Domaine Alfred Winery, founded by Terry Speizer in 1994, changed the history of winegrowing in the Edna Valley. Terry favored Pinot Noir, one of the most difficult grapes to grow. He researched the best clones grown in the area of Dijon, France, and planted them in the Edna Valley. He took a risk in shifting the Chamisal Vineyard from primarily growing Chardonnay to growing an equal amount of Pinot Noir. Terry’s leadership skills in assembling a team including the finest talent in the Edna Valley, viticulturalists Jim Efird and George Donati, winemakers Stephen Ross Dooley and Mike Sinor led to Domaine Alfred producing the finest Pinot Noir in the Edna Valley. The winery earned the highest scores ever awarded to an Edna Valley Pinot Noir from Wine Spectator and received multiple medals in statewide competitions. Terry’s marketing skills increased production dramatically and led to the sale of the winery and vineyard for the highest price ever paid in 2008 in the Edna Valley, just days before the global financial crisis exploded in 2008.
Terry Speizer – Impact on the Wine History of San Luis Obispo County
Domaine Alfred Pinot Noir wines became nationally recognized with a rating of 96 points on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale for the 2004 Califa Pinot Noir – the highest score for any Edna Valley AVA Pinot Noir at the time.
Replanted the historic Chamisal Vineyard with carefully selected French clones, including five Chardonnay and six Pinot Noir clones.
Reintroduced the original Wente clone of Chardonnay first planted by Norman Goss. Planted new clones including #95, # 96, and #76.
Planted clones of Pinot Noir from Dijon, France #113, #114, #115, $667, #777 and the Pommard clone.
Introduced organic farming and biodynamic farming to the Edna Valley AVA.
Introduced new farming techniques and low-impact tractor equipment in the Chamisal vineyard to the Edna Valley farmers.
Incorporated technology by working with Enologics as consultants to analyze the chemistry of Pinot Noir and improve the flavor and aromas of the wine produced at Domaine Alfred.
Won Gold Medals for Domaine Alfred Pinot Noir at the Los Angeles County Fair, the Mid-State Fair, and the California State Fair bringing recognition to the Edna Valley AVA as a superior region for Pinot Noir grapes and winemaking.
Domaine Alfred was the first winery to charge for wine tastings in the Edna Valley.
Built the first new winery in the Edna Valley AVA in the 21st century using tilt up construction with concrete panels made and installed on the site.
Domaine Alfred Winery and Chamisal Vineyard sold for the highest price of any winery to date in 2008 in the Edna Valley AVA.
The Story – 60 Wineries to Explore in the Santa Clara Valley
Terry was raised in the Bay area, but his story begins in 1966 at the age of 17, when he discovered the wine that awakened his palate and sparked his passion for studying wines. He was a fraternity man at San Jose State when he visited the iconic Weibel Winery with his college friends. It was founded by Rudolph Weibel (1884-1971) and his son Fred (1917-1996). Father and son arrived in California in 1936 from Muensingen, Switzerland where they had been trained to make sparkling wine. They established the Weibel Champagne Cellar in San Francisco. They were so successful they decided to expand to the East Bay in 1945, where they were able to purchase the historic Josiah Stanford winery. They renovated the property and planted 65 acres of vineyard adjacent to the winery.
When Terry arrived at the Weibel Winery with his jug in hand, they were producing ten sparkling wines, multiple table wines, five fortified wines, and two vermouths. Terry’s first tasting was the Chardonnay, and he immediately asked how they got the apple and pears into the bottle. Rudolph immediately responded to answer his questions and explain the process of winemaking. The visit was completed with a tour of the wine cellar. It was one of those unforgettable moments for Terry that opened the door to the art and craft of winemaking.
During the next two years, Terry piled into his 1961 Ford Fairlane convertible, the Blue Bomber, and visited all 60 wineries in the Santa Clara Valley, tasting and learning about California wines.
His education continued during his working years in Silicon Valley.
He read over 500 books about wine and tasted many varietals. Terry also entertained clients sharing iconic wines, traveled to France to explore wine regions, and dined in fine restaurants at home and abroad. Terry had business clients in France and during his visits explored Burgundy. He fell in love with the region, famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He so enjoyed the good food and wine that he decided that his next career would focus on producing world-class wines.
Terry Speizer, founder of Domaine Alfred Winery
Photo courtesy of Terry Speizer
Cluster Of Pinot Noir Grapes
Citeaux Abbey Which Is Notable For Being The Original House Of The Cistercian Order
Found At https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%AEteaux_Abbey
Map of Bordeaux region with most of its appellations shown.
Found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bordeaux_wine
Found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgundy
Two New Careers – Wine Grower and Winemaker
Terry Speizer lived and worked in the Silicon Valley, the center of quality innovation among technical entrepreneurs in the 1980s and 1990s. His background included twenty-five years in electronics. He was affectionately known as a “serial entrepreneur.” Terry developed a semiconductor firm called Electec and sold it, using his capital and skills to become the most important Pinot Noir producer in the Edna Valley from 1996 to 2008.
He selected the Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo County as the location of his next business venture because it had the soils and climate to grow Pinot Noir grapes.
Terry’s winemaking philosophy is best summed up by his statement to wine writer Janet Penn Franks in 2004: “Nine-five percent of what goes into a bottle begins in the field.” Terry wanted to plant his own vineyard so he could control the quality of the fruit and the harvest. He had made the decision to go it alone – no partners and no investors. Domaine Alfred and the Chamisal vineyard were his to develop in his own style.
