Silicon Valley Winemakers

Brandon Brassfield

Brandon Brassfield Photograph by Jamie Soja

Denis Hoey | Kenny Likitprakong | Lindsey Otis | Brandon Brassfield | Mica Raas

FROM THE DECK of the winery, it is easy to understand why Alfred Hitchcock would have made Heart O' the Mountain in Scotts Valley his vacation home for 35 years. And given the ocean-facing slopes enjoying a long, warm growing season and cool, fog-kissed nights, one can also understand how the Brassfield family would have planted almost seven acres of this gorgeous landscape to pinot noir grapes.

Now boasting at least five clones of the fabled grape of Burgundy, Heart O' the Mountain estate specializes in hand-made, small lot pinot noir. Only pinot noir. And the winemaker of record is Brandon Brassfield, whose partner/father Robert lives in the landmark estate and whose uncle and brother are both winemakers in Lake County.

Brandon Brassfield is a large-scale man in his 30s, who clearly takes pleasure in helping to fine-tune the family winemaking dreams. "I would agree that they're big fruit-forward pinot noirs," he says, closing his eyes to better judge the recent bottlings. "Alive in the glass—that's what we like to say." Indeed they are, all three new 2009 releases.

The label appears on only 500 to 600 cases of wine each year, hence cultivation of a devoted patronage is crucial. "Our wine club is an important feature of what we do," Brassfield says, with an easy smile. "Plus art and wine festivals, and Passport Day—that's huge for us," he said.

Brassfield says spice characteristics in the glass of 100 percent Pommard clone—cloves and cinnamon—are uniquely characteristic of the Heart O' the Mountain terroir. Literally embraced by tiers of bay, oak and redwood forest, the land itself seems perfumed with these exact notes.

Winemaking was a passion for the Brassfield family even before the first 2005 vintage was realized.

"My dad and uncle were investors in Felton Empire Winery back in the 1980s," said Brassfield. "So my father asked Jim Beauregard, one of the partners in Felton Empire, to plant our vineyards." At first, Brassfield recalls, "We thought we would just sell our grapes to other winemakers. But we got thinking about father/son winery teams, like Jim and Ryan Beauregard, and," he beams, "a lightbulb just went on."

Refreshingly free of ideology and ego, Brassfield freely admits that he and his dad "just kind of fell into having our own winery." And some homework was needed.

"I worked at my uncle's winery for a while, and then we took classes at [UC-] Davis and use those techniques to extract as much character out of the fruit as we can," he said. "And it comes out with these big flavors."

The winemaker of record, Brassfield has been in charge of the small winery for seven years. "Everything we make is from our property, though we use different clones, and different styles," says the winemaker, who admits that he has "fallen in love" with the pinot noir grape.

"We only make what we grow, and we only grow pinot," he likes to say.

Brassfield farms 6.5 acres of vines and plans on planting an additional two or three in the coming years. Originally established at the end of the 19th century, the vineyards had reverted to pasture before the present owners contacted legendary viticulturist Jim Beauregard to replant the hillside with pinot noir vines. Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards lent his expertise as well.

Small lots of artisanally produced wines help to show off the estate's spice-laden terroir.

"We bottle fewer than 50 cases of each clone separately to capture its own unique character," Brassfield explains. "Then we create special blends to make a more complex wine."

One of those blends is the estate's very limited "Roberts' Reserve. "That's named for my dad. It's our most expensive wine—we only made eleven cases last year. It's aged the longest and goes only to our club members. If they don't buy it," he flashes another grin, "we'll drink it ourselves."

Brassfield believes in the social properties of his creation. "Since the start of our club we've enjoyed the good company of our members, which develop into relationships and friendships. Wine brings people together and we're enjoying every minute of it."

Heart O' the Mountain Pinot Noirs are truly California-style wines, robust and generous, loaded with dark cherry fruit and oak. Brassfield has created a suite of current releases destined to sustain the interest of his wine club members for many years to come.

Denis Hoey | Kenny Likitprakong | Lindsey Otis | Brandon Brassfield | Mica Raas | Drink Local