VML: Wine, Magic and Joy – Tasting With Winemaker Ross Reedy
In the heart of Dry Creek Valley, on a 23-acre biodynamic vineyard and farm, two tasting rooms sit side by side next to the creek for which the Valley, a mecca for Zinfandel, is known. Welcome to VML and Truett-Hurst, two brands under one company. The outdoors seating here is ample and so relaxing. Tasting pods for up to 6 guests are set in a pleasant courtyard, each with shades and fans. Wind rustles the cottonwood and Russian thistles along the creekbed, mimicking the sound of running water. Generous bright orange picnic tables sit at the edge of the massive garden, brimming over with sunflowers, tomatoes, squash, field greens, and more. If you’re a club member here, you get to pick the produce. And pet the goats. Of course there are goats. It’s a biodynamic farm.
Ross Reedy has been making wines for VML and Truett- Hurst for 11 years now. He loves the full circle integration of biodynamic farming. “We put the pomace in the vineyard, we make our own compost and spread it in the vines and garden. We make our own biodynamic sprays and tinctures. We do spray with sulfur but use no herbicides or pesticides of any kind.”
Truett-Hurst was born with the goal of showcasing Zinfandel: after all, that’s the hallmark of this region. But when winemaker Virginia (Ginny) Marie Lambrix came aboard, she had another agenda and love: Pinot Noir. Slowly, she convinced the owners to create a second label. VML became her playground for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Reedy was more than happy to play along. Lambrix found the precious little gems that make the jewelry you pay real money for: amazing vineyard sources close to the ocean that make magic happen.
Each VML wine bears a unique label that is stunning, evocative and instantly tells a story. VML stands for Vinum, Magica, Laetitia, which translates to wine, magic and joy. On each label, you will see the inscription, “Wine made by the sun, moon and the stars,” a nod to the biodynamic mantra that guides their production.
A native of San Jose who attended Cal Poly, Reedy first worked for Scott Hawley of Torrin Wines, a Paso Robles Rhone house. But it was in Australia where Brendon Keyes (BK Wines) introduced him to Pinot Noir. When he began working for Lambrix at Truett-Hurst, he knew he’d found a place to thrive.
Now in charge of winemaking for both the VML and Truett-Hurst labels, he happily shared with us a selection on a recent visit.
To begin our journey through wines guided by the sun, moon and stars, he poured us a 2021 VML Sauvignon Blanc (14.5%). It’s the culmination of picks from five different vineyards in three different counties. It comprises every style you can imagine, except oaky, because he’s tried that and feels it takes away from the sassy narrative of this grape. This wine is grassy, grapefruity, and well endowed with pineapple tropicality. Due to the addition of 2% orange muscat, it has a zingy hit of orange peel on the finish.
Next up was a 2018 VML Chardonnay from the Know Lio Farms vineyard off Highway 116, near Forestville, in the Russian River Valley. Having a bit of age on this wine really showed off the Montrachet clone from which it is made. The texture and length is testament to the vineyard site and the style, which employs max 30% new oak. This combines old world style acidity and minerality with ripe Meyer lemon, crème brulée, candied fruit and nectarine, creating a great tension. “The tA was so high on this at 8.13, it didn’t go through malo. The small berries lead to great concentration. It’s a shame this vineyard sold and we can’t get the fruit any longer.” Reedy mentions that this particular site is a better place for Chard than Pinot Noir, because the climate is definitely getting warmer, and Pinot Noir is ripening more rapidly there.
Speaking of Pinot Noir, it was time to try the 2019 VML Sextant Vineyard, which lies in the Russian River Valley, near the Sonoma Coast. It exhibits a coastal weediness that comes across as wildly floral with a touch of anise. “This wine has about 30% Jackson 9 clone,” Reedy tells us. “It’s a strange clone that was discovered in the Sierra Foothills. The rest in this bottling is clone 828.” The wine delivers sassafrass, raspberry, wild cherry, Marionberry and a streak of pure green pine that goes to tarragon on the finish. Most intriguing and boldly coastal.
The 2018 Pinot Noir from the Ivywood Vineyard (13.9%) is from a vineyard on the Bohemian Highway, about 6 miles from the Pacific, and is clone 115 and Calera. Reedy says this site is so cold he nearly gives up on it every year, but then it finally gets ripe. He also gets Chardonnay from this site, and oftentimes there is so much botrytis, he worries he cannot make a decent wine from it. “This is always the last pick for Pinot Noir, along with Chardonnay, at the end of October. It requires hand sorting before it goes into the press, as there’s so much rot.” Even the grower admits the cost of farming is beyond the yields and doesn’t pencil out. Too bad, because this Pinot Noir is a multi-faceted thrill ride, with layers of root beer, dried cranberry and pomegranate, accompanied by a side-helping of brininess and a long delectable finish of gingersnaps.
Reedy’s choice of barrels is a bit unique in that he actually uses some Gamba on Pinot Noir, along with François Frères and Ramon. You expect to see Gamba on Zin or Cab, which he does as part of the Truett-Hurst program. Few use it for Pinot Noir, although there are some Oregon producers who favor this complex barrel, made from French oak staves that are seasoned outdoors in Piemonte, Italy for 3 to 5 years, exposed to the elements. “It happened when someone accidently put Pinot Noir into a new Gamba barrel inadvertently, and I loved the soft silky tannins! Last year, I tried Sirugues and Seguin Moreau, but ultimately went back to Gamba. Now, all my high-end Pinots use some Gamba. In fact, I ordered 110 new barrels for this harvest!”
After the bleak disappointment of 2020, where he had to turn down most of his fruit sources due to smoke taint, 2021 marked the beginning of a new era. He’s now sourcing both Pinot Noir and Syrah from the Lester Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as Pinot Noir from the Hilliard Bruce Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. Of the Russian River Vineyards, he says that Sextant is the only one of those we tasted that he will still obtain fruit from for 2022, due to changes of ownership.
Some things change, but fortunately the biodynamic estate vineyard, which he gets to farm exactly how he wants, remains. Proof is in the exemplary 2019 Truett-Hurst Zinfandel, a brilliantly hued beauty, overflowing with aromas of fresh blackberries and seamlessly delivering a generous slice of pie on the palate, complete with exotic Asian 5-spice and grains of paradise, a West African spice that delivers flavors of coriander, ginger, cardamom, juniper and nutmeg, along with perfect, polished acid.
Visiting this place is like two for one: and with Reedy at the helm, every time you visit, you’re going to discover more wine, magic, and hopefully, joy.