By Mira Advani Honeycutt
Marc Goldberg’s Passion for Pinot Noir
Harvest 2018 is over, and the wine is resting in barrels at Windward Vineyard’s intimate barrel room. Vintners Marc Goldberg and his wife Maggie D’Ambrosia have uncorked two award-winning vintages, the 2013 and 2014 of Monopole Pinot Noir, to taste during our interview.
I inform Marc that this interview is for the Wine History Project’s Legend section. With a serious look he asks, “How long before this story gets published?” I respond: soon. “Wanted to know if I was going to be a living legend or a dead one,” he remarks with his typical deadpan humor.
Marc, who turned 85 this month, proudly sports his bright red shoes, a gift to himself. However, his irreverent free spirit cannot mask the singular vision and unbridled passion he exudes when it comes to crafting Pinot Noir. So deep is this passion that he has produced this varietal exclusively for the past 27 years in the distinctive Burgundian style in Paso Robles.
The signature of a Windward Pinot Noir is that it’s perfectly balanced — a symphony of perfumed violets and ripe bing cherries layered with traces of earthy notes; the soft and sensual mid-palate leading to a lush, full mouth. Marc calls it a peacock tail finish. “If you close your eyes, all the phenolics spread out and give a long finish,” he explains. “That’s why it complements so many foods.”
Marc who has long been carrying the Pinot torch in Paso Robles was bitten by the Pinot Noir bug on travels to Burgundy in the 1970s. His vision, he remarks, was to make a “great American Burgundian style wine.” So Marc and Maggie, both former hospital administrators, started a search for locations on the Central Coast that would support their vision.
“It was a fantasy,” says Maggie, pouring us the 2014 Monople. It was the early 1970s, and the couple was living on a 300-acre cattle farm in Louisville, Kentucky, where Marc was running the University of Louisville Medical Center. Somewhat reluctantly they moved to Southern California in 1983 when Marc was offered a chance to run a Burn Center in Sherman Oaks. Meanwhile, Maggie worked at St. Francis Medical Center for the Daughters of Charity in Los Angeles. “I thought it was the right thing to do,” Maggie says of the move that at least put them in close proximity to the state’s many wine regions.
“We would spend weekends traveling up the coast,” she recalls. “Maybe we can plant grapes here, but it was still fantasy. We were running a hospital.” On one of their trips to Morro Bay, they stumbled onto Paso Robles. “We could see vines growing here,” says Marc. He also noticed the calcareous soil. “I said to Maggie, ‘Hey, this could be for us.’” At the time, there were only 12 wineries in Paso Robles.
In 1989, the couple found a 26-acre barley farm that came with a 70-year-old barn and a 100-year-old house in an enclave on Paso’s westside. “It was a big mess,” Maggie recalls. The couple got working, taking out walnut trees and clearing the ranch. At this point, they still considered this a hobby. “But when we saw how much money we were putting into it we thought we better take it seriously,” Maggie remembers. “We wanted to do it properly and not haphazardly.”
The property was blessed with cool ocean breezes that blow through the Templeton Gap plus the calcareous soils proved to be ideal for Pinot Noir grapes, which inspired the name Windward for their winery.
Marc made several trips to Burgundy, visited vignerons and their cellars to gain experience. Back on the Central Coast, Marc worked with established winemakers such as Ken Volk of Wild Horse Winery. At the 1989 Central Coast’s KCBX wine auction Marc bought a barrel of Volk’s Pinot Noir and had access to several barrels holding 26 different clones of Pinot.
“We got to taste all the clones and selected four,” recalls Maggie, cuttings of which they planted in their Windward vineyard. Volk also offered his winery to them to produce their first two vintages (1993 and ’94) until they could purchase the needed equipment for their winery.
The majority of the production in Paso at the time was Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, most of which were sold to wineries in Napa and Sonoma, Marc notes. Most farmers were growing grapes to sell, not to produce wine.
“When I asked about Pinot, everyone said it was too hot for Pinot here,” Marc says. But he soon learned the history of Pinot Noir planted in Paso Robles at Hoffman Mountain Ranch (HMR) in the Adelaida district in the mid-1964 by Beverly Hills cardiologist Dr. Stanley Hoffman and his consultant, the famed viticulturist André Tchelistchef.