Terry spent many months researching viticulture in the literature published worldwide – particularly by institutions such as the University of California at Davis, California State University at Fresno, Cal Poly University of San Luis Obispo, Hancock College in Santa Maria, and the University of Beaune in France.
He also met with local viticulturalists and winemakers to learn about the Edna Valley AVA.
The Lure of Pinot Noir
The grape variety that interested Terry is Pinot Noir; the word Pinot translates to pine and Noir to black. The dark thin-skinned grapes grow in a pine cone-shaped cluster, densely packed. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow; it is susceptible to disease and rot due to the tightly packed grape clusters and to heat because of its thin skins.
Pinot Noir has a long history; it was documented in the Roman era, and spread throughout Europe planted by Roman soldiers as they conquered and colonized areas from Great Britain to Spain and Sicily. Pinot Noir thrived in certain areas of France. It is important to remember that all grapevines in general are unstable which means that they mutate slightly over time. Pinot Noir is particularly unstable. Each grape variety is made up of clones (subtypes) which result in different flavors, intensity and colors. Today there are over 1,000 different clones of Pinot in the world.
There are two ways clones develop. The first is by sexual reproduction. This occurs when two parent plants combine their individual genetic material to create a seed. This seed then germinates and grows into a grapevine. The second method of clone development is asexual and involves human intervention. A grape clone is a cutting taken from an existing vine and grafted onto rootstock. The terroir is a major influence on clones; the cutting is chosen because of specific traits in that vine which the grower wants to reproduce. The specific trait may be grape flavor or color or resistance to disease.
Around 1000 A.D., at the time when Catholic religious orders gained power, one group, the Cistercian order, a group of twenty-one Monks, began to cultivate the rocky hills near the city of Dijon in what is now known as Burgundy. These monks took a vow of poverty and believed that hard labor brought them closer to their god. They planted grapevines, constantly nurtured their vineyards, and kept journals describing each vintage over a period of hundreds of years. The monks wrote about life in the vineyard, the soil, the climate, the viability of each grape variety, the fall harvest, and how the resulting wines tasted. Their understanding of the importance of terroir developed with their research and the recording of data in their journals.
The clones in this area are well known. Dijon clones are a blend of Pinot Noir clones which represent a collage of vineyard blocks.
A similar history evolved in the Bordeaux region and the Loire Valley, with monks of different religious orders tending vineyards in both areas. Both regions were located on major trade routes. These monks produced high volumes of Champagne and other local varietals to increase their wealth; they sold large quantities of wine to merchants and travelers on these trade routes both on land and sea and was possible because of existing trade routes.
However, the outcome in Burgundy was very different for two reasons: the Cistercian orders were not driven by monetary gain and the vineyards were not located on major trade routes. The small production of high-quality wine was driven by religious devotion. Pinot Noir became dominant in Burgundy, associated with both quality and scarcity. Pinot Noir became the “king” of Burgundy four hundred years later, after Gamay, the other red grape in Burgundy, was outlawed by Duke Phillipe in 1395. This eliminated the competition, but that is a story for another time.
The Wines of Burgundy
Pinot Noir grows well in cool climates like the Edna Valley. However, the grape is native to the Burgundy region in eastern France. For centuries this region has been known for its terroir and is famous for the red and white Burgundy wines they produce, +considered to be the best in the world. The red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir grapes, and the white Burgundy is from Chardonnay grapes. The Burgundy region is known as the best terroir in the world for growing these two grape varieties. You may be surprised to know that almost twice as much white Burgundy is produced compared to red Burgundy.
Inside the Burgundy region, the vineyards are classified on four levels which express their quality, terroir, and flavor on the wine label. This information will be on the wine label:
- Grand Cru: These are the highest quality vineyards. This is the group most often pursued by collectors. Prices are high, and only about two percent of the vineyards receive this classification.
- Premier Cru: These are designated stellar-quality vineyards in this second tier which includes about 12 percent of all the vineyards in Burgundy.
- Village Wines: This label describes the name of one village from which grapes are sourced from a list of 42 villages in the Burgundy region. The name of the village will be featured on the label. The grapes may come from multiple vineyards within the same village. The Village wines that are produced from grapes sourced from these 42 villages represent 36 percent of all vineyards in Burgundy.
- Regional Wines: This is the lowest level of the four classifications and represents 50 percent of all wines produced in Burgundy. The wines are excellent at every level.
Pinot Noir in the Edna Valley
The Edna Valley provided the long growing season and cool climate for the grape varieties that interested Terry. He was introduced to a knowledgeable real estate broker, John Hyashi, who showed Terry a historic vineyard planted in the Edna Valley by restaurateur Norman Goss. Norman had purchased the land in 1972 after consulting with local viticulturists, and faculty at UC Davis and Fresno State. Norman planted the first commercial vineyard in 1973 in the Edna Valley, with two grape varieties, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Norman was influenced by the Burgundian model of creating one great wine each vintage. The vineyard was named Chamisal for the small flowering plant that grows there.
Norman sold his first harvests to producers in the Santa Clara Mountains who made award winning wines from his Chardonnay grapes. Norman made his own small quantities of Chardonnay which encouraged him to build his own small winery and tasting room, completed in 1981. He produced award winning Chardonnay wine.
The vineyard and winemaking were abandoned when Norm suffered a debilitating stroke in the early 1990s. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines in this historic vineyard were dormant when Terry was introduced to the vineyard. Terry purchased the land in 1994 but knew he could not save the vines. The land had been offered at auction but there were no takers. Terry made an offer to purchase 68 acres with two houses, a small wine making facility with a tasting room and a 60 acre dormant vineyard. The price was negotiated at less than a million dollars. Terry recognized the potential of the land that had achieved fame for its Chardonnay grapes in the first commercial vineyard planted in the Edna Valley.
