Welcome to the Spring 2021 release!

Our winter release this year showcases the last of the 2018 single vineyard wines and introduces our first Horseshoe Vineyard Ungrafted Vines Pinot Noir, a project that has been more than a decade in the making. The 2018 vintage was a benchmark season for Rhys, producing some of the finest wines we’ve made to date. This release highlights the wines from the Horseshoe and Mt. Pajaro vineyards, as well as the coveted smaller production Skyline Pinot Noir. Continue reading below for a recap of the 2018 growing season, individual notes and scores on each of this offering’s wines, and an introduction to our Horseshoe Ungrafted Vines project.

The 2018 Growing Season –

It’s interesting to look back and consider what exactly made 2018 so special. The winter prior to the 2018 growing season was dry with only about 60% of normal rainfall but the vines were not overly stressed as the soil was still holding moisture from the very high rainfall of 2017. Most unusually for our mountain vineyards, the hottest month of the year was July. This early season heat in combination with dry soil conditions encouraged the grapes to develop thick skins. After July the growing conditions were very mild and, in particular, we had wonderful September weather without excessive heat, which allowed the grapes to slowly finish ripening. The resulting wines are exceptionally balanced with terrific intensity and an unusual fresh fruit character that is really something special.

The new Horseshoe Vineyard Ungrafted Vines Pinot Noir –

From the beginning at Rhys, we have primarily focused on producing quality in the vineyard. To accomplish this, we have experimented with extensive variations of our strictly organic farming regime and employed a wide variety of planting strategies including different spacing, grapevine clones and rootstock species. In explaining this to a customer over a decade ago, we were asked if we had tried to grow ungrafted grapevines, or grapevines grown on their own roots without rootstock, in any of our plantings. This question caused a lot of reflection. After years of evaluating the quality and characteristics of many different species of rootstock, we had never chosen to take the risk of planting grapevines without the protection of rootstock. Without rootstock, European grapevines are very vulnerable to an American pest called Phylloxera. If present, this root louse ultimately kills the vine which requires a complete replanting. The arrival of this bug in Europe wiped out the vast majority of European grapevines in the late 19th century and these vines were subsequently replaced with grapevines grown on rootstock. But even today the “pre-Phylloxera” Pinot Noir wines of Burgundy are legendary for their quality and some maintain that modern plantings, with their protective rootstock, have not attained the same level of quality. Finding out whether this legend was real or just a myth was so intriguing that we decided to take the risk: we had to try planting some blocks of vines growing on their own roots. This was quite a risky gambit but with the isolated nature of Rhys’s vineyards, we hoped we might be able to avoid exposure.

To do this, we needed to select an area that was isolated enough that there was a chance that Phylloxera was not present. The best opportunity was a steep unplanted hillside at Horseshoe vineyard. The next challenge was rooting the grapevines. We decided to use our own Pinot Noir selection massale, or collection of Pinot Noir cuttings selected over many years of trials, but grapevine nurseries were not interested in rooting these cuttings due to the difficulty of the process and the inherent risks involved. So we built our own sand filled rooting boxes and after years of trials and tribulations, our two acre hillside block was planted with an extremely high density layout of ungrafted Pinot Noir grapevines.

The first difference we noticed was that these own-rooted grapevines grew much slower than their grafted counterparts. It took many more years for the vines to reach maturity and fill the trellis. The vines also seemed to have lower fertility and produced a smaller crop of grapes. In fact, for many years, it seemed that we could not grow enough grapes for even a single fermenter. By 2014, the vines finally produced a sufficient enough crop that we could make the first wine. This wine showed some promise with amplified terroir expression and aromas, but it also showed a “young vine” lack of depth and length and we decided not to release it. For various vintage related reasons, it would be four more years before we had another crop that could be vinified on its own and we must admit that we were losing faith. The combination of low production, the risk of phylloxera, and the extreme cost of farming seemed to be “a bridge too far”. But just as we were questioning the project, the 2018 vintage produced enough grapes to vinify and the results were spectacular. The 2018 wine made from these ungrafted wines was complete and harmonious with even more minerality and an amplified expression of Horseshoe vineyard’s unique character combined with soaring aromatics. It’s a truly special wine. With no sign of phylloxera to date, our intention is to continue to produce this wine in the years where production and quality allow.

