Ceritas, Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Peter Martin Ray Vineyard, 2019

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John Raytek and Phoebe Bass of Ceritas are the Northern California wine equivalent of a Hollywood “It couple”. In a few short years the winery has achieved cult status, with most of the wine sold through an impossible-to-get-on mailing list or on wine lists at fine restaurants.

The name Ceritas translates as "mineral expression of the soil", and their initial idea was to only produce Chardonnay, using it as a lens to highlight the varied and unique vineyards of Northern California. They started in 2005 with Porter Bass Vineyards in the coolest part of the Russian River Valley, and where Phoebe was raised.

The couple has now expanded to include Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon from 11 vineyards, between the far West Sonoma Coast down to Trout Gulch in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Unlike most winemakers in California who dictate to a farmer an idea of what they are looking for in the grapes they will buy, these two do all of the farming themselves (with biodynamic principles). This gives them not only control over the final product, but an intimacy and understanding of what they are really trying to express in their final wines.

And down in the cellar they work as simply as possible with time as the main ingredient. Nothing is dogmatic, no recipe is followed and the wines generally make themselves. For Chardonnay the must is browned — a fancy word for letting it oxidize intentionally before fermentation, allowing for greater stability and longevity in the bottle. Fermentation in all the wines is spontaneous, sometimes taking up to 6 months to complete, adding another layer of complexity. Pinot Noir is typically mostly whole-cluster, and everything is allowed to age for over a year in new and used barrels.

The resulting wines are some of the most pure and terroir-expressive we've ever tasted from California, emanating terroir with precision down to the last stony detail. They are truly worthy of their cult status.