Our Estate Vineyards
Williams Selyem has built its success and critical acclaim by buying the best grapes from the best growers in the Russian River Valley and farther afield in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. When we bought the winery, one of our goals was to keep the majority of the fruit from these fine sources. We are pleased to say that we have retained over 85% of the fruit from the existing vineyard sources. That done, we set out to obtain even greater control over our fruit sources and to grow enough fruit to be able to make modest additional quantities for our thirsty customers. To accomplish this we set about looking for prime vineyard locations within our heartland of the Russian River Valley.
Drake Estate Vineyard
In 1998, we were fortunate enough to find the Drake orchard directly on the river across from Guerneville. At the time, the property was planted to Rome apples, farmed by Roscoe Drake, who had followed his father into farming. Romes are a late ripening apple well suited to baby food and applesauce, which is what the Gerber company used them for until the plant closed. After checking with the pomology professor at Cornell, we were encouraged by Rome’s late season and concluded that Pinot Noir would excel in this location.
Guerneville, like other choice areas in the middle reach of the Russian River Valley, is cooled on summer nights by windborne fog, yet has sunny and very warm days. The former promotes slow ripening, good flavors and balanced acidity. The latter assures ripeness and full flavor maturation without any baked flavors typical of hot climate Pinots.
Next, we studied the soil types and, to our delight, found that the soil, Yolo Sandy Silt Loam, was identical to the soil found in many Grade A Russian River Valley Vineyards, like Rochioli and Allen, which are just across from the winery on Westside Road. Few people know that Bob Cabral, our winemaker, was the head of the soil judging team in high school. Not everyone would admit it, but Bob and John are proud of their aggie roots.
Bob Cabral, Corky Roche, our viticulture consultant, and John decided that on this deep and well drained soil we should use a rootstock known as Couderc 3309 as the main stock, together with 110 Richter nearer the river on sandier soil.
For maximum quality, we want enough—but just enough—water to achieve fruit ripeness, without leaf and vegetative growth.To this end, we set up the irrigation system to ensure that each 2-acre block in the 34 acres could be irrigated separately.
You hear a lot about clones in Pinot Noir. Clones are biologically identical cuttings of grapes that all originate from one plant. There are now hundreds of types of Pinot Noir clones that vary slightly, but significantly, from each other. We had a lot of fun studying the ones we did not already know, and carefully considered which ones to add to Bob’s winemaking choices.
In the end, we used mainly the "house clone" of Williams Selyem, Pommard, named from its hometown in Burgundy. We decided to try several new Dijon clones, especially 667, 777 and 115. Further, we put in Canada, one of our favorite clones that came to us in New York almost 20 years ago. It is one of the 30 plus clones that we have tested over the years in both New York and California. We love it in New York, and in our Vista Verde Vineyard in the Central Coast near Hollister, CA. Finally, to add one more dimension to the palate, we chose the Bruce clone, selected by David Bruce in his vineyards in the Central Coast. Bob has kept each wine separate by clone (and in one case a trellis experiment) so we can follow the flavor development and character as these plants mature. We are finding wonderful and exciting differences in these clones, which will allow us to craft ever more distinctive wines.
Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard
After several years of negotiations, we were able to acquire one of the last and premier vineyard sites along Westside Road. Seven miles southwest of the town of Healdsburg and half a mile south of the Allen Vineyard, this 51 acre parcel has been our latest estate vineyard development. From the highest elevation, you have beautiful sweeping views of the Russian River and in the opposite direction, you look out across the valley towards Mt. St. Helena.
After the removal of more than 10,000 tons of rock (with another 5,000 to 10,000 remaining), we dug 32 soil sample pits. Much like the Drake vineyard, we were amazed at the quality of the soils. With our learnings from Drake, we planted 19 acres of this property. Bob and John decided to use five different types of root stock to match the soil types. To give Bob additional flavor diversity, we chose clones of Pommard, Swan, 777 Dijon, Mt. Eden (UCD 37) and 828 Dijon.
When planning the vineyard, great care was taken to maintain the hundred plus year-old oak trees and preserve pockets of natural habitats throughout the property. Carefully weaving around the acreage, the vines were positioned northeast to southwest to allow for even exposure to the summer sun. They were densely planted to five foot by seven foot rows (1245 vines per acre), and are slowly but surely growing into their vertical shoot positioned trellises.
We worked hard to acquire both of these properties, and to develop their potentials over the years. We grow our grapes with the same persistent care devoted by our best growers. Agriculture requires patience and commitment. With the addition of our estate vineyards we can now control the grapes from our soil to your glass. We are totally involved in every step of the process and the results make us proud.