Winery Spotlight: Martin Ray


Many wineries are distinctly associated with a single appellation or growing region. Martin Ray Winery unlike most can claim to real roots in two distinct California counties, Santa Cruz and Sonoma. When you consider the fact that they also source grapes in some of Napa Valley’s most prime AVA’s the picture that comes in to focus shows a brand that represents a large swath of California’s grape growing regions.

The Martin Ray brand started in Santa Cruz in 1943. Their relatively new home in Sonoma County is the old Martini & Prati Wnery. William Hill who was also a stalwart of the banking scene in Sonoma County first built the facility and named it Twin Fir Winery. Courtney Benham purchased Martin Ray in 1990 and moved it to Sonoma County in 2003. When he exercised the option to purchase the property in 2014 he also invested in modernizing the production facility and every aspect of the hospitality areas.
Martin Ray Winery which sits in the middle of the famed Russian River Valley is now not only a producer of reasonably priced wines representing numerous California AVAs, it’s a terrific place to visit too. Benham and his team have created an inviting atmosphere. If your goal is to simply bump up at the bar and taste through some wines you can do that. However if you have time to luxuriate in the beautiful surroundings, I recommend it. Whether your idea of relaxation is a game of Bocce or a picnic lunch alongside your tasting flight, Martin Ray has you covered.

Over the last few months I had a couple of opportunities to taste through a myriad of wines in their wide-ranging portfolio alongside Bill Batchelor, Martin Ray’s Winemaker and General Manager. What I found is a host of food friendly, accessible wines that fairly represent the growing regions they came from. Their wines are by and large competitively priced compared to their peers and quality in the bottle. In addition to the Martin Ray wines they also produce an everyday range of wines under the label Angeline. Below are notes on six of my favorites among their current releases.

Martin Ray 2015 Dutton Ranch Sauvignon Blanc ($25)

This limited production offering was made using young vines planted to the Musque clone of Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation took place in neutral French oak. This gorgeous example of Sauvignon Blanc is reason enough to visit their tasting room. The memorable nose shows off a bevy of citrus aromas. Apricot, white peach and lychee flavors dominate the palate along with wisps of spice. The long lingering finish features lemon curd and ripe yellow melon. The aromatics and mouth-feel are the most impressive characteristics here.

Martin Ray 2015 Green Valley Chardonnay ($30)

This cuvee style offering is comprised of select barrels from each vineyard the winery sources from in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley. Aging took place in (40% new) French oak. Granny Smith apple, melon and hints of tropical fruit are evident on the nose. The palate leans towards the tart side with continued green apple notes balanced by hints of pear, vanilla and bits of savory herbs. The toasty finish is laced with spice, citrus and continuing bits of sour fruit. Firm acid keep things mouth-watering. Delicious by itself this Chardonnay loves creamy foods. Case in point, it was an outstanding match for Deviled Eggs.

Martin Ray 2015 Green Valley Pinot Noir ($35)

Most of the fruit for this wine was sourced at the Dutton Ranch. Aging took place over 12 months in (50% new) French oak.  Red fruit aromas are joined by copious amounts of spice on the welcoming nose. The layered palate is stuffed with strawberry, cherry and cranberry flavors. Black tea, pomegranate, sour cherry and a light dusting of cocoa are all evident on the lingering finish. This Pinot is delightful on it’s own and will pair marvelously with all but the heartiest of fare.

Martin Ray 2014 Puccioni Vineyard Zinfandel ($30)

All of the fruit came from the Puccioni Vineyard which sits in Dry Creek Valley, the home office for Zinfandel. Aging took place over 16 months in French, Hungarian and American oak. Black cherry and raspberry aromas fill the nose along with a touch of dark chocolate. The substantial palate is studded with black fruit flavors joined by intermingling bits of red fruit. Blackberry, chocolate sauce, baking spices and earth are all evident on the finish. This is an awesome example of Zinfandel made in a classic (not overblown) style.

Martin Ray 2013 “Synthesis” Cabernet Sauvignon ($50)

This cuvee style Cabernet was produced from fruit sourced in Stags Leap, Rutherford, Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountain. Aging took place over 18 months in (60% new) French oak barrels.  Red fruit, spice, toast and wisps of vanilla dot the lovely but slightly reticent nose. The palate shows off bold leaning but proportionate red and black fruit flavors. Crushed red cherry, blackberry and plum flavors are all in play. Earth, roasted coffee and oodles of spices are evident on the finish. Medium tannins recede with a bit of air. This approachable Cabernet will drink well for the next decade.

Martin Ray 2014 Santa Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon ($55)

The fruit for this Cabernet came from two well regarded vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s composed entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon. Barrel aging took place over 18 months in (55% new) French oak. Black plum, blueberry and a mélange of spices light up the nose here. The palate is stuffed with a burst of pure, firm dark mountain fruit flavors. Blackberry, raspberry and black cherry are joined by a generous helping of savory herbs. Butter chocolate and earth flavors dominate the long finish. Firm tannins and racy acid provide terrific structure. Best suited to pair with hearty fare or lay down for a few years.

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