Anne Moller-Racke has overseen the Donum Estate vineyard since 2001.
More than a decade ago, when Anne Moller-Racke set about turning what had been part of the old Buena Vista ranch into an estate dedicated to Pinot Noir, she used a variety of clones to build the wine in the vineyard.
She planted clones for aromatics, certain flavors and structure thinking of the final blend. Today, Moller-Racke said that while clone selection is important, understanding the dynamics of a particular vineyard site is even more crucial.
She has tended the vines at the Donum Estate
in the Carneros AVA for more than a decade and has worked in vineyard development and management in Carneros for 30 years. “I think site is way more important than anything else,” she said. “I think site is the driving part.”
A dozen years
Moller-Racke has overseen the Donum property since 2001, when the German firm Racke, which is owned by her ex-husband’s family, retained a 147-acre property after selling Buena Vista Winery
to Allied Domecq. In December of 2011, Racke sold the estate to Winside Inc., an investment group comprised of a small set of Danish partners.
Moller-Racke remains Donum’s president and winegrower, and the winemaker is Dan Fishman, who came to the winery as an intern and trained for several harvests under former winemaker Kenneth Juhasz, who still consults at the winery.
Prior to selling to Winside, Donum contracted the 20-acre Angel Camp
vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley in 2011, and in December of 2012 the winery acquired a 16-acre Russian River vineyard.
At the end of July the winery closed on a 40-acre parcel adjacent to the Carneros estate. Moller-Racke said she is working on a plan to plant the property based on the insights she’s gained tending the estate. “I’m really looking forward to putting this together,” she said.
Much of the site will be planted with the Roederer clone that already accounts for many of Donum’s most critically acclaimed wines such as its “Westslope” vineyard-designate Pinot Noir. Donum’s Roederer clone, however, is a massal selection cultivated through Hermann J. Wiemer Nursery in New York and called the Donum Selection.
This past spring, Moller-Racke replanted 14.5 acres of the Carneros estate. The 11 acres of Pinot Noir are planted with Pommard, Calera, 2A and 667, and there are two acres of Wente-clone Chardonnay.
The Donum Selection accounts for about one-third of the estate’s productive vines, but taking into account the vines replanted this year its share in the future will only be about a quarter. “This selection will always be one of our main selections, Calera being a close second.”
Moller-Racke said her experience taught her the Donum Selection performed consistently better on the flat areas or west-facing slopes rather than on the east, which ran counter to her initial expectation. She also learned that Pommard does better than she had originally thought, but 115 has not been ideal at the estate.
Donum’s annual production is around 3,000 cases, but the winery’s second label, Robert Stemmler, accounts for 6,000. All the wine is made at the custom-crush winery Punchdown Cellars
in Santa Rosa, Calif.
The new property also came with a winery permit, so Moller-Racke said an estate winery could well be on the horizon.
She said working with the new owners has been a pleasure because they sincerely enjoy wine. “They keep telling me, ‘Anne, it needs to be a fun project.’”
Moller-Racke met two of the partners, Trond Fredheim and Daniel Aaxman, when they were visiting the area as guests of Jean Charles Boisset. Fredheim and Aaxman would go on to purchase the Donum lot in the 2007 Hospice of Sonoma wine auction and would become friends with Moller-Racke.
Boisset purchased the historic Buena Vista Winery in the city of Sonoma in 2011.
Moller-Racke said the owners are hands-off when it comes to viticulture and winemaking but have provided some direction and input on sales strategy.
In the vineyard, Moller-Racke said she applies slightly different approaches to each property to achieve the common goal of balance and uniform ripeness. She said she prefers an east-west orientation of the rows in Carneros to take advantage of the prevailing winds as well as pull leaves on the north side for a little more sun exposure. The extra ventilation protects against disease and the added sunlight toughens the grape skins, she said.
That strategy proved successful in 2011, when Moller-Racke was able to produce a Pinot Noir from the Carneros estate that is showing quite well. She recalled calling off a pick in October and waiting through the first rainstorm that month. She picked before the second October rainstorm, which was followed with slightly higher temperatures and more humidity.
While the grapes needed some extensive sorting in the vineyard and at the winery, she believes the lengthy ripening season of 2011 may have created wines that will ultimately be quite enjoyable. “It was in many ways so perfect,” she said. “This may really be surprising us in 10 years when we open the bottle, how well it’s holding up. … I think our ’11 is a beautiful wine for what the vintage gave us.”