Regarded as the only Pinot in California planted on its own roots, the calcium carbonate-rich vineyard rises to an elevation of 1725 feet above sea level. Marc happened to taste the 1976 HMR Pinot Noir and was blown away. Marc remembers his reaction: “If I can get close to making Pinot that’s this Burgundian, I’d be a happy guy.”
Starting a winery and planting a vineyard wasn’t easy. Marc took up a swing job as CEO of the General Hospital in San Luis Obispo, and Maggie established the Goodwill industries in San Luis Obispo County. The 15-acre vineyard got planted by Jim Smoot in 1990, and the first vintage of 1993 sold out immediately. The vineyard was planted with cuttings from the Hoffman Mountain Ranch and the four cuttings acquired from Ken Volk—Burgundy’s Grand Cru Clos de Bèze, Sanford and Benedict’s Martini clones (which came from Romanée Conti vineyards), Clone 4 Pommard and Clone 13 Bien Nacido.
Marc believes that the most important part of farming is the selection of vineyard and choice of varietal planted to it. “In our case, it’s 100 percent Pinot. On top of that, you try to select the clones that would do well in the kind of soil and climate so the vineyard expresses itself.”
He takes the French approach of terroir—the convergence of soil, climate, aspect, and varietal—very seriously. “It’s a sense of place and geography—its in the relationship to Templeton Gap and the Pacific Ocean, the cool climate and calcareous soil that spent millions of year under the ocean at one point. When we ripped the ground, whale bones came up out of the soil.”
Marc follows the no filtration, no fining, non-intervention practice in shepherding the grapes into the winery. The grapes are cold soaked for approximately five days. During fermentation, they are punched down three times daily in stainless steel tanks. The free run juice is racked off to another tank and the cap is gently pressed.
The two lots are blended together prior to malolactic fermentation. The wine is aged for an average of 14 months in custom-made Seguin Moreau French oak barrels — a one-third combination of new oak, one-year-old and two-years-old. Depending on the vintage, the wines can also get a 12-month bottle aging.
Due to drought and weather changes, the 2018 harvest will yield less than one ton per acre, Marc tells me. “Now we make 1000 cases per year average,” he remarks in comparison to the 3000 annual-case production in previous years. The vines are getting old, so Marc is embarking on a program of inter-planting so the vineyard will represent older and younger vines.
Windward bottles bear the word Monopole, a French designation that signifies sole ownership of a vineyard and wine made from grapes grown only in that particular vineyard. Being a purist about his Pinot Noir, Marc chooses to add Monopole to his bottles instead of the customary “estate grown.”
Windward is proud of its many awards including the recent Double Gold for its 2014 pinot noir from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The winery offers two releases per vintage, Monopole, and the Reserve Gold Barrel Select. Since the winery offers just one varietal, visitors experience a vertical tasting (the same wine but four different vintages) of Pinots from 2012 to 2015 vintages. There’s also a bonus tasting of the special Vin Gris de Pinot Noir, the salmon-hued Rosé, fragrant with rose petals and strawberry aromas. What started off as a personal ‘secret stash’ for Marc, the limited 400-case production is now available for tasting and purchase.
While Marc’s mentors have been Hoffman and Josh Jensen of Calera Winery, he has himself been a mentor to many young winemakers in Paso Robles. Philip Krumal, owner/winemaker of Asuncion Cellars on Paso’s west side, came to Paso with the intention of planting a vineyard when he met Marc in 1999. “He offered me cuttings from his vineyard to start,” says Krumal, who was visiting Marc so often that he ended up working at Windward and learned all aspects of winemaking. “Marc was very encouraging and always funny,” Krumal says, recalling an anecdote. “In the tasting room, Marc would say, ‘Philip is my WIT — winemaker in training.’ And then he would add, ‘He only works here halftime, so that makes him a half WIT.'” On a serious note, Krumal is in awe of Marc’s passion and determination to follow his vision.
It’s that passion that comes through in Windward’s Pinot. “We put in the bottle what the vineyard gives us so people will know from year to year that they are getting grapes from the same exact place,” says Marc.
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I didn’t realize that old vines stop producing grapes – or produce fewer grapes. Intriguing given so much focus on “old vines” when touring wineries.