The 2015 Vintage
As California’s lengthy drought deepened, the 2015 vintage was another example of a warm, very dry vintage. By this point in the drought, vineyard soils were quite dry and the vines reacted by growing smaller canopies and grapes with very thick skins, but the most defining characteristic of the vintage came from the one month all year in which the weather was actually cooler than normal, the month of May.
After a very warm spring, our vine’s growing schedules were advanced by nearly a month compared to normal, and atypically, flowering occurred almost entirely in the month of May. May is usually significantly cooler than June, but in 2015 the weather in May was nearly 5 degrees cooler than average. This extraordinarily cool flowering weather lead to a great deal of “shatter” which causes flowers to fall off. The grapes that are produced are typically quite small. The French term for this condition is “millerandage” or what we call “hens and chicks” which means that clusters have an array of grape sizes both small and large, in a loose configuration. This condition is also known to be quite positive for Pinot Noir quality as it results in increased concentration from a much higher ratio of skins to juice. This extremely unique combination of small grapes and very thick skins resulted in the most concentrated wines we have produced to date. Unfortunately, these same conditions also greatly reduced our production in 2015.
What about the wines?
The short answer is 2015 is a “good news, bad news” vintage. The good news is that the quality of the wines is extraordinary while the bad news is that quantities are quite low and we did not have enough grapes to produce some of our favorite bottlings such as Skyline and Swan Terrace. Even a large vineyard like Horseshoe produced only 6 barrels or a little over 2 tons of grapes from 10 acres of Pinot Noir. This is a miniscule 1/4 ton per acre. For this reason, we must apologize for the low allocations of some of the 2015 wines. While we felt the quality of 2015 merited the production of Alpine and Horseshoe Hillside wines, we did not have enough wine to make Hillside bottlings without eliminating the regular Alpine and Horseshoe bottlings. This means that the Alpine and Horseshoe bottlings are essentially of Hillside quality in this vintage but there will be no 2015 Hillside offering next summer.
Bearwallow vineyard was a real bright spot in this otherwise devastatingly low production vintage. While yields were the lowest we have experienced, the large size of this 31 acre vineyard means that we have reasonable quantities of Bearwallow, Porcupine Hill and Anderson Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bottlings. Even more importantly, the quality of the 2015 Bearwallow wines is the best we have seen to date. In particular, don’t miss the 2015 Porcupine Hill bottling as we feel it is a truly stunning rendition of Pinot Noir from this beautiful and remote region.
2015 Rhys Bearwallow Vineyard Chardonnay
2015 Rhys Bearwallow Vineyard Chardonnay 750ml $59/btl
2015 Rhys Bearwallow Vineyard Chardonnay Magnum $139/btl
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The 2015 Chardonnay Bearwallow Vineyard is the most expressive of the vineyard designate Chardonnays today, offering up a pretty nose of crisp green orchard fruit, white flowers, subtle nutmeg and lemon curd. On the palate, it’s medium to full-bodied, bright and intense, with an elegantly textural attack, good concentration and a long, mouthwatering finish. It’s not quite as searingly stony as the Horseshoe or Alpine bottlings, but that only lends it additional youthful charm. 94.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (August 2017) The single vineyard release from Anderson Valley is the 2015 Chardonnay Bearwallow Vineyard and it offers more citrus oil, white flowers and lemon characteristics compared to the Anderson Valley release. With building richness, a sensational texture, integrated, yet bright acidity, and a great finish, it’s just another killer Chardonnay from this estate that’s well worth your time and money. Like the Anderson Valley release, it’s far from unapproachable today, yet it will keep for a decade or more. 94.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2017) As readers may recall, this is only the second bottling of Bearwallow Chardonnay ever produced at Rhys Vineyards, as the vineyard team here only planted chardonnay in 2009 and 2014 was the first vintage where the vines were deemed old enough to stand on their own. The 2015 version is an outstanding follow-up to the inaugural vintage, coming in at a svelte 12.6 percent alcohol and delivering a superb bouquet of pear, delicious apple, a touch of acacia blossom, a fine base of soil, a whisper of leesiness and a very discreet framing of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is crisp, medium-full and intensely flavored, with lovely cut and grip, nascent complexity, fine focus and a long, zesty and nicely structured finish. This is still a puppy and will age very well indeed, but it is also very easy to drink right out of the blocks. Fine juice, with outstanding backend energy. 2017-2035.94.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2017) A broad, ample wine, the 2015 Chardonnay Bearwallow Vineyard is endowed with lovely textural richness and breadth. Orange peel, tangerine and exotic spice notes are pushed forward, with an attractive hint of reduction that adds character. This is a distinctly oily, creamy style of Chardonnay from Rhys. 93.
