Nov 18, 2016

A winemakers journey.

Way back in the Santa Cruz Mountains is an old estate that few ever get to see that has been producing wonderful Pinot Noir for over ten years. Established in 1881 by California pioneer Pierre Cornwall this grape growing property was once owned by the famous director, Alfred Hitchcock. Today Heart O' The Mountain is owned by the Robert Brassfield family and produces a limited amount of hand-crafted, Estate grown Pinot Noir made by winemaker Brandon Armitage.

Brandon Armitage started his career 19 years ago in New Zealand. where he studied Viticulture in Central Otago and started getting his hands dirty working on helping to establish new vineyards and working in existing ones. While completing his technical degree in Viticulture he was volunteering all of his free time to winemaking. Working for Carrick Wines in New Zealand a love for Pinot Noir was born. After years of traveling back and forth from northern hemisphere, Colorado/Oregon/California, to southern hemisphere New Zealand making wine, he was able to develop the skills needed to grow and nurture grapes into the best Pinot Noir the Santa Cruz Mountains has to offer!

Brandon Armitage is the winemaker and President of Armitage Wines and is now taking over the general management of the Bassfields Heart O the Mountain operation for whom he has been making wine for for a number of years! The Brassfields have built a reputation based on family, exceptional quality and a passion for making stellar wines from one of the most magical places within the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA, known as the old Alfred Hitchcock estate, Mt. Roberta and Heart O' The Mountain.

Heart O' The Mountain Vineyard was planted with specific clones, orientation and rootstock best suited for the terroir and micro climate of the estate. Five clones have been planted, 777, 828, 667, Pommard and most recently 115, offering different characteristics to be showcase the property and some to be crafted into the best Pinot from the area.
The Brassfields hard work and care evolved into a wine that was only available to people they connected with and who became club members. As members grew so did production and different styles of Pinot from the same vineyard thus creating the single clone series. While blending the clones together fills in the spaces, balancing tannin, sugars and acids providing a balanced wine experience, being able to try the different components of the single clones provides a better understanding of what goes into blending. Showing off single clone wines is part of what separates the estate from other wineries in the area.

Bob giving us some history in the English rose garden
As the winemaker-owner of Armitage Wines and taking over the responsibility of HOTM, Brandon has put a lot of thought into how he is going to balance the two labels and maintaining the exclusivity of the brand Heart O' The Mountain.  All Heart O' The Mountain Vineyard single clone wines will have the original Heart O' The Mountain label.
These wines were once only available to club members but now can be tasted at the Aptos California tasting room. As of the 2014 vintage, Heart O' The Mountain Vineyard wines that are a blend of the different clones will have the Armitage label on them.  
Brandon says the focus is still the Allocation Club and they want members (their family) to have exclusive access to certain aspects of the business such as club events and HOTM winery visits.  
Both labels can be purchased through the website at  Club members can access or create an account on the website, purchase wine, and have the wine shipped to them or pick it up at the Postal Annex in Scotts Valley or at the Tasting Room in Aptos. 

Armitage Wines and Heart O' The Mountain has opened the wine club up to new members as the vineyard has produced more grapes in recent years and they plan on making all of it into wine!  They also believe the best marketing is word of mouth and have created a Referral Program where they have a few different wines that they keep in their Library, so if a member refers someone to the club, they gift them  a bottle of wine from the library. Nice touch!

At the recent unveiling of the 2014 vintage at the Estate we asked Brandon what were some of the current changes people will see and what directions he may take the labels in the future. He said not much is going to change but is looking to grow production a bit but staying the course with the current process. He is looking forward to getting into the vineyards and putting his hand on the vines to up the quality even more.

When we asked Brandon what one thing he had learned in his time in New Zealand that he uses to this day he straight out stated that the one thing he believes is that paying attention makes a difference. You must pay attention to the details Brandon says, that way you never have to recover only monitor and guide the wine to its be its best.  

Bob Brassfield gave us a wonderful tour of the estate and gave us the history as well. While Hitchcock did not live there he used the place for entertaining guests. We can only imagine what a thrill it must have been for those guests as the place is spectacular. We also had a long chat with Bob about the circumstances that brought about his association with Brandon and how it has come that Brandon has come to be taking over the operation. Bob is excited to see what is to come and has the utmost confidence in Brandon's wine making and vineyard management skills. 

With that all being said what about the 2014 releases? We tasted through the 2014 HOTM 667, HOTM Pommard Clone, HOTM 828, HOTM 777, Armitage Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, Armitage Chalone 'Dry Hole Vineyard' Pinot Noir as well as the Armitage Mt Roberta Reserve Pinot Noir. All quality wines. These are relatively young wines and are not yet set to be released for a month or so, but all tasted very good.

These are very impressive wines from a small vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Brandon is really one to watch, or as we prefer to do, continue to taste and drink his wines (strictly so we can continue to inform). With wine this good it wont be long before there will be a waiting list to get an allocation of his wine. 

Join the club now while you can so you don't miss out!

Happy Wine Adventures,


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