Talking to Adelaida Cellars winemaker Terry Culton is almost like chatting with an old friend. Perhaps part of the feeling is that he’s been to my hometown of Pleasanton and remembers the McDonald’s that sits just off the freeway when it was still surrounded by mostly open space. He’s also a childhood fan of the original Batman series, the one with Adam West, before it turned into something darker and somewhat more violent. There was certainly an element of nostalgia to the conversation for me, a nice little reminder of childhood and pieces of old. But there’s nothing wrong with older, especially when it comes to vineyards. Just ask Terry. He has the privilege to work Adelaida’s HMR Pinot Noir vineyard, one of the oldest in the state. It was planted in the mid-60’s, during the time of the original Batman. That’s not why Terry loves it, though. The calcareous limestone soil has the most to do with that.   

Winemaker Terry Culton


As Terry explains, the soil gives back a unique mineral character that provides a real sense of “terroir.” He first experienced this element in a Pinot Noir back when he was “still wet behind the ears as a cellar rat.” A Cheval Sauvage he tried back in the early 90’s was actually sourced from the HMR Vineyard. Later, while working with Pinot Noit legend Josh Jenson at the Calera Wine Company on their Mount Harlen Vineyards, Terry cemented himself as a “limestone-head.” Thus, when the opportunity to join Adelaida Cellars came about, the chance to work with fruit that was not only from a calcareous limestone vineyard but also the same HMR Vineyard he’d been impressed by fifteen years prior was too much to pass up.   

While being a Pinot Guy at heart, the limestone soil of Adelaida’s estate vineyards are ideal for growing Rhone varietals as well. Some of the best Rhone producers in France have calcareous soil, and Terry considers it a blessing to have such similar conditions on the west-side of Paso Robles. The weather patterns are quite favorable, too. Forty to fifty degree temperature changes from day to night allow the grapes to thrive. They need heat to ripen, but too much heat results in wimpy wines. The cool nights preserve the grapes’ acidity and give them freshness that Terry feels “keep the wines more focused.” Try any of Adelaida’s Rhone-style wines and it’s easy to understand what Terry means. They are all quite good.   

Part of the reason for such high quality are Adelaida’s sustainable farming methods. They’ve employed such practices ever since Terry joined the winery, and he feels the result is much more balanced vineyards and much more balanced fruit. There are more “good bugs” in the soil and the ground is much happier. Plus, it eliminates the “angular sort of sterility” that can appear with heavily commercially farmed vineyards, and, as Terry puts it, “It’s just the right thing to do. It feels good.” This year, the folks at Adelaida finally decided to become SIP Certified, working in conjunction with the Central Coast Vineyard Team’s “Sustainability In Practice” program. They didn’t have to change anything about the way they farmed. It was a matter of keeping up on a great deal of documentation and paperwork. For their efforts, starting next year, they will be able to proudly display the SIP logo on their labels, and they are helping to preserve the quality of their wine, as well as the earth.   

With great soil conditions, favorable weather, and a philosophy of preserving and protecting their vineyards, Terry would be hard pressed to ask for more from his work. The conditions this year have been especially favorable as cool summer temperatures have allowed the grapes to ripen slowly. Barring any inclement weather in the next couple months, Terry is very optimistic about the upcoming harvest. A reprise of the classic Batman series could be the icing on the cake, but I think a fantastic Point Noir crop would be better. Let’s just hope the HMR Vineyard comes through.   

To read reviews of Adelaida Cellars wine, click here.