The Ungrafted Pinot Noir is a pure distillation of the vineyard, startling in its elegance and intensity. While it clearly shows the innate vineyard character of Horseshoe, it does so by accentuating the high-toned floral, red fruit, and chalky side of the spectrum. Writing for the British wine critic Jancis Robinson’s publication at www.jancisrobinson.com, Alder Yarrow recently described the Horseshoe Ungrafted Vines as “expansive and ethereal” and “an incredibly profound expression of Californian Pinot Noir.” Antonio Galloni praised it as “One of the most stunning, captivating wines I have ever tasted…truly sublime.” Unfortunately, as Galloni also notes, the production in 2018 is miniscule. We were only able to produce two barrels, meaning quantities are extremely limited and this release will be available by wishlist only. The good news is that the vineyard produced double that amount in 2019, and it is every bit as stunning as the 2018. We are thrilled to be able to finally share this exciting wine with our mailing list customers.

Horseshoe Vineyard

Horseshoe Vineyard Overview

2018 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Chardonnay

Horseshoe Vineyard Soil

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (September 2020) One of the many highlights in this range, the 2018 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard is positively stunning. Lemon confit, orchard fruit, matchstick, tangerine oil and a range of saline-infused notes all run through the 2018, a Chardonnay that exudes finesse, elegance and a real sense of energy. It is one of the finest Chardonnays I have tasted from Rhys. 96.

Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (September 2020) Always a singular, exotic wine, the 2018 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard has an incredible bouquet of crushed stone, gunpowder, tart pineapple, caramelized lemons, and musky flowers. As with all these 2018s, it has a bright spine of acidity yet is concentrated and balanced, with a wonderful texture and a great finish. This is world-class, age-worthy Chardonnay. Give bottles 2-3 years and enjoy through 2032. 97.

Alder Yarrow, JancisRobinson.com (January 2021)
Pale gold. Smells of lemon curd and pine resin. Gorgeous flavours of lemon curd and grapefruit burst on the palate with electric acidity. This wine positively vibrates with energy and possesses that saline bite that makes the mouth water. Pomelo notes linger in the finish. Utterly outstanding, even riveting. (AY) Drink 2020 – 2030. 18.5.

2018 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Pinot Noir

Horseshoe Pinot Noir

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (September 2020) The 2018 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard is dense and brooding. Black cherry, licorice, spice, leather, herbs and mineral accents shape this ample, beautifully resonant Pinot Noir. Diatomaceous Monterey soils estimated to be 11-15 million years old yield a Pinot of notable breadth, texture and complexity. 97.

Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (September 2020) There are now three releases from this vineyard, a grafted vine, an ungrafted vine, and a hillside selection. The base 2018 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard is about as textbook a rendition of this site as I could imagine. Its masculine, earthy, meaty bouquet includes lots of ripe red and black fruits, spice, exotic flowers, iodine, and incense. It shows more sweet fruit on the palate and is medium to full-bodied, has nicely integrated acidity, silky tannins, and a great finish. It shows a supple, even charming style on the palate and has plenty of upfront appeal, yet it’s still going to benefit from 2-3 years of bottle age and evolve for over a decade. 95.

John Gilman, ViewFromtheCellar.com (May/June 2020, #87) The 2018 Rhys Vineyards Horseshoe cuvée of pinot noir is gorgeous right out of the blocks, offering up a very classy and complex bouquet of sweet dark berries, black plums, raw cocoa, beautiful spice tones from the whole clusters, dark soil tones, chicory, bonfire and cedar. On the palate the wine is deep, pure, full-bodied and seamless in its balance, with a marvelous core of fruit, great transparency and grip, fine-grained tannins and a long, complex and simply superb finish. This will need a full decade of bottle age to properly stir, but it is going to be outstanding when it is ready to sing. 2028-2065+. 94.

Alder Yarrow, JancisRobinson.com (January 2021)
Light to medium garnet. Smells of candied sour cherries and raspberries topped by floral aromas. Silky floral flavours of raspberry and cherry mix with cranberries as cotton-ball-soft tannins float through the mouth. Notes of candied dried flowers linger in the finish. Hard to pin down, but scintillating in its flavours and dynamism. Wow! (AY) Drink 2020 – 2028. 18.5.

2018 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Ungrafted Vines Pinot Noir

Top of Ungrafted

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (September 2020) The 2018 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard Ungrafted Vines emerges from a steep parcel on the property planted with a very dense 17,000 vines per hectare. It is quite simply one of the most stunning, captivating wines I have ever tasted from Rhys. Exquisitely perfumed and deep, thee 2018 is totally mesmerizing in every way. Bright red fruit, blood orange, cinnamon, mint and pine all lift from the glass, but it is the wine’s silkiness that elevates it into the realm of the truly sublime. Sadly, there are just two barrels of this magical Pinot to go around. 99.

