Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Handley Cellars: Anderson Valley Original Expands Organic Program - Plus, The Return of Their Brut Rosé!

I stopped in at the Handley Cellars booth Friday at the PinotFest tasting near Union Square where I not only tasted the Estate Pinot Noir, but also got to meet Randy Schock, co-winemaker, at the Philo based Handley Cellars, the first - and for many years the only - vintner with a certified organic vineyard in the coastal inland Mendocino region famous for its Pinot.

Handley Cellars was also one of the first wineries in the region period (1982). And it was remarkable also for the fact that is was the very first woman-owned winery in the region - started by the pioneering Milla Handley, who is still the owner and winemaker there today.

Today Milla Handley's daughter Lulu McClellan is also involved in the winery - as national sales manager. The farm and homesteader movement spoke to her - she's active with the Greenhorns and now farms in rural Maine, which is her home base.

A benchmark Pinot Noir producer in Anderson Valley for more than 30 years, today Handley Cellars has 29 acres of certified organic vineyards. Randy Shock told me the the winery is expanding its organic program - and looking to the growers it buys grapes from to do the same.

"We see a market drive towards organic - it's a growing demographic and there's a limited supply. I think the industry has reached the stage where there are no more excuses," Schock said.

The winery certified its original 29 acres of certified vines - surrounding the tasting room and winery - in 2005, but is now converting its best vineyard, the RSM, a seven acre, steep, hillside site - a site that is located above the fogline.

"We've completed year two of the certification period for RSM," Schock said, "so we're on target to complete the three year certification process in 2017." The added acreage will increase the estate's organic vineyard holdings by 25 percent.

Schock said there were economic as well as agricultural and social benefits from converting the RSM vineyard. "In the RSM block, planted in 1999-2001, we're seeing yields almost double. It's keeping the older vines going. Compost and cover crops - we're having fun and embracing it. There are rewards for the land and the workers, too."

Schock also pointed out longevity benefits from being organic on the winery's original plantings - vineyards that last longer. "We've seen yields go up from five to ten percent in a single year, on our original 29 acres," said Schock. These vines were planted in 1986. "We've been able to delay replanting because they are farmed organically," he said. "It's about better soil management."

Handley Cellars poured its 1997 vintage Brut Rosé at PinotFest.
The winery will release new sparkling wines in 2017.
Handley is also taking the extra step of paying its growers a premium for organic grapes. "We're pushing all our growers to certify," Schock said. "I'm offering $100 a ton extra for organic."

In addition to increasing its production of organically grown wines, the winery is also beginning to bottle label its estate wines, using the "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" labeling on the back of the bottle - a step consumers will appreciate.

On occasion, Handley, located near the French-owned sparkling wine giant, Roederer Estate, has made sparkling wines (highly coveted, I might add), irregularly, over the years.

Schock said the winery is bringing back the tradition.

"We have a 2015 Blanc de Blanc - 400-500 cases - that we'll be releasing in May of 2017. And then a 2016 Brut Rosé which we'll be releasing in 2018."

Meanwhile at the event, the winery showcased its estate 1997 Brut Rose - a tantalizing taste of what is to come.

For now, fans can enjoy the estate Pinot Noir ($47) - which delivers a great deal of pleasure - right now.