Jeffrey Patterson has been making wine for 31 years, which given his appearance means that he started at about age 8.
But the Mount Eden Vineyards winemaker has wisdom that surpasses his actual years, and a winery with a fascinating history that goes back three-quarters of a century. And during a visit to his sublimely tasteful home surrounded by beyond-gorgeous vineyards last week, he insisted on sharing that history before getting to the wine.
“Martin Ray bought this land in 1936. He was with Paul Masson, and had married an Almaden,” Patterson said, citing two huge names in mid-20th-century wine. “Martin came up here and planted pinot and chardonnay in 1943, and so we have 60 continuous acres from that time.”
With Ray at the helm, Paul Masson produced some of America’s best, and most expensive wines. “Ray was 30 years ahead of his time,” Patterson said, “very French, expensive wine, not much of it, domain-bottled, into viticulture.
“But in the 1950s Ray sold Paul Masson to Seagram’s, which took Masson from artisinal to what it is today.”
Ray continued to make wine from this spot until the 1970s but was not a good businessman, Patterson said, and “in the 1970s investors took Ray out and renamed this Mount Eden.”
He has stuck with a lot of the methods that Ray brought to this 2,000-foot mountain. “My style, if it could be called a style, is more traditional,” Patterson said. “Acidities are above normal. It’s based less on fruit than longevity. I always try to make the Estate Chardonnay to be a 30-year wine, harvesting not when it’s over-ripe, making sure the pH is low.”
He has succeeded mightily. All of these wines are delicious but also have “cut” and focus and harmony. Mount Eden is my favorite California chardonnay, the pinot is right up there and the cab is as good as anything in the $50 range. In fact, he could probably sell it for a lot more, given the quality and the ratings (98 points in the latest Wine & Spirits for the $48 Estate and 95 points for the “Domaine Eden”).
That’s reason alone to root for Patterson: He has kept the prices of all of his wines at $55 or below. “A lot of wine pricing depends on your neighbors,” he said. “If I was in Oakville and charging $55, my neighbors would say “˜why are you doing this? You’re making us look like bozos.’ I’m here by myself.”
Gotta say, though, that I liked his partner (in business and life) Ellie’s answer even better:
“I’d rather sell out the wine and have a nice life.”