Just What the Doc Ordered
The description read: “Come enjoy a special lunch on a deck overlooking Doc’s Ranch Vineyard, views of the beautiful Pacific Ocean, and fine Pinot Noir.” Sounds fantastic, right? It turned out to be so much more.
Vintners, Andrea and Bryon Sheets, were consummate hosts and are entirely responsible for one of the most enjoyable Sunday afternoons I have ever spent in the wine countries. In addition to tending to one of the most breathtaking vineyards on West Sonoma Coast, they also are just darn nice people who make you want to linger in their home. I felt like I’d known them forever, mere minutes into the conversation.
Bryon acquired Doc’s Ranch, a picturesque vineyard, located just a few miles west of Occidental and four miles inland from the coast, in 2005. Named after “Doc” Van Alstyne, a former landowner of vast acreage encompassing the ridge in Occidental, which offers expansive views of both the Pacific Ocean and Pt. Reyes seashore. Located in an area considered “extreme” or “true” Sonoma Coast, the six year old vineyard came into production in a very challenging vintage.
Bryon’s ancestral roots hail from the Midwest. Most of his family still farm vast corn and soybean fields in Minnesota. His family maintains the legacies of both great grandfathers who taught Bryon the particulars of farming and a sensitivity to preserving the land. Although born in California, Bryon never lost sight of his heritage and deep connection with his roots. Having pursued a career in finance, Bryon started visiting the wine country on weekends; first spending time in Napa and then setting his sights on Sonoma County.
In his early 30s, his “wine wow’ moment was delivered by a sip of 1991 Silver Oak, which was burned in his memory as the finest wine he had to that date. The layers of complexity he experienced captured his imagination and eventually lead him to Doc’s Ranch.
Bryon knew he wanted a challenging site. He also knew he wanted to work with a nuanced grape variety. He sensed that the up and coming West Sonoma County area was not “me too” region. He felt that this was a special place; the confluence of neighborliness and a welcoming wine community appealed to him. He yearned to be a part of it.
Serendipitously, he crossed paths with Peter and Marie Young from Bennett Valley’s Grey Stack Cellars, they soon became fast friends. The Youngs were instrumental in Bryon’s acquisition of Doc’s Ranch.
In 2005 the Sheets set out to produce the best possible wine from the appellation, a product that showcased the region and expressed the essence of the sight while honoring their unwavering commitment to organically farmed fruit.
Bryon’s evolution as a vintner was complex and multifaceted. He took extensive classes at UC Davis on viticulture and vineyard management. On weekends, he spent every available moment in the vineyard listening and learning from such luminaries as Greg Adams and Walt Flowers. His deep knowledge came from this practical, hands on education. He learned how various pruning styles can effect yields. He came to appreciate the true value of organic, sustainable farming. He studied the impact of variables such as cover crop, ecology underneath the vine, clonal selections and spacing. Bryon was irresistibly drawn to the miraculous, fragile, unpredictable nature of each harvest. His unyielding attachment to land stewardship and deep commitment to optimizing all aspects of farming allowed him to the translate the nuances of his site into the bottle.
In Sonoma County, it is no secret that best wines are produced from grapes that are grown on ridges with southern exposure. This limitation makes it difficult to find ideal acreage. Bryon’s new eight acre vineyard, which is expected to come into production in 2015, features seven Pinot Noir blocks with southern exposure planted to Calera, Pommard and a Dijon clone 114. He’s also planted a block of clone 4 chardonnay, just above the fog line, which should produce a noteworthy wine.
Bryon currently sells all of his fruit to Red Car Wine and Evening Land Vineyards.
Well-crafted Pinot Noirs from Andrea and Bryon Sheets Doc’s Ranch Vineyards pierce your senses and offer unparallel clarity, purity and delineation. They will easily hold their own with top flight Burgundies. Readers searching for exquisite elegance combined with extraordinary authenticity are strongly advised to seek out these wines. I first tasted Evening Land, and subsequently the Red Car offerings, several years ago. I was instantly struck by the level of sophistication offered by these wines. Over the years, I have come to regard them as a reference point for what can be achieved in a domestic Pinot Noir.