vineyard presenting a new expression of this wine.”
Vineyard: Mayacamas Mountains-Mendocino, Eagle Point Ranch. Red Clay. Located on the Talmage Ridge about 1,800 feet
elevation overlooking the Mendocino valley. The vineyards are like solar panels to the skies, soaking up everything the habitat has to offer. The average age of the vines is about 50 years. CCOF organic.
Making of: 100% whole cluster fruit was put in an upright French oak cuve and treaded to bleed some juice for fermentation. The native ferment was cared for with pumpers and pressed after about 2 weeks. Aged in neutral French oak barrels for ~10 months. Racked once and bottled. Unfined, unfiltered, no additives including no added sulfites.
Personality: “A garnet red. Aromas of kirsch, red licorice, and white lilac flowers. Dense with red fruit, and a rustic and bold tannin structure. 100% whole cluster mountain fruit.”
Vineyard: JDM Organics – Windmill vineyard, Dunnigan Hills. Pink Gravelly Loam permitting good drainage. Certified CCOF organic, polyculture with fruit trees, olives and bees on site.
The vineyard is located on the east side of the Northern California Coastal Range. A classic warm California climate; Grenache thrives there. They utilize some unique canopy work to protect the fruit from overexposure.
Making of: The fruit was destemmed as whole berries. A combination of pumpovers and punchdowns were used to keep the native fermentation happy, and after 2 weeks the fruit was pressed at dryness. The wine was rested in barrel for 10 months sur lie, racked once, then bottled. No additives including no added sulfites.
Personality: “A delicate and low alcohol vintage. A fresh nose of strawberry, cranberry, rose, wet river stone, and sweet baguette crust. Comparable to Nebbiolo-based wines in the sense that you can’t let the light color deceive you. A firm tannin brings structure to this perfumed wine,” says James.
2019: 100% Grenache from Bates Ranch (grown sustainably without pesticides & herbicides, dry-farmed. Prudy Foxx is the consultant and she is an advocate of soil health and eliminating glyphosate in the vineyards she works with. “Light and fragrant style which is dictated by the vineyard much more than winemaking because often people expect a boozy ultraripe wine from Grenache. This delicate expression of Grenache showcases a very aromatic nose of crushed strawberry, hibiscus, & tamarind. A lite and silky wine with a low abv. Ever so slightly petillant, best served with a light chill.”
Lovebirds — Back to the top
James on this wine: “This wine was born as part of my continued exploration of Grenache. I believe the variety is aptly suited for California, and I love the terroir expressiveness ranging from vin de garde to vin de soif wines. Originally a co-ferment of Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc to make a light red wine with some texture, but in 2021 our previously sourced Grenache Blanc was ripped out, so we had to shift to a new source, and overall a new wine. First to Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc in 2021, then towards the traditional Burgundy pair of Chardonnay and Pinot in 2022.”
Grapes: 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir
Vineyard: Gimelli Vineyard in Cienega Valley on decomposed granite and limestone, practicing organic
Making of: Manual harvest. Fermented with native yeasts, 50% whole cluster fruit. Aged 6 months in stainless steel on its lees. No ameliorations, no filtration or added sulfites.
Personality: “Aromas of strawberry and sour cherry with juicy raspberry on the palate. This is a slightly more serious glou-glou. ”
The 2021 vintage is sourced from Enz Vineyard: “If terroir exists in California, you will find it there. So many of California’s vineyards are planted on richer alluvial or clay soils. But if you want to talk about minerality and the stones that make up soil, you might want to pay attention to Enz. They have decomposed granite and limestone which is a rarity in California. Their other business is literally a stone quarry. While Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc sound like an unlikely couple, historically they do exist together in parts of the Loire.”
Grapes: 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Pinot Noir
Vineyard: Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley. Decomposed Granite & Limestone. Organic, dry-farmed.
Personality: “Aromas of pomegranate, kiwi and sour cherry complement a palate characterized by supple tannins, good acidity and sour fruit punch. While more serious than a glou-glou wine, this wine is juicy and can be enjoyed chilled at the beach.”
