The roots of the Martin Ray Winery go back to 1852 when Charlers LeFranc founded the Almaden Winery. Paul Masson married LeFranc’s daughter and ran both the Almaden Winery and his Mountain Winery. He changed the company name to the Paul Masson Champagne Company, before finally trading the Almaden Winery for a 26,500 acre ranch near Gilroy and selling the remainder of the company to Martin “Rusty” Ray in 1936.
In 1942 Ray sold the winery, vineyards and inventory to Seagrams, but he retained the company title and changed the name to the Martin Ray Winery. With the proceeds of the sale he purchased the adjoining mountain and continued to produce the 100% varietal Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the late 1960s he formed a partnership to develop the surrounding area, but the partnership soured and Ray ended up losing control of the winery and all but 5 acres to what became Mount Eden Vineyards. He named his remaining 5 acres Peter Martin Ray Vineyard after his stepson. Production continued, after his death in 1976, into the early 1980s, headed by Peter and his widow Eleanor. In addition to estate grapes, they purchased high quality grapes from Stelzner in Stag’s Leap and Winery Lake vineyards in Carneros. The label was defunct until 1990 when it was acquired by Courtney Benham in Sonoma who became the proprietor and principal winemaker of Martin Ray Winery in 2003.
While it has born various names, this historic site is distinguished as the oldest winery in continuous operation in Sonoma County and one of the oldest wineries in California. The winery houses a 1 million gallon production facility that serves not only Martin Ray’s wine production, but also as a custom crush facility where over 20 clients can crush their grapes and produce their wine. Visitors can tour the immense production facility, which houses thirty 11,000 gallon old-growth redwood tanks dating back to 1904 (and which are still used to this day), as well as thirty-two open-top concrete fermentation tanks which hold 33,000 gallons each. Wines produced include Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot and a Dry Rosé .
In front of the historic grape crush barns is a well-manicured lawn with a stone pathway accompanied by picnic tables that leads you to the newly remodeled Martin Ray Tasting room tasting room. The tasting room serves two lines, the Angeline which is a fresh, fruit forward style wines that are value priced ($14 - $16 per bottle) and the Martin Ray which is their traditional line which consists of premium priced wines ($20 - $25) derived from hillside vineyards which are $5 to $10 more per bottle. But, all the wines no both lines are under $30 which makes them all very affordable and both tasting flights consist of a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon. While visiting I sampled the following from Martin Ray line:
The first wine was the 2010 Russian River Chardonnay. On the nose I picked up lemon zest, green apples, pears and a hint of toast. On the palate the wine is light, crisp with a medium length finish. This wine sells for $20 a bottle.
The second wine was the 2010 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. This wine has a bouquet of fresh cherries, plums, smoke, spice and a hint of forest floor. On the palate the wine is well balanced and has good acidity and a medium length finish. This is a really good Pinot at the $25 price point.
The third wine was the 2009 Napa Valley Merlot which is a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose I picked up cherry crème, cassis, dark plums, vanilla and a hint of herbs. On the palate it has supple but firm tannins and a clean finish. A fine Merlot for only $20 a bottle.
My final pour was the 2009 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has a really big nose which exudes black currants, mint, anise and a hint of smoke. On the palate the wine is full bodied with a rich texture with supple “drink now” tannins that have a slight drying effect. This is a really great “every day drinking wine” in the $20 price range so I brought one home.
To visit or for more information:
Martin Ray Winery
2191 Laguna Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401