Article By: Harvey Finkel
Marimar Torres Estate was first planted in 1986. The first Chardonnay vintage was 1989 Pinot Noir 1992. The winery came on line in 1992. Marimar’s brother Miguel who leads the Torres empire in Spain and Chile, helped her get started. (Don Miguel died in 1991.)
The first vineyard, also the site of the winery, is near Sebastopol, about 1O miles from the Pacific Ocean. In the cool, breezy Green Valley portion of the Russian River Valley, 3O acres each of chardonnay and pinot noir are planted 25O to over 5OO feet above sea level, plus some small samples of others. The vineyard, an apple orchard in previous life, is named for Don Miguel. In 2OO1, the Doña Margarita Vineyard, named for Marimar’s late mother, who died in 2OO4, was established near Freestone on the even cooler Sonoma Coast. Twelve of 2O planned acres of vineyard have so far been planted to pinot noir at 435 to 625 feet. Once a redwood forest, then pasture land, most of the property’s 18O acres will remain unplanted, and will contain several acres of conservation easement to foster natural flora and fauna, terrestrial, aerial, and aquatic. The soils are predominantly sandy loam of volcanic origin with marine sediment. The subsoil of Doña Margarita is fractured sandstone; Don Miguel has more clay. They drain well, and so require irrigation. The Estate is helping to fund the construction of the large Environmental Education Center at a Salmon Creek site, which will also be used to educate immigrant workers employed in the vineyards.
Both vineyards are managed organically, evolving toward biodynamics. The root stock is resistant to Phylloxera. Vines are densely planted, over 2OOO per acre, in the European manner (two by one meter), and as multiple clones. Canopy management, meager drip irrigation and green harvesting combine with cane pruning, that has evolved from the original cordon pattern, and low yields to result in concentrated grapes and elegant wines. On average, each pinot noir vine yields 3 to 3.25 pounds of grapes; chardonnay give 4 to 4.5. This translates to the same numbers in tons per acre. All wines are made from hand-picked, estate-grown fruit.
The winery, set comfortably into the land and nicely landscaped, resembles a Catalan farmhouse. Other than the unoaked Acero, the Chardonnays are barrel fermented, and spend 9 to 11 months in barrel on lees. All go through malolactic fermentation. Pinot Noirs are punched down. They age in barrel (one-third new, sometimes more) until the summer or fall after the harvest. Barrels are all selected French oak. Fining and filtering are almost wholly avoided. Production decisions are made by a group composed of Marimar Torres, a very hands-on proprietor/winegrower, Tony Britton, cellar master, Bill Dyer, technical director, and Ventura Albor, vineyard manager. Total production is about 15,OOO cases.
The wines combine impeccable fruit with just the right touch of highest-quality oak. They are elegant and self-contained in a European manner, rather than showing the unrestrained exuberance of California – and they age gracefully.
Gracious and vivacious might seem to define Marimar Torres, but there is much more to her. She has by intelligence, will and energy overcome what the world stacked against her. I think she is indomitable. During my recent visit to her estate in Sonoma, I noticed her radiating more energy than ever, despite surgery the day before for early breast cancer. (Her prognosis is excellent.)
It was nearly 4O years ago that I first met her. Then a young woman representing her father’s wines in North America, she was calling on Myron Norman, the late, fondly remembered New England wine merchant. Born in Franco’s repressively ultraconservative, rigidly Catholic Spain, Marimar’s idea of her future was far from the expected one of being limited to settling as a wife at home, raising children in Penedès, southwest of Barcelona. Marimar had managed grudging permission from the paterfamilias, Don Miguel, to study economics at the University of Barcelona, then to accompany him on a sales trip to Canada and the United States. Her responsibilities progressively expanded to meet her talents, culminating in the establishment of her wine estate in California.
In preparation, Marimar (one of the few instantly identifiable by given name only: it means “Mary of the sea”) studied management at Stanford and viticulture and oenology at UC Davis. She speaks six languages, is an accomplished equestrian, and has raised a fine daughter, Cristina. She has published two cookbooks, and operates the Marimar Estate Stable. I suspect I may not know half of her facets. She has lived in California since 1975.
Nine wines are made, three Chardonnays, five Pinot Noirs and a Syrah-Tempranillo. Three are made in tiny quantities (see www.marimarestate.com): Earthquake Block and Stony Block Pinot Noirs, about 1OO cases each, and the callow Syrah 8O% – Tempranillo 2O%, 56 cases, which is very likely to increase. All the wines are grown in the Don Miguel Vineyard, except the Pinot Noir labeled Doña Margarita Vineyard.
The prices cited are approximate.
ACERO CHARDONNAY 2OO6
Acero means “steel” in Spanish: this wine has seen no wood. Fermented at 55°F. Fresh, straight fruit. Good balance and finish. Not complex.
3132 cases. $28
CHARDONNAY, DON MIGUEL VINEYARD 2OO6
Barrel fermented and aged on lees nine months in 3O percent new French oak. Fragrant, but restrained. Concentrated, balanced, toasty, long.
4486 cases. $38
DOBLES LÍAS CHARDONNAY 2OO5
Dobles Lías means “double lees” in Spanish. Lees from other barrels were added to a select 18 barrels, which enjoyed a total, in barrel and in steel casks, of 16 months on the lees. Creamy, toasty, nutty. Less ripe fruit up front than preceding. Long finish. 363 cases. $47
PINOT NOIR, DON MIGUEL VINEYARD 2OO5
From the 2OO6 vintage onwards, this wine will be called La Masia, “farmhouse” in Spanish. Delicious black cherry fruit. Long finish.
2567 cases. $45
PINOT NOIR, DOÑA MARGARITA VINEYARD 2OO5
The second vintage of this wine. Very fragrant, of forest floor, mocha. Less fruity, more complex than the Don Miguel. Long finish,
1185 cases. $45
PINOT NOIR, DOÑA MARGARITA VINEYARD 2OO6
This wine to be called, from this vintage forward, Mas Cavalls, “horse farm” in Catalan. More restrained than the 2OO5. Long. Will develop well. (Not yet released.)
CHRISTINA PINOT NOIR 2OO5
A special selection of 2O barrels named for Marimar’s daughter. Aged in 5O percent new oak. Irresistible fragrance of raspberry combined with full, intense fruit flavors and great length.
5O5 cases. $54