Making of: Whole clusters were put directly into the fermentation vat and foot-tread to release juice and submerge the fruit. Regular pumpovers, and pigeage (foot treading) helped to maintain a healthy native fermentation. After a 14-day fermentation the fruit was pressed at dryness, and left to rest on fine lees in barrel for approximately 10 months. Racked once in preparation for bottling. No additives were used at any point in the vinification process including no added sulfites.
50% Grenache Blanc, 50% Grenache Noir
Vineyard: Windmill vineyard, Dunnigan Hills, Yolo County. CCOF Organic. Located in the foothills on the eastern side of the Northern California Coast Ranges. The soils are pinkish gravelly alluvial soils permitting good drainage which is essential to quality wines. This is a classic hot California climate and Grenache thrives here. They utilize some unique canopy work to protect the fruit from overexposure. They keep things diverse with fruit trees, olives, and bees on site.
Making of: With inspiration stemming from some of the natural legends of Tavel and Roussillon, a short maceration creates a
textured wine that falls somewhere between rosé, ramato, glouglou. The Grenache Blanc & Grenache Noir were destemmed evenly together and allowed to begin native fermentation. Gentle pump-overs were used to keep the ferment healthy and after 6 days the grapes were pressed and the fermenting juice was sent to stainless tank to finish fermentation. After 5 months sur lie, the wine was racked in preparation for bottling. Unfined, unfiltered, with no other ameliorations except 10ppm SO2 at bottling.
Tasting Notes: Aromatics of kiwi, guava, and tangerine lead right into a crunchy and tannic palate of fresh and juicy sour candy. A thirst-quenching spring holiday wine that will keep you cool throughout the summer. Easily enjoyed chilled with a citrus salad, roast chicken, and rosemary potatoes in the sun. Gardenside, oceanside, poolside.
Chardonnay Moonmilk — Back to the top
Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Vineyard: Alaya, Santa Cruz Mountains. Sandy loam. Organic, dry-farmed by James himself, no-till
2021 James on this wine: “I remain a hardcore Chardonnay fan. The general niche of natural wine doesn’t pay Chardo much attention, and tends to be off chasing the next shiniest thing. However, given the chance to make a great Chardonnay and offer it to an appreciative, progressive and sophisticated group of wine lovers, everyone is in. My early wine education and apprenticeship had a heavy focus on Chard and
Pinot, and I will always consider it a privilege to work with these noble varieties.
Making of: The fruit was hand-picked and immediately direct pressed utilizing a lengthy and gentle press cycle. The juice was barrel fermented with native yeasts. After fermentation is finished, the barrels are topped up and no further fussing is done. As a respectful nod to Burgundian tradition, one new low-toast barrel was used (~10% of the blend) to get microoxygenation and enhance its aging potential. No stirring, ‘sur lies’ for 10 months, racked once. Unfined, unfiltered, no additives including no added sulfites.
Personality: A pale straw hue. Aromas of flint, brioche, and lemon curd. A beautifully delicate and pristine Chardonnay. Aging will only help this wine develop weight and complexity.”
2019 James on this wine: “The coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains provides a unique climate especially for cool-weather varieties, like Chardonnay. If you look around it is quite obvious what makes it different. Cool fog and mist from the Monterey Bay envelope redwood forest which is a stark contrast to much of California’s sunburned hills. The 2019 vintage is comprised solely of a single coastal Santa Cruz Mountains vineyard that I personally farm and tend. I do the entirety of the work including pruning, canopy work, and spraying. Friends do occasionally help and of course, harvest is a team effort!”
Making of: Fresh fruit was hand-picked by James’s friends and family and quickly whisked away to the winery for a direct pressing. The juice was settled and racked to stainless where the native ferment kicked off. Once the tell-tale signs of ferment had just begun to spark, the lightly fermenting juice was transferred to neutral French oak to allow for barrel fermentation. The wine was left sur lie and without battonage for 10 months. Racked once before bottling. Unfined, unfiltered. No additives or sulfites during vinification or elevage. 20ppm SO2 added at bottling.
Personality: Aromas of citrus, mineral, and Meyer lemon curd. The palate is textured and delicate with a notable finish. With age, the wine will gain weight and power. Wonderful to drink now, but those who cellar the wine for a couple of years will be rewarded.
Moonmilk “Gold Top” — Back to the top
2018: A long and cool growing season in the SCM’s.
