.‘Murder Mountain’ Makes Killer Pinot Noir

Humboldt County landmark inspires Netflix and winemaking

When most people think of Humboldt County, it’s not for vineyards. Adrian Manspeaker, founder and winemaker at Joseph Jewell Wines, is hoping to change that.

Having grown up in Benbow in southern Humboldt County, Manspeaker attended the College of the Redwoods in Eureka from 1996 to 1998 before moving back to spend a few more years in his hometown and moving to Sonoma County with his now-wife in 2003. He started Joseph Jewell out of his garage in Windsor in 2006, first sourcing fruit from Elk Prairie, a six-acre vineyard close to Humboldt’s Myers Flat and later from the area now known as “Murder Mountain,” which also happens to be the title of a Netflix true crime documentary series.

“Some people disappeared from this area back in the day, and inevitably this is how the name ‘Murder Mountain’ came to be. Fast forward to now—the Netflix series came out after there was another unfortunate situation in the area,” says Manspeaker.

The winemaker is hoping to help make the area known for another reason—pinot noir—and put Humboldt County on the map as the next frontier when it comes to California cool climate pinot noir growing regions.

In 2014, Manspeaker started sourcing grapes from a two-acre vineyard in Alderpoint, which is a few miles from the infamous mountain. Over the following five years, he complemented this fruit with pinot noir from additional sites in Humboldt County, including Ryan Vineyard (a 17-acre vineyard in his hometown of Benbow), Fruitland Ridge (near Elk Prairie, way up north to the furthest reaches of Humboldt County) and Phelps Vineyard in Briceland. 

Manspeaker believes that Humboldt County is optimal for pinot noir because “there are a vast number of interesting and distinct microclimates in Humboldt County that are just now being discovered.” 

Factors characteristic of wines grown in Humboldt County include its proximity to the Eel River and its persistent marine layer (this affects vineyards in Fruitland Ridge or Myers Flat particularly), and overall very cool temperatures, even in higher elevation vineyards (like the Phelps Vineyard Joseph Jewell sources fruit from). 

Joseph Jewell usually picks their Humboldt County fruit in late October, which is more than a month later than warmer sites in the Russian River Valley and at least a month later than the coolest Sonoma Coast and Russian River sites.   

“It took me over 10 years to form relationships with all these small farmers, and their unique sites are helping me understand and learn more about the climate up there and where exactly ideal vineyards could be planted in the future,” says Manspeaker. “I think we are making really nice wines from Humboldt County, and it would seem that the critics agree, as our 2018 Alderpoint Vineyard Pinot Noir was awarded 94 points recently by Wine Enthusiast.”

If one is a fan of fresh, elegant, cool climate pinot noirs, I’d recommend visiting Joseph Jewell’s local tasting room in Forestville, where one can taste both their Humboldt County and Sonoma County pinot noirs, as well as their pét-nat of vermentino.

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