erica stancliff

Erica Stancliff winemaker at Trombetta Family Wines

Erica Stancliff is back on California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon and Dan Berger. Erica Stancliff is the winemaker for Trombetta Family Wines, which she founded with her mother. Dan Berger is also back in the studio, after Coronavirus quarantine. During the time, he opened a lot of bottles from his extensive cellar. About half of them were no good but the other half were good.

Erica Stancliff was on California Wine Country twice last year, in February 2019, together with her mother Rickey Trombetta, and again, with Tom Gendall, Assistant Winemaker at Cline Family Cellars, in a July 2019 show about Petaluma Gap wines. Trombetta is her mother’s maiden name. They started the winery in 2010 after Erica graduated from Fresno St. with a degree in enology.

Paul Hobbs

Paul Hobbs was Erica Stancliff’s mentor and consulting winemaker for the first few years. After extensive experience internationally and in California for various producers, she took over as winemaker for Trombetta Family Wines in 2014. Paul Hobbs has a great reputation, having worked with David Ramey at Simi Winery and elsewhere. Dan Berger says Paul Hobbs is very respected. He is the guy who lifted the Argentine wine industry up from its bootstraps. Dan says he can do everything, with every varietal. Erica says he was a great person to learn from.

tailgate white

Fresno State Winery Tailgate White

Speaking of Argentina, Dan says that Argentina makes very good wines that are produced at a much lower cost than here, so they are very inexpensive to us. Erica remembers that they did not have all the technological advances and other choices available there that we have in California.

Top University Wine Programs in the US

Erica got a degree in Viticulture and Enology from California State University, Fresno aka Fresno State. She chose the school because at the time, it was the only college campus that had a bonded winery. They had over 200 acres of farmland and their classes and exams were all very practical, from vineyard through winery all the way to sales.

UC Davis and Fresno St. are the two most famous university wine programs. Others are Purdue, Mississippi St. and Cornell, with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo the newest one coming on. UC Davis is the oldest program, it was founded after the second world war.

Petaluma Gap

They taste a 2018 Dutton Goldfield Riesling, from the Petaluma Gap. Dan Berger says that the emergence of the Petaluma Gap AVA is a very important development. Petaluma Gap is hot by day with cool evenings, sea breezes and foggy mornings. The AVA is driven by its natural topography, which creates a wind tunnel. Dan Berger says that good acidity will always be a characteristic of Petaluma Gap wines. “This wine wouldn’t grow anywhere else to deliver this character. This character comes from the Gap. This area is going to become world famous,” says Dan Berger.

Erica Stancliff says, “As the president of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance, I’m loving every word I’m hearing.”

“This is world class stuff. This is not just good or great, this is world class. This is right up there with the very best wine made anywhere.” –Dan Berger on Petaluma Gap wines

Erica tells that Petaluma Gap sells fruit to winemakers in Napa and Sonoma counties that love using their Pinot and Chardonnay. They have a longer growing season than anywhere else around here. They pick about two weeks later than Russian River. Dave Ramey makes a killer Syrah there too.

Dan Berger reminds us about what Jeff Gaffner from Black Kite said recently on this show about his Petaluma Gap Pinot.

All the great Pinot Noir specialists use fruit from Petaluma Gap, Erica names Gary Farrell, Kosta Browne, Three Sticks, Black Kite and others.There are also a few great wineries located there, Blue Wing and Keller Estate she mentions.

Petaluma Gap

Erica describes the Petaluma Gap area. Some parts are at higher and lower elevation, some a little more in the fog line. They harvest at least two weeks later, because they have a longer growing season without losing the acid. Dan says that’s the acid that makes the wine.

They have a 2018 Petaluma Gap Chardonnay from Trombetta Family Wines. Dan says it is world class, up there with the best white Burgundies. For comparison, Erica also brought two other Chardonnays from Petaluma Gap, which come from different elevations. The Pfendler is a bit higher, about 1200 ft. elevation, and it’s above the fog line. And she has a Gap’s Crown Chardonnay, around 500-600 ft. elevation, in the fog line. “That difference in elevation and tilt of vineyard orientation changes these two wines, but at the same time they have beautiful acid, beautiful fruit and there’s texture to them. And that is Petaluma Gap in a nutshell to me: Acid, Flavor and Texture.”

The next tasting is the Pinot Noir. This Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir was the first wine that Trombetta Family Wines produced and Erica remembers it fondly. She talks about the brunt force of the wind in the evenings. Erica is also winemaker for Pfendler and makes wine from their three vineyards that are at three different elevations on Sonoma Mountain. The place is magic, says Erica.  Dan says Pinot Noir is rich, without being clumsy. The secret to that is the acidity. The raspberry flavors are more intense in these wines than in the ones from Russian River Valley AVA.

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