Muns Vineyard – A Mountain Top Pinot and Syrah Paradise

Less than a half hour drive from the hustle and bustle of Los Gatos and Silicon Valley is Muns Vineyard, located high in the Santa Cruz Mountains about 2.5 miles west of the Loma Prieta peak and overlooking Monterey Bay. Muns primarily grows and produces Pinot Noir, but also produces a small amount of Syrah.  I was interested to learn why I love Muns’ wines so darn much, what makes them distinctive and how the Pinot and Syrah from the same vineyard compare.

Before visiting the vineyard I conducted a little tasting of Muns’ 2006 Pinot Noir and 2008 Syrah.  The Pinot had beautiful cherry and hints of darker fruit up front. This wine has the marks of a warmer climate, heavier-bodied Pinot with very nice structure and mouthfeel. But don’t think fruit bomb! It possesses delicate nuances and the elegance of a fine Pinot and is by no means over-powering. In a way, it tends toward a very cool climate Syrah, but with fresher, lighter fruit up front.  This wine sells for about $40/bottle and I purchased mine from Muns.

The Syrah is a very enjoyable wine as well with darker, richer fruit and vanilla from the oak coming through on the nose. There is also a bit of pepperiness, typical of Syrah. The wine is well-balanced with soft tannins and a luscious mouthfeel.  I found this wine at Enoteca La Storia in Los Gatos for $25/bottle and can be found at VinoCruz in Santa Cruz as well. Muns also ships wine direct or delivers locally.

As a little side experiment, I blended about 10 percent of the Pinot into the Syrah.  I know for many this is heresy, but what’s wrong with exploring new paths? For me, this brightened up the Syrah with fresher, lighter fruit, while still maintaining its richness, substance and structure. Blending a small bit of Pinot into Syrah is not typical, but can be found in some New World wine regions, such as New Zealand. A good example can be seen on Jamie Goode’s video blog.

And now for the fieldwork. I visited with Ed Muns and Mary Lindsay of Muns Vineyard on a beautiful harvest day. Ed is always busy directing the harvest crew, driving the tractor to distribute and load picking bins, and keeping the harvest process rolling as efficiently as possible. A retired engineer from Hewlett-Packard, I can immediately see that Ed does things the right way, with no corners cut.  

The 20 person harvest crew will pull back 12 miles of bird netting and harvest 12 acres in 3-4 days!
Muns’ wines have had minimal intervention from the winemaker and are truly an expression of the vineyard. At an elevation of over 2,600 feet, the vineyard is the highest Pinot vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. While it is in direct line-of-sight to Monterey Bay, and therefore gets a significant ocean cooling effect, it lies above the daily cloud coverage.

Looking south toward Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay from the 12 acre vineyard

As compared to other Pinot vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Muns Vineyard has ocean air to cool the vineyard at night, but receives high radiant heat from the sun during the day. To control the high radiant heat, and prevent sunburn, Ed does not pull leaves at all. He prefers to leave full leaf cover with the grapes seeing dappled or filtered sun. And to control mildew and molds, ocean breezes on the open ridge-top location provide good air movement through the canopy.

Looking for the fruit
The fruit is hidden in the canopy

When I tasted both the Pinot Noir and Syrah fruit in the vineyard, I immediately noticed that the skins were thicker and heartier than other Pinot and Syrah fruit that I have tasted. 

One full bin is a half ton of fruit which makes about 300 bottles of wine
The fruit looks perfect with no mildew or molds and very few leaves. Brix = 24.5
Ed and Mary believe that their breezy ridge top location and soil type promote thicker-skinned fruit, which contributes to the structure of the wines. The color and “good” tannins in wine come primarily from the skins. 

Mary Lindsay and Ed Muns

As President of the Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mary has examined what sets the appellation apart from some of the larger, better known California wine regions. Mary pointed out that Santa Cruz Mountain vineyards are not typically surrounded by other vineyards, but instead are cut right into the mountain environment, so each vineyard’s terroir (the sum of environmental effects on the wine) is unique. In the case of Muns, the vineyard is surrounded by a few Fir, Oak and Madrone trees, but mainly rugged and thick California chaparral

The single lane road leading to Muns Vineyard and California Chaparral

I have been drinking Muns Vineyards wines for a few years now and am always impressed by the quality and elegance, but also by the structure, typical of what I enjoy in bigger wines. After touring the vineyard and visiting with Ed and Mary, it is obvious, that for them, this is a passion and a labor of love. Their dedication (over 12 miles of bird netting!) and the unique qualities of this mountain top vineyard show through in the wines that they produce. Perhaps next year I will get my hands on some of their exquisite fruit and make it sing in new and different ways.