by Laura Ness
Jim Rickards grew up in San Francisco, a city kid. But he always knew he had the farming gene. “When I got out of the military after Vietnam, I did three things: grew my hair, grew my mustache and got out of Dodge,” he says. “I got into the cattle business and was looking for my home ranch. I came across this property in Alexander Valley that had an old vineyard on it. Planted in 1908. A field blend, of mostly Zin and Petite Sirah, with Carignane, Mataro and Alicante Bouschet. It was getting about ½ ton per acre. People thought this was a crappy place to grow grapes! It was 1976 and we were in a really bad drought. I had no money, but I knew this was a treasure. A pre-Prohibition Vineyard? There aren’t many of those in the world.“
He learned how to farm, took classes at the local Junior College, and began field grafting additional acres of grapes from his vineyard cuttings as he couldn’t afford nursery stock. He has an experimental vineyard he calls The Cradle, where he tests varieties to see how well they’ll do.
He and his small crew produce about 150 tons of grapes, selling half, and purchasing varieties he doesn’t grow. Winemaker Blaine Brazil helps make about 24 different wines, mostly in small lots of 100 to 300 cases. Their smallest lot in 2017 was Semillon, about 45 cases. “Absolutely lovely!” Rickards notes.
The entire team was excited to learn that their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from Croft Vineyard earned Best White at the 2018 North Coast Wine Challenge. It’s clone 1, which is not very widely planted.
The wine is nearly sold out, so it’s currently restricted to wine club members, Rickards says. He made 600 cases of the 2017 Sauv Blanc, and is on track to make at least 1k cases for 2018. The Croft Vineyard wine will be back, of course, but he’s also planning an additional Sauv Blanc bottling, which will include some Potter Valley Clone 1 SB from Mendocino.
Admits Rickards, “I hate selling out. But this is a very popular and intriguing wine! It’s very rich and ripe with none of the grassiness of New Zealand. The grower has a great spot for it. Gets a lot of heat and fog. It will be up to 100 at 4pm, and an hour later, I’m looking for my coat! With that wall of fog, it’s dropped to 50!”
He says the Croft Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc won the Harvest Fair two years ago, and he’s done pretty well with it at the NCWC. “It was one of those orphan grapes that I got offered. My wife jokes that I leave no grape unpunished.”
As for competition strategy, he chooses those that impact the local market, as he is not in distribution. “Local things drive local business,” he says. He enters his specialty reds, like Barbera, Malbec and Carignan in the SF Chronicle competition, choosing whites and roses, which he bottles in January, and his larger volume reds like Zin, for the North Coast Wine Challenge.
“The North Coast Wine Challenge is really important, because it brings Bay Area people to our doors.”