Best Russian River Valley Wineries - Croix Estate

The Best Pinots in Russian River Valley – Croix Estate Spotlight

Croix Estate is a winery in Sonoma County that was founded by Jason Williams and Kirk Venge and is arguably making some of the best Pinots in Russian River Valley. The idea for Croix Estate was born after an abalone dive at Sea Ranch in 2010, where the two of them tasted 14 of the world’s best Pinot Noirs and felt that they could do better. They had been making Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir for two vintages under the Venge Vineyards label and were getting rave responses from their wine club and mailing list recipients.

Williams reflected on his past experience in Sonoma County and wondered if there was space for them to cross the divide and build a legacy brand in the Russian River Valley.  From there, they decided to bet it all on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, naming the brand Croix.  The winery started small with two wines, the 2012 Old Manzana Pinot Noir and the 2012 Starlings’ Roost Chardonnay, making just 50 cases of each wine.

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Croix Estate prides itself on being a very bootstrap type winery with no corporate money, just money lent to them from their sister winery to make their first 100 cases, which they sold to make 400 cases, then 800 cases, eventually reaching 4,400 cases every year and 4,800 allocation clients.

As they set out to make the best Pinots in Russian River Valley with the most difficult grapes to farm on the planet, the vision is to make Chardonnay that will age for 15 years and Pinot Noirs for 15-20 years.  They use a minimal intervention, high-risk approach to push their growing efforts to the limits of ripeness to achieve their definition of balance factoring in attributable terroir and winemaking.  The result is a plush, full-flavored wine complimented by acidity and expansive mouthfeel. As Croix Estate has grown, its vision has evolved, and they are now pushing out of the middle reach within the Russian River Valley and expanding near the Petaluma Gap, West Sonoma Coast, Fort-Ross Seaview and Annapolis.

The Wines of Croix Estate

The estate vineyard was originally planted in 1904 with 40 contiguous acres, which were later divided into 10 acres lots and sold to family buyers. The soil is dense, floor-level clay with a high water table, allowing for dry farming with the exception of inputs during extreme heat spikes.  Despite being located in the “hot belt” of the northern edge of the Santa Rosa plain, the vineyard has a late ripening period due to the age of the vines and the cooling effect of afternoon breezes. The vineyard sits just beneath the Laguna Ridge, which allows cool evening settling to come into the vineyard, balancing the ripening effects of the intense heat.

With Croix Estate’s Pinot Noirs, Williams noted, “We want to make Pinot Noirs that look back at you. They are precocious, confident little devils that don’t make apologies for what they are.”  The winery aims to reflect the terroir, without restraining the fruit by aiming for specific Brix targets. Hangtime is encouraged to build mouthfeel in the wines.

Their Chardonnays are grown in cold climates with varying levels of sun exposure, but the key to their success is the acid backbone that allows them to go through barrel fermentation at 100% malolactic fermentation.  This creates a wine that is not too heavy on oak or butter, which is not Croix Estate’s style. Williams emphasizes that balance is the most important characteristic.

Croix Estate partners with vineyards to source sustainable and organic grapes and is meticulous in their farming practices. These vineyards are not just suppliers, but business partners who grow with Croix Estate, not just for them. With their partner vineyards, they typically require them to produce a sample of wine they are producing from their fruit for approval to use the vineyard-designated classification. These growers are focused on quality, not quantity– “We could not ask for better people to work with,” said Williams.

Tasting Room Experience

The newly renovated Croix Estate tasting room is located on the property and is surrounded by estate vineyards. Visitors can choose to sit inside or out and sample a variety of wines, including exclusive library wines that are only available on an allocation basis. The tasting room is open by appointment only, ensuring a personalized experience for each visitor.

When it comes to making wine, food pairings have never been a consideration for Croix Estate as they see themselves as winemakers, not restaurateurs. However, they do host an annual fishing and wine trip to Alaska in late spring where they get to enjoy the bounty of nature in the form of wild salmon, halibut, rockfish, and stream-caught trout.  During the trip, they lay down a spread for everyone, and they have found that their Floodgate Pinot Noir, a blended Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley AVA, marries perfectly with a hoisin and garlic-glazed slab of grilled wild King Salmon. Also, their 12 Rows Chardonnay from the Ritchie Vineyard pairs well with halibut, lime, and jalapeno carpaccio, with the acid, spicy mineral components melting in the mouth with seamless freshness against the backdrop of the wine.

Croix Estate Overview

  • Who – Ownership team, Kirk Venge and Jason Williams
  • Winemaker – Kick Venge & Jason Williams
  • Specializing in – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Rose, Red Rhone Blend, and Sauvignon Blanc
  • When – Open, by appointment, Wed-Mon 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM
  • Where – 1406 Wood Rd. Fulton, CA 95439
  • Reservations – Can be made online here
  • Phone Number – 1-707-595-3803

Best Pinots in Russian River Valley – Recommendations

Redolent with aromas of concentrated pomegranate, semi-sweet chocolate, ripe fig, and black cherry licorice, all of which combine to create a sumptuous and decadent palate experience. Full-bodied and complex, this Pinot Noir is characterized by weight-lifting acidity that provides a formidable backbone to the wine. The balance between fruit, acidity, and tannins is a testament to the skill of the winemaker, resulting in a wine that is worthy of extended contemplation.

Exudes a rich and alluring bouquet of dark cherry, ripe plum, and succulent blackberry. On the palate, this wine showcases a full-bodied character, delivering a dense and luscious mouthfeel that is sure to please.

A stunning example of Russian River Valley winemaking. With its mesmerizing straw yellow color, it immediately captivates the eye. The nose is greeted with an alluring bouquet of pineapple, melon, and honey, exuding a sense of opulence and richness.

On the palate, the wine showcases a vibrant acidity that is harmoniously balanced with creamy undertones, delivering a truly exquisite textural sensation. The finish is long and refreshing, with notes of lemon she pear that lingers on the palate.

About Russian River Valley Region

The Russian River Valley is a world-class wine destination due to the extreme diversity found in the area. The region offers a phenomenal complexity, with hundreds of examples across multiple grape varieties. “You can spend a week just in the Russian River Valley AVA and you will discover so many variations on the theme in one of the most gorgeous areas nature has to offer, that you will walk away saying–when can we come back,” said Williams.  

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