2015 Rhys San Mateo County Pinot Noir
2015 Rhys San Mateo County Pinot Noir 750ml $45/btl
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2017) The 2015 Pinot Noir (San Mateo County) is one of the hidden gems in this lineup, as it often is. The radiance of the vintage comes through, but the addition of 33% whole clusters adds savoriness and striking aromatic lift. Sweet red cherry, mint, rose petal and sage are some of the many notes that develop in the glass. This is another very pretty and expressive wine from Rhys. 92.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2017) The 2015 San Mateo Pinot Noir from Rhys Vineyards is nicely ripe, coming in at 13.5 percent octane and offering up a bright and generous bouquet of red and black cherries, cola, fresh herb tones, a good base of dark soil nuances and a very discreet touch of new wood. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied and velvety on the attack, with a plush core of fruit, modest tannins and a long, nascently complex and beautifully balanced finish. This will age very nicely, and grow in complexity with bottle age, but it seems crafted for earlier appeal and is already simply delicious to drink today. 2017-2037+. 92.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (August 2017) Moving to the reds and the most charming and forward of the lineup, the 2015 Pinot Noir San Mateo County release is a character-filled effort loaded with notions of strawberries, pit fruits, singed herbs, leather and wild flowers. It has a slightly exotic quality, medium-bodied richness, light tannin and a beautiful finish. It’s well worth your time and money, and will drink nicely over the coming 4-5 years. 90.
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The 2015 Pinot Noir San Mateo County offers up an outgoing bouquet of ripe blackberries, plums, cola and potpourri that will be familiar to long-time followers of this cuvée. On the palate, it’s medium to full-bodied, ample and generous, with a lavish core of fruit and fine, structuring tannins. This is the most open, fruit-driven wine in the Rhys range and it’s well adapted to consumption in its youth. 90.
2015 Family Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir
2015 Family Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir 750ml $59/btl
2015 Family Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir Magnum $139/btl
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (August 2017) My favorite vintage of this cuvee to date, the 2015 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard is just smoking good. Possessing awesome complexity and depth in its framboise, cassis, spice, forest floor and leafy, green herb aromatics, it hits the palate with an understated, yet building style that carries beautiful richness, sweet, polished tannin and surprising length. While the overall impression here is one of upfront charm and fruit, it’s going to keep nicely in the cellar given its balance, depth and length. Count me as fan. 95.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2017) The 2015 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard is tightly wound today. Then again, it was just bottled about a month before this tasting. Pure, saline-driven and tense, the Family Farm shows a more focused, chiseled expression of the year. Time in the glass brings out the wine’s body, textural richness and overall density. Even so, the Family Farm plays more in the red fruit end of the flavor spectrum. Readers who find the 2015 Pinots a bit too rich will find much to admire in the Family Farm. 95.
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The 2015 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard is a beauty, and while it’s obviously one of the riper wines in the range this year, it handles it very well, opening in the glass with notes of red cherries, wild berries, aromatic bark, subtle sweet spices and savory bass notes. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, ample and layered, with a generous core of ripe fruit, beautifully ripe, velvety tannins and succulent balancing acids. Attractively multidimensional and complete, the vintage and site have made for a very harmonious marriage this year and a Rhys wine that’s unusually seductive and voluptuous in its youth. 94.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2017) The 2015 Family Farm Vineyard bottling of pinot noir from Rhys is pretty ripe for this cuveÌe, coming in at 13.8 percent octane in this very short crop vintage. The wine offers up a complex and black fruity bouquet of sweet dark berries, gentle balsamic tones, charred wood, dark soil tones, cola, a nice touch of spice and cedar. On the palate the wine is deep, ripe and full-bodied, with good acids and focus, a fine core, nice soil signature, moderate tannins and a long, complex and gently warm finish. This wine handles its octane very well indeed, but one can sense that it is a bit higher than customary in this vintage. 2022-2050. 91.
