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Notes from the crush: Pebblestone Cellars

At first glance, Pebblestone Cellars looks like an unlikely winery. First impressions can be deceiving.

The tasting room, in a charming 1906, hand-poured concrete cottage, is located at 1642 Camp Baker Road, a leafy suburban street off Culver Road in Phoenix. Only a small portion of the winery’s 26-acre site is visible from the winery parking lot.

Most of the vineyard, however, lies behind the tasting room, between Camp Baker Road and Pioneer Road to the south. The climate conditions and the soil are similar to France’s southern Rhône, some areas of Bordeaux and Spain’s Rioja wine growing regions. When owners Dick and Pat Ellis bought the property in 2003, it already had 13½ acres of tempranillo, merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and pinot gris planted at 1,650 feet elevation on sandy, gravelly and well drained soil from an ancient riverbed.

Dick Ellis has 30 years of experience in grape growing and winemaking. He had been looking for vineyard property in Northern California for some time and he knew he had found what he was seeking when he found this property. Dick and Pat devoted themselves to improving the quality of the existing vines and planted an additional two acres of viognier.

At first, they sold their grapes, as Ellis Vineyards, to other local wineries. They started producing wines as Pebblestone Cellars in 2006. Dick Ellis manages the vineyards with Randy Gold of Pacific Crest Vineyard Services and works with Bryan Wilson at Foris Vineyards Winery to craft the wines.

“Pebblestone Cellars strives to produce high quality wines that sell for a reasonable price,” says Ellis. “My goal is wines that are balanced as to fruit, alcohol, acidity and, with the reds, tannins. I make wines to complement food, not overpower it.”

The 2013 Pinot Gris ($16), bottled in February 2014 and released in April, features tropical notes with flavors of pear and citrus and a hint of minerality and enough acid for a rich mouth feel and a clean finish. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks. “The stainless steel allows the wine to show off its delicate flavor,” says Ellis. “Oak would overpower it.”

The 2013 Viognier ($19) has a floral aroma and the taste of apricots, apple, pear and melon with a creamy mouth feel and enough acid for a clean finish. Ellis says it was started with a whole cluster pressing followed by a long, cool fermenting in stainless steel.

Pebblestone’s 2012 Viognier — which is sold out — won Best of Show for white wines at the 2013 World of Wine competition and garnered a double gold at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Competition.

Ellis says that Pebblestone ages all their reds for 18 to 20 months in French oak — 25% in new oak — and then ages them for an additional two to two-and-a-half years in the bottle.

Pebblestone’s signature red wine is a Bordeaux-style blend called Melange. The 2009 Melange, which won a silver medal at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Competition, is a blend of 48 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent cabernet franc, 30 percent merlot and 5 percent petite verdot.

Ellis ages each varietal for the Melange separately in oak for a year before blending the wine for further barrel aging. He describes his blending formula as cabernet sauvignon to give structure, merlot to provide a fruity softness, cabernet franc adding some spiciness and the petite verdot to naturally accentuate the acidity and fruit expression.

Pebblestone’s 2009 Syrah ($24) is in made in the northern Rhône style according to Ellis. “This is not a wine with big fruit and high alcohol in the California style,” says Ellis. “It is mellow, with a soft mouth feel and a nice crisp finish.”

The 2009 Cabernet Franc ($24) took silver medals at the 2013 World of Wine, the 2013 Great Northwest Wine Competition and the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Competition.

The tasting room also features a 2012 rosé of syrah ($16), a 2009 merlot ($21) and a 2009 cabernet sauvignon ($24), which also won a silver at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Competition.

Pebblestone wines are available at Market of Choice and Ashland Wine Cellar in Ashland, Harry & David and the Old 99 Road Wine Shop in Medford, and Gary West Meats and the Jacksonville Inn in Jacksonville.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.