I harvested the first Ghostwriter vintage in 2008. I wanted to champion a largely misunderstood appellation and produce a wine that no longer existed in California.
As it goes, I graduated from UC Davis in 2001 and found my first winemaking job at Hallcrest Vineyards, a very small winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains that dates back to 1941. All of my classmates headed to Napa, but surf and the sort of underdog, underrated, unexplored charm of the Santa Cruz Mountains led me there. Grape growing and winemaking in the Santa Cruz Mountains was, for the most part, a cottage industry. Every vineyard owner we worked with had another full-time job and many of the wineries in the region were run as part time or even weekend operations. Coupled with extreme and diverse micro-climates and growing conditions, long driving times between vineyards and wineries, and the DIY nature that the area fosters, a culture of individuals and an appellation that struggles with identity evolved.
When I arrived in Santa Cruz, Pinot Noirs from the Santa Lucia Highlands were beginning to receive rave reviews from powerful publications, winemaking stars were rising, and wines were being elevated to “cult” status. As a very young winemaker, ambitious to succeed and be recognized, I jumped on the bandwagon along with many others to produce that style of wine hoping to garner the same kind of results. By employing all of the ammunition and confidence that I had stockpiled at Davis, I tried to make big, robust, powerful wines from sites that couldn’t accumulate the sugar or the heaviness. Of course, I failed. Either nature didn’t allow it and I made light, finessed wines that I was disappointed in or big clunky wines that were awkward. After the 2004 vintage, I gave up and moved to the Russian River Valley.
In Sonoma County, I worked with successful people, nationally recognized brands and had a part in celebrated wines. I was living and working in an appellation that was famous for its vineyards and wineries and Pinot Noir. When the enchantment wore off, I began to realize that I had missed my opportunity. I spent 4 years trying to defy one of the strongest, most definitive and elegant terroirs in California and I was regretting it. Serendipitously, in 2007 as I was becoming more discontent, Barbara and Pete Woodruff came to visit. I had worked with them from 2001-2004. Now, they had unsold grapes and wanted to get away from the farming of the vineyard. Was there any way that I could help?
I didn’t admit to myself what I was getting into, I bought a small amount of grapes from them in 2008 and agreed to take over the farming in 2009. A plan to fold together the Woodruff Vineyard and Aptos Creek, which I had been loosely connected with since 2001, create a brand, and produce the wines that had eluded me on my first go around in the Santa Cruz Mountains began to play out.
In 2008, The Ghostwriter launched with Woodruff Family Vineyard and Aptos Creek Vineyard Pinot Noirs and a Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. The Ghostwriter is about Santa Cruz and it’s many terroirs, old heritage vineyards, and the light, acid driven, pretty, perfumey style of wine that it is capable of. “Ghostwriter” is a way of saying that the wine and the winemaker are in a sense telling a story that is not entirely their own. The subjects of the story are the sites, the vines, and the vintage and as the winemaker, my part is simply to relay the story and insert myself as little as possible.
In 2010, I reconnected with Steve Remde and added Belle Farms to the Ghostwriter line-up. In 2011, we took over the farming of the all but forgotten and dismissed Amaya Ridge Vineyard, a windfall after years, going back to the Hallcrest days, of wanting to work with the site. In 2012 we built on our relationship with Steve Remde and began working with his Smith Road vineyard. In 2013, Val and Dexter Alhgren, pioneers of the Santa Cruz Mountains and friends since my first Santa Cruz days, retired from making wine, and asked me to take over the farming of their estate vineyard. I also took over the part of Bates Ranch that they had been working with since 1976 and produced the Ghostwriter’s first Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 13.75 acres that I farm are organic. The 4.5 acres that I source from are managed sustainably. Mildew and bunch rot are controlled with Stylet oil, sulphur, or OMRI approved biologicals. We do not use herbicides. Weeds are tolerated to some extent or controlled mechanically. Pruning, harvesting, and all other cultivation is done by hand.
The winemaking and cellar work is simple and unforced. The wines are fermented without commercial yeast or other commercial adjuncts and aged primarily in neutral French barrels and concrete eggs with a small percentage of new oak revolving in each year. All of the wines are sur lies for 18-20 months with no or very little sulfur added until bottling and then bottled without fining or filtration.
The poems on the labels are an attempt to relate to what is inside the bottles, express the sensibility that I am trying to achieve, and acknowledge how important these wines are to me.
Ghostwriter wines are part of the Hobo Wine Co.