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Sonoma-Cutrer Head Turns His Attention to Reds

Dana Nigro
Posted: November 4, 1999

Brice Jones, president of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay specialist Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, is diversifying into red wines after nearly 20 years with a winery that makes only whites.

Even as Sonoma-Cutrer's total annual production has expanded over the years to about 150,000 cases, Jones has maintained a staunch devotion to his Chardonnay-only approach. But recent events have allowed the vintner to fulfill his original ambition to make reds.

Early this year, Jones, who founded the vineyards in 1973 and added the Russian River Valley winery in the early 1980s, sold a controlling interest in Sonoma-Cutrer to Brown-Forman, the Kentucky-based drinks firm that owns Fetzer Vineyards and Jack Daniel's whiskey. Jones retains a small equity stake and remains as president of the winery.

Sonoma-Cutrer's most highly regarded wines are its vineyard-designated Chardonnays from Les Pierres and Le Cutrer. But the Russian River Ranches bottling, from the Sonoma Coast appellation, makes up the majority of its production.

A few years ago, the winery acquired and planted the Vine Hill vineyard near Sebastapol to expand the Russian River Ranches Chardonnay. The new vineyard, with the deep soils and cool climate required by the finicky Pinot Noir variety, is at what Jones calls "the epicenter of Pinot Noir," so that variety was also planted. So far, 85 acres of Pinot have been planted, and the company plans to buy more property to bring that up to 150 acres.

The Vine Hill vineyard is the backbone of the company's plans to build a new winery that will produce 15,000 to 20,000 cases a year of Pinot Noir, priced at about $40 a bottle. The venture will be separate from Sonoma-Cutrer, Jones stressed, with a different facility, different brand name and different staff. He expects the project to take about fiveyears to come to fruition.

In addition, in a private deal finalized in May, Jones and several other investors in Sonoma-Cutrer purchased a 115-acre property near Sebastopol and began planting that to Pinot Noir. That project, called appleaday.org, will also eventually involve a winery, but Jones said he has not yet worked out all the details.

In recent years, Sonoma-Cutrer has adopted a more traditional Burgundian approach for its Chardonnay, and Jones expects his new Pinot wineries to rely on the Burgundian methods as well. He said, "The altar we need to kneel at is in the Ctte de Nuits."

  • Feb. 11, 1999
    California's Sonoma-Cutrer Sells Majority Stake To Brown-Forman

  • Jan. 11, 1999
    California's Sonoma-Cutrer Seeks New Investors

  • March 31, 1998
    The Promised Land

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