Macrostie turns Persnickety grapes into wonderful wines


It was six or seven years ago that I first tasted wines from Sonoma County’s MacRostie Winery ( I liked them, and I resolved to visit the winery the next time I was in California.

It didn’t work out. I made several trips to Sonoma County in following years, but I never managed to meet Steve MacRostie or visit his winery. So I was thrilled to hear that Heidi Bridenhagen, MacRostie’s new winemaker, was coming east last year. I would have a chance to meet Heidi, and at long last I would taste more of MacRostie’s extraordinary offerings.

Sonoma Pioneer

Steve MacRostie set out to become a physician but was sidetracked. After studying biology as an undergraduate, he was called to military service. The Army made MacRostie a cryptographer and sent him to Vicenza in northern Italy.





MacRostie’s military experience drove him to drink— wine—and not only in Vicenza, but throughout the rest of the Veneto region, France, Germany and Spain. European wines were an “epiphany” for MacRostie, who quickly “fell in love with wine, and the idea of winemaking.” After completing his stint in the Army, he returned home to California and enrolled in the enology program at UC Davis.

The 1970s were great days for California wine. There was gold in Napa County, and many young winemakers made beelines there seeking it. Steve MacRostie chose a different path. He headed to Sonoma County and became winemaker at Hacienda Winery, where he stayed for 12 years. Then, in 1987, with the support of his wife, Thale, Steve founded MacRostie Winery and Vineyards.

Sonoma County is a good place to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which thrive in the cool climate close to the Pacific. Over the years, MacRostie has garnered a reputation for producing outstanding wines from those oft persnickety grapes.

One secret of his success has been his long-term relationships with esteemed Sonoma growers, like the Duttons, Sangiacomos, Ritchies, Martinellis and Bacigalupis. Since 1997, MacRostie also has had a vineyard of his very own—Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, located in the Petaluma Gap region on the borderlands between Carneros and the Sonoma Coast.

New Winemaker

After earning a degree in biochemistry, Heidi Bridenhagen traveled extensively in Europe, where she “became fascinated by the ways in which wine expressed itself in different regions.” Returning to the United States, she worked in winery laboratories in California and then headed off to New Zealand to labor in the cellar at Oyster Bay. After her sojourn in the antipodes, Heidi worked at Sonoma-Cutrer. She joined the MacRostie team as assistant winemaker in 2011, and became head winemaker in 2013.

Heidi continues to be fascinated by the ways in which grapes express themselves in diverse environments. After testing grapes from the 30 Chardonnay sites and more than 15 Pinot Noir vineyards used to make MacRostie wines, Heidi does “as many as 130 small fermentations each vintage.” This gives her a “palette of flavors from which to craft MacRostie’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.”

Taste Tests

MacRostie’s wines can be hard to find. Be on the lookout for them. Here are notes on three you should be able to find on a shelf near you.

Fruit for the MacRostie Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014 ($25) was grown in diverse vineyards in the Carneros, Russian River Valley and Petaluma Gap regions. The grapes were pressed in whole clusters. Most of the juice then was fermented in barrels of French oak.

A lovely pale straw color, the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay emits suave fragrances of oak, vanilla and melon. Its flavor contains elements of peaches and pears, lemon rind, honey and murmuring caramel that linger through a long, resonant finish. Snooping around the Internet to see what other commentators have said about this wine, I noticed references to green apples. I didn’t get that. I would say instead that the wine has crisp but subtle acidity. Its complementary minerality made me think of cool gray cobbles lying in a rushing mountain stream.

This is an excellent wine to enjoy with seafood. When Heidi and I tasted the 2013 vintage, we paired it with raw oysters and butter-basted scallops. Another pairing possibility (according to Heidi) might be fruit salad with mangoes and peaches. Whatever you pair it with, you will enjoy this delightful wine.

According to the winery’s notes, fruit for the MacRostie Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 ($34) grew in locations throughout the Sonoma Coast region—including Champlain Creek and Wildcat Mountain in the Petaluma Gap, Hellenthal Vineyard in Fort Ross-Seaview, and Dutton-Winkler Ranch in the Russian River Valley. The resulting wines were aged for 10 months in barrels of French oak before blending and bottling.

A rich cherry color and fruity bouquet of raspberries, dark cherries, red apples, figs and herbs introduce the Sonoma Coast Pinot’s lush, mouth-filling flavor of dark cherries, raspberries and figs. Slightly tart, it offers mild tannin and sly minerality amid shadows of pepper and charcoal. This is good drinking—straightforward and tasty.

According to MacRostie, Wildcat Mountain Vineyard “possesses an ideal mountain terroir and remarkable volcanic soils that consistently produce fruit with intensity and depth of flavor. Very close to the bay, yet 700 feet above sea level, this vineyard is windy, foggy, cool, and very stingy with its crop levels.” The vineyard is divided into 18 blocks spread across five fields, with a variety of elevations, exposures and soil types that give Steve and Heidi a “palette of flavors” from which to craft their Wildcat Mountain wines.

The MacRostie Wildcat Mountain Pinot Noir 2013 ($54) is a deep, rich Burgundy color, barely translucent. Lithe and elegant, with a bouquet that evokes tart fruit and crushed green leaves, it offers flavors of black raspberries, cherries, orange rind, rhubarb, cinnamon and black pepper. It is wonderful.

Heidi and I tasted the 2012 vintage while dining on hand-cut truffle tagliatelle with pecorino and sliced black truffle, a praiseworthy pairing for a praiseworthy wine.

Summing Up

I still hope to visit MacRostie the next time I am in California—especially now that the winery has opened its new Estate House near Healdsburg, which must be a wonderful place to taste Mr. MacRostie’s delightful wines.

Robert Calvert drinks and writes in Chicago. Questions or comments? Email Robert:

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