Like many Southern Californians, Don and Charlene Stolo escaped to Cambria to reset and relax. After 20 years of visiting the area, Don and Charlene decided that this would be the place to retire. They set out looking for their slice of Cambria. One day they happened upon the rural road of Santa Rosa Creek. As they came around one of the many curves, they found what they were looking for; 53 acres of beautiful coastal land with an 1880's farmhouse and a huge redwood dairy barn surrounded by the verdant green rolling hills of the north coast. But, the property was not for sale.
This property became the template by which all other properties were judged as the Stolo's continued their search. Over the next two years Don and Charlene always came back to that country road just outside of Cambria and incredibly, one day, there was a for sale sign on the property fence. The Stolo's purchased the property in 2002. They were now the proud owners of their dream retirement spot…that happened to have a vineyard on it!
The previous owner had planted a nine-acre vineyard on what is now called our Hillside vineyard in 1998. The vineyard was in neglect but Don and Charlene saw a diamond in the rough. The Stolo's were told that the vineyard had been planted under the guidance of renowned Rhone style vineyard owner and wine maker, John Alban. Preliminary research indicated that the varietals, clones and rootstock appeared to be an ideal match for the climate and soils on the property.
Confirming these findings was Don and Charlene's daughter, Maria Stolo Bennetti, now Stolo Winery and Vineyard V.P. and General Manager. Maria at the time was involved in the premium wine industry in Northern California. Maria and Don set to work to find additional research regarding the existing vineyard plantings, climate and soil. They found that the sites microclimate, characterized by morning coastal fog and cool afternoon breezes, would provide an ideal environment for Burgundian varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Northern Rhone Syrah. The cooling ocean influence would prolong the growing season, allowing the grapes a longer hang time and producing small berries with thick skins. All perfect for producing the unique flavors and intensity found in cool climate premium wines. The soil analysis was another plus. The Hillside Vineyard is comprised of Los Osos-Diablo complex soil. This is a unique coastal soil formed from weathered sandstone and shale. The soil is high in manganese, a nutrient essential for premium grapevine development.
Though all the research was positive, conventional wisdom in San Luis Obispo County at that time was that a vineyard had to be further inland. You could not grow premium wine grapes that close to the ocean; it was too cool, too windy, too foggy. “Everyone told me I was crazy to buy a vineyard so close to the ocean. They said it couldn’t be done. The climate was too cool” notes Don Stolo. But he had a different perspective. Even though the vineyard sat less than three miles from the Pacific Ocean, making it one of the closest vineyards to the coast in California, Don saw it as plus not a minus. If it could be done, the property would produce a hands-down micro specific cool climate wine that would be unmatched. The Stolos decided to take on the challenge.
The first vintage of Stolo Vineyards was bottled in 2004 and much to their expectation, the wine exuded the sense of place they had hoped for. “Year after year, the property continues to amaze us with its intense presence in the wine. We could not be happier with the quality, uniqueness, and overall reception the wines have received” Don says. Now home to approximately 23 acres of sustainably farmed premium grapes, Stolo Vineyard consistently produces 90+ rated wines across the board.
ABOUT NICOLE BERTOTTI POPE:
After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences and Minor in Psychology, Nicole, along with Luke, set off to explore the vineyards of the world. They traveled and worked in California, Australia, and South Africa, gaining extensive knowledge of unique practices from around the globe. Nicole landed at Domaine Carneros in the Carneros Region of Napa Valley where she served as Enologist. She honed her skills producing cool climate Pinot Noir and sparkling wine.
After a few years, Nicole moved back down to the Central Coast for a position at Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande, known also for world class cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. She started as their Enologist and moved on to Assistant Winemaker. Nicole came on as winemaker at Stolo Family Vineyards in 2011 and continues to utilize her knowledge of cool climate wines to produce beautiful representations of our vineyards. In 2013, Nicole and Luke welcomed their first child, Greyson, into their family.
STEVE MACROSTIE - FOUNDER, MACROSTIE WINERY AND VINEYARDS
Using grapes farmed by legendary winegrowing families including the Duttons, Sangiacomos, Martinellis and Bacigalupis, and from Steve’s own Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, MacRostie’s Sonoma Coast wines have established themselves as benchmarks, offering a rare intersection between labor-intensive small-lot winemaking, fair pricing and the complexity that can only be achieved by working with the finest vineyards.
Though founded in 1987, the seeds for MacRostie Winery and Vineyards go back to 1974—to the early days of Sonoma County winemaking—when Steve began his career at Hacienda Winery. At a time when most California winemakers were fixated on Bordeaux varieties and Napa Valley, Steve and a handful of other pioneers took a different path, embracing the fog-shrouded vineyards of Sonoma County and their untapped potential for producing some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the world. Steve quickly gained renown as a winemaker capable of making exceptional Burgundian-variety wines. He also began to develop his own style, favoring crispness, complexity and vineyard character, as opposed to overt opulence.