A New Chamisal Vineyard – Innovative Practices in Farming
After removing the old vines, Terry focused on preparing the soil for the new grape vines he wanted to plant on 60 acres. He was always aware of the latest farming methods and technology. He followed the latest academic studies on viticultural methods and included them in designing and planting his new vineyards.
The impacted alluvial soil was ripped up to a much greater depth than was common practice at the time – a depth of at least six feet to make it easier for the new vines to set down their roots. The ground was sterilized to remove all pests and enhance the maximum growth potential for the vines. The trellising was upright. The vines of two grape varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, were planted on Phylloxera-resistant rootstock.
The vineyard was laid out as follows: the rows were spaced eight feet apart. Five clones of Chardonnay vines were planted six feet apart on thirty acres. Terry planted the five different clones of Chardonnay already proven to thrive in the Edna Valley, including #4, #5, #95, #96, and #76.
Six clones of Pinot Noir were planted four feet apart in each row. The six Pinot Noir clones were new to the Edna Valley, well known for their successful development in Dijon, France – a nod to the Cistercian order of Monks. Viticulturist Jim Efird planted the #113, #114, #115, #667, #777 and the Pommard clone.
Terry explained his perspective when asked why he put so much effort into using new clones and practices to plant his vineyard. “Great wines have heart and soul. The grapes are the soul of the wine. No amount of magic, science, or art can give a wine without soul, enough heart to make it great. If I put everything possible into producing exceptional grapes, then I am half of the way to great wine” – a second nod to the Cistercian order of Monks.
Photo Courtesy Of Terry Speizer
A New Winery – Domaine Alfred
The first issue of the Edna Valley Wine Press produced in the fall of 1998 included the column “Views from Domaine Alfred.” The question he posed was, “What happened to the Chamisal Vineyard, and What’s Domaine Alfred?” The answer followed: “Through the useful life of Chamisal Vineyard, there was agreement that it produced some of California’s finest Chardonnay grapes. However, after its decline, the Chamisal name was sold. The wines sold with that label were not befitting the style and caliber previously associated with Chamisal. For this reason, it was decided to recreate the Chamisal Vineyard, maintaining the Chamisal name, but to create a new winery – Domaine Alfred – which would produce wines reflecting the taste and passions of its owner.”
Terry introduced Domaine Alfred in his first newsletter. “Introducing Domaine Alfred to you is one of the most exciting moments in my life. I have long dreamed about being fortunate enough to transition my passion for wine into a career focal point. Domaine Alfred is the realization of that dream. So what is Domaine Alfred? It is a new winery, born from a tradition of excellence, merged with innovative approaches, and blessed by the wonders of the Central Coast environment. The resulting products hopefully will be exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.”
The grapes in the new vineyard became the soul of Domaine Alfred wines, but Terry, with his past experience in the world of technology, formed the team at the heart of Domaine Alfred wines. Terry states that his experiences in past business endeavors in the electronics industry taught him that quality and innovation were the keys to success in a profitable business. He applied the same principles to the wine business. “Technology is the key to success. It is a very competitive business. The reason I‘ve approached this new venture with a mixture of technology, science, and art is simple – to increase the probability of success. How best to do that? Get the experts who share your passion and vision…and are the acknowledged leaders in the Central Coast in viticulture and enology.” After the first wines were produced, Terry worked with consultants at Elogics, a firm with the latest science and technological resources in winemaking.
A New Team in Chamisal Vineyard
Terry met Romeo Zuech at a dinner hosted by Jim Efird at the original Giuseppe’s Restaurant in Pismo Beach. The following guests, growers and winemakers, each brought a bottle of their own wine for Terry to taste: winemakers Stephen Dooley, Clay Thompson, and Meo Zuech, growers Bob Schiebelhut, Robin Baggett, Jim Efird, and Don Talley. Terry surprised them with his own wine selection to share, three bright Ports, vintages 1972, 1965, 1948, and an 1803 Madeira.
Terry formed his team with a focus on three disciplines – farming, winemaking, and marketing. The farming was managed by viticulturist Jim Efird, President of Pacific Vineyards. Jim Efird received his Bachelor of Science at Fresno State and was hired shortly after his graduation by Jack and Catharine Niven to plant the iconic Paragon Vineyard in 1973, the second commercial vineyard to be planted in the Edna Valley. Jim’s experience with grape varieties, soil, climate, and irrigation technology in the Edna Valley are legendary. By 1998, Pacific Vineyards was responsible for managing over 2,000 acres of vineyards in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. Jim was celebrated as the Central Coast Grower of the Year in 1998. When Jim retired, George Donati became the vineyard manager.
Terry made the wine with Stephen Dooley as the consulting winemaker for the first three vintages – 1998, 1999, and 2000. Terry hired T.J. de Jony as his assistant. Romeo “Meo” Zuech, a close friend who also happened to be T.J.’s grandfather, provided Terry with significant insights. Meo taught Terry to walk the vineyards, tasting the grapes and closely monitoring the seeds which tell you everything you need to know about the grapes.
Stephen Dooley was hired as the enologist and consulting winemaker at Domaine Alfred in 1998. Stephen received his Bachelor of Science in Enology from the University of California at Davis. His first job in enology was with the Louis Martini Winery in the Napa Valley. He worked there for almost eight years, becoming the assistant winemaker before the opportunity to travel to South Africa presented itself in 1985. He worked as the consulting winemaker to produce the first vintage of barrel-fermented Chardonnay at the Backsberg Estate in 1985. He also worked in the same capacity with Chittering Estate Wine in Western Australia in 1987.
