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Living the American Dream in Sonoma

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Apr 19, 2007 12:27pm ET

Ulises Valdez has an infectious enthusiasm for winegrowing. “My heart is in the vines,” he says with a bright smile as his racy 2006 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc is poured, showing zesty citrus and lemon-lime flavors.

Valdez’s story is straight out of one of those American Dream scripts. At age 16, he crossed the border from Mexico to the United States. During the 20 years that followed, he worked and studied hard, becoming one of Sonoma’s top viticulturists. His vineyard management company oversees hundreds of acres of vines, including more than 100 of his own grapes.

Now, with a star-studded cast of winemakers helping Valdez out, he’s joining the ranks of the vintners. The vintners he farms for--Mark Aubert, Paul Hobbs, Jayson Pahlmeyer (on the Sonoma Coast) and Jeff Cohn of J.C. Cellars--give you an idea of the trust and admiration these winemakers have for Valdez’s skill, expertise and dedication. Hobbs uses Valdez’s name on his Russian River Chardonnay, while Aubert used his initials, UV, on his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Hobbs makes Valdez's Sauvignon; Cohn makes his Zinfandels and Aubert makes his Pinot Noir. Yesterday Valdez poured the 2005 Russian River Pinot ($55-$60 on release), which was deftly balanced, with an elegant mix of cherry and berry flavors and light cedary oak. Alas, only 27 cases were made, although 250 cases of 2006 were produced. You can sign up for his mailing list at www.valdezfamilywinery.com.

Valdez is proud yet modest about his talents. “Farming is easy if you’re always there [working with the vines],” he says. Judging by the vineyards and the wines they produce, he’s never too far from his love.

Larry W Jones Ii
Mt. Pleasant, SC —  April 19, 2007 3:44pm ET
James,Sounds like another great find. Valdez sure has assembled a talented group of winemakers. When you taste informally like this event do you also rate the wines? Also, in your recent report on 2004 Cabs you rated several wines. Were the wines you mentioned in the article tasted blind and is that the rule for all of the reports? I'm just trying to understand the difference between a rating that is in a report but not in the regular database.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  April 19, 2007 7:07pm ET
I had never heard of the guy until a couple months ago when I found an Aubert UV Pinot at a favorite restaurant. It was great with dinner and is the reason why I signed up for Aubert's waiting list and bought Hobbs' UV Pinot bottling. Now I just signed up at UV's website thanks to you!
Mark Lewis
Napa —  April 19, 2007 11:59pm ET
I have tried the Valdez zinfandel, and it is really amazing. It comes from the Rockpile vineyard. Not a lot produced, but worth it if you can find it.
David A Zajac
April 20, 2007 8:20am ET
Have been fortunate to have had his wines in the past, the are, especially the Rockpile zin and his sauvignon, sensational. Unfortunately now the cats out of the bag and they just got a lot harder to obtain, thanks a lot James!
St. Louis MO —  April 20, 2007 8:25am ET
Rolando Herrera at Mi Sueno Winery also makes Valdez designated wines with his UV Russian River Pinot and Chardonnay. The 2004's were fantastic and the 2005's should be hitting the market soon. Great wines from a great wine maker and a great vineyard.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  April 20, 2007 11:48am ET
Larry, unless otherwise noted, all formal wine reveiws that appear on the web or magazine are tasted blind. When tasting informally I do take notes and rate the wine, but not as an official review. Once wines are reviewed it takes time to get them into the database. While I hope to review Valdez's 2005 Pinot (the 27 case wine), given it's availability it's not top priority.

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