SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
These days, the vast majority of wine is mass-produced – the result of an industry that has been growing exponentially and which, as a result, has been commercialized and commodified in order to meet demand. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it does often mean that quantity takes precedence over quality. That’s a standard Croix Estate in California’s Russian River Valley is looking to reverse. A sister winery to Venge Vineyards in Napa Valley, Croix put out its first vintage in 2012 and, while they’ve grown in size since then, the company insists on remaining small.
“We started making just 100 cases of each wine,” says Jason Williams, General Manager of Venge Vineyards and Croix Estate. “There was a single vineyard Chardonnay and a single vineyard Pinot Noir, and over the years we have slowly grown our following to about 2,000 cases or so. It’s a tiny project and we’re going after the luxury segment – we’re not messing around with the middle or the lower end. We’re doing this the slow way and the right way.”
Operating as a boutique vineyard means that the company can take that extra time to make its wines, ensuring they meet the high standards that Croix Estate has set for itself. The result is a product that – unlike those produced in bulk – truly stands out as unique and high quality.
“At a small level, you can do things that are a bit more meticulous,” says Jason. “We can take the time to use a Pellenc four-stage destemmer to get pure fruit, and we can ferment Pinot for 18 to 30 days in a very cold environment. We’re not in a rush, so we have a very detailed approach.”
The reason for this is simple. Croix Estate’s mission is to create sublime, high-end wines that can be collected and saved, if desired, for a much later date. That’s something that’s incredibly unusual for California Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
“The fundamental question that kept coming to us was, how come there’s not a California equivalent to a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti?” says Jason. “How do we, as producers of Pinot, produce a Pinot Noir that will live up to 20 years and have the commanding structure and status to be traded on the aftermarket in equivalence of what Burgundy is commanding today? Your average California Pinot is dead in five years, so we want to go against that trend and have a wine that’s ageable. Our 20-year goal is to stand among the elite globally. We want the prestige of making Pinot Noir that a customer can trust.”
One other factor that makes Croix Estate wines so exclusive is that the only way to purchase them is to be added to the winery’s allocation list. “We’re 100 per cent allocated,” says Jason. “The property is only open to our client list, although our wines are available in some of the best restaurants in major hubs like New York, Boston, Miami and here in California. Currently, there are over 4,000 people on our list, but, if we take as an example the 110 cases of Pinot we produce, there are only a little over 400 people we can service on that list. It can be a bit of a headache, but it’s a good problem to have.”