Fernwood Cellars: Gilroy Rambling Part 2

We started the day’s tasting in the elegant new tasting room at Fernwood Cellars. Redwood Retreat Road, where Fernwood Cellars is located, is quaint, serpentine and picturesque. It’s also quite narrow, a factor which has limited the times when many of the wineries there can open their tasting rooms to the general public. The Fernwood Cellars tasting room is open every third weekend of the month, from noon to 5:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Second generation winemaker Matt Oetinger started Fernwood Cellars on land that has been in his family for six generations. (Sadly, we didn’t get to meet him, as he had a family engagement that day.) While the property was once home to a “metaphysical resort,” it now evokes spirits of a more delicious kind.

An unassuming metal industrial building houses the tasting room. Upon entering the four of us were greeted with an interior that is elegant and comfortable, appointed with rich brown woods and a warm granite bar.The walls display framed historic photos of former buildings on the property such as the Victorian-era Redwood Retreat Hotel.

The room has a traditional feel, and it looked to be able to comfortably handle 10-12 people at a time (or more, if everyone knows each other). It also is conducive to meeting your fellow wine fans; while we were there we met a couple from Australia that had just moved to Aptos.

The tasting room staff was welcoming. Sheryl Cathers poured for us. She had the easygoing yet professional demeanor of someone with complete confidence in the wines she was pouring — and deservedly so. We were impressed with everything we tasted.

Fernwood Cellars - with Sheryl Cathers
Oh hey, there's Sheryl. In the middle.

The Wines

2008 Estate Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains): I really liked this Chardonnay. There was oak, but not too much. There was citrus, but not too much. And there was a nice finish of toasted sugar, which I really enjoy. Nikki said the flavor gave her a pleasant sensation of fizziness (although it is not a sparkling wine).  None of the several flavors dominated; instead this was a well-balanced, sociable wine that can be enjoyed alone or with food.

2008 Zinfandel (El Dorado*): “Balanced complexity” is a phrase that kept entering my mind as we progressed through the tasting menu (in fact, it became a recurring theme of the day). The El Dorado Zinfandel had hints of cherry and its acidity was appealing but again, it was just right, never too much. Oak provided a nice coda, with the tannins contributing some punctuation without being too assertive. I felt that the flavor progression was enveloped by a nice, faint lacquer aroma which to my palate evokes a sense of tradition.

2007 Mirepoix (Santa Cruz Mountains): Nikki’s notes say this was a Bordeaux blend. I was probably petting the tasting room dog when she was learning that. I enjoyed this wine but it was difficult for me to isolate flavors within it. I noticed a kind of earthy, ashy taste which I quite liked but I couldn’t really dial my taste buds in to the other flavor components. Nikki loved the Mirepoix and noted a soft oak finish.

2008 Syrah (Santa Cruz Mountains:) Wow. This is a new release, and Sheryl and the other tasting room personnel insisted this one should be cellared for 6-8 years before it reaches its potential. I have to say this is the most mature-tasting young wine I’ve ever sampled in my (admittedly rather short) wine tasting “career.” [The staff said they’d double-decanted the wine in the morning to make up for its lack of age. – Nikki] Given how impressive it is now I can only imagine what “full potential” even means with regard to this wine. But it looks like I’ll get to witness it myself – we brought a bottle home with us and put a duct-tape note on it that says “Do not open until 2017.” It was a little spicy with just perfect tannins and earth writing the final chapter. It was deep and velvety, and Nikki {the vegetarian, ahem – N.] described it as “meaty.”

2007 Cabarnet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains): Nikki and I both noted this as a 2008 vintage, but I’m pretty sure after some Internet research that it was a 2007. A gold medal winner in the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2011 Wine Competition, this Cab had a velvety, dark character with tannins that seemed to evolve while it was on my tongue. A little more alcohol on the nose made me expect something aggressive, but as with all of Fernwood’s offerings the flavors were expertly balanced.

Fernwood Cellars produces distinctive wines with well-balanced, harmonious complexity. Matt Oetinger and his staff should be quite pleased with their accomplishments. I know we were.

* For those filling out their Appellation Trail Scorecards at home, the El Dorado Zinfandel doesn’t count toward our appellation total because the tasting room is too far away from the actual appellation.