Vineyards: blend of 2 vineyards on the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Both personally farmed by James. Organic, dry farmed, no till.
37% Blue Jay – South Facing slope, sandstone-based loam, oak and madrone chaparral. 63% Glenwood- East Facing Slope, mudstone based loam and clay, redwood and oak forest.
Making of: Bluejay ripens first and was foot trodden and left overnight. Glenwood was destemmed and left on skins overnight before pressing. The juice was settled and racked to neutral French oak barrels and allowed to ferment with native yeasts, followed by native malolactic. The wine was left sur lie and without batonnage for 10 months in neutral wood, which contributes a classic creaminess to the wine without new oak impact. Racked once before bottling.
Personality: An elegant chardonnay with plenty of verve. Aromas of Meyer lemon, pear, brioche, and beeswax. Supple and delicate without new oak influence. Light and nimble wine with creaminess and balancing acidity.
In 2019, the ‘Gold Top’ indicated the difference between this old vine Blue Jay vineyard Moonmilk (Gold Top) 2019, and the 2019 Moonmilk from Glenwood vineyard (previously released with a regular beeswax top – see above).
Winemaker’s note: “I farm this vineyard myself with help from
friends. We have replanted most of the vineyard at this point with ‘obscure’ varieties such as Gamay and Savagnin, but we still get a small amount of fruit from the remaining vines that were originally planted in the 1970s.”
Vineyard: Blue Jay, Santa Cruz Mountains. South-facing vineyard with sandy soils, farmed organically by James himself (+ help from friends). Old vines from the 1970s.
Making of: Hand-picked with the help of winemaker’s friends, foot tread and let to rest for 1 night on the skins. Pressed, barrel fermented with native yeasts, no stirring, sur lies for 10 months, racked once. Unfined, unfiltered, 20ppm SO2 at bottling only. Cellared for 1.75 years in bottle before release.
Personality: top! The wine has a golden hue which can be attributed to the skin contact and neutral oak. Aromas of flint, spiced apple turnovers and crème brûlée. Textured and medium rich. A gourmand wine fit for dinners of poultry, pastas, and cheeses. Think burgundy glasses and cheese platter for dessert.
White Rhino Grenache Blanc — Back to the top
James on this wine: “In 2019, the opportunity opened up for us to work with some fruit from Windmill Vineyard in the Dunnigan Hills. Its alluvial soil permits good drainage essential to quality wines. This is a classic warm California climate and Grenache thrives here. Sergio Villanueva is responsible for farming the vineyard and it is immediately apparent that he does not take shortcuts and is quietly proud of the high bar he holds. As a power combo, Steve Mathiasson, a viticulturalist known for his progressive and organic practices, oversees the cultivation. They utilize some unique canopy work to protect the fruit from overexposure. They keep things diverse with fruit trees, olives, and bees on site.In short, they are growing fruit for quality and expression, in a region that doesn’t have a lot of notoriety. This allows us to make top-notch wines while keeping the prices reasonable.” A true value here!
Grapes: 100% Grenache Blanc
Vineyard: Windmill vineyard, Dunnigan Hills, Yolo County. Pink Gravel Alluvium, CCOF Organic.
This vintage is a true rare White Rhino: “Unfortunately, they are pulling out the Grenache Blanc due to virus pressure and this will be the last release of White Rhino from Windmill vineyard!”
Making of: This vintage, 2/3 of the fruit was direct-pressed and the other 1/3 was foot tread. “The plan was to ferment the two
styles separately and see the different expressions and evaluate the best way to work with this specific fruit. However, the direct press fermentation struggled to get going for a few days, so the decision was made to combine the healthy and vigorous foot tread fermentation into the still unfermenting direct press juice to avoid any problems,” James explains. After a healthy native fermentation was established, the fermenting juice was racked down to neutral oak barrels. The wine was left to rest for 6 months sur lie before being racked once and bottled. Unfined, unfiltered, and no SO2 added at any point.
Personality: “Grenache Blanc is a unique grape that is known to be sensitive to oxidation. While this wine is not oxidized, the skin contact has intensified the amber color. You can see just how sensitive this variety is by observing the color change the day after opening, particularly dramatic as this is an unsulfured wine. Aromas of pineapple, honeydew, caramel and spice. The palate has a good acidity and nutty finish. I’m snacking on comté cheese as I write and taste. Bon appetite,” James says.