Stephen moved to the Edna Valley shortly thereafter to take a job as the winemaker at Edna Valley Vineyard, producing Chardonnay under the direction of Richard Graff of the Chalone Group. Stephen created a clean, clear wine with his knowledge of barrel fermentation and winemaking skills honed as assistant winemaker at Louis M. Martini Winery.
Stephen launched his own label Stephen Ross Wines. His 1995 Pinot Noir received a coveted 92 from Wine Spectator. His 1996 Pinot Noir received an 89-point rating. He has also made award-winning wines for a number of producers in San Luis Obispo County in the last three decades.
Photos Of T.J De Jony At Work
Photo Courtesy Of Terry Speizer
Winemaking In Process On The Outdoor Crush Pad
Photo Courtesy Of Terry Speizer
A Few Words About T.J. de Jony
A few words about T. J. de Jony, now the winemaker at Piedras Creek Winery, founded by his grandparents Romeo and Margaret Zuech. T.J. grew up in Thousand Oaks but spent much of his high school years in San Luis Obispo, living and working with his grandparents. He graduated from Mission Prep High School and from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, majoring in agriculture. His grandfather Romeo, famous for his Chardonnay and Zinfandel wines, trained T.J in his early teenage years to work in the vineyards and to make wine. He has further mentoring during those years from winemakers Stephen Ross Dooley, Mike Sinor, and Terry Speizer – all of whom are his biggest fans today.
Harvest 1998 – The Year of Extremes
The harvest was very successful. The team brought in the first bins of Pinot Noir grapes from the Chamisal Vineyard in September 1998 for destemming and crushing. This harvest was much later than was expected by four to five weeks. The Chamisal Vineyard averaged almost one ton per acre in the Pinot Noir blocks. The fruit was ripe, and there was no visible mildew or botrytis. Pinot Noir was the first grape picked in the “new” Chamisal Vineyard. The Chardonnay was harvested two weeks later.
The year 1998 will be remembered for its extreme weather conditions in California. It was an “El Nino year” with heavy rainfall earlier than normal, later than normal, and more often than normal. The major threat to the grapes was mildew attacking the grapes during the growing season. Mildew has always been a problem in the Edna Valley. But during this season, Speizer purchased new tractors for planting the vineyard; because they were “low ground impact” tractors, the vineyard team was able to drive into the vineyards immediately after a storm to spray to protect the health of the young grape clusters from two major threats, mildew and botrytis.
Jim Efird, head of the vineyard team, suggested using a technique called “green pruning” as an additional safety measure. This pruning technique removed some of the fruit from each vine so the grapes selected to remain on the vine were in locations that maximized the chances for the full maturation of the fruit. In addition, the top and side canopy growth were pruned to ensure that the grapes were receiving the optimum sun. This style of pruning was further enhanced by individual vineyard workers pulling off individual leaves (the leaf-pulling technique) to expose each bunch of grapes to maximum sun.
For owner Terry Speizer, the 1998 harvest was clearly the best of times. Sugar levels showed mature, ripe fruit. The vineyard team delivered the quality fruit to the outdoor cement pad with systems and equipment designed by Stephen Dooley and Terry Speizer. Terry continued to describe the process: “The layout and flow as set up by Domaine Alfred enologist Steve Dooley made the production easy….and at times even fun. With the physical demands of the job, youth offers decided advantages. To fill that role, Cal Poly student T. J. de Jony helped me do the work. Without his knowledge, patience and understanding, I could not have enjoyed, learned, and had as much fun as I did. I hope all the years are as good as 1998.”
On September 22, 1998, the Pinot Noir grapes were transported from the vineyard to the winery and placed in four-by-four-foot plastic bins for destemming and crushing. The grapes were dumped from the bins onto the sorting table staffed with an inspector on each side. After an optical inspection of the grapes, the inspector pushed the grapes into the French-made DELTA E1 de-stemmer/crusher. The stems were spat out of the back of the equipment, and the must (seeds, skins and juice) dropped into the bin located directly underneath the “grape receiving” opening.
The next step was fermentation. Each large bin of must was collected and then dumped into a fermenter; each fermenter was a six-foot by eight-foot vessel with an open-top design. Yeast and preserving ingredients were added to the must. The fermentation process took approximately two weeks in the open-top fermenters. The cap that accumulated on the top was punched down by hand every four hours during those two weeks. After an extended time in the fermenters, longer than normal, the juice was transferred to a new piece of equipment, the Europress. Here the equipment was used to separate the juice into “free run” and “press juice”. The “free run” juice was barreled separately from the “press juice.” The color was ruby red.
The Second Harvest, two weeks later
Two weeks after the initial Pinot Noir harvest, the Chardonnay was picked by the vineyard team. The fruit was sorted, dumped into the press, and then transported to the fermentation tanks. There were five clones of Chardonnay grapes. Several tons of each were set aside and later blended to form the inaugural Domaine Alfred Chardonnay, 1998 vintage. The white winemaking process seemed much easier than the Pinot Noir had been.
The inaugural vintages were released during the next twelve months, first Chardonnay and then Pinot Noir. The labels included the name of the varietal and the AVA, Edna Valley.
Origins of the Name of California
The early maps of California often have a small figure of a woman with the name Califa or Califia. This has been a very powerful name for almost six centuries. There is also a lovely mural in San Francisco known as the Califa Mural which relates to African American history.