Alder Yarrow, JancisRobinson.com (January 2021)
A phenomenally aromatic wine, with enchanting scents of exotic flowers and black-raspberry fruit that don’t even require you to put your nose in the glass. The wine is electric with acidity and juicy with raspberry and cherry fruit flavours that are expansive and ethereal. Almost weightless on the palate, this is not so much a wine as a gorgeous vibrant cloud of berries, fresh herbs and floral nectar. Faint gauzy tannins and this gorgeous aromatic sweetness. An incredibly profound expression of Californian Pinot Noir that ranks among the very best in the state. Drink 2020 – 2035. 19.

Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (September 2020) The 2018 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard Ungrafted Vines offers a purer bouquet of darker fruits (black cherries, fresh plums, and raspberries) as well as ample violets, baking spice, and earthy nuances. Beautiful on the palate as well, it’s seamless and medium to full-bodied, with building tannins and flawless balance. Enjoy this gorgeous, elegant, yet still powerful Pinot Noir over the coming 15 years or more. It has a touch more richness and depth than the classic cuvée as well as more texture. 96.

John Gilman, ViewFromtheCellar.com (May/June 2020, #87) The Horseshoe Vineyard has three bottlings of pinot noir to pride itself on in this vintage, as there is also an “Ungrafted Vines” bottling from here in 2018! These vines planted on franc de pied were planted in a high density formation back in 2008, and the team at Rhys has been patiently waiting for them to really get rolling. The 2018 Ungrafted Vines Horseshoe pinot noir comes in slightly riper than the regular bottling (13.5 percent versus 13.3 percent), but shares the same great purity on both the nose and palate. The bouquet offers up a very complex mix of dark berries, cassis, espresso, fresh thyme and bay leaf, lovely spice elements from the whole clusters, a gorgeous base of minerality, graphite and cedar. On the palate the wine is deep, pure, full- bodied and very soil-driven in personality, with a great core of fruit, fine-grained tannins, tangy acids and superb lift and focus on the long, complex and perfectly balanced finish. In terms of absolute quality, this is not remarkably different from the regular bottling of Horseshoe pinot (which is outstanding in 2018), but the difference is akin to the difference between a great digital recording of music and the same recording done in analog: there is just an extra level of precision here that may fall just beyond the conscious range of perception, but which we pick up on inherently and recognize intuitively as more complete. 2028-2065+. 95.

Family Farm Vineyard

Family Farm Vineyard Overivew

2018 Rhys Family Farm Pinot Noir

2018 Rhys Family Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (September 2020) The 2018 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard is soft and caressing, with lovely red berry fruit. Blood orange, spice and cedar nuances add pretty top notes. Soft contours give the Family Farm a good deal of early appeal, but, here, too, the acids are wonderfully bright. The Family Farm doesn’t have the structure or tannins of some of the other wines, but it is immensely appealing. 94.

Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (September 2020) Coming from a mix of Swan, 115, and Pommard clones, planted in alluvial, clay soils, the 2018 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard is upfront and ready to go, with a big perfume of spiced red fruits, dried flowers, new leather, and sappy green herb-like aromas and flavors. Fleshy, medium-bodied, and with plenty of fruit, drink this already complex and nuanced 2018 over the coming 7-8 years. 94.

Alder Yarrow, JancisRobinson.com (January 2021)
Light garnet. Scents of sweet raspberry pastilles and a touch of dried herbs. Candied raspberry and redcurrant flavours have a juicy brightness thanks to excellent acidity which brings an orange-peel zing to the finish. Silky, with barely perceptible tannins. Excellent. Drink 2020 – 2026. 18.

John Gilman, ViewFromtheCellar.com (May/June 2020, #87) The 2018 Family Farm Vineyard bottling of pinot noir from Rhys is one of their riper examples of the vintage, coming in at 13.7 percent octane. The wine is beautifully expressive and black fruity on the nose, wafting from the glass in a blend of dark berries, black plums, sarsaparilla, dark soil tones, smoked duck, gentle spice tones (from the whole clusters) and a deft touch of new wood. On the palate the wine is deep, full, complex and sappy at the core, with fine soil signature, ripe, buried tannins, excellent focus and grip and a long, complex and very nicely balanced finish. This is a touch broader-shouldered in personality than some of the Rhys pinots this year, but it shares the same sappy purity and breed. 2026-2060. 92+.

