Rancho Maria Family Vineyard is an 18-acre estate in Dry Creek Valley with 13 planted acres of zinfandel and petite sirah. Monty and Stella Hansen bought their property in the early 1960s, which sits on a western-facing hillside next door to Maple Vineyard, but the land had been home to grapes long before the Hansens settled there.
Monty and Stella Hansen
In 1902, a zinfandel vineyard was planted by Angelo Lencioni, who went on to start his own Sonoma County winery. When Prohibition loomed, the property became a sheep pasture, and was not replanted until decades later. At first, Monty grew merlot, which was popular at the time, but he soon realized that he couldn’t stand the taste of the grape. He then cut off the heads of his vines, and planted zinfandel instead. Though the soil in Ranch Maria Family Vineyard is hard-packed clay loam, the steep incline of the hillside makes for great drainage which benefits the grapes.
Rancho Maria Family Vineyard
Monty and Stella’s son, Sebastian Juarez, is the general manager at Rancho Maria. He grew up growing grapes around his father. At first, it was just a chore–something he had to do before he could play. Sebastian says, “Then it became something I loved doing. It developed into a passion and a hobby. I got to ride a tractor and hang out with dad.” This passion led him to the local college, where he got certificates in enology and viticulture, combining his cellar and vineyard upbringing with classroom learning and an understanding of the business. Today, Sebastian is excited to be working on Rancho Maria as a brand, carving out their name in an area of excellent, well-known wineries.
In the vineyard right now, Rancho Maria’s grapes are growing ahead of schedule. Budbreak was the second week of February 2015, and bloom began shortly thereafter. As of early June 2015, all the grapes are set, and Sebastian says they are bigger than they were in recent vintages. During June and July 2015, he will be looking at the bunches, and performing canopy manipulation, which means selecting which bunches to keep, and which to remove. This is done to ensure that each vine packs maximum flavor into the best fruit.
California’s drought persists, but this harvest year, there has been significantly more rainfall than in recent years. In response to the drought, Rancho Maria has changed the way they water their vineyard. The vineyard is irrigated with a limited drip from their onsite irrigation pond. “It’s about setting yourself up early in the winter for success in the fall. If you stress the grapes out too much, they won’t perform. It definitely takes some forethought to deal with the drought,” explains Sebastian. In 2012, the harvest was abundant with excellent quality grapes throughout Dry Creek Valley. Sebastian says that his yields were a bit smaller in 2013 and 2014, but the quality was every bit as good, if not better. He is expecting excellence from 2015, too.
You can try Rancho Maria’s own wines by visiting Rancho Maria Family Vineyard, and you can visit Mazzocco Sonoma to enjoy their Maria Zinfandel.