By Laura Ness, Los Gatan |


When Bill Brosseau graduated from UC Davis, he moved down to the Novitiate in Los Gatos, the home of Testarossa Winery. Just two years later he replaced founding winemaker Ed Kurtzman, becoming the force behind the juggernaut success of the brand named for proprietor Rob Jensen’s once flaming red hair.
Testarossa is the result of a winemaking hobby that began in a garage in 1993 and grew into a life-changing business endeavor for Jensen and his wife Diana. Their high-tech careers put them in the right circles to acquire both a taste for fine wine and helpful relationships. Jesuit connections from Santa Clara University, where they met as electrical engineering majors, led them to acquiring the lease on the old Novitiate property, which had most recently been occupied by Mirassou Winery.
The Jensen’s have overseen an ongoing overhaul of the old facility, including updating the charming cellars for the many public and private events they host. They’ve also recently engineered a major upgrade to the outdoor space, which is more welcoming and weather-proof than ever.

Learning from each vintage, Brosseau has consistently honed his winemaking regimen, working closely with the many vineyards Testarossa has brought into their portfolio. The high scores from wine critics validate a winning approach that has earned the company a sterling reputation and an ardent following of wine club members. Grape sources range from the Russian River to the Santa Rita Hills, with a strong concentration in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

LATEST HAUL – Tasting Testarossa’s 2021 releases in Cellar 1, including: Chardonnays from Sierra Mar, Lone Oak, and Soberanes vineyards; Pinot Noirs from Sierra Mar, Garys’, Doctor’s, Tondre Grapefield and Sanford & Benedict vineyards; plus Diana’s Chardonnay and Niclaire Pinot Noir. (Laura Ness / Los Gatan)

Vineyards are the critical ingredients for any winemaking endeavor. For Bill Brosseau, excellence in the glass begins with fastidious farming. He grew up on his parent’s vineyard in the eastern part of Monterey County, in what is called the Chalone AVA (American Viticultural Area), near Pinnacles National Park. Jon and Jan Brosseau acquired the land near the famed Chalone Vineyard, in the mid 1970s, and planted their first grapes in 1980.

The Brosseau Vineyard is typically the first property from which Testarossa brings in fruit, earning it a reputation as the “most blessed” vineyard in the Testarossa portfolio. At the beginning of each harvest season, the Jensens invite the community for the annual Blessing of the Grapes.

‘I may never see one like that again’ —Bill Brosseau, winemaker

The 2021 harvest was blessed, indeed. Brosseau says it is literally the best vintage he’s ever seen. “That was my 25th harvest, and it was perfect and special in every aspect,” he said. “The weather was ideal; the ripening was even; and the quality was exceptional. I may never see one like that again.”

Not that he ever expects two harvests to be exactly alike. “There are no 3D-printed wines here. We have goalposts and boundaries, but the fun part is seeing the impact of the weather,” Brosseau asserts. “Each year, we are gambling: farming is essentially gambling. So far, it’s working.”

In exploring a selection of 2021 wines, the contrast from region to region, and vineyard to vineyard, showed how expertly Brosseau crafts each wine to reflect its source. Wine is all about the dirt that the vines sink their roots in, and how they translate that soil and the weather conditions into something unique.

The 2021 Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay marks the 11th year Brosseau sourced fruit from this Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard, planted in 1973 and, until recently, owned by Hahn Family Wines. This wine shows Gravenstein and Macintosh apple, along with lanolin and sage, and distinctive white fig. “Older vines show their true colors,” says Brosseau. “Each vine interprets the season in a different way. Younger vineyards tend to be more linear.”

The Sierra Mar Vineyard, also in the Santa Lucia Highlands, sits at a higher altitude than any other vineyard from which Testarossa sources. The increased UV light exposure results in smaller berries, and both the 2021 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir show considerable tension. Along with layers of fruit and spice, it is bolstered by a healthy dose of acidity and silky tannins throughout.

If you’re looking for a wine that holds your attention like a good novel, the multi-chaptered 2021 Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir is for you, with its aromas of sandalwood, tangerine peel and bay leaf, and flavors of cranberry, pomegranate, tobacco and cedar. The powdery tannins and lavish acidity create a memorable mouthfeel.

Deep, dark, earthy and exuberant, the 2021 Tondré Grapefield Pinot Noir, a Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard that was once a broccoli field, reflects a highly fertile site that puts forth a full-throttle, dense and powerful wine.

The Doctor’s Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Vineyards, like Lone Oak, was planted and farmed until this year by Hahn Family Wines. The Doctor’s Pinot Noir is always a favorite of Testarossa club members, thanks to its generosity of dark fruit. Primarily from 30-plus-year-old Calera clone vines, it exudes dried cherry, clove, pipe tobacco, dried currants and a medicinal edge, framed by utterly silky tannins. “The Calera clone has tiny berries with fewer seeds, so there is less harsh seed tannin here,” explains Brosseau. “The aromatics are just fantastic. I like a pinot noir that makes a connection with your nose.”

Brosseau is frequently asked what his favorite wine or vineyard is. For this particular vintage, he says he’s stoked about the 2021 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir, from the Santa Rita Hills AVA. He explains that the Santa Lucia Highlands enjoys a mild climate, with little delta between day and nighttime temperatures. The wind off the ocean generally keeps the heat from taking hold, ensuring even ripening in most years.

In the Santa Rita Hills, to the south, a warmer climate results in an earlier budbreak, leading to a much longer hang time. Buffeted by strong ocean winds during the summer, the wines typically have a distinctive green element. This particular wine serves up a lovely harmony of blueberry and blackberry pie, accented with tangy tarragon and rosemary.

The richest and most decadent of the 2021 Chardonnays is the 2021 Diana’s Chardonnay, carefully made from the best barrels from each vineyard. The combination of tropical and stone fruits is lip-smacking. The finish? Dreamy-creamy.

Similarly, the 2021 Niclaire Pinot Noir, named for Rob and Diana’s two children, packs layer upon layer of blueberry, earth, black olive and blackberry into a bold and generous wine with plenty of complexity and horsepower. Brosseau explains that in the world of blending, knowing when you’ve added “just enough” to the mix is like creating the perfect dish, or the perfect musical composition.

Of all the wines from this vintage, those with the most aging potential are from the 2021 Brosseau Vineyard. Bristling with vivid lemon curd, stone, baked apple, lime pith and intense minerality, the 2021 Brosseau Chardonnay is like a horse warming up to its racing gait. The 2021 Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir, is tight and tense, but hints at decades of evolution.

Perhaps 20 years from now, Brosseau will look back on 2021 and still declare it the best ever. Then again, perhaps a future vintage will prove even more stellar. Come what may, these 2021s will surely remain a vibrant hallmark of this man’s expanding legacy.