in the 21st Century at an industry symposium or in a California viticulture and
enology classroom, someone is going to ask where and when the North American wine
industry began to make wines expressive of their origins rather than wines that
reflected the hand of the winemaker or the style of the brand. When did American
wines begin to reflect their cultivars, their regional and seasonal climate, their
specific vineyard characters-their terroir, as it is said in Burgundy?
At Sonoma-Cutrer, we would like to think that the future symposium moderator or
enology professor would answer, "One of the pioneering operations most seriously
dedicated to the pursuit of original expression in their wines was Sonoma-Cutrer.
It was in 1981 that Brice Cutrer Jones, the grower, and Bill Bonetti, the winemaker,
went into partnership at Sonoma-Cutrer. In the 1970's, Brice had developed a few
distinguished vineyards. He had planted Chardonnay on the cold and unproven benchlands
and hillsides of the Northern California coastal valleys before Chardonnay became
popular in America. The winery Jones and Bonetti built for the Sonoma-Cutrer grapes
was one of the first to produce one varietal exclusively, and their Estate Bottled
Chardonnays were, of course, vineyard designated. It was Sonoma-Cutrer that built
the prototype grape cooling tunnel and sorting tables. Sonoma-Cutrer was the first
in California to use a membrane press to juice grapes for table wines on their
stems in a CO2 atmosphere. In order to barrel ferment Chardonnay properly, Sonoma-Cutrer
built the initial temperature and humidity controlled cave in California. Sonoma-Cutrer
was truly 'state of the art.' I still have one of their early Chardonnays in my
We are not ashamed to dream of the future at Sonoma-Cutrer, to imagine ourselves
attaining lofty goals and achieving distinction. We are aware that there is no
purpose in simple "lip service" to ideals like quality and excellence. Ideals
must always be pursued with vigor and without deviation. There are many innovations
in the Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards and winery to which a future professor or critic
may refer. But why have we created these innovations? For money? Hardly. Breaking
new ground is always costly. Have we created them for purposes of speed and efficiency
of production? Not quite.
Our special procedures take time and yield less. No, we have gone to the trouble
of attempting to grow better grapes, of cooling and sorting the fruit, and building
the like of a fermentation cave because we want to make the best Chardonnay possible.
That is our philosophy: spare no expense, shy away from no effort which will result
in the clearest possible expression of the grapes' original character.
In Bill Bonetti's own words, "It is difficult to put concepts such as quality
and excellence into words. Quality is subjective and depends on the individual.
Quality is perceived differently at different times and under different circumstances.
What a winemaker needs to do is listen to his wine rather than to his own perception
of the quality of that wine. A winemaker needs to let a wine talk to the consumer
about its origins: its soil, its climate, its vintage. In order to permit a wine
to express its heritage, the winemaker cannot allow himself to intervene. He should
not let oxygen or heat rob the wine of its fruit or let the barrel overwhelm the
wine. Instead, the wood should frame the fruit of the wine as if the wine were
a picture painted by a master. A winemaker must create the ambient of a cool,
dark, damp place where his wines can develop secondary and tertiary aromas without
spoiling. A winemaker must learn to put aside his own ego and give way to the
original character of his wine." Those are the principles that have guided the
winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer from the very first and now continue under the guiding
hand of Bill's protégé and successor, Terry Adams.
Winemaking being the art that it is, Mr. Bonetti's words are reminiscent of those
spoken by many other artists over the years. When asked how he approached a work
of sculpture, Michelangelo said he carefully studied his stone for the figure
hidden inside, and then did his best to chisel away each tiny chip of rock in
which the figure was encased, revealing the shape that awaited him. In the same
way, at Sonoma-Cutrer, we believe it is our job to peel away the skins of our
grapes to reveal the varietal, the vineyard, and the vintage which awaits us.
Once revealed we want the wine to speak to our consumers of its noble heritage.
We believe such a wine defines quality and excellence and will insure Sonoma-Cutrer's
future in the wine world.