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Ryan Schmaltz
February 8, 2023 | Vineyards | Ryan Schmaltz

Earl Stephens

Earl Stephens

The February air was crisp as we drove down Earl’s redwood-lined driveway. It’s always a little cooler in this pocket of the Russian River Valley, just a stone’s throw from the town of Forestville. Towering trees framed just a tiny yet magnificent glimpse of the vineyard, glittering under the sun set low in the sky with wisps of clouds turning brilliant shades of yellow and orange.

We walked between the Pinot Noir rows while owner and grower Earl Stephens shared the ins and outs of his special corner of West Sonoma County. A true salt-of-the-earth storyteller, he spoke over the chorus of frogs about everything from pruning to “those pesky dirt bikes” as easily as if he were talking to old friends. His self-proclaimed “better half” Tracy revealed she often jumped straight out of bed in the middle of the night to the “squawking” of Earl’s rigged-up alarms to warn him of potential frost harm to the delicate tiny buds. From bud break to as late as May, Earl will get up in the middle of the night to turn on his irrigation system, which protects the fragile young shoots in a blanketed mist of water. 

Standing at the top of the vineyard, it’s evident how directly the changes in elevation, grade and sun exposure impact the fruit. After decades of trial and error, Earl’s findings led to growing a cross section of exceptional clones to suit their microclimates: 4, 115, 667 and 777. Clone 4 offers pretty, elegant notes, while 667 and 777 offer structure and finesse to our Earl Stephens Pinot Noir. It’s this blend of clones that allow us to achieve maximum complexity in our wines, and we hope you enjoy the 2021 vintage as much as we do.

If you’d like to hear Earl’s entertaining tales in person, stay tuned for this year’s Roots + Boots tour that takes place annually at Earl’s vineyard. 


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