Panther Ridge Vineyard sits on a unique site on Sonoma Mountain in Northern California. We produce premium quality Pinot Noir grapes and also produce our own wine from some of the crop. Click on the link below for a bit of background, and the links further down dig into the process of creating this fascinating place.
Suzanne Farver came to the wine business after a lifelong interest in wine, especially Pinot Noir. She was co-owner of two retail wine stores in Denver in the 1980s and then collected fine wines through the 90s and 2000s, especially French Burgundies. When she moved to Sonoma County from Colorado in 2012, the object was to find an organic vineyard and grow varieties of Pinot Noir that would produce Burgundian style Pinot Noir.
Instead of finding the perfect vineyard, she found a magical house on Sonoma Mountain and a rocky field of hay and thistle not far from the legendary Gap’s Crown vineyard. Next came two years of development and contending with Sonoma County to gain the necessary permissions to plant a premium site for grapes.
Part of the focus for the new vineyard was for it to be organically farmed. Growing up in Iowa, Suzanne watched small family farms with diverse products give way to huge factory farms producing only corn or soy beans, using genetically modified seed with tailored pesticides and herbicides. Wildlife disappeared as the monocropping destroyed their habitat. Although not a farmer in her youth, Suzanne always had a garden and pursued organic practices.
When the opportunity to grow grapes on a large scale presented itself, she pursued people who shared her passion for top quality fruit and responsible farming practices. The wonderful result is that she is now producing her own Panther Ridge Pinot Noir wine as well as selling grapes to premium wineries in Sonoma County, including Joseph Jewell Wines, Brooks Note Winery and Lynmar Estate Winery.
It has been a journey filled with delight as well as tough choices. Young vines struggled to establish themselves in volcanic soils. Other events such as drought, well water in decline, and fire evacuations have been shared by many in California. Yet Panther Ridge Vineyard is thriving, thanks in part to regenerative farming practices.
The land is now richer with humus and worms, birds and beneficial insects are flourishing, and the quality of the fruit is the result. The terroir of the vineyard and its location in the Petaluma Gap are truly reflected in the character of the wine.
Adrian grew up in the fog-shrouded coast of northern California, a ways out there. Humboldt is a patchwork of micro-climates that reflects the variety of challenges and rewards of winemaking. It’s a down-to-earth place that’s deeply embedded in every aspect of Adrian’s being. When he moved to Sonoma County, he uncovered an interest in the origin of wine and the evolution from vineyard to barrel to bottle. Once he was immersed in everything wine, what else could he do but keep going?
His winemaking and viticulture studies brought him to UC Davis’s extension program while taking business management courses on the side. All the while living and breathing Pinot Noir. Putting theory into practice, Adrian joined C. Donatiello for the 2007 crush, then lent a hand at Peay Vineyards during the 2008 harvest. Inspired by working hands-on during crush and firsthand with Pinot Noir, Adrian embarked on his own winemaking adventure. Knowing and living where Pinot Noir grapes thrive, he began scouting out sources of fruit. He recalled the ideal foggy weather and redwood trees of his childhood and decided to revisit his old stomping grounds in Humboldt County in search of vineyards with this well-suited microclimate.
When Adrian first came to visit Panther Ridge, it was to help Suzanne create a private label of wine. But it was not long after that he fell in love with the site and the promise of the vineyard, and now he creates his own Pinot Noir from Panther Ridge at Joseph Jewell Wines.
Garry Brooks is proprietor and winemaker at Brooks Note Winery. He first purchased grapes from Panther Ridge in 2021 to make Pinot Noir for his own label. While we were talking about the upcoming harvest, Garry suggested we make a Panther Ridge Rosé. This was something I had been contemplating, and it sounded like a great opportunity to work with Garry and create another wine besides Pinot Noir for our label. So I said yes! Our 2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir came out great, and I look forward to continuing this venture with him.
Garry started making wine from his own small vineyard in 2002, but it quickly became clear that this would be a passion for him. He soon left his “safe” job in IT and started his journey as a winemaker, starting with a degree at UC Davis and working at Ravenswood and then Acacia wineries. He spent several years at Kosta Brown and then at Dutton Goldfield. In 2011, he and his wife Joanne decided it was time to start their own label, and Brooks Note Winery was born.
Garry sources his grapes from other boutique vineyards in Marin and Sonoma County, and it was a pleasure to meet him through the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance. When Garry came up to visit Panther Ridge Vineyard he immediately expressed an interest in working with us, and we’re so happy to have him making his own Pinot Noir from our grapes and now our own Rosé!
Daylight Vineyard Management is a small company that prides itself in its personal connection to customers, employees and the land they farm. Working with Daniel has been transformative in creating a customized farming plan for Panther Ridge, making strategic decisions that consider the particular climate and circumstances of our rocky soils and Petaluma Gap breezes.
Daniel has supported our efforts to maintain our certified organic status, helping us to control weeds without needing harmful chemicals, and finding the best combination of organic fertilizers and sprays to keep the vines healthy and vigorous. He also has a terrific crew who carefully care for our vines year-round and harvest the grapes by hand at night, providing grapes to our wineries at cool temperatures for the best quality wine possible.
