Family of Wines
Cima Collina’s winemaker and cellarmasterpay attention to the details.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
The 5-year-old scion of Monterey County’s new up-and-coming artisanal wine operation wants to run the forklift.
“He loves the forklift—but Luke also loves to work in the lab with me,” says Annette Hoff, the winemaker half of the husband-and-wife team behind Cima Collina wines.
“He helps his mom decide when it’s time to pick the grapes too,” adds Hoff’s husband, cellarmaster Doug Danzer.
They’re describing their son’s unique upbringing at their two-and-a-half-year-old warehouse winery in Marina.
“Luke’s here a lot,” Danzer says. “He knows a lot about wine. I bet if he smelled a glass he could tell the difference between a Pinot and a Cabernet.”
That they are rearing a kindergartner with a refined sniffer is an indication of how much Hoff and Danzer care about wine. But it’s far from the only one. Chief among them is the sheer amount of time they spend at work.
“We’re hands-on every part of the process,” Danzer says, “sorting, de-stemming, punching down the grapes.
“When you’re working with the wine every day, you can tell when something’s different, just by smelling, without taking lab tests. For us, there’s no substitute.”
Hoff and Danzer limit their output—staying within the 5,000-case-a-year limit to qualify as a microwinery, and topping some releases at as few as 33 cases—to guarantee careful attention and to help woo wine collectors. No filtration or fining takes place. And those in the know take note.
“They back up their word,” says Lori Riddell, wine coordinator for Tarpy’s Roadhouse. “Just by tasting Cima Collina wines you know they put a lot of work into their wine—honestly, we pulled them onto our wine list five or six months ago, and they’ve sold really well for being on our list for such a short time.”
“They have passion for their craft,” says longtime Stokes Restaurant GM Kirk Probasco, “as well as a real attention to detail.”
Cima Collina Chardonnays sell out quickly each year, despite a higher-than average price, but one that Danzer offsets by prioritizing direct sales to consumers through their wine club. The Wine Market’s George Edwards calls it “exquisite, without error.” Their ’04 netted a 90 from Connoisseur’ Guide to California Wine; Cima’s debut Pinot Noir (at $26) ranked a 90, joined there by prestigious wines that sell at higher prices. Their ’05 Chula Vina Pinot Noir will be the tiny outfit’s biggest release yet.
“‘Muscular,’ ‘fleshy,’ ‘energetic,’ ‘racy,’ ‘big-boned,’ ‘easygoing,’ ” Annette Hoff writes. “What do these terms mean?”
Hoff’s blog is another indication of how much wine is on this family’s mind. It includes posts like this one on the practicality of popular wine terms—many of her posts seek to make the wine world more accessible—and entries that turn more analytical, historical, or even introspective.
“If I’m doing what I enjoy then maybe it will inspire others to seek what they enjoy and maybe that will make the world a better place,” she writes. “If I and those around me put our best intentions into making our wine, maybe the folks who drink it will be influenced positively in the process.”
Hoff’s chops inspired Cima Collina owner Richard Lumpkin to convince her to convert from consultant to his private Carmel Valley vineyards to full-time winemaker. Her time as a hand-picked enologist at Napa’s illustrious Saintsbury Pinot Noir producer and as a “pedaling cellar rat” on a research mission in New Zealand—where the Peninsula-esque coastal climates taught her worlds about perfecting wines here—rank among her most valuable experiences.
“New Zealand was fortuitous,” she says. “It’s so similar to [Monterey County]. There’s characteristics there and here that you don’t get in Napa.”
But the most fortuitous moment in this journey came when Hoff and Danzer met on a blind date. Today her wine-engineering savvy dovetails so well with his gift for marketing and management that the date seems preordained.
Hoff selects the varietals from small family-owned vineyards in Monterey County or Cima’s vineyards, decides when to harvest at just the right ripeness, then takes the grapes through the sorting and such of the winemaking process.
Danzer assists with all this, by design and necessity—they are part of a four-person core winery crew that moves 64 tons of grapes from conveyer belt to de-stemmer to fermentation tanks to barrel to bottle. (“Every harvest we all lose 10 pounds,” Hoff says.)
Then Danzer goes on the road, carrying cases with him. As a former buyer, he syncs up with the other side of the transaction seamlessly; it also helps that buyers like his wine.
“We make a lot of buying decisions based on a lot of factors,” says Edwards of the Wine Market. “The people behind the wine are a factor, and that means [Danzer’s] wine takes a little more of a priority. I like the idea that there’s no show—they’re out there on Reservation Road in Marina—that the focus is on the wines and they take a lot of pride in the wine.”
Edwards quickly qualifies what type of pride he’s talking about.
“It’s not an arrogant pride, a ‘look at what I’ve done,’ ” he says. “It’s just they’re very close to the doing. Doug talks about the vineyard. You like the idea they start from the ground up.”
Their ground is a good place to start. Lumpkin owns the label’s estate vineyard, the Hilltop Ranch Vineyard in lower Carmel Valley. They also pull Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from a shared Chula Vina Vineyard and Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. (They have also been experimenting with one-vineyard release projects.) While Lumpkin, a Midwesterner who made his money in telecommunications, insisted on the label’s name (it means “top of the hill,” in a combo of Italian and Spanish), he left the rest up to Hoff and Danzer.
“We feel very lucky,” Hoff says, “to have an owner who lets us do the wine the way we want.”
If Lumpkin needed any validation that he selected the right leadership, it came quickly: The Hoff-Danzer duo designed and helped build the Marina winery in just nine weeks.
There, amidst the barrels and the boxes, a certain purpose permeates the air along with smells of fermenting Merlot grapes and fresh French oak.
“We want to help define the quality of the region,” Hoff says. “It’s such a great area and has so much potential. Everyone I know in the industry here is fully aware of the potential we have for making world-class wines. It’s the reason we focus on Monterey vineyards. ”
From here, in this unlikely Marina location, the future of
local wine looks pretty good. Expect Luke and his parents to
For more on Cima Collina wine-tastings events, Annette’s blog and more, visit cimacollina.com.