Bernardus: Home of America's Bordeaux
The story of Bernardus Winery dates back to the 1970s when Ben Pon used to come from his home in Holland to visit the Carmel Valley area and taste its wines. He admired the Cabernet Sauvignon that the few wineries in existence then produced, believing that they signified the American version of a great Bordeaux. In 1989, Ben planted a vineyard and started his winery in Carmel Valley. Almost instantly, Bernardus was recognized for its outstanding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blend, and Sauvignon Blanc.
The vineyards now span 41 acres and are overseen by Vineyard Manager Matthew Shea who grew up in Carmel Valley as the son of a master gardener, and studied viticulture at Oregon State University. Matthew focuses on growing the best wine grapes possible while expressing the California terroir and the characteristics of each individual vintage. “Our goal is to get the grapes on the truck and into the winery as early as possible so we can get the freshest flavors into the wine,” Matthew says.
In keeping with the true French Bordeaux winemaking tradition, Bernardus uses very large custom-made French oak tanks for blending and sometimes storing the wine without picking up any oaky characteristics. This is one of the many things for which French-trained Winemaker Dean DeKorth, who decided to join Bernardus in 2005, is very grateful.
Today, about half of the winery’s production is dedicated to Chardonnay, but its flagship wine is the Bordeaux-style Marinus, an exceptional blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Tasting room guests are invited to sample Bernardus’ larger production wines as well as the single vineyard production wines.
To truly savor everything Carmel Valley has to offer, visitors can stay just two miles to the west of the tasting room at the exquisite Bernardus Lodge, providing 57 sumptuous rooms, a spa, and gourmet cuisine.
An Interview with Winemaker Dean DeKorth
T&T: You’re described as an American who is a French winemaker. What exactly does that mean?
DD: When I met my wife, I was almost 30 years old and playing drums for a living. I thought it was time to “get a real job.” Since my only other passion besides music was wine, I decided to become a winemaker. My wife, who’s from France, suggested that we could move to France and I could learn there. So we sold everything we owned and moved; first to Nantes, where I studied French language for two years at the University; then to Burgundy where I studied Viticulture and Enology at the Lycée Viticole in Beaune, then at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon. For the next six years, I worked for several wineries in Burgundy. We then decided to return to the Northern Central Coast.
T&T: Can you tell us about your small production and vineyard designate wines, and what you’re trying to achieve with them?
DD: Our owner, Mr. Pon, has always aspired to be the best and wanted us to also produce single vineyard wines from a selection of the best vineyards on the Central Coast. Along with our own Marinus, which is a Bordeaux-style red wine from our estate vineyard here in Carmel Valley, we have been developing a small portfolio of very limited production Pinots, Chards, and Sauvignon Blancs from vineyards grown by our friends Gary Pisoni, Gary Franscioni, and Michael Griva. Each of these bottlings represents only a few hundred cases.
T&T: Is there a wine that is especially dear to your heart?
DD: Our Griva Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. We only produce about 100 cases of 375 milliliter bottles per year and only in years where we have naturally occurring Botrytis on the grapes. If you’re patient and gently press and let them slowly ferment just right, you don’t even need to sterile filter the wine because it has a perfect balance of sweetness, moderate alcohol, and enough crisp acidity to keep the wine refreshing and not cloyingly sweet.