Most of the vineyards in West Marin enjoy a steady coolness through the spring and summer, when the fog-enshrouded grapes are able to ripen slowly with just the right minimum amount of light and heat.
That closeness to the ocean helps moderate temperatures during the winter, too, when it stays relatively warm compared to inland Napa or much of Sonoma, and it gets very wet, like parts of the Sonoma Coast and north. The climatic yin and yang coax a crop of grapes that's rich in natural acidity, restrained in alcohol. If you like this style of wine, particularly pinot noir and chardonnay and the occasional riesling or gew?rztraminer, look for these wines, either made in Marin or sourced from its vineyards.
Bailiwick Wines: Based in Sonoma and a maker of many wines, tiny Bailiwick produces the award-winning Borderline Pinot Noir from Kendric Vineyard grapes, the sole source of fruit in its 2010 vintage, out now. bailiwickwines.com.
DeLoach Vineyards: Russian River Valley's DeLoach makes not one but two pinot noirs from Marin, one from the Skyview Vineyard and another from Stubbs. The 2009 vintages are out now. Skyview is noted for its intensity, all dark berry fruit and peppery allspice. The Stubbs pinot is earthier, round in minerals, cherries and mushroom-y spice. deloachvineyards.com.
Devils Gulch Ranch: A pioneer in Marin County pinot noir, the 65-acre Devils Gulch in Nicasio, "on a convoluted hillside adjacent to the Point Reyes Peninsula," as rancher Mark Pasternak describes the land, is more than just vineyards. It considers itself a diversified family farm, growing asparagus and raising livestock (pigs, rabbit, lamb and quail); much of it goes to places such as French Laundry, Auberge du Soleil and Chez Panisse. They also sell firewood in addition to grapes. Dutton Goldfield and Sean Thackrey buy pinot noir from Devil's Gulch. It also grows tiny bits of chardonnay and gew?rztraminer; the latter also goes to Dutton Goldfield. devilsgulchranch.com.
Easkoot: Named for Marin County's first land surveyor, Alfred Derby Easkoot, this new winery is making pinot noir from grapes grown on the Chileno Valley Vineyard, farmed by Devils Gulch Ranch's Mark Pasternak, only six miles from the ocean. The 2009 vintage is its first release; the 2010 and 2011s are also out now. easkoot.com.
Kendric Vineyards: Stewart Johnson started out farming his mother's syrah and sangiovese vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley south of Placerville in Amador County, but moved over to Marin to grow pinot noir and viognier from an unlikely east-facing slope in view of the Sonoma County border near Mount Burdell and Olompali State Park. Johnson says good soil is hard to come by in Marin - too much clay and magnesium - but he dug hundreds of backhoe pits to get to shallow loams with a good mix of sand, silt and clay. The resulting pinot is light in color and texture, cool-climate in all its glory, with herbal and red cherry layers swathed in silky tannins and a finish of cola and spice. kendricvineyards.com.
McEvoy Ranch: The famed olive oil producer planted grapes on its sprawling Petaluma-Marin site in 2006 and now has five separate vineyards on 7 acres of land planted to pinot noir, syrah, grenache, viognier and rare varieties such as montepulciano, Alicante Bouschet and refosco. It also farms an 18-acre pinot noir vineyard nearby. Look for its 2010 Red Piano, Rosebud and Pinot Noir wines to be released soon. mcevoyranch.com.
Pey-Marin Vineyards: This husband-and-wife-run operation makes a range of wines under the Pey-Marin name, but also Mount Tamalpais, Textbook Napa Valley and The Forager and Spicerack, both from the Sonoma Coast. Pey-Marin riesling, one of the best in Northern California, is from a vineyard on the southern end of Tomales Bay. It's clean, crisp and entirely dry and only 11 percent alcohol. The couple's Marin County Trois Filles Pinot Noir ("trois filles" means "three girls"; they have three daughters) is from three cold vineyards a mere eight miles from the ocean. scenicrootwinegrowers.com.
Sean Thackrey: The iconoclast vintner Sean Thackrey makes wines from his tiny Bolinas winery, including a pinot noir from Devil's Gulch Ranch called Andromeda that's delicately rich and silky, pure pleasure in a glass. Thackrey's wines can be hard to find, but are well worth seeking, especially on restaurant lists; they go tremendously well with food. winemaker-net.
Skywalker Vineyards: With Skywalker in the name it's not hard to guess this is famed director and longtime Marin County resident George Lucas's baby, centered around small-production pinot noir and chardonnay made by former Francis Ford Coppola director of winemaking (and Marin native) Scott McLeod. Skywalker Vineyards is set amid Skywalker Ranch (headquarters of Skywalker Sound) in the Lucas Valley section of Marin County, west of where Novato turns into San Rafael. McLeod looked after the planting of 21 acres of pinot noir on a hilltop ridge as well as a smaller bit of chardonnay, both harvested for the first time in 2008. The winemaker is bullish on Marin's potential, stating that he thinks Marin in 20 years will be known as one of the world's great sites for pinot and chardonnay. He also makes an estate pinot noir ros? skywalkervineyards.com.
Stubbs Vineyard: As the vineyard closest to Tomales Bay, Stubbs grows some of the most extreme pinot noir grapes in the area, where it's cool to cold most of the time. The resulting grapes are intensely spicy and floral, relatively high in acid and correspondingly low in alcohol, with a silky mouthfeel and lightness. For years, the Stubbs family sold grapes to Schramsberg and Hartford Court; they now sell small amounts of fruit to DeLoach but use much of the grape tonnage for their own wines, a pinot noir, chardonnay and merlot, made by Dutton Goldfield winemaker Dan Goldfield. stubbsvineyard.com.
Virginie Boone is a freelance wine writer based in Sonoma County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @vboone.