A simple truth is that great wine is grown in the vineyard.
To make a great wine you must start with outstanding fruit.
I found Middleridge Ranch in 2000. It was undeveloped and rangy, off the grid and hard to reach, but without doubt perfect for growing world class Pinot noir. Its Goldridge soils were the most sought-after and elusive in the Western Hemisphere. Its winds and cool, foggy micro-climate meant late Fall harvest and ideal acid to sugar ratios. Its high elevation and ridgeline topography meant the grapes would struggle to the ultimate glory of the wine. It smacked me hard between the eyes. After searching for years, I had finally found Premier Cru terroir outside the Cote de Nuits. It was stunning, unforgettable, untamed, begging to be shaped and molded and trained and loved and nourished. To make a world class wine.
An assembled team ultimately did just that. We began during a tasting on a February night in Chicago. Twenty-some bottles, each containing a different, single clone fermentation of Pinot noir were brought to the City by Merry Edwards. At a long farm table in a South Side Chicago wine geek’s townhouse, we blended, back and forth, tasting, debating, reblending, tasting again, making notes of how much of what clone went into each experimental glass, trying different clonal combinations of tannin and acid and fruit and mushroom and cherry and cocoa and animale and forest floor and leather, until we fell upon a formula for my vision of a perfect glass of Pinot. The clones: 777, 667, 05, 115, 828, Wadenswill and Pommard. It was arresting.
We made a final record of how much of each clone went into that single spectacular glass, confirmed with the experts that the clones were a good match for the conditions at Middleridge, and sent a corresponding vine order to the nursery. We planted a field blend whose parentage was developed that night in Chicago. All of which were certified Burgundian, from ENTAVINRA ® (L’Establissement National Technique pour l’Ameléioration de la Viticulture/Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France).
We hired renowned winemaker Greg LaFollette to make our wines. The result was arresting. Our first year, the San Francisco Chronicle's International Wine Competition gave us Double Gold, one of only two Pinots from the entire West Coast to receive that award. The next year, Jim Laube of The Wine Spectator gave us 93 points.
Time passed. Like good vines, we struggled. The 2008 vintage was ruined by smoke taint from a summer long spree of nearby wildfires. We lost Greg as winemaker. The economy tanked. The 2011 Vintage was ruined by late summer rains and bunch rot. Financing pulled out, and we sold the state of the art winery that we put our heart and soul into. 2012 was a wreck. But we plugged away despite everything. Our sales and Wine Club, and reputation for fine wines, grew. We survived.
And then, the Planets aligned again. We found two more outstanding vineyards, one of which was in the Russian River Valley and the other growing world class Burgundian Chardonnay. And our portfolio expanded, and improved beyond our wildest expectations.
So now, Jim Ball Vineyards is growing, and offering up the Best of Northern California Pinot noir and Chardonnay Vineyards. A collection of the finest Vineyards in the World. One of the greatest winemakers in the World. And wines ... oh yeah. Wines to match. Killer.
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