Durell Vineyard was planted by Ed Durell in 1979. Ellie Price and Chris Towt bought Durell from Ed in the late 1990s. Essentially, they've been growers who have sold fruit to several big names in the California wine industry. As they grew to know the Durell vineyard they began to recognize the quality from a particular block they call the Ranch House Block. They replanted this block with chardonnay and pinot noir-- particularly masal chardonnay and 5 specific clones of pinot noir. They stopped selling the fruit from Ranch House Block and recently began producing their own wine with it, under the name Dunstan (First vintage of Dunstan was 2008). So, Chris and Ellie are essentially committed growers who continue to sell fruit, but also make some of their own wine.
In an empirical way, it can sometimes make sense to separate growing and winemaking. If one group can dedicate themselves to the full time job of farming and pruning, and the other group can dedicate themselves to the winemaking and cellaring, then both parts of the equation can get the full attention they need from their overseers. The key, I think, is to find a grower who has the same values as the winemaker, and a winemaker who can work with the fruit to make the type of wine that the grower forsees as the vineyard's expression. When the growing and winemaking are separated, there are many more variables that can lead to decreased quality, but this does not necessarily have to be the case.
This is a bit off topic, since Dunstan is just the opposite: a grower's transition into estate wine. But what stands out to me is that Chris & Ellie still contract out parts of Durell vineyard. They like to see what the winemakers will do with the fruit. They taste the different results and may say "Oh, I really like what so & so did with that chardonnay that year," or "that didn't turn out so well-- they wanted those grapes too ripe." As a grower, you get to experience terroir in a whole new way, because you can see first hand the prism of possibilities in your own vineyard during a single vintage, as several producers attempt to work with your grapes in their own unique manner.
Over the years I've met plenty of winemakers who have contracts with growers, but they will specifically request to farm the land themselves. So many estate-less producers (who usually have plans to transition to estates) can do beautiful things with someone else's plot.
It's also inspiring to see what has happened at Durell-- one plot stands out over time, and inspires the growers to start their own label.
Dunstan "Durell Vineyard," 2010 chardonnay
*14 mo. oak elevage, 100% old wente clones (hen & chick)
*about 300 cases annual production
Earthy, green herbs, soft fruit, a savory meatiness in the aroma. Elegant complexity, great acidity.
Dunstan "Durell Vineyard," 2010 pinot noir
*14 mo. oak elevage- new French. Here, the 5 different clones in the vineyard contribute to the complexity. Some clones were chosen "to bring out the high tones," while other "bring out the bass notes." *It was interesting to hear them talk about the clones like a composer talks about music, or a perfumer speaks about creating layers in a scent.
*about 250 cases annual production
Really interesting nose: meat, fruit, raspberry candies, chocolate, earth, anise, a hint of smoke. Very complex with a bright, cleansing acidity and a hint of spiciness on the finish.
This is a project to make a wine that is more price accessible (the Dunstan is pretty high quality and can be pricey). "Pip" is chardonnay that these growers contract from their neighbor growers.
Pip -2010 (Sonoma Coast, Chardonnay)
Tarter fruit aromas and flavors than the Dunstan, bright acidity, dense flavor.