Califia is a fictional character first introduced in an epic 16th century novel by the poet Garci Rodriquez. Califia is the pagan warrior queen who ruled a kingdom of Black Amazon women on the island of California. This island was located off the coast of Asia in an era when black women were portrayed as powerful, wealthy, and beautiful. Men were only allowed on the island once a year to perpetuate the race as they say. These women warriors, known for their wealth of gold and pearls, sailed the oceans, conquering territories and engaging in warfare. Eventually Califia engages in a battle with Muslims who are fighting Christians. She is captured and converts to Christianity after fighting bravely with her warriors and the mythological flying griffins. And of course, there is a love story, a man that changes her life, and a new dynasty with both sexes living in a Christian nation.
California Island 1650
Found At https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_California#/media/File:California_island_Vinckeboons5.jpg
The earliest written name of California as a place appears in a journal written by explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542. However, Hernan accent on the a) Cortes (accent on the e) and his soldiers were aware of the novel, and when they landed on what they believed to be an island on the Pacific Coast, they called it California. We find the name written at least three times in reports regarding Cortes (accent on the e). The name California was in use by 1770 and all those who spoke Spanish and lived in the area were known as Californios.
Califia came to represent the spirit of California, an untamed and bountiful land, before being claimed by Spain.
You will find depictions of Queen Califia in two California murals. The first was painted in 1926 by Maynard Dixon and Frank Von Sloun in the Room of the Dons celebrating the opening of the Mark Hopkins International Hotel in San Francisco. Califia is represented in a seven foot high panel as a Black Woman with her Amazons. The second can be found in Sacramento in the Senate Rules Committee Hearing Chambers on the fourth floor of the State Building. The mural titled “California’s Name”, originally dedicated on October 16, 1937 at the Los Angeles State Building at the Civic Center, hung in an Assembly room. The mural was painted by Lucile Lloyd (1894-1941) an American muralist, illustrator, and decorative painter who worked with the Works Progress Adminstration’s Federal Arts Project in 1937 to paint this mural. Since 1992, these murals now reside in the Committee Room. The murals were moved after the original site was damaged in the 1971 San Fernando earthquake.
Califia has been represented in hundreds of works of arts, literature, and theater productions. The most recent production was staged in Dunphy Park in Sausalito on October 3, 2021. A critic described the dramatic opening of the event on Radio KQED: “Queen Calafia, dressed in yellow and gold and covered in jewels stepped off her boat and onto California soil for the first time in hundreds of years.”
Winemaker Mike Sinor (2000)
Photo courtesy of Terry Speizer
Cellar Takes The Dress – What Was His Mistake?
Photo Courtesy Of Mike Sinor
Biodynamic Stirring Machine Used Ro Stir Biodynamic Preps For Use In The Vineyard. Built by Steve Moore (1980s)
Photo Courtesy of Mike Sinor
Califa Pinot Noir Vintages: 1999 Was The First Vintage
Photo Courtesy Of Libbie Agran
Califa Pinot Noir Vintages: 1999 Was The First Vintage
Photo Courtesy Of Libbie Agran
2000 Vin Gris
Wine Spectator Awarded 96 Points – The Highest Ever Received For An Edna Valley Pinot Noir
A New Tasting Room
The Domaine Alfred tasting room was designed, built, and opened in 1999. It was located at 7525 Orcutt Road in the Edna Valley, the original site of the Chamisal winery built by Norman Goss. Terry was the first to charge customers for tastings. The tasting room was open three days a week, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There were two tastings – the House Tasting Menu at $4.00 per person and the Premier Tasting at $6.00 per person. Each tasting included a souvenir wine glass with the Alfred Domaine logo. The House Tasting included the Domaine Pinot Noir and the Domaine Chardonnay. The Premier Tasting included four wines – Domaine and Califa Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Terry named his reserve-class wine Califa. Terry wanted a special feminine name because Pinot Noir is a feminine name. The origin of the name comes from a story Terry tells about a memorable fishing trip in Northern California. On this trip Terry was not making a single catch. He noticed a man nearby who was catching one fish after another so after a length of time Terry approached the fisherman. The man was a descendant of the Modoc Nation, native Americans who originally lived in the areas of northeastern California and southern Oregon. He showed Terry his fishing lure which contained the symbol of Califa , described as the “pretty one.” Terry decided Califa was the perfect name for his reserve wine.
1999 and 2000 – New Plantings in Chamisal Vineyard
Terry Speizer chose a third grape variety, Syrah, to plant in his vineyard. He explained, “The first reason is that I like to drink it. Second, Alban Vineyards has proven that the grape variety is perfect for our area. Third, Syrah is a wine that the public is starting to notice.” He noted that John Alban had achieved worldwide acclaim as a grower and winemaker of Syrah in the Edna Valley.
In 1999 Jim Efird planted fourteen acres with four clones of Syrah on a south-facing hillside, providing a warmer climate for the vines than elsewhere in the valley. The spacing was six-feet inside of eight-foot row spacing. Jim felt that this was the optimal spacing because of the vigorous growth of the Syrah. Syrah needed adequate space between rows to balance the vine and allow it to produce the highest quality grapes. The first harvest was planned to take place in three years, in 2002. The distribution of the 2002 wines produced would begin in 2004.
In the year 2000, three acres of Chardonnay grapes were grafted over to Grenache and two to Pinot Gris. An additional eight acres were planted with two new Pinot Noir clones.
The original Chamisal Wente clone of Chardonnay planted by Norman Goss was reintroduced. The first Wente clones were imported from France to California by Ernest Wente in 1912. The Wente Vineyards have been family owned since 1883 and is the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned winery in the United States. The family has profoundly influenced the public over the last 130 years by introducing Chardonnay and making it one of the two best selling varietals in the United States. Today around 80% of the Chardonnay clones planted in California are the Wente.