Mt. Pajaro Vineyard

Mt. Pajaro Overview

2018 Mt. Pajaro Vineyard Chenin Blanc

Mt. Pajaro Vineyard Chenin Blanc

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (September 2020) The 2018 Chenin Blanc Mt. Pajaro Vineyard is fabulous. Pear, dried herb, sage and mint give the Chenin a super appealing savoriness, but what I like most about the Chenin in 2018 is its energy, dimension and translucence. I hope words can do justice to just how beautiful and expressive the 2018 is. In a word: divine. 94.

Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (September 2020) I loved the 2017 version of this cuvée, and the 2018 Chenin Blanc Mt. Pajaro Vineyard doesn’t disappoint either. Classy dried citrus, leafy herbs, honeysuckle, and a kiss of minerality all show up on the nose, and it’s medium-bodied and has a textured, layered mouthfeel, good acidity, and a great finish. It’s beautifully done and ideal for enjoying over the coming 2-4 years, although I suspect it will evolve for even longer. 93.

John Gilman, ViewFromtheCellar.com (May/June 2020, #87) The 2018 Mt. Pajaro Vineyard Chenin Blanc from Rhys is excellent and a superb follow- up to the high quality 2017 version. The bouquet is deep, ripe and very precise, wafting from the glass in a blend of quince, apple, a bit of lemon peel, gentle notes of lanolin, a fine base of stony soil tones and a topnote of white flowers. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and zesty, with a fine core of fruit, excellent backend mineral drive and cut, snappy acids and outstanding focus and grip on the long and complex finish. This is certainly very easy on the eyes right out of the blocks, but this wine is built to age and will be even better with five or six years’ worth of bottle age on it! Superb juice. 2020-2040+. 93.

2018 Rhys Mt. Pajaro Vineyard Chardonnay

Over the row tractor at Mt. Pajaro

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (September 2020) The 2018 Chardonnay Mt. Pajaro Vineyard is a powerful, deep wine with a sense of structure that recalls a red wine. A huge core of fruit give the 2018 a feeling of virile intensity. Readers should expect a potent, savory Chardonnay that will surely be at its finest at the dinner table. 94.

Alder Yarrow, JancisRobinson.com (January 2021)
Palest gold. Aromas lean more floral and mineral as notes of white flowers and grapefruit pith suffuse the nose, while the body of the wine is all grapefruit and pomelo. Citrus pith lingers in the finish, with filigreed acidity that gains power as the wine finishes. Mouth-watering to be sure but doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Horseshoe bottling. Having said that, this is a truly fine specimen of Chardonnay.
Drink 2020 – 2030. 18.

Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (September 2020) A classic, mineral-laced white from this team, the 2018 Chardonnay Mt. Pajaro Vineyard has a bright gold hue as well as lots of salty, citrus fruits, notes of honeysuckle and white flowers, medium-bodied richness, and a juicy, balanced, elegant texture. It’s beautifully done and ideal for drinking over the coming 4-6 years. 93.

John Gilman, ViewFromtheCellar.com (May/June 2020, #87) The 2018 is the second vintage of chardonnay I have tasted from the Mt. Pajaro Vineyard. The wine is lovely on both the nose and palate, wafting from the glass in a refined aromatic constellation of apple, pear, stony soil tones, a gentle touch of honeysuckle and vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is bright, crisp and full, with outstanding depth at the core, excellent cut and grip and fine length and backend energy on the complex and perfectly balanced finish. This has outstanding intensity of flavor on the palate and very impressive lift on the finish. I really liked the 2017 version, but this is a noticeable step up! 2020-2035+. 92+.

2018 Rhys Mt. Pajaro Vineyard Pinot Noir

Mt. Pajaro Vineyard Soil

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (September 2020) The 2018 Pinot Noir Mt. Pajaro Vineyard is a dark, dense beauty. Black cherry, plum, mocha, licorice, spice, leather and menthol all flesh out in a somber, potent wine built on serious concentration. This decidedly virile Pinot needs time to come around. Today, it is somewhat of a brute, but it is nevertheless a remarkable wine from young vines that were only planted in 2011. It will be interesting to see if the Mt. Pajaro Pinot acquires more finesse as the vines get older, as the other Rhys Pinots have. 95.

Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (September 2020) Also upfront and already expressive, the 2018 Pinot Noir Mt. Pajaro Vineyard comes from a slightly higher elevation site (1,000 feet) in the Santa Cruz Mountains and is a mix of heritage clones and massale selection. Darker currants, raspberries, scorched earth, spice, and earthy, foresty notes dominate the bouquet, and this medium to full-bodied, elegant 2018 has beautiful tannins, a solid sense of minerality, and a great finish. Drink it any time over the coming 10-12+ years. 94.

Alder Yarrow, JancisRobinson.com (January 2021)
Aromas of cranberry and cherry fruit are shot through with dried flowers. Beautiful raspberry and cranberry fruit has a darker character that is a perfect balance of earth and spice and fruit. In fact, at 13.8% alcohol, it is the ripest Pinot Noir that the estate made in 2018. Gorgeous acidity keeps a freshness to the wine, while faint powdery tannins hover, cloud-like with the finish of dried flowers and fennel seeds. Outstanding.
Drink 2020 – 2030. 18.

John Gilman, ViewFromtheCellar.com (May/June 2020, #87) Last year’s 2017 was the first release of pinot noir from the Mount Pajaro Vineyard that I have tasted from Kevin Harvey and his talented team at Rhys Vineyards and it was very good. The follow-up 2018 version is every bit as fine, offering up a black fruity and classy nose of cassis, black tea, a fine base of dark soil tones, a bit of smoked meats, lovely fresh herb tones (mostly thyme and mustard seed), cedar and a smoky topnote. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, focused, soil-driven and nicely spicy (from the whole clusters), with a fine core of fruit, suave, buried tannins, tangy acids and excellent length and grip on the complex and very well-balanced finish. This comes in at 13.8 percent octane this year, but seems cooler in personality. Once again, this strikes me as the most Gevrey-Chambertin-like of the Rhys pinot noir bottlings. Fine juice. 2026-2060+. 93.

Skyline Vineyard

Skyline Overivew

2018 Rhys Skyline Vineyard Pinot Noir

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (September 2020) The 2018 Pinot Noir Skyline Vineyard is magnificent. Dark, powerful and brooding, the 2018 possesses tremendous fruit depth, with swaths of tannin that add a real feeling of drive. Black pepper, exotic spice, mocha, game, sage, menthol and licorice give the 2018 a Syrah-like sense of darkness that is impossible to miss. The Skyline is one of the wines that sees a healthy amount of whole clusters, an approach that works beautifully here. 97.

Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (September 2020) From a steep vineyard located just off the Skyline Road, in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the 2018 Pinot Noir Skyline Vineyard is pure class, offering a complex, layered bouquet of redcurrants, black raspberries, orange blossom, forest floor, exotic flowers, and spice. Showing more minerality as well as a touch of iodine character, on the palate, this puppy is rich, full-bodied, and powerful, with lots of underlying structure. It’s one of the bigger, richer examples of this cuvée I can remember, yet it says flawlessly balanced and has an expansive mouthfeel along with a gorgeous finish. 98.

Alder Yarrow, JancisRobinson.com (January 2021)
Highly perfumed aromas of cranberry and pomegranate with hints of flowers. Anise and thyme add spice to flavours of cranberry and raspberry jam that are also shot through with pine duff and dry soil. Beautiful powdery tannins give the wine some muscle as excellent acidity keeps the fruit fresh. There’s just the faintest vanilla note of sweetness in the finish that floats, dreamlike, above what is a decidedly stony minerality to the wine. The tannins gain strength over time. Incredible intensity and complex individuality being expressed here. Phenomenal. Drink 2020 – 2028. 18.5

John Gilman, ViewFromtheCellar.com (May/June 2020, #87) The 2018 Pinot Noir “Skyline Vineyard” bottling from Rhys Vineyards is a beautiful wine in the making. The wine is cool and collected, coming at 12.9 percent and reveling in its gorgeous minerality on both the nose and palate. The bouquet is pure, complex and black fruity in personality, wafting from the glass in a mix of cassis, sweet dark berries, espresso, bonfire, a touch of gamebird, stunning soil signature, cedar, sweet stems and a smoky topnote. On the palate the wine is pure, full and focused, with a stellar core of fruit, great mineral drive and grip, refined tannins and excellent length and complexity on the perfectly balanced and oh, so promising finish. This has great intensity of flavor and yet is effortlessly light on its feet this year. Great juice! 2030-2065+. 95.