A very long and gentle pressing was applied to the whole cluster fruit and juice was settled. Native fermentation began in stainless to ensure a clean primary before being racked down to neutral oak. Aged 5 months sur lie before being racked for bottling. No filtration, no ameliorations, and no sulfite additions.
“The Grenache Blanc was the most beautiful fruit out of this vineyard for the 2020 vintage. Pungent aromas of pineapple, Asian pear, and honeysuckle are matched with concentration on the palate. Good acidity keeps this wine lively without heaviness,” James muses.
Oyster Pal — Back to the top
Grapes: 100% Picpoul
Vineyard: Windmill vineyard, Dunnigan Hills, Yolo County. Pink Gravel Alluvium, CCOF Organic. In James’s own words: “Rolling hills of olives, fruit trees, and grapes assure you that this terroir is well suited to grapes. Cared for by the calm and focused Sergio Villanueva, this CCOF organic vineyard was first consulted for by progressive viticulturalist Steve Mathiasson.” (see also White Rhino above for more details on the site)
Making of: The grapes were destemmed and to rested for one night to allow the flavors and grapes qualities to leach out of the ruptured skins. The juice was then fermented in stainless, before being sent to neutral oak to allow for a little roundness to develop sur lie. Unfined, and unfiltered with no adjustments save for 15ppm SO2 added at bottling.
Personality: Aromatics of apple, green melon, and beeswax. An extraordinarily light and pretty wine, the low ABV (10.2%) allows you to indulge. James says: “I suggest opening tastings or meals with this wine as it prepares the palate and also gives this delicate flower a chance to shine before bigger and richer wines are served. I am excited to see this wine next to fresh oysters, crudo, and other light seafood dishes.” A true oyster pal…
Pegleg Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay
Winemaker’s note: “I personally like to taste wines side by side and with reference, so I decided to make a terroir study between the Santa Cruz Mountains (see Moonmilk above) and Sonoma Mountain in this one, both highly esteemed terroirs for California Chardonnay.”
Grape: 100% Chardonnay
Vineyard: Minnes, Nelson, Sonoma Mountain. Steep south-facing hillside with well-drained metavolcanic soils. Farmed by James’s friend and peer David Rothschild, an upcoming figure within the natural California winemakers as a proud and skillful organic grower.
Making of: Half of the fruit was foot tread, and pressed the following day. The other half was direct pressed. Hence the name Pegleg, one foot in one foot out (also David, the grower, is half pirate, James says). Both were barrel fermented in neutral French oak with native yeasts & bacteria. Topped, left undisturbed & sur lie for 10 months before a single racking, then bottled. No additives including no added sulfites.
Personality: “We picked 2021 a bit earlier and the wine is zestier and with lower alcohol than 2020. Aromatics of citrus, stone fruit, and leaven. Dry, yet creamy with a firm acidity. While good now, age will benefit the weight of this wine,” James says.
“2020 shows aromatics of lemon curd, nectarine, creme brûlée, and nuts define the nose. Akin to aged champagne and some Jura-type Chardonnays. A bright palate with minerality and texture. Dry, yet creamy with firm acidity,” its creator says.
Grapes: 55% Syrah, 45% Chardonnay
Vineyard: The Syrah portion for this wine came from Hunter Hill just above Soquel in the redwoods of Santa Cruz, and the Chardonnay portion came from Amaya Ridge just a little further into the mountains. Sandstone & shale loams. Both farmed organic and dry farmed.
Making of: Both vineyards had rather small yields, so James decided to try an experimental style of coferment. The Chardonnay was direct pressed, and the Syrah was placed as whole clusters to float in the juice, hence the name Lavalamp. This is a somewhat obscure vinification technique referred to in France as “flottaison” (flotation) or “trempouiller” (to dip, to soak). At near dryness, the fruit was pressed off and wine sent to barrel. Due to a slow somewhat tricky ferment, 10 ppm of SO2 was added at barrel down to help the Saccharomyces yeast finish their job. No other additives. One puncheon and one barrel produced.
