The Terraces Winery — Mining a Rock Solid Experience

Timm Crull, owner of The Terraces at Quarry Vineyards, starts his rugged, burgundy 4WD ‘Mule’. “Hop in,” he said and we meander along the paralleled rows of old, gnarled vines until we reach the top of his 110-acre ranch. With the sprawling Rutherford foothills around us, he continues, “Feel the dust. Taste the grapes, if would like.”

A balsamic vinegar sampling, a history lesson at a “ghost” winery and a fabulous wine tasting made this day feel complete. Yet, I never had to leave their property to see it all. “We understand our visitors want something different,” Timm said.

When he and his wife,Sharon purchased the century old vineyard and stone quarry in 1993, their vision was not only to make great wine but also to create a unique, hands-on experience thus showing an unseen side of Napa.

Timm guides me up to their loft-styled tasting room above the winery where the other half of the show takes place. Jazz fusion dances lightly in the background, bay windows open to panning viewsof the terraced vineyards. The two plush sofas rest in the center. An eclectic mix of artifacts, art and oddities from their world travels decorates the space.

He pours their ’06 Chardonnay. “As a winemaker, I want to emphasize the best qualities of the fruit and make wine that is quite delightful and elegant,” Timm states. The non-malolactic white introduces itself with a tropical bouquet fusing plantain and mango, mid-palate richness brings in white pear and a clean, crisp acidity lightly lingers.

We move onto the ’05 Zinfandel, which stems back to the original ‘Werle’ clones planted on the property in 1881. A trio of blueberry cobbler, raspberry and clove intermingle then exit on a blanket of silk. “We can answer any level of question and we’ll spend as much time as the visitor wants,” he assures.

The tasting progresses with the ’05 Petite Sirah. Unburdened by tannins, this deep garnet wine taps into rich mocha and Bing cherry notes and hangs on for a fruit-filled finish. We conclude with the ’04 Cabernet Sauvignon, their flagship. Red currant and black cassis rush onto the palate allowing a pathway for the integrated tannins and the distinct minerality brought on by their vineyard’s volcanic ash soil.

The Terraces’ uniqueness is defined in part by the vineyards themselves. Their Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon vines are planted closely together in two rows on each terraced section of the main block. In a Yin and Yang relationship, the less vigorous Zinfandel grows on the outside and the more vigorous Cab is on the inside thus yielding small clusters of intensely flavored fruit.

The hillside vineyard is extremely steep stretching from an elevation of 300 to 400 ft and had been terraced in the late 1880’s, influencing the wineries name.

Timm and I arrive at the “Acetaia”, a modest stone building where a small battery of casks house his aging balsamic vinegar. He gives a brief lesson on the complex yet secretive heritage of balsamic. Derived from his own grapes, the 11-year-old vinegar continues to gestate in non-toasted Acacia, Chestnut, Cherry, Ash, Oak and Mulberry woods imported from Italy. “These casks make wine barrels look cheap,” he chuckles while drawing a petite amount from one. A dime-sized drop is placed on my wrist to taste. The dark, sweet, syrupy solution shows hints of balsamic vinegars you would expect to find in Modena, Italy. He thieves a few more samples from other casks to show the varying flavor profiles. “It’s good to have a project like this. In my lifetime it will become good, during my kids lifetime it will become great and during their children’s lifetime it will become exceptional,” he remarks.

We jump back into the ‘Mule’ and after a few minutes, he stops at the skeleton of a roofless building deemed the “ghost winery” composed completely of sturdy volcanic rock mined from the old quarry on the property. Fallen victim to a fire, “1885” is engraved into a large keystone above the door hinting at the rich history inside it’s walls.

“What I hope for is when people are done visiting, they feel it was one of the best visits in wine country,” he remarks. The ‘Mule’ lets out a brief rumble and they ride off into the sunset.

By James Claus

© 2008 Artisan Wine Tours, LLC