In 1987, Steve established MacRostie. To make his earliest wines, he reached out to growers he knew and respected—leaders of Sonoma County winegrowing, like the Sangiacomo family. MacRostie’s wines were soon widely hailed for their unique balance of cool-climate structure and vibrant fruit. In 1992, years before the modern Pinot Noir boom, MacRostie added Pinot Noir to its portfolio, and quickly developed a devoted following for the pure and elegant style of these wines.
Several years later, inspired by a desire to cultivate his own great piece of land, Steve discovered an amazing mountainside ranch in the Petaluma Gap region on the borderlands of the Sonoma Coast. Planted to Steve’s specifications, this windswept site has become Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, and the cornerstone of the winery’s vineyard program. At the same time, in its drive to represent the entirety of the Sonoma Coast, MacRostie has continued to explore ever-farther west, to sites like Dutton Ranch and Goldrock Ridge, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. To capture the rich expressiveness of the entire appellation, MacRostie works with more than 30 Chardonnay vineyards and over 15 Pinot Noir sites—a remarkable level of diversity for a small winery.
In 2015, MacRostie unveiled its new state-of-the-art Pinot-focused winery and MacRostie Estate House on Westside Road in the Russian River Valley, which is also the home to Thale’s Vineyard, named after Steve’s wife. “I have always wanted a home for MacRostie that expresses who we are as a winery and what we believe in as clearly as our wines do,” says Steve. “Our new home in the Russian River Valley is a culmination of everything we have learned over our first quarter century, and a statement about who we plan to be over the next 25 years.”
ABOUT STEVE MACROSTIE:
In 1974, Steve MacRostie made his first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir using grapes from areas that would today include the Sonoma Coast. Back then, there were only about 40 small wineries in Sonoma County. Now there are hundreds. Where Steve helped lead, both geographically and stylistically, others have followed, making the Sonoma Coast one of the world’s great regions for making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With his relaxed charm, philosophical mind, adventurous spirit and encyclopedic knowledge of Sonoma County viticulture and winemaking, Steve is recognized as one of the region’s great pioneers, strongest advocates and most respected winemakers.
A native Californian, Steve was raised in Sacramento. In the process of preparing for medical school, he earned a degree in biology from Washington’s Whitman College in 1968. Following his time at Whitman, Steve served in the U.S. Army, which trained him as a cryptographer and deployed him to Vicenza in the Veneto region of Italy. While in Europe, Steve took advantage of the opportunity to travel to France, Germany and Spain. European wines were an epiphany for him, far surpassing the few American wines he had tasted. He quickly fell in love with wine, and the idea of winemaking. After the army, Steve abandoned the safe path of a career in medicine, and instead enrolled in the enology program at the UC Davis.
When most young winemakers were focusing on working with Bordeaux varieties and establishing careers in Napa Valley, Steve once again took the road less traveled, and in 1974, he became the inaugural winemaker for Sonoma County’s Hacienda Winery. During his 12 years at Hacienda, Steve honed his craft and earned renown as a gifted winemaker capable of making benchmark Chardonnays and age-worthy Pinot Noirs. In 1987, with the support of his wife Thale, Steve founded MacRostie Winery and Vineyards. At MacRostie, Steve began to pioneer a fresh, elegant style that showed its roots in the cool vineyards of Sonoma County. To achieve this, Steve continued building relationships with the best growers throughout the region— relationships that have lasted for decades.
In 1997, Steve made another bold decision when he established of his own Wildcat Mountain Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap region on the borderlands between Carneros and the Sonoma Coast. Though Wildcat exists on the extreme edge of cool-climate viticulture, it has proven ideal for growing grapes that produce profound, complex and elegant wines. With Wildcat as one its cornerstones, in recent years Steve has focused much of his efforts on further enhancing the MacRostie vineyard program. Because of the relationships he’s developed over his 40-year career, and the universal respect he has from his peers, Steve is able to source the most sought after fruit for MacRostie, including grapes from legendary winegrowing families like the Duttons, Sangiacomos, Ritchies, Martinellis and Bacigalupis,
Steve is still in the winery almost daily, where he works alongside MacRostie’s talented winemaker, Heidi Bridenhagen. Because of their inquisitive natures, Steve and Heidi are constantly trying to improve and grow as winemakers. Together, they challenge and inspire each other, and as a result, Steve and Heidi are making the best wines in MacRostie’s history, while also staying at the forefront of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir viticulture and winemaking.
In recent years, Steve has stepped back from the administrative and business side of the winery, allowing him to focus even more on what he loves—working in the vineyard, working with growers and making wine. As a result, he’s having the most fun he’s had in years.
As a director of the California Wine Institute, Steve continues to be a respected advocate for Sonoma County and the entire wine industry. Steve has served as president of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance, the Carneros Wine Alliance and the Carneros Quality Alliance. Steve and Thale live in Sonoma Valley.