It all began millions of years ago when the Russian River Valley was a shallow inland sea that slowly tilted and drained into the ocean. The older geology of this area looks like a patchwork quilt of varying soils, a mixture of ocean floor rocks faulted together as the Pacific Ocean Plate slid eastward under the edge of the North American Plate along the California coastline. The unique geography of Sonoma County is just the beginning of the story.
When Prohibition was enacted, there were 40,000 acres of wine grapes and 256 wineries in Sonoma County. Even then, the combination of the cool climate, the rolling hills and well-drained Goldridge soils of the area produced a large portion of Sonoma County’s most desirable wine grapes. With Prohibition came the removal of most of the area’s vineyards with apples and prunes taking their place. Sebastopol became widely recognized as the capital of America’s finest apple production. By 1999, vineyards had largely supplanted apples as the highest and best use of the county’s finest orchard land.
In 1999 Emeritus was born when Brice Cutrer Jones closed on the purchase of Don and Marcia Hallberg’s prime apple orchard in the heart of the Russian River Valley. The 115–acre parcel, Hallberg Ranch, is located two miles north of Sebastopol, on both sides of the Gravenstein Highway and directly on the Gold Ridge—the ten-mile long ridge that bears the name of the predominate soils of the area.
Prior to that purchase Brice had purchased a plot of land on the far reaches of the Sonoma Coast as a gift for his eldest son, Victor. Brice was attracted to the land for the same reason he courted the Hallbergs for over five years, the marine influence and Goldridge sandy loam soil. This beautiful plot in the remote town of Annapolis was on a small outcropping of Goldridge soil that Brice knew would be perfect for Pinot Noir vineyards. Around the same time the Hallberg Ranch was being developed Victor took a crew up to his land and developed the vineyard that we now call William Wesley.
After acquiring the Hallberg property in 1999, Emeritus began to plant vineyards at both Hallberg Ranch and William Wesley. Emeritus also began to outfit the Hallberg barn with fermentation vats, barrels, environmental controls and began to experiement with making Pinot Noit. Then, in 2004, Brice finally convinced longtime Pinotphile, Burgundy–trained winemaker Don Blackburn to join the team. Don came aboard the day before the first harvest of the William Wesley Vineyard and established the hallmark style of Emeritus—that of elegance and charm. We lost Don to a brief but serious illness after the '08 harvest, but his protégé, Nicolas Cantacuzene, stepped into his shoes and continues his quest: to produce an authentic wine of great distinction, one that represents its vineyard heritage, a wine of great balance, elegance and charm.