When Jim Efird retired, George Donati, a fourth-generation viticulturist, assumed the management of the vineyard.
The Year 2000, Winemaker Mike Sinor Joins Team as the First Full-Time Winemaker and Organic Farming Begins
Mike Sinor is beloved as a friend, mentor, educator, and role model on the Central Coast. He is also one of the most highly respected winemakers on the Central Coast, his wines scoring 96 points in the Wine Spectator, 95 points in Connoisseur’s Guide, 92 points in Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, and 95 points in Wine Enthusiast. He received the Winemaker of the Year award for San Luis Obispo County in 2012.
Mike has traveled to the premier wine regions in the world, continuing to educate himself on viticulture and winemaking. In 1996 Mike studied with Steve Moore in Burgundy to learn organic and biodynamic farming. He brought organic practices and biodynamic farming to Domaine Alfred in 2001. He had worked at six local wineries before becoming the assistant winemaker at Byron Vineyard and Winery.
Mike brings a passion for winemaking that is reflected in the wines he makes. Many of us believe that the passionate wine makers greatly enhance the heart and soul of the wine.
Terry stated, “Since outstanding wine starts at the vine, we feel it’s critical to have a winemaker with experience in all aspects of its creation. We’re now in our fifth year of operation. Our wines have been well received, and with Mike’s expertise in both the art and science of winemaking, he will be able to enhance our fine wines further.” Mike joined Domaine Alfred in November 2000 with responsibilities for wine production, and supervising the vineyard including pruning methods, crop levels, watering regiments, and harvest management.
In the year 2000 Mike Sinor was the assistant winemaker at Byron Vineyard and Winery on Tepusquet Road in Santa Maria. This winery has been making Pinot Noir since 1984 and is famous for sourcing fruit from distinctive vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Rita Hills AVAs. Stephen Dooley introduced Terry to Mike. He came to Byron to tour the winery and taste the wines. Terry told Mike about the style and quality of wines he was hoping for and invited Mike to work with him for a few days at Domaine Alfred to see if they were compatible. When Mike arrived, the first two vintages, 1998 and 1999, were in bottles and the 2000 vintage was fermenting in barrels. Mike was hired!
It was a major change for Mike Sinor. He previously worked at Byron Winery producing many different varietals from a harvest of 1,200 tons of grapes. As the new winemaker at Domaine Alfred, Mike would be harvesting approximately 120 tons and focusing on making a small number of wines with the goal of creating the best possible wines each year. He loved the hands-on experiences. Oscar was hired as the vineyard assistant. George Donati replaced Jim Efird.
Stephen Dooley was no longer the wine consultant but was helping Terry Speizer develop the plan to build a new winery. Mike Sinor had organized the systems for production at Byran and began working with Terry and Stephen to develop the plans. Plans for a new winery were announced, with construction to start in 2002. Meanwhile Mike reorganized the outdoor concrete pad and equipment for crafting the wines.
Mike is also a man with a sense of humor. During harvest, if a “mistake” of some kind was made by an employee, Mike had the discretion to reward the worker with a few hours in the “dress”, a large flowing, stylish garment, described as an amusing but uncoveted or unwanted recognition.
On the serious side, Mike Sinor favored organic and biodynamic farming and shared his views with the team. Terry had consistently expressed his opinion that wine begins in the vineyard with healthy fruit. Starting in 2000, Domaine Alfred began transitioning the Chamisal Vineyard from conventional to organic farming. Six years later, they began moving to the next level, biodynamic farming. The history of biodynamic farming started in 1924 with Rudolph Steiner, who proposed the concept of biodynamics. He was the founder of anthroposophy. Biodynamics brings elements such as cosmic rhythms and life forces into the equation of farming by focusing on renewing the soil and nurturing the environment in which the grapes are growing. By balancing these elements, the vineyard will produce extraordinary healthy fruit.
Debut of the 1999 Califa Pinot Noir at the California State Fair in 2000
The California State Fair in Sacramento is considered one of the premier wine competitions. Terry decided to enter their Domaine Alfred’s 1999 Califa Pinot Noir. Terry felt that the quality of the 1999 grapes, coupled with the blend of clones and winemaking art, yielded a bold and robust Pinot Noir. How right he was! The wine won a gold medal and was rated WITH a 94.
In 2000 the 1999 Domaine and the 1999 Califa styles of Pinot Noir were officially released. The Domaine was made in the California style with an intense nose of red cherry and black raspberry with a mid-palate texture finishing with a mild, sweet lasting mouth feel. The Califa Pinot Noir is a full-bodied Pinot with an upfront fruit forward nose of black cherry, currant, and raspberry. It is described as having a mid-palette silkience and a stair-step finish to deliver a dramatic taste. The 2000 Califa and Domaine Chardonnays were released in the spring of 2001.
Terry worked with Lorraine Alban on marketing and distribution of his wine. She was excellent at promoting his wines and bringing them to the attention of wine writers and judges. Her company, J&L Wines dates back to 1981 when it was founded by Jeanne Eberle and Lorraine Alban to select wineries representing the best of the region and place their wines in the best market.
Domaine Alfred Releases its First Blush Wine
One hundred fifty cases of the 2000 Vin Gris were released in 2001; it was produced from Pinot Noir grapes and advertised as the ideal wine for picnics. The bouquet was described as rich with Queen Anne cherry and currants. Mike Sinor was thrilled to be working with Pinot Gris, his favorite.
