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Mountain retreat becomes winery in California


   If you were going to create a winery, wouldn’t it be nice to start from scratch? You could if you were a multimillionaire businessman like Jerry Brassfield. The son of a Fresno, Calif., rancher, he left home at 19 to found his own empire -- direct sales of vitamins and nutritional supplements in 50 countries, half a dozen car dealerships, restaurant stock.

   In 1973, seeking a quiet refuge for his family, he bought High Serenity, a 2,500-acre cattle ranch and wildlife preserve. It was beautiful -- rolling hills in a volcanic valley on the shores of Clear Lake, north and east of California’s main Napa-Sonoma wine area, two hours north of Sacramento.

   He meant to leave it like that. But one day, helicoptering in from work, he noticed a neighbor planting grapevines. “I can do that?” he asked.

   Soon, the cattle were sold, says winemaker Kevin Robinson, and in 1998, 350 acres were turned into vineyards. The winery followed in 2003.

   With the confidence of beginners, Brassfield and Robinson decided to plant everything -- pinot grigio, zinfandel, gewürztraminer, Johannisberg riesling, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, pinot noir, syrah, merlot, petit verdot, grenache, petite sirah, malbec and mourvedre.

    Robinson's winemaking philosophy is simple: ‘‘I want wines that just taste good. Wines you can bring to a menu. A lot of people make bigger wines, forgetting that wines are enjoyed best with food. I try for fruit-forward wines with good acid, modest oak aging and lower alcohol."

   He concedes it's possible Brassfield will follow the example of other new growers and gradually cut back production to the grapes that do best on their land.

   "We might trim some out," he says. "On the other hand, we've been
talking about planting some Rhône grapes, some viognier."


   • 2007 Brassfield
Estate "Serenity'' white
wine, High Serenity Ranch
Vineyard, High Valley (sau-
vignon blanc, pinot grigio,
gewürztraminer, semillon):
soft, lightly sweet, with ripe
pear and apple flavors; $15.

   • 2006 Brassfield
Estate Pinot Noir, High
Serenity Ranch Vineyard,
High Valley: black cherry
and spice, full-bodied and
rich; $24.


   • 2007 Brassfield
Estate Pinot Grigio, High
Serenity Ranch Vineyard,
High Valley: light and crisp
with floral aromas and fla-
vors of green pears; $15.

   • 2007 Brassfield
Estate Sauvignon Blanc,
High Serenity Ranch Vine-
yard, High Valley (85 per-
cent sauvignon blanc, 13.5
percent semillon 1.5 percent
gewürztraminer): crisp and
rich with flavors of green
melons and ripe pears; $16.

   • 2005 Brassfield
Estate Zinfindel, Round
Mountain and Volcano vine-
yards, High Valley (92 per-
cent zinfandel, 8 percent
syrah): soft and hugely rich
with red raspberry and
chocolate flavors; $22.

   • 2005 Brassfield
Estate Merlot, High Seren-
ity Ranch Vineyard, High
Valley (77 percent merlot, 18
percent cabernet franc, 5
percent petite verdot): rich
and ripe with black cherry
and black pepper aromas
and flavors; $23.

   • 2004 Brassfield
Estate Syrah, Round
Mountain, High Valley: rich
and ripe with earthy aromas
and black raspberry flavors;


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Joan Fedus

Thanks Fred for the head's up on Brassfield. I'm making a trip to Lake County in a couple of weeks and will certainly look them up. Sounds like one of those undiscovered gems.

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