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Marimar Estate: Spanish Elegance in Sonoma's Russian River
By Tina Caputo
Apr 12, 2011
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I first met Marimar Torres, the proprietor of Marimar Estate winery, at a media seminar several years ago.  We’d gathered at the winery to learn about Russian River’s Green Valley AVA -- located in the foggiest part of the region, 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean -- which was becoming recognized as a prime spot for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Along with Marimar Estate, the AVA is home to such producers as Iron Horse Vineyards and Dutton-Goldfield Winery. 

When it was time to break for lunch, Torres didn’t whistle for the caterer; instead she whipped up a fabulous paella for 50 in a 3-foot diameter pan, chatting with guests all the while.  As I watched her in action I thought:  Now here’s a woman who can do just about anything. 

As it turns out, I was right. 

Torres is a member of Spain’s famous Torres winemaking family, and she literally grew up in the wine business.  She relocated to California in 1975 while serving as the company’s export director, and in that capacity she helped increase its North American wine sales by 10-fold in as many years.

When the family decided to put down roots -- literally -- in California, Torres spent two years searching for the ideal estate winery site before deciding on the Russian River Valley, near the town of Sebastopol.  The 60-acre Don Miguel vineyard, named for Torres’ father, was planted to Chardonnay in 1986 and Pinot Noir in 1988.  The winery followed in 1992. 

While all this was going on, Torres somehow found time to publish two cookbooks: “The Spanish Table: The Cuisines and Wines of Spain” and “The Catalan Country Kitchen: Food and Wine from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Seacoast of Barcelona.”  (That explains the killer paella.)

Torres’ Spanish roots are not only reflected in her books, but in her vineyards.  The Don Miguel vineyard was planted in European style, with vines trained close to the ground on an open vertical trellis that promotes sun exposure and aeration.  The vineyard’s planting density is 2,000 vines per acre -- four times more than is traditional in California -- which encourages root competition and reduces the output per vine.  Along with Pinot and Chardonnay, the vineyard now includes Syrah and two Spanish varieties:  Tempranillo and Albariño.

In 2003 Torres converted the Don Miguel vineyard to all organic farming practices, and the winery has also begun adopting biodynamic practices. 

The winery’s second vineyard -- named Doña Margarita, after Torres’ mother -- was planted in the Sonoma Coast region, near Freestone, in 2002.  The vineyard includes 20 acres of Pinot Noir from Pommard and Dijon clones. 

Given their origin, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the wines are European in style, with a California accent.  This means that they show great fruit and intensity while retaining their elegance. 

Take the 2007 “La Masia” Pinot Noir from the Don Miguel Vineyard.  The wine has beautiful cherry and spice aromas, along with bright fruit flavors and a touch of spicy oak.  At 14.1% alcohol the wine is fairly substantial, but its acidity and balance prevent it from seeming big or heavy.   

There’s been a lot of discussion lately in the media about balance -- or the lack of it -- in California Pinot Noir, and Marimar Estate’s Pinots are definitely not in the over-the-top camp.  Along with the La Masia, the winery also makes the “Las Cavalls” Pinot from the Doña Margarita vineyard -- characterized by its earthiness and raspberry fruit -- and the “Cristina” Pinot, a complex, age-worthy wine named for Torres’ daughter.  (Do you sense a naming trend here? Torres also has a wine named for her dog, Bonita.)

The Chardonnays range in style from intense (with vanilla and toast accents -- as with the “La Masia” and “Dobles Lias” wines) to bright and crisp (as with the “Acero,” Spanish for “steel”).  The Acero is particularly delicious because there’s no oak to get in the way of the wine’s lemon and mineral flavors -- trademarks of Green Valley AVA Chardonnays. 

The winery currently makes around 13,000 cases per year in total, and prices range from $29 for the Acero Chardonnay to $49 for the Cristina Pinot.  While they’re certainly not what you’d call “inexpensive,” the wines are of consistently high quality from year to year. 

I receive a lot of review wines from excellent producers, but I have to admit that a shipment from Marimar Estate is always a welcome sight on my doorstep. 

Ah, if only Marimar could find a way to send that delicious paella as well.