Mike Sinor convinced Terry to plant Pinot Gris so he could continue to make this wine. It was a favorite.
The Vineyards Expand 2001
Terry bought an additional 63 acres of land from neighboring farmer, Jim Sparaffico, which increased the size of the vineyard. He named one section the Morrito Vineyard. This was the same year that Mike Sinor facilitated the transition to Biodynamic Farming at the Chamisal Vineyard. Mike described the fourth Harvest as the best yet.
Harvest 2001 – the Year of the Best Tasting Grapes
Mike Sinor professed the 2001 harvest as the year of the “best-tasting grapes.” He stated that in his eleven years of winemaking, he’s never experienced as good tasting grapes as in this year’s Chamisal fruit: “As I walked the rows during the pre-harvest tasting, the grape flavor burst in my mouth.” 2001 was the fourth harvest which is often the years in which vineyards come of age and truly express themselves. The harvest was scheduled for September 11, 2001. In spite of the national tragedy on 9/11, the harvest took place, everyone listening to the radio all through the day.
Mike noted that there were major changes in the way the vineyard had been trained and cropped; one included the practice known as radical pruning to increase the quality of the grapes. The yield of the Pinot Noir crop, harvested on September 17, was between two and a half to three tons per acre. The Chardonnay, harvested two weeks later, produced one cluster per cane and yielded a miserly three and a half tons per acre. The Syrah was harvested at less than one ton per acre during the last weeks of October.
2001 – Mike Sinor’s First Vintage
Mike Sinor made many award winning wines during his six years as winemaker at Domaine Alfred. Terry was focused on building the production, the number of wines and the receiving high scores. His first three vintages, 2001, 2002 and 2003, were produced out of doors in the sun on the concrete Crush Pad. The production was in the range of 400 to 500 cases. Terry had started plans to build a new winery on the newly acquired land in 2001.
The 2001 Califa Pinot Noir rated 90 points by Wine Spectator and the Double Gold at the Florida State International Wine Competition. It won Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle 2004 Wine Competition.
The 2001 Califa Chardonnay received 94 points from the Connoisseur’s Guide and 93 points from Wine Spectator.
The 2001 Domaine Syrah, the first vintage, was awarded 90 points by Robert Parker. In 2005 the Califa Syrah was introduced.
In 2002, new wine varietals were introduced including Domaine Alfred’s DA RED – a rich and robust blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah. This wine was reviewed in the Wine Spectator and praised for its unusual blend and described the wine as one of the top California Wine values.
The 2002 Domaine Pinot Noir scored 91 points from Wine Spectator but the 2002 Califa Pinot Noir did even better – 92 points.
In 2006 showed the best results of all: the Califa 2004 Pinot Noir scored a rating of 96 points on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale which was the highest score for any Edna Valley AVA Pinot Noir at the time.
Terry decided to ramp up production in 2005. His goal was to reach 24,000 cases per year over the next two years. Morrito Pinot Noir from a new vineyard was added in 2003, and Cinqasept, a blend of Grenache and Syrah in 2002. The Pinot Gris, Mike Sinor’s favorite, continued to be crafted each year. In 2004 the Domaine Alfred Rosé of Syrah was released followed by Vin Gris created from 100 % Pinot Noir grapes – a blush wine produced from select harvests in small lots.
By 2005 the tasting room was open seven days a week from 10 AM to 5 PM
Limited Production Wines
Fintan Du Fresne Is Hired As The Winemaker In 2006
Photo Courtesy Of Fintan Du Fresne
What is Being Said About Domaine Alfred Wines?
Terry’s first vintages of the 1998 Pinot Noirs – both Domaine and Califa – won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in 2001.
Terry felt that the quality of the 1999 grapes, coupled with the blend of clones and winemaking art, yielded a bold and robust Pinot Noir. How right he was! Alfred Domaine’s 1999 Califa Pinot Noir won a gold medal and was rated WITH a 94.
The Domaine Alfred and Califa wines continued to receive awards, gold medals, and high scores from Wine Spectator. San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Connoisseur’s Guide, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Decanter Magazine, and other critics. Please see the column to the left.
Terry continued to attend events to pour his wines and attend competitions throughout the state. Harvest dinners and events produced by the local Edna Valley Growers and Vintners attracted new wine lovers. Terry also participated in the Central Coast Wine Classics. Terry became known as the man who “farmed wine.”
2005 The Winery is Completed in Time for Harvest
Terry, Mike and Stephen Dooley continued to work on the plans for the winery, the permitting process and the materials. The architect was Tim Woodell, an employee of Pults & Associates in San Luis Obispo. The construction company was Sundance Construction. The design was spacious.
The building was constructed with concrete walls and steel beams fabricated on the site. The method of construction was insulated concrete form (ICF) tilt-up wall construction which is excellent for structures requiring few windows and long straight walls. The tilt-up construction involves pouring the walls horizontally on the building’s floor slab at the job site. A crane is used to hoist the panels in place. The panels are temporarily secured with steel braces until permanent fasteners can be welded into the panel’s joints, footings and roofline. Mike Sinor says it was fascinating to watch.
The building was completed just in time for the 2005 Harvest. Mike describes it as a very tough harvest and a backbreaking vintage. It was also the time when Terry wanted to capitalize on all the success with the wines and increase production to 24,000 cases. The reality was that Mike’s assistant winemaker, Miguel, had departed in 2004 and Terry did not want to hire an experienced person to replace him. So Mike worked with a new inexperienced assistant and a difficult intern throughout the harvest. He fermented 100 tons of grapes and was able to negotiate with Terry on the purchase of a new pump.
