Wildcat Mountain: Carneros' and Sonoma's Coolest Vineyard

When veteran winemaker Steve MacRostie went looking for a new vineyard to plant his chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah he discovered Wildcat Mountain in the Carneros/Sonoma region.  "I felt Wildcat would push the envelope, something untried.  The cooler climates, the stressful site, the thinner soils; this is not a safe place to set up a farming operation.  In a business sense it was probably rather stupid," he said plainly.

Stupid or not, MacRostie planted 4 acres of syrah, 23 acres of pinot noir and 23 acres of chardonnay, all on volcanic soil with elevations ranging from 500 to 700 feet overlooking San Pablo Bay.  His Wildcat Mountain Vineyard is the coolest site in the area and straddles the Carneros and Sonoma Coast appellations.  The site itself is 1500 acres of pastureland where dairy cattle still roam the undulating hillsides as they have for decades.  From the very top of the vineyard, assuming it's a clear day, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland and the Mayacamas mountains to the west.  But it is the fog, funneled through San Pablo Bay from the cold Pacific Ocean that is the most frequent guest on Wildcat Mountain.  "Often we're not above the fog or below it," says MacRostie with a grin, "we're in it."  And if it's not the fog, it's the wind.  The vines are literally windswept, bent back by the consuming force of wind off the bay, running up the mountain and pummeling the vines like a boxer with too much confidence. 

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"There's a haunting beauty to this place," MacRostie says, and he's correct.  Though it is an odd choice for a vineyard, isolated and abused by Mother Nature, once you find yourself standing in its midst, it seems that it's the perfect place, where soil, prevailing breezes for cool climate varieties and well drained soil all complement each other to bring forth great wines.  "What I didn't know was how windy it would be here and how difficult that would make the farming," he adds.  "The vines read the climate as being cooler than it really is and they slow down their activity.  We don't have monstrous crop levels and we don't drop fruit.  In fact, we're challenged in the other direction, how to get more crop."  Additionally, the andesite soil Steve works with (andesite is a course volcanic soil, common along the Pacific Coast mountains) stresses the vines that ultimately create wines of uncommon depth and complexity that MacRostie has become known for. 

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.