2015 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir
2015 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 750ml $79/btl
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2017) A wine of gravitas and pure power, the 2015 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard is a real stunner. The 100% whole clusters are pretty much buried by the sheer intensity of the fruit. This is an absolutely captivating wine in every way. Like so many of these 2015s, the Home is going to require many years to be at its very best. Even so, its potential is amply evident today. 96.
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) Offering up aromas of ripe cherries, cassis, potpourri and spices, the 2015 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard is full-bodied, ample and layered, with a deep core of ripe fruit and juicy balancing acids, framed by fine-grained but firm, youthfully chewy tannins that make it one of the most overtly structural wines in the range this year. The story is the same in the 2016 vintage, but if anything, the 2015 is even more in need of bottle age. Forget it for a minimum of 5 or 6 years. At full maturity, I suspect it will reveal a textural plushness that will surprise anyone who tastes it today. 92+.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (August 2017) The 2015 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard comes from a site in San Mateo County and it’s a pretty, forward, neutral oak. It offers textbook notes of mulled red fruits, underbrush, dried flowers and dried earth, with lots of savoriness and minerality (I’m sure from the stems) coming through with time in the glass. It’s polished and nicely textured on the palate, with good density and savory tannin that could use a touch more ripeness. It will benefit from short term cellaring and keep through 2027. 92.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2017) The Home Vineyard 2015 pinot noir comes in at the same stated octane level of 13.8 percent as the Family Farm bottling, but for some reason I have the sense that this wine carries its ripeness a bit better and I do not get the same sense of backend warmth here as I did in the preceding wine. The bouquet is again quite black fruity, but precise and nascently complex, wafting from the glass in a fine blend of cassis, dark berries, a fine base of dark soil, a touch of gamebird, woodsmoke, espresso and a bit of new wood. On the palate the wine is deep, pure and full-bodied, with fine focus and grip, a potentially plush core of black fruit, fine soil signature and a fair bit of well-integrated tannin perking up the long and ripe finish. This will need longer in the cellar to blossom than the Family Farm bottling, but should be very good when it is fully ready to dink. 2025-2055. 92.
2015 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir
2015 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir 750ml $79/btl
2015 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir Magnum $179/btl
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (August 2017) A significant step up over the Horseshoe Vineyard (time will help clear this up, though), the 2015 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard is straight up sensational! Its medium ruby color is followed by a deep, slightly reticent bouquet of cherry pits, black raspberries, dried violets, forest floor and spice. Incredibly nuanced, seamless, silky and refined on the palate, with terrific tension, purity, and concentration, it’s one of the do- not-miss wines of the 2015 vintage! 97.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2017) The 2015 Alpine Vineyard pinot noir from Kevin Harvey and his talented team at Rhys is an outstanding young wine, offering up perfect ripeness at thirteen percent, without any diminution in the expression of this vineyard’s outstanding terroir. The bouquet jumps from the glass in a youthful blend of sweet dark berries, espresso, complex minerality, a touch of stems, woodsmoke, pepper, incipient balsamic tones and a touch of cedary oak. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied and exceptionally well-balanced, with a superb core of fruit, ripe, seamless tannins, good acids and lovely transparency on the very, very long, nascently complex finish. This will be a superb bottle, once it has had a full decade in the cellar, and probably is the only 2015 Rhys pinot noir bottling that will be able to keep the pace set by the brilliant pinots made here in 2013 and 2014! 2025-2065 94+.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2017) The 2015 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard is another superb wine in this lineup. Nothing in particular stands out. Instead, all the elements come together effortlessly. Rich ample and pliant, the 2015 possesses remarkable depth and density in all of its dimensions. The 2015 was done with only a touch (10%) of whole clusters. What comes through most is the extraordinary quality of the fruit. An infusion of blood orange, pomegranate, mint, white pepper and spices leads into a finish laced with exoticism and allure. Yields were just 0.75 tons per acre. 95.
