DeRose Vineyards: The Secrets of San Benito

We were happy to be making our second day-trip to the Hollister area in as many weeks. Last week we visited Fremont Peak for a camping trip; this week it was for the more refined activity of wine tasting. We’d always imagined that Hollister was a long drive, but it turns out it’s only a half hour from Monterey! It’s just gorgeous out there and well worth the time in the car.

The DeRose Vineyards tasting room is located in a complex that looks like a pre-war factory from the outside.

DeRose Vineyards


By contrast, the inside looks like a pre-war factory.

The tasting room -oom -oom -oom


I asked our tasting associate what the building had been used for originally. I expected him to say it had been an airplane plant during WWII, but in fact it had been purpose-built as a winery and had never been anything else!

This building had been built in 1940, but the winery itself was established a long time ago and was, at the time, located on what was Main Street, Central California. In the 1800s, this spot was on a major stagecoach line, and the area was more densely populated during that period than it is today. The winery was able to survive Prohibition by making sacramental wine for the San Benancio Mission until the amendment was repealed. (Did some of the sacramental wine mysteriously vanish out the back door? We’ll never know.)

The winery changed hands several times over the next 80 years, including a period in the 1950s through 1970s when their grapes were used to produce wine for Almaden. The DeRose folks bought the winery in 1888. They have many interesting historical photos and artifacts, including the original U.S. citizenship papers for Frenchman Theophile Vaché, who established the winery in 1854.

Someone got an "A" in penmanship.




Another interesting aspect of the facility is that is sits directly on top of the San Andreas Fault. If you don’t believe me, believe the US Department of the Interior:

It's all our fault.


And if you don’t believe them, believe your eyes:

That should buff right out.


DeRose may be the only winery that appears in as many geology books as wine publications. College students come from all over California to look at the fault line and take readings from monitoring instruments in the building. A field trip to a winery? Yeah, that’s a selling point for any geology class.

If the proximity of the San Andreas Fault makes you a tad nervous, don’t worry. The tasting area is at least 40 feet away from the faultline.

Let's not forget why we're here.


DeRose is a Green winery (no, that doesn’t mean you can get Vinho Verde there). They dry-farm their grapes, use natural fertilizers and also utilize solar energy.

The Wines

2007 Chardonnay (Cienega Valley): The aroma was fruity with a hint of that Chardonnay richness. Nikki found the scent reminiscent of perfume. I found the flavor to be lightly fruity with a nice mellow warmth. A hint of alcohol, and a light grape flavor on the finish. Nikki got more citrus in the flavor – grapefruit and orange zest.

2007 Famiglia DeRose Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano (Italy): Nikki said she smelled strawberries, pastilles and figs. I just said “Oooohhhhh…” I thought the aroma seemed structured with a slight ashy tannic scent supporting a plum/prune/raisin fruit aroma. The flavor delivered on that promise. The fruit was present but restrained on the palate, and the tannins nicely supported that. I think this wine would achieve its fullest expression with food.

2005 Monte Cinco Malbec (Argentina): On the nose this suggested caramel, plum and berry, and the flavor matched. It was delightfully rich with light but welcome tannins.

2007 DeRose Cabernet Franc (Cienega Valley): I got blackberries and cream both in the aroma and flavor. This wine also had a rich quality that made it almost creamy! The fruit was present but it stopped short of being jammy, with a nice tannic swell at the end.

Hollywood Red, Release #13 (Cienega Valley): This is part of the Car series of reds that DeRose produces. It’s a blend of 7 varietals – 65% Zinfandel, 20% Syrah, plus Negrette, Alicane Bouchee, Rose of Peru, Cabernet Pfeffer and Cabernet Franc. Rose of Peru is related to the Mission grape, and DeRose is apparently the only winery that has it. Only 7 wineries have Cabernet Pfeffer (I’d never even heard of it!).

The aroma was a symphony of fruit, with plum and especially blackberry predominating. Nikki also got strawberries, blueberries and pastilles. The flavor added toasted sugar and a light swell of tannins. Nikki described the flavor as “sugar-dusted plum pudding.” While this blend was fruit-forward and very accessible, it maintained structure and had its own character, in contrast with many red blends that are perfectly drinkable but often lack complexity.

2007 Old-Vine Zinfandel (Cienega Valley): The vines for this wine were planted in 1905. Nikki noted the aroma as sugary and plummy, and described the flavor as caramelized plums. I noticed a slight lacquer aroma (in a good way). The flavor is fruit-forward but with a richness that suggests nostalgia, like a sepie-toned photograph. It’s a big wine, with a nice blush of tannins at the end.

2004 Port (Cienega Valley): This is a Cab Franc Port, bottle-aged for 6 years. I guess Nikki had pastilles on her mind, because here again she noted their presence in the aroma. She described the flavor as highly-sugared dark chocolate. My palate found more fruit. While I did get some hints of chocolate I primarily detected sweet raisins and prunes cloaked in dark, mysterious warmth.