Owner and winemaker Norman Beko has been making Cottonwood wine since our first vintage in 1987. Over many years of winemaking, he has adopted the simple philosophy that “Mother Nature” knows best when it comes to his wines. Norm is graciously complimented by the near perfect conditions of Cottonwood’s high humidity, low temperature wine caves, allowing us to age our wines with minimal human intervention. This has given him a unique “hands-off” approach to winemaking, allowing our fruit to showcase its best characteristics naturally. After more than 28 years of winemaking, Norm’s true passion for wine remains as he continues to grow, produce and make wine on his beautiful 78 acre Santa Maria estate.
Cottonwood Canyon Winery has been noted as a pioneer in producing high acid, yet balanced wines. Our grapes natural high acidity more exemplifies the wines of Burgundy, France; proving very different than what is traditionally thought of as a “California style” wine. Our cool, coastal Pacific Ocean winds help to increase our grapes hang time beginning in mid-February and lasting through mid-September. Our vines are strategically planted in a north-south direction so these winds blow “through” the vines and not against them helping to aerate the grapes. The San Rafael Mountains located just east of Cottonwood help to contain the cool breezes blowing in from the Pacific Ocean just 19 miles away. All of these factors combined enable long term aging and increased fruit retention in our wines.
Time treats our Chardonnay very well, increasing an elegance of aging for 7 years or more. We use American oak from Minnesota and French oak from four different regions of France. The resulting objective is to add a complexity and diversity of flavors from these barrels without overpowering the benefits of each. We hand harvest our fruit when slight tropical fruit flavors are detected, which is usually around 23- 24 brix. The small clusters are hand sorted in the field then gently pressed in our 4,000 liter Europress bladder press. The resulting juice is gravity fed from the press into a 3,000 gallon tank for cold settling at 45°F for 24 hours. We then transfer it into another tank where native yeast provides a natural fermentation. The fermentation temperature is maintained at 55°F throughout the 45+ day primary fermentation. We then transfer the Chardonnay into oak barrels for completing both the primary and partial secondary malolactic fermentation. The fermenting wine is then stirred intermittently during the aging process to circulate the lees and extract the rich flavors that this meticulous process creates. Due to the natural high acidity of our fruit, lees can remain in contact with the wine until the bottling process, helping to increase flavor extraction without overpowering the fruit, oak and acid balance. The near perfect conditions of our wine caves permit the wines to develop on their own without any topping or opening of the barrels for 6- 18 months. Not only does this help to alleviate the labor of winemaking but it also helps to reduce any exposure to harmful bacterias.
We produce three primary estate Chardonnays; the Bistro Classic Chardonnay, the Estate Chardonnay and the Barrel Select Chardonnay. On occasion we do a small lot of the Skin Contact or “SC” Chardonnay. The Bistro Classic Chardonnays are 100% stainless steel produced wines; the Estate Chardonnays are aged approximately 10 months in neutral and new oak, while the Barrel Select is aged approximately 18 months in mostly newer oak barrels.
We have over 27 acres of Pinot Noir containing six different grape clones, five different blocks and multiple planting densities ranging from 1,080- 4,000 vines per acre. After these grapes are hand harvested and cluster sorted in the field, the “must” is then cold soaked in small lots. The “must” completes primary fermentation in an open top fermenter and is then pressed into barrels where secondary fermentation is completed. Because of the near perfect conditions of our wine caves we experience virtually no evaporation of the wine as they age. The barrels are then turned on their sides and are rarely opened during the aging process, typically 18 – 24 months. The fruits’ natural high acidity in combination with the cave conditions help to create Cottonwood’s “stamp” of long lived, age-worthy wines. These wines slowly develop and reach near perfection when aged anywhere from 8- 12 years long.
Our Pinot Noir vineyard designations consist of Sharon’s Vineyard, Elizabeth’s Vista, Michelle’s Vineyard, Dijon Clone and High Density, all representing Clone’s 2A, Pommard, Martini 13, 115, 667 and 777. Because of our wide assortment of grape clones at various elevations and vine densities, we are able to produce multiple small lots of Pinot Noir. The distinct characteristics of these elegant Cottonwood grapes show rich berry flavors, layers of earthiness and a smoky edge making for a truly delicious Pinot Noir!