We met Jim Varner in 2003 when he was part of a small distributor association, representing the state of California. At the time, he and his twin brother, Bob, were both distributing French wine in the Bay Area and trying to make it as winemakers in a sea of small winemakers. Shortly after that, they decided to go full steam ahead with their own project and got out of the distribution business. We started with them at that time, and it has been a great ride.
The Varners farm five different estate vineyards on their property in the Santa Cruz Mountains to make their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, under the Varner and the Neely brand label. Critical to their high quality is that everything is dry-farmed, forcing the vines to search deep for water and picking up characteristics of the rocky soil beneath. No fertilizers or insecticides are used in the vineyard.
In the cellar, only indigenous (wild yeast) are allowed in the ferment. Racking is done with a hand crank, about 25% rotation of new French oak is employed for barrel aging.
Think there is no terroir in California? You haven’t tasted these wines, as they are as different and expressive as one might find in Burgundy, but with a cooler-climate California flavor profile. Holly’s Cuvee is a blend of all three. House favorite: Ampitheatre Block. What’s yours?