Personality: A savory nose showcasing some of Syrah’s meaty characters alongside blueberry, raspberry, forest floor, brut cider, and garden herbs.
Kind of Orange
This wine is a rare bird: “These vines verge on wild, and sadly there is an attrition every year. We may only have another vintage or two of this wine,” James says. “This wine somewhat invented itself. I was dabbling with carbonic maceration in 2020 and the juicy Sauvignon Blanc turned into a carbonic juice bath of an orange wine. It was shockingly good, so we repeated the process. I also like that orange wine pre-dates modern winemaking and I really want to visit Georgia to learn about ancient winemaking!”
In 2022, a new rendition of this fan favorite was needed, as the Sauvignon Blanc vineyard from previous vintages fell into disrepair.
Grapes: 100% Viognier
Vineyard: Gimelli Vineyard in Cienega Valley, practicing organic
Making of: manual harvest. Fermented with native yeasts with 25% whole cluster. 3 weeks of maceration with skins was followed by 6 months in neutral French oak sur lie. No ameliorations, filtration or added sulfites.
Personality: Aromatic, with notes of Peach O’s and mandarin supported by medium plus acidity and tannins.
Grapes: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Vineyard: Feliz Creek, Mendocino County just out of Hopland. 1980’s planting on well-drained Russian River gravelly loams. Dry farmed, no till, with absolute minimum organic inputs.
Making of: The grapes were handpicked and carefully put into stainless vessels for a 3-week carbonic maceration, using harvested CO2 from an already active fermentation, as opposed to using CO2 from a commercial cylinder. While it was done as carbonic, the soft skins readily bled juice leading to a type of submerged cap maceration for the later portion of the fermentation. The structure of the wine comes from skin tannin, and stem tannin. Pressed off and sent to neutral French oak barrels for 10 months aging sur lie. Racked once and bottled. No additives including no added sulfites.
Personality: Peach O’s, mandarin, guava, passionfruit, cantaloupe, & lychee. There is a near muscat quality to the intensity of this wine. Rather serious; dry, tannic, and with medium plus acidity.
Vineyard: JDM Organics – Windmill, Dunnigan Hills. Located on the east side of the Northern California Coastal
Range, this is a classic warm California climate; Grenache thrives here. The growers utilize some unique canopy work to protect the fruit from overexposure. Pink Gravelly Loam soil permits good drainage. Certified CCOF organic, with a polyculture with fruit trees, olives and bees on site.
Making of: The fruit was picked early at a low sugar level to make a light, fresh red. The fruit went into a traditional open-top French oak tank, 50% whole cluster and 50% destemmed. A combination of pump-overs and punch-downs were used to keep the native fermentation happy, and after 2 weeks the fruit was pressed at dryness. The wine was rested in barrels for 6 months sur lie, racked once, then bottled. Unfined, unfiltered and no additives except 15 ppm SO2 at bottling as there was a small
propensity to grow a few whiskers.
Personality: wine made in the style of a light glou glou red, with a low abv, a zippy acidity, and pale color. Aromas of hard red candies (Jolly Rancher), sour cherry, and briny watermelon. The palate is tart, thirst-quenching, and invites one to drink with gusto. The perfect sunny weather red, best drunk chilled outdoors.
Winemaker’s note: “In 2022 I wanted to keep Poilu’s
Pinard going so I chose to create it from a few
experimental rows at Gimelli vineyard. Each row
was too small to make a single wine out of, so the
inspiration was to make a co-ferment. Loosely
Languedoc-Rousillon inspired with the Grenache,
Muscat, and Mourvèdre.
Pinard is French slang for wine, which originated from the WWI rationed wine that the French infantrymen loved so much. The infantryman also had a slang name which is ‘poilu’ or ‘the hairy one’, as they typically were rustic countrymen sporting bushy mustaches or beards.”
Grapes: Grenache, Muscat, Mourvèdre, Viognier
Vineyard: Gimelli, decomposed granite and limestone
Making of: All varieties were harvested together in the early morning, destemmed at the winery immediately after, and sent to a stainless steel tank for co-fermentation. A combination of pump-overs and punch-downs were used to keep the native fermentation happy, and 2 weeks later the fruit was then pressed at dryness. The wine was rested in neutral French oak for 6 months on the lees. Unfined, unfiltered, with no added sulfites.
