Four Gates Winery

#163 – February 19, 2011

When I moved to New York from Israel about six years ago, I hadn’t tasted any significant amount of Californian wines. This was primarily a result of the fact that they were only imported into Israel in very limited quantities and were overpriced, especially in comparison to their Israeli peers. However, once I got to New York and started writing my newsletter, I quickly became familiar with many of the wines that US kosher wine consumers had been enjoying for years. These included Gan Eden, which was just wrapping up its operations at the time (I succeeded in securing a bunch of them to taste), Herzog (about whom I recently wrote in #147), Hagafen (#140) and even the recent garagiste wine makers that have sprung up including the Weiss Brothers (whose Syraph made my best of 2010 list and who were featured in #148) and Brobdingnagian, made by Jonathan Hajdu, Covenants’ assistant wine maker (also in #148). In addition to Covenant (which will be featured shortly), the remaining piece of the puzzle is the amazing Four Gates Winery and its one-man maestro – Binyamin Cantz, the subject(s) of this week’s newsletter.

After hearing about Four Gates for a while from many wine aficionados, I finally got to try my first bottle of Binyamin’s wine, a 2005 Cabernet Franc that blew my mind (thanks again EF) and whetted my appetite for more of the same. However, with no website or email address (until recently) and being somewhat difficult to get a hold of (curiously for commercial enterprises, all the California-based kosher wineries and wine makers, other than Herzog, are very difficult to reach and buy wine from). However, driven by the lingering enjoyment from that 2005 Cabernet Franc I persevered, finally connected with Binyamin over the phone and after a thoroughly enjoyable conversation, ordered a mixed case of his wines across a few vintages, the tasting results of which are below.

Four Gates is a very small winery, owned and operated by Binyamin Cantz and located high up in the mountains of Santa Cruz. It’s truly a one-man shop, as Binyamin handles all aspects of the operation (picking, crushing, bottling, labeling, shipping, etc.) alone (with some local assistance during harvest). Binyamin had no formal training and got into winemaking after being tasked with watching over someone’s property that had some Chardonnay vines on it and wanting to make something worth of making Kiddush on. Four Gates currently produces about 400 cases annually of mostly single varietal wines from Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc grown in his own vineyards. He also makes an easy-drinking blend – Soiree and Syrah from grapes he sources elsewhere. While delicious, the Syrah lacks the same levels of high-acidity that I love in his wines.

The winery is located up in the mountains of Santa Cruz and the certified organic vineyards cover approximately 3.5 acres. As opposed to the big and bold Californian wines we are used to enjoying, the wines of Four Gates are elegant, have great structure, tons of well-integrated tannins, are loaded with fresh fruit that is tempered by their signature high-acidity. The high acidity contributes to making all of the Four Gates wines I have tried to date great with food. They are also loaded with terroir and actually taste different than most other wines. Binyamin’s proclivity towards au natural (dry-farmed vineyards, nothing but fertilizer in the vineyards) brought him to the attention of Alice Feiring who wrote about him on her Blog. She posted a(n amateur) video of her visit on You Tube, where you can actually meet Binyamin.

Four Gates produces more non-vintage wines than any other winery I know. His delightful Pinot Noir wines are traditionally a blend of two vintages (2006-2007, 2007-2008). It was very cool to compare the 2007 Merlot with the non-vintage Merlot that included some of the same wine in the 2007. Each was delicious but very different.

Without a doubt, four Gates has become one of my all time favorite wineries – I just wished his wine was sold in the New York area as the shipping fees are a killer (or that I lived in San Francisco).

Shabbat Shalom,

Four Gates, Chardonnay, 2004: My first white wine from Four Gates was almost two years ago and one that did not disappoint. I was a little concerned given the age of this wine and its probably going to be downhill from now but its still pretty darn good right now (I recently tried two bottles, both stored well and one showed nice and lively while the other was very tired). Good acidity backed up with more spice that I am used to in a Chardonnay but packed with great Chardonnay flavors of green apples, peaches, cantaloupe and butterscotch. Plenty of oaky vanilla is present but it’s kept in check by the acidity. A mid-palate of citrus and burnt caramel leading into a long finish. Give the tasting variation between the bottles I recently tasted; I’d suggest drinking any remaining bottles you have within the next few months.

Four Gates, Syrah, 2005: An exceptionally well built and deliciously full-bodied wine with plenty of Syrah’s characteristic peppery notes. Heavy tannins and a somewhat judicious usage of oak might be slightly off-putting for some, but give this wine some time in the glass (or even a decanter) and, as the bright acidity comes to the rescue, you will be nicely rewarded with black fruits, spices, freshly paved road, smoked meat, toasty oak, earthiness and black pepper all coming together into an intriguing and mouth filling wine that ends in a lingering finish of asphalt, oak and smoke.

Four Gates, Cabernet Franc, 2006: The 2005 vintage of this wine was my first tasting of a Four Gates wine and a delicious and true prelude to all those that followed. Probably among the nicest Cabernet Franc wines I have had and very different from some of the Israeli versions I love. A full-bodied wine with a packed nose that had those delicious green notes I love in Cabernet Franc, including green pepper and eucalyptus, together with floral notes, tobacco, red pepper (!?) cherries and raspberries, most of which continued on the palate, adding a nice herbaceous note, bittersweet chocolate, cedar wood; all opening up in consecutively delightful layers. The wine leaves you with a long velvety caressing finish and craving another bottle. A bottle that literally made me sit up and say – wow!

Four Gates, Chardonnay, 2007: I had a vertical tasting of Binyamin’s Chardonnay’s, comparing the 2004, 2005 and 2007 vintages (I have not included my notes on the 2005). As noted above, the 2004 seemed to be reaching the end of the road which surprised me slightly as I have heard lingering rumors that Binyamin’s first vintage in 1996 (to which he forgot to add sulfur) is still hanging in there. Plenty of traditional Chardonnay notes on both the nose and palate, including tart green apples, figs, some citrus, nice butterscotch notes, hints of fig and plenty of toasty oak. It seems that the high acidity (and flinty minerals) allows the wine to survive a heavier hand of oaky and buttery notes than would otherwise turn a wine flabby, which results in a delightful combination of French Chablis and California Chardonnay I don’t get elsewhere but it thoroughly enjoyable (and very cool).

Four Gates, Pinot Noir, n.v.: I don’t know if I have ever used beautiful to describe a wine but there really isn’t any other word to describe this medium bodied violet scented wine with a gentle nose. Blended with 50% each from the 2007 and 2008 vintages, this wine was great on its own but incredible with food. Plum, cherry, raspberry and cranberry on both the nose and palate with some nice hints of roasted herbs, toasted oak and kirsch. A medium and caressing finish rounded out this lovely wine.

Four Gates, Merlot, n.v: A full bodied wine with plenty of acidity (one of Binyamin’s trademarks), rich black fruit on the nose and palate accompanied by alternating sweet and tang notes, some herbs and earthy note and near-sweet wood looming over the entire palate like a guardian angel. A medium finish rounded out another hit from Four Gates. Boy do I wish I lived nearby so I could try more of his wines more often.