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Cleary Ranch & Michael Valentine

Cleary Ranch & Michael Valentine


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A father, three brothers and one sister all own a cluster of vineyards in the small town of Freestone, just off Bohemian Highway out toward Occidental and Bodega Bay. The Cleary family has worked the land in Freestone for three generations and today all are prominent growers in the region. We are thrilled to work with fruit from Cleary Ranch Vineyards (owned by John Cleary) and Michael Valentine Vineyard (owned by Mike Cleary and Cindy Cleary-Jahnke). In addition to our own wine, we make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for John under his family's Cleary Ranch Vineyards label.

Pinot noir producers talk a lot about fog and ocean influence and that is exactly what we get from this cool site. We take a blend of Dijon clones 667, 777, 114 and 115, sometimes fermenting the whole pick as one lot, and other times keeping the vineyards separate as Mike and Cindy's tends to ripen slightly later. Of course “later” is a relative term here since the site is so cold that both blocks are always our last Pinot to come in, often in mid to late October if the rains hold off. For those who think growing grapes is easy in California, a chat with John or Mike in early October as they anxiously checks sugars and watch the erratic weather forecasts will change your mind. We always start by targeting yields of close to 3 tons per acre, but nearly every vintage quickly gets dropped to 2 or less as we try to help the fruit ripen in time.

Our first year working with the Cleary family was in 2007 when we designated our wine "Freestone," but since then this Pinot has formed the backbone of our “Small Town” blend. Inherently herbal and savory, the fruit does best entirely destemmed, which allows these natural attributes to show off without overwhelming the wine. As sugar and alcohol tend to be low, careful use of new oak can enhance the wine's mid-palate. But we are biased toward more elegant, lower impact barrels to let the natural qualities of the fruit shine.

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