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) Coming together in the glass with constantly evolving aromas of wild berries, rich spices, orange rind, espresso roast and violets, the superb 2015 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard is a medium-bodied, tight-knit wine that needs a minimum of 5 or 6 years’ bottle age. Intensely concentrated and underpinned by succulent acids, the quality of the powdery, velvety tannins is first-rate, and this Pinot Noir’s finish is extremely long and stony. There’s no doubt, however, that it has shut down since it was bottled. If readers are tempted to pull corks in the near term, I suspect the 2015 Alpine will never be as structurally unforgiving as some of Rhys’ efforts from a decade ago, but the real excitement emphatically lies in the future. 94+.
2015 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Chardonnay
2015 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Chardonnay 750ml $79/btl
2015 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Chardonnay Magnum $159/btl
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (August 2017) The 2015 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard is also world class. Slightly more aromatic and exuberant than the Alpine Vineyard, yet with slightly less density on the palate, it gives up a masculine, mineral-laced style in its orchard fruits, fennel, wet stone, campsite and citrus aromas and flavors. With medium to full-bodied richness, bright acidity and a clean, classic and structured finish, it should be better in another year and keep through 2027. 95.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2017) The 2015 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard is precise, tense and brilliant, but with plenty of the phenolic intensity that is typical of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Lemon confit, white flowers, white pepper and mint are some of the signatures. With time in the glass a slightly tropical note starts to develop, but there is an attractive brininess that adds freshness. I would prefer to cellar the 2015 for at least a few years. Even today, though, it is striking. 94.
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The 2015 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard is more aromatically shy than its Alpine counterpart, unfurling with aeration to reveal a complex nose of crisp green orchard fruit, white flowers, subtle beeswax and oyster shell. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, intense and tightly coiled, with a bright line of acidity and an unmistakable stony, saline quality that defies the taster not to invoke the much-abused term “minerality.” Beautifully delineated and pure, this could also go toe to toe with Burgundy’s best, but it will demand 4 or 5 years of bottle age before it realizes its full potential. 94.
2014 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Syrah
2014 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Syrah 750ml $79/btl
2014 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Syrah Magnum $179/btl
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2016) The 2014 Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard is a magical wine. Interestingly, the Syrah shares much with the Pinot off this site in its structural feel and dark flavor profile. Inky blue/purplish fruit, herbs, crème de cassis, spice, lavender and mint are all beautifully delineated. Beams of supporting tannin give the wine its shape and overall intensity, yet the 2014 retains a super-classic, Santa Cruz Mountains feel of almost deceptively mid-weight structure. The 2014 was done with 100% whole clusters. Malolactic fermentation was done in steel, the wine then spent a year in barrique followed by a year in 25HL cask. What a gorgeous wine this is. 96.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (August 2017) While this site is mostly known for Pinot Noir, it makes a seriously good Syrah. The 2015 Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard is a youthful, backward, even unevolved, effort that reveals a deep purple color as well as notes of cassis, black raspberries, bay leaf, violets and a hint of mint. It reveals plenty of pepper and classic cool-climate Syrah characteristics with time in the glass, is medium to full- bodied, has terrific purity, and a great finish. 92.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2017) Starting in the 2014 vintage, there is only going to be a Horseshoe Vineyard bottling of syrah from Rhys Vineyards, as Kevin Harvey and his team has decided that their parcel of this variety in their Skyline Vineyard would be better off budded over to pinot noir. It is too bad, as I often had a hard time deciding which of these two beautiful bottlings of syrah I preferred in each vintage. In any case, the 2014 Horseshoe Syrah is another in the long line of stunning Rhys bottlings of this varietal, offering up a pure and nascently complex bouquet of black raspberries, blackberries, a touch of dark chocolate, roasted meats, incipient notes of pepper, beautiful soil tones and a smoky topnote. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied and more peppery than the nose suggests, with excellent depth at the core, superb soil signature, ripe, well-integrated tannins, tangy acids and laser-like focus on the very, very long, complex and promising finish. Like an old-fashioned vintage of Chave Hermitage, the 2014 Horseshoe Vineyard Syrah is going to need a solid decade of bottle age before it starts to stir, but it will be an absolutely superb example once it has blossomed! 2025-2065. 94+.