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. When she moved to Sonoma County from Colorado in 2012, the object was to find a vineyard. Instead, 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 vineyard.
Prior to becoming a grape farmer, Suzanne had a successful career in both education and the arts – including teaching corporate environmental and social responsibility at Harvard Extension School and writing a textbook for the class, running the Aspen Art Museum and bringing it from financial ruin to artistic success, and chairing the board at Presidio Graduate School during a time of financial transition.
All of these presented their own sets of challenges, but developing Panther Ridge Vineyard from a 7 acre field of hay and thistle into an organic and biodynamic vineyard has been the ultimate venture.
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 knew how to advise her in these practices and now has two harvests of organic Pinot Noir aging in French oak, for release in 2021 and beyond.
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 more rich 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 is showing its character in 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.
Pierre Millemann grew up between Anjou, where his parents lived, and Alsace where his grandparents lived and where he spent all his holidays. His father and grandfather, both wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs, quickly started transmitting their passion.
Pierre started studying in Paris. During his first internship, he met René Renou, an important figure in the wine industry, soon becoming his mentor. Fascinated by the development of the wine, Pierre understood very quickly that the terroir was the key. This is why he went to work a year in the vineyards and cellars. First in Germany, then at Château Carbonnieux in Pessac-Léognan and finally at Charles Heidsieck’s. He went back to university to perfect his knowledge, obtaining a Diploma of Oenology in Champagne, then a National Diploma of Oenology, in Dijon (Burgundy). He then continued to gain experience by occupying several positions in various regions around France; and it was in the Jura, where he worked as a cellar master, that he met Stephanie, then a student in sommellerie, who became his wife.
In 2003, thanks to their experiences and the very positive results obtained in the estates where they collaborated, Pierre and Stéphanie founded their own oenology consultancy structure. In constant look for new techniques, Pierre completed his training with a Master’s Degree in Oenology Research in Dijon, and started training future oenologists at the University of Burgundy, as a part-time teacher. The family now works with the best estates in Burgundy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy or the United States. Recently, their daughter Charlotte joined the family business and started training with her father.
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 will be free of pesticides and herbicides. We achieved certified organic status in December 2019.
We spray the main biodynamic preparations on the vineyard - starting with Barrel Compost early in the spring, and then the 500 and 501 preparations twice each year. We also time our operations according to the rhythms of the calendar whenever possible, so that we are working with the lunar forces rather than against them.
We do spray sulfur to control mildew, but only when necessary. Careful attention to the vines enables us to minimize its use. 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 night time temps warmer than the valley, so we rarely have frost danger.
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.
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