The Elke family believes it has the "best of two worlds," -- they grow Pinot Noir grapes in the cool, picturesque Anderson Valley, and they make wine in Napa Valley in their winery adjacent to their vineyard. Winemaker Tom Farella's passion for Pinot Noir is revealed in old-world winemaking practices that produce an elegant wine characterized by ripe fruit, a spicy backbone, and velvety texture which will continue to develop with bottle aging.
Elke Vineyards produces about 1,000 cases per year of Pinot Noir and, while they practice organic farming as much as possible, they describe their vineyard practices more accurately as "sustainable," allowing them to use very limited chemical inputs to the vineyard and do canopy management practices that help to reduce spray applications. According to Mary Elke, weed control is the single most difficult thing to manage organically, and being in a cooler, wetter region mildew can be a big problem. The Pinot Noir yields vary from 3.5 to 4.5 tons/per acre depending upon seasonal weather factors primarily. Mary believes the site, soil, rootstock and weather conditions are more determinative than an algorithm for tons per acre.
Elke vineyard is located at the confluence of Donnelly and Anderson Creeks, feeding into the Navarro River which runs through the Anderson Valley to the Pacific Ocean. The vineyard site is on a bench leading away from the creek and rises to a second "bench," which is terraced and planted with Pommard 5 and Dijon 113 clones. The soils on the first bench are rather deep loam, well drained with large cobbled stones throughout. The second bench is a redder soil, likely more iron and other minerals and has a perfect southwest sloped exposure. All the Pinot Noir is cane-pruned to four positions, 4 spurs and 2 canes.
Mary always hand-harvests at 23.5-24 Brix, but the physiological development of the fruit - skins, seeds, flavors dictates optimal harvest, as opposed to the sugar levels. The three clones they use are Pommard 5, a Davis clone 105 which they call Stang and a field clone selection that they grew in Napa in the early 1980's and old to Mondavi for their Oakville Pinot Noir. This clone has produced very favorable and different characteristics in the Anderson Valley than it did in Napa and is the clone that gives Elke wine its distinctive nose.
Regarding vinification, Mary's practices can best be described as natural with as little "manipulation" as possible. She doesn't do more than one day of cold soak, and she does not add dry ice. She doesn't do an extended maceration, and usually press off as soon as fermentation is complete - 12 to 15 days. Elke has experimented with native yeast fermentations and using various commercial yeast, as well as experimentation with open top fermenters and tank fermentation. Mary thinks they have found a good system. The Pinot is a wonderful expression of the varietal character and of the potential of the Anderson Valley. less