Halleck Vineyard: Drawing Inspiration From Around the World

Ross Halleck and Halleck wine bottles

Owner Ross Halleck blends old world sensibilities into his California wines.

Discovering new (to me), artisan, family-owned wineries is one of the best perks of being in the wine business. But sitting down for a beautifully paired luncheon at a top-notch restaurant with both a well-known sommelier and a winemaker … that’s just spectacular. Some days, my life is very good.

This most recent good day was at the acclaimed A.O.C. Wine Bar in the toney Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Co-owned by dynamic restaurant duo Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin, this lovely spot was the location for an LA Wine Writers luncheon with Ross Halleck of Halleck Vineyard of Sebastopol, Calif. A.O.C. is known for its small plates, which are well suited to a wine tasting lunch.

At this food-wine pairing, we were introduced to one rosé, two whites, and two reds from Halleck and four small plates, chosen by Styne.

Who Is Halleck Vineyard?

It’s always nice to be introduced to a California producer who has old world wine-making sensibilities and it’s even better when said wine maker pulls the best traits out of both California and the Old World. Owner and winemaker Ross Halleck takes his influences seriously, from Provence to Sancerre to Burgundy, Alsace, and even Kenya, applying what he can to his Northern California-grown grapes, from his own estate as well as from other carefully selected Sonoma Coast vineyards.

Halleck, like many California winery owners, has a high-tech background, with a career in Silicon Valley graphic design, working for such heavy hitters as Apple and HP. He also ran his own agency for 20 years, which included wine clients like Beaulieu, Kendall Jackson, and Cain. Halleck planted a backyard vineyard at his home in Sebastopol, and when he “aged out” of the graphics business he turned to his wine passion, and has been producing wine ever since.

Halleck dry white zinfandel

Not Your Mother’s Dry White Zinfandel

Halleck’s philosophy was apparent in the first wine tasted at this luncheon, the 2021 Not Your Mother’s Dry White Zinfandel, a Provence-inspired California wine.

My WSET Diploma mates always got a laugh out of this category of wine. The words “white zin” conjure cheap, fruity, mass-produced white-red blends that appeal to the most uneducated wine palates … yes, we can be a bit snobby about our wine!

But I would label Halleck’s as a ‘serious’ rosé, that is, it ticks off all the things a pink wine should be: light, crisp, floral, refreshing, with light berry fruit notes, but strong enough to pair with a variety of foods, from salad to steak. This 100% zinfandel rosé is produced Provencal style, says Halleck, meaning the grapes are grown to become rosé and are not just a by-product of red wine production — known as the saignée (or ‘bleeding off’) method — which is used by many California winemakers. This cold glass of rosé was just the ticket on this warm summer day in Southern California. Could Zin-based rosés be the future in the warming climate of California? Halleck is betting on it.

LA Wine Writers luncheon at aoc with Halleck wines
Halleck lived in Kenya for three years, and ate at Indian restaurants, which paired their savory curry-based dishes with  Alsatian whites. This was his influence for his dry Gewurtztraminer, which was voted #1 white wine by the Press Democrat and at the California State Fair (see all of Halleck’s awards).
The first food-wine paring was Halleck’s 2021 Calandrelli Vineyard Dry Gewurtztraminer, served with a savory butter lettuce salad with heirloom tomatoes, Jimmy Nardello (Italian origin) peppers, alorena (from Spain) olives, paprika and buttermilk dressing. Wow, this was a satisfying pairing, and Ms. Styne, a certified sommelier, chose wisely.
I usually have a hard time liking Gewurtz wines, as I find they are often too floral and sometimes “soapy,” but this one has subtle floral notes that matched the floral notes in the salad, including the olives.
My first thought was this could be my Thanksgiving wine this year, and Mr. Halleck chimed in that this is his fastest-selling wine, which sells out in October for the Thanksgiving holiday. Halleck’s wine club seems to know a good turkey-pairing wine!
Halleck wines and food at AOC

Next was Halleck’s savory 2021 Little Sister Sauvignon Blanc paired with white bass with summer squash, green harissa, cream and hazelnut dukkah, which was dreamy.

By this point in the luncheon, I was thinking “why have I not heard of Halleck before now? These are seriously good wines!”
Halleck says his inspiration for this wine is white Sancerre, with its “hint of cat pee” and stainless steel fermentation. However, he does put 30% of the juice in neutral oak, lets it sit for 6 weeks, and blends it back in, imparting a soft creaminess to the wine, which is my kind of Sauvignon Blanc. Just delicious.
AOC food with Halleck wines

It was on to the reds, and the next