At the same time Mike was feeling that it was time to move on. He had a growing family with two small children who needed his time and attention. Mike and his wife had started their own label, Sinor-Lavelle, and wanted to focus their time on their own business. Mike decided to meet with his loan officer in December 2005 to borrow the funds to launch his label. Mike had a long term relationship with Doug Filliponi, one of the partners in Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita. Doug wanted Mike to become their winemaker. – another option to consider.
However in 2006, Mike’s world turned upside down when his father and step-mother were killed in a plane crash. Terry was very supportive of Mike and his family as they endured this tragedy. Mike and his wife had new responsibilities to handle with their new business and the loss of Mike’s father.
Mike resigned shortly before the Wine Spectator announced the Califa 2004 Pinot Noir had scored a rating of 96 points on Wine Spectator’s 100 point scale – the highest score given to any Pinot Noir produced in the Edna Valley AVA.
Fortunately Terry hired the talented Fintan Du Fresne from New Zealand as his new winemaker. Fin was able to work with Mike Sinor for a few weeks to ensure a smooth transition.
Mike Sinor has continued to focus on Sinor-Lavelle winning numerous awards and medals. He was named Winemaker of the Year in San Luis Obispo County in 2012.
2008 – The Sale of Domaine Alfred Winery and Chamisal Vineyard
Terry sold his winery and vineyard on August 28, 2008 to the Napa-based Crimson Wine Group. The transaction included the 131-acre property, which had 81 acres of vines, the inventory, the winery, tasting room, and the rights to the brand. The sale also included a non-compete clause, which prohibited the employee from competing with the business directly or indirectly for a specific duration of time. The sale amount was not disclosed at the closing but the winery had been for sale for $30 million, reflecting the reputation and quality of the vineyards and the wine.
Although the new owners bought the brand, Domaine Alfred, they renamed it Chamisal Vineyard in honor of Norman Goss who planted the first commercial vineyard in the Edna Valley. The staff was retained by the new owners. Fintan remained the winemaker at Chamisal until July 15, 2022 when he was hired by Tolosa Winery as their General Manager. His career will be described in the next chapter of history of Chamisal Winery and Vineyards.
The Next Farming Adventure – Olives and Truffles
The following year in December 2009, Terry purchased a property in the Edna Valley, north of the Chamisal Vineyard. He could view six of the Seven Sisters from his property which he named Morro View. He soon posted a sign on his new estate that it was certified organic. This time the major crop would be olives – Ascolano and Taggiasca and the product will be olive oil. He planted an experimental holly oak tree grove to establish the right environment for truffles…but that is another story for another day.
1965: Terry Speizer enrolls at San Jose State.
1966: Terry tastes Chardonnay and tours the barrel room at the Weibel Vineyards with Rudolph Weibel (1884-1971), who founded the Weibel Vineyards with his son to make California “champagne.”
1966: While attending San Jose State Terry begins his tour of all 60 wineries in Santa Clara County.
1975: Starts career in electronics in Silicon Valley.
1982: Buys home on the Central Coast.
1994: Purchases 68 acres, including the former vineyard and buildings owned by pioneer grower Norman Goss in the Edna Valley.
1995: Studies the wine industry and assembles a team of experts, including Jim Efird, vineyard manager, and Stephen Dooley, wine consultant. Romeo Zuech becomes a close friend and mentor, as does Steve Dooley. Removes the original Chamisal Vineyard.
1996: Replants 60 acres of vineyards under the management of Jim Efird, 30 to Chardonnay, and 30 to Pinot Noir.
1997: Designs outside crush pad with the help of Stephen Dooley and purchase equipment to make wine for the Alfred Domaine Winery.
1998: Terry, the winemaker, produces his first vintages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with wine consultant Stephen Ross Dooley and T. J. de Jony.
1999: Terry, the winemaker, produces two vintages of Chardonnay and two vintages of Pinot Noir with wine consultant Stephen Ross Dooley, and T.J. de Jony.
2000: Terry, the winemaker, produces two vintages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with wine consultant Stephen Ross Dooley and T. J. de Jony.
2000: Mike Sinor is hired as vineyard manager and winemaker.
2000: Terry Speizer retires from his career in Silicon Valley and moves to the Edna Valley.
2001: Mike Sinor facilitates the transition to Biodynamic Farming at the Chamisal Vineyard. The fourth Harvest is described as the best yet.
2001: Bought an additional 63 acres of land from neighboring farmer, Jim Sparaffico
2002: Announces plan to build the new Domaine Alfred Winery in the Edna Valley – the layout was designed by Terry in consultation with Mike Sinor and Stephen Ross Dooley.
2004: The method of construction was the first used in the Edna Valley – a tilt-up. The contractor built it with steel on the site. The architect was Pultz. There were many innovations, including insulation in the ceilings, natural lights, and wetlands. The electrical was at eye level: plug and play. It is the most advanced winery in Edna Valley.
2006: Wine Spectator rates the 2004 Califa Pinot Noir with 96-points.
Mike Sinor is the winemaker.
2006: Fintan du Fresne is hired as winemaker to replace Mike Sinor, who resigns to focus on his own winery and vineyards, Sinor-Lavalle.
2007: Terry Speizer lists Domaine Alfred and Chamisal Vineyard for $30 million.
2007: Crimson Wine Group is founded in Napa Valley.
2008: Domaine Alfred and Chamisal Vineyard are sold to Napa based Crimson Wine Group.
2012: Mike Sinor is named Winemaker of the Year in San Luis Obispo County.