And Daniel's dog Bandit has been known to catch a gopher or two!
Since inception, we have farmed the vineyard with respect to the land. Previously an old pasture filled with thistle, we have meticulously weeded (and weeded and weeded) interlopers and encouraged cover crop to enhance the soil. You won't see bare ground in the vine rows here - we use no RoundUp or Glyphosate on this property. The resulting wine is free of pesticides and herbicides. We achieved certified organic status in December 2019.
We practice no-till farming and plant cover crops each fall to encourage soil health and capture carbon in the soil itself. We also spray the main biodynamic preparations on the vineyard - including dilutions of horn manure to promote microorganism activity and silica to balance photosynthesis and support vine health. Teas made from fermented weeds help to control noxious weeds and minimize the need for digging and cutting. We spray no pesticides on our land - not anywhere.
We often have fog in the summer in the early mornings, but most days are clear, and with the pleasant breezes from Petaluma any fog clears away quickly. We are often cooler by as much as 10 degrees from the valley below in the summer. In the winter, it reverses with our nighttime temps warmer than the valley, so we rarely have frost danger. This is an ideal climate for Pinot Noir, and the volcanic soils provide an added boost to flavors that make our wines truly memorable.
The name for our vineyard was inspired by a wonderful black cat who graced our lives for 13 years in Colorado. He was filled with joie de vivre and taught us to appreciate every day, and not to get too caught up in the stresses of humanity. Be like a cat – relish the sunshine, find time for play, and delight in the flavors of a good meal.
When we moved to Sonoma County, another black cat appeared on our doorstep and continued the lesson, reminding us to care for what’s important, but not to take ourselves too seriously. The world is a beautiful place where we can all coexist joyfully.
We broke ground on April 13, 2016, moving soil and rocks to make way for the future vines. There were many more rocks than we had anticipated, and nesting turkeys to avoid. We waited for the eggs to hatch before we completed some areas of the vineyard.
The larger rocks were moved to an area that was too steep to plant. Smaller rocks - those you could pick up with two hands - were set aside in the individual rows of future vines.
Limestone and compost were added to the soil to help the new plants thrive in their new home.
Finally in September 2016 the young vines arrived and were planted in their new home along our ridge on Sonoma Mountain. Pinot Noir clones Calera and 115, on rootstock S04 and 1103P respectively, were safely ensconced in protective tubes for the next year of growth.
This expression of Panther Ridge is a true Earth Mother, with a lithe texture. A veil of cinnamon mocha and spiced black cherry is made alert by a fine acid structure. It finishes with a zing of cranberry and sandalwood. 93 Points, Publisher's Picks
What begins as an offering of Mayan cocoa evolves into lovely, deep, and silky, dark mountain raspberry fruit. Cordial, Moroccan spice with a faint hint of baked anise in your grandmother’s cake. Rich in concentration but not overdone. Balanced, showing great acidity and truly built for toasted chicken or turkey, but Peking duck calls like red satin gracing a single and matured, Melania, free from her confines and gracing a dance floor at a ball in a grand hotel…spirited and sexy.
93 Points, Jason Jenkins, Vine & Barrel, Petaluma
We received a 95 rating on the 2019 Panther Ridge Pinot Noir from award-winning wine writer Miquel Hudin. He tasted 38 wines from the Petaluma Gap in late 2021 and rated our Panther Ridge Pinot the best of all! Three out of three stars.
The Aug/Sept 2022 issue of The Somm Journal includes an article on the Petaluma Gap, including a 95 point rating for our 2019 Panther Ridge Pinot Noir! Their tasting notes:
Panther Ridge 2019 Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap ($60) Wearing a dark-ruby robe, this complex wine entices with a nose of black cherry, earth, and cocoa that leads to boysenberry, truffle, mushroom, toast, and garrigue on the palate. With fine-grained tannins and crisp acidity, it’s a classic Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir. From a certified organic vineyard, it’s aged in (50% new) French oak for 17 months. 14.1% ABV. 95
Both the 2019 Panther Ridge Pinot Noir and 2021 Panther Ridge Rosé of Pinot Noir were chosen as alternate Wines of the Week in blind tastings by Santa Rosa's Press Democrat. Here are the reviews:
Panther Ridge, 2019 Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma County, 14.1%, $60, ****. A tasty pinot with black cherry, cranberry and hints of forest floor and white pepper. Great structure and supple texture. Lovely.
Panther Ridge, 2021 Petaluma Gap, Sonoma County Rosé of Pinot Noir, 13.2% $40. ****. A striking rosé with crisp acid and high-toned fruit. Notes of watermelon and apple, with a hint of nectarine. Nice length. Striking.
Peg Melnik of The Press Democrat featured Panther Ridge in her article on the Slow Wine Guide, which lists wines made from grapes grown with no artificial chemicals. We were thrilled to be the top billing for the article! From her article:
Up a winding road on Sonoma Mountain sits a high-altitude vineyard, a hilltop ribbed with rows of pinot noir. The Panther Ridge label, produced from this organic vineyard, is one of the brands listed in the “Slow Wine Guide USA,” an eco-curated guide to American wineries. The 2022 edition was just released this month. To make the cut, wineries like Panther Ridge have to pass a site visit and a farming audit.