Personality: A translucent reddish pink color. A lifted and heady nose of orange blossom, rose and mandarin. Medium bodied with
an aromatic palate. Serve with a slight chill and enjoy.
Winemaker’s note: “This petillant naturel was produced via the ancestral (méthode ancestrale, rurale, artisinale) method. In this method, the bottling of the wine must be perfectly timed with the correct amount of residual sugar to allow the wine to build carbonation in bottle as the fermentation finishes. In contrast, there is an increasingly common and easier method of producing bubbles by allowing the wine to go dry, and then back sweetening at bottling to reintroduce sugar (en tirage, or col fondo).”
Vineyard: Nelson, Sonoma Mountain. Steep south-facing hillside with well-drained metavolcanic gravelly soils. Farmed by James’s friend and peer David Rothschild, an upcoming figure within the natural California winemakers garde as a proud and skillful organic grower.
Making of: The grapes were destemmed, foot tread, and allowed to rest on the skins for 3 days while native fermentation began. The fruit was pressed off and allowed to ferment in a stainless tank. The 2021 was a slow fermentation that spanned an entire month before bottling méthode ancestrale. The wine was bottle conditioned for 6 months sur lies before being disgorged by hand. No additives were used at any point in the vinification process, including no added sulfites. The pet nat was finished by hand disgorging the lees after riddling.
Personality: amber hue from the skin contact, aromas of apple juice, and tangerine. The palate has good acidity, and a balancing sweetness that remains naturally from the fermentation. There is a mild tannin from the skin contact and of course, it’s bubbly! Great for festive occasions.
Smell Me As I Am Pet-Nat
Winemaker’s note: This micro-production was a labor of love and by purchasing this, you allow us to continue farming by hand and with purpose.”
Grapes: 88% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir and 2% Riesling
Vineyard: Blue Jay Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Farmed organically by James in sandy loam and clay.
Making of: hand harvested. Fermented in stainless steel before bottling to finish in glass. Aged on its lees for 6 months, riddled and hand disgorged. No ameliorations, filtration or added sulfites.
Personality: Notes of fresh lemon and apple with mouthwatering acidity and a creamy mousse.
Winemaker’s note: “Well truth is I didn’t plan to make Merlot. I could spin you a story about Pomerol, but I’ll tell you why I made Merlot. Up to this point, I have mostly avoided the Bordeaux varieties. Not because I don’t like them, I’ve just focused more on Burgundy and the surrounding areas. Wine is also fashion, and Merlot has been out of the spotlight. However, when I agreed to have my friend German Soto farm an entire vineyard organically specifically for me, that meant taking the merlot. I even passed it up the first year when there was still flexibility. That being said we treated it as well as any of our wines and it turned out to be one of the best wines of the vintage! We put in a burgundy bottle out of defiance. Picard is apparently an ‘old name’ for Merlot, but the TTB wouldn’t let me use it as a variety so it became the name of the wine.”
Grape: 100% Merlot
Vineyard: Hunter Hill Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Weathered Sandstone and Shale Loams slope, located in redwoods 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean, with its cool climate influence. Tended by James’s friend grower German Soto who is working organically, no till, and dry farmed.
Making of: hand-picked mid-October and destemmed entirely. Fermented with native yeasts in a traditional upright French cuve, pressed at dryness. Let to age for 10 months on light lees in neutral French oak. Unfined, unfiltered, and no added SO2 at any point.
Personality: “Aromas of black cherry, black plum and cacao powder complement a palate marked by lively acidity, medium firm tannins and a juicy dark fruit core. Not a California fruit bomb like many Merlots nowadays, this wine shows good restraint and is a proper red wine. Enjoy with food or on a chill day after work,” the winemaker says.
Sweet Cavendish Cab Franc
Winemaker’s note: “The focus at Florèz Wines has always been French varieties and I can’t help myself but try different varieties when the opportunity arises. While I am largely inspired by the Cab Francs of the Loire this is unabashedly a rustic Californian expression boasting ripeness and structure. Sweet Cavendish is a brand of sweet pipe tobacco that I felt matched the mood of this wine.”
Grape: 100% Cabernet Franc
Vineyard: Cooper Garrod, Santa Cruz Mountains. Sandy Clay Loam – Eroded Alluvial soil. Organic (CCOF), historically dry- farmed but the drought has prompted them to introduce irrigation when needed.
Making of: Fermented in a concrete, beeswax-lined fermenter. 80% whole cluster and 20% destemmed for juice, with a combination of pumpovers and punchdowns to keep the native fermentation happy. After 2 weeks, the fruit was pressed at dryness. The wine was aged in barrel for 18 months sur lie – James’s first over-vintaged wine. One racking and bottled, with no sulfites added at any point.
Personality: Due to its extended barrel aging, this wine has a bold palate with classic Cab Franc characters such as black fruits, tobacco, leather and firm tannins.
Monsieur Mysterieux Cabernet Pfeffer
Winemaker’s note: “A rare variety that has found refuge over a hundred years ago in one of our local growing regions, San Benito County. The locals call it Cabernet Pfeffer. It is suspected that the budwood was imported from France in the late 1800s. A local German nurseryman named William Pfeffer may have inspired the name, although the history is not well known. The variety is distinguished by a white pepper flavor profile, which may provide another clue to the origin of the name since Pfeffer means pepper in German. It was proposed that the variety may have been a cross between Cab Sauvignon and Trousseau. Early genetic testing pointed towards an old Bourdeaux variety Gros Verdot, and recent definitive genetic testing now points toward Mourteau. Personally, I have little trust in the proposed history and prefer the local name “Cab Pfeffer”. Due to the confused and unauthenticated history of this variety, I named the wine ‘Monsieur Mystérieux’, ‘Mister Mysterious’. I am excited to work with these grapes and adopt this oddly Californian variety.”
“The Enz Vineyard where the grapes come from is a unique place. Quails and turkeys were springing from the vineyard when I visited and the soils are obviously mineral, composed of decomposed granite and limestone. Limestone is rare in California, and this is one of the few regions that have it; there is a lime quarry just up the road. This is close to where Josh Jensen founded Calera with the obsession of planting Pinot and Chard on true limestone.
Grape: Cabernet Pfeffer
Vineyard: Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley AVA. Dry-farmed, organic. Limestone & Granite
Making of: The fruit was destemmed and allowed to ferment with native yeasts. Pumpovers and punchdowns were used to maintain the ferment happy and the wine was pressed at dryness after about 2 weeks. It was then rested in neutral French oak for ~10 months, racked once, and bottled. Unfined, unfiltered, no additives including no added sulfites.
Personality: “Cabernet Pfeffer makes light, perfumed, peppery reds. Aromas of chopped strawberry, white pepper. Pale in color with notable tannins and acid. I don’t want to go too far, but this pale style of red plays in the territory of Pinot d’Aunis, Ploussard, and/or Trousseau,” James says.
Winemaker’s note: “Dry farmed on a gentle south-facing slope amongst the redwoods about 4 miles from the ocean. This micro-lot is the slightly warmer sibling to the Remus Syrah (see below), grown a mile away.”
Grape: 100% Syrah
Vineyard: Alaya Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Grown in Sandstone soils and organically farmed personally by James.
Making of: manual harvest, spontaneous fermentation. 100% whole cluster fruit aged in neutral French oak for 10 months. No ameliorations, no filtration, no sulfites added.
Personality: Notes of dark fruit, violets, herbs, and black pepper.
Winemaker’s note: “Dry farmed on a gentle south-facing slope about 3 miles from the ocean amongst the redwoods. This micro-lot is the slightly cooler sibling to the Romulus Syrah (see above), grown a mile away.”
Grape: 100% Syrah
Vineyard: Hunter Hill Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Grown in sandstone soils, organically farmed personally by James.
Making of: manual harvest, spontaneous fermentation. 100% whole cluster fruit aged in neutral French oak for 10 months. No ameliorations, no filtration, no sulfites added.
Personality: Notes of red fruit, violets, smoked meat, and black pepper.
Flrz x Nuki Wine Cider Hybrid
Winemaker’s note: “The Florèz winery is located in a region named Corralitos in Santa Cruz County. Historically, Corralitos has famously been an apple-producing region, and the winery is a retrofit within an apple cold store building on an orchard. Needless to say, I am regularly asked if I make cider. While not my primary interest, in 2021 I invited a friend and cider maker Robby Honda of Tanuki Cider to work on a collaborative project to make a SC Cider Wine hybrid. Thus flrz x nuki (Florez Wines ft. Tanuki Ciders) was born. Labeling rules exclude us from presenting varieties and vintage on the label.
“The Merlot for this wine came from the Hunter Hill vineyard I work with in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Pippins apples were sourced locally in Corralitos from a heritage orchard. While California lacks many of the classic cider apples, the Newton Pippin is one of the few desirable varieties to make cider due to its ability to attain high sugars and posses some tannin and bitterness, all desirable characteristics for cider.”
Fruit: 30% Merlot Grapes, 70% Pippins Apples
Location: Hunter Hill Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Weathered Sandstone and Shale Loams slope, located in redwoods 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean, with its cool climate influence. Tended by James’s friend grower German Soto who is working organically, no till, and dry farmed.
Making of: The Merlot was picked and allowed to begin a native fermentation. Two days later, freshly pressed Pippins juice was added to the grapes and the two were allowed to co-ferment. Regular pump overs were utilized to keep the fermentation happy. The cider wine hybrid was allowed to rest sur lie in stainless for 2 months, before being racked to neutral French oak barrels for an additional 6 months aging. 20 ppm SO2 was added at barrel to mitigate the risk of brettanomyces in the wine cellar (brett loves cider). In the spring, an organic sugar dosage was added for effervescence, and hand bottled under crown cap. Allowed to carbonate and reach full dryness over the warmer summer months.
Personality: A complex and vinous nose of apple pie, bramble berries, and herbal spice. More depth than a typical cider. A festive drink fit for celebrations. Clean, dry, and sparkling.
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Vineyard: Enz Vineyard, in Lime Kiln Valley. Located in the heart of the Cienega Valley AVA and known for its concentrated limestone soils.
Making of: The grapes for this wine were direct pressed once brought into the cellar, and fermented in a neutral French barrel where it rested for 10 months on the lees until being racked and bottled. Unfined and unfiltered, with no adjustments save 10 ppm SO2 added at bottling.
Personality: This wine expresses aromas of freshly squeezed
lemons and grapefruit, with a rich and creamy palate of lemon curd and tart peaches.
Winemaker’s Note: “My inspiration for this wine stems from the fond memories of traveling in Strasbourg, France and finding an ‘Edelzwicker’ in nearly every cafe. Traditionally served in petite green stemmed goblets — an Edelzwicker is an Alsatian blend (zwicker) composed of noble (edel) varieties. Most often comprised of Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and/or Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Chasselas and Pinot Blanc.
My second wave of inspiration comes from my time spent in the Anderson valley of California. Anderson valley has a long history of growing Alsatian varietals. Unfortunately, due to market pressures and the value of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, many growers have ripped out or grafted their Alsatian varieties. With values of often more than double you can’t entirely blame them, but they sort of lost something unique. What was once the yearly ‘Alsatian White Wine Festival’ is now just the ‘White Wine Festival’ dominated by Chardonnay.”
Grapes: 42% Pinot Gris, 33% Gewurtztraminer, 25% Riesling
Vineyard: McFadden Vineyard in Potter Valley. Alluvial and gravel loams. Certified organic, run by Guiness McFadden, “a tall war veteran, fluent in at least three languages with stories of being blown off a battle ship. He proudly farms his bucolic and remote property CCOF. Amongst the vineyard you’ll find composting projects and organic herbs and veggies growing. In 2022 he did not even find it necessary to apply organic sprays in the vineyard.”
Making of: Due to different ripening dates, each variety had a separate vinification. This allowed us to see the character of each variety. The fruit was crushed for some skin contact, pressed off and fermented in stainless. Following fermentation it was racked to barrel for aging on the lees for 6 months. Prior to bottling the wine was racked
off the lies to stainless for assemblage to compile the final Edelzwicker. Unfined, unfiltered, and no added sulfites.
Personality: This wine has a turbid pale yellow hue in glass. A punchy nose of stonefruit, peach, and bright lemon lime meet a refreshing and zesty palate. Serve with a chill and toast to keeping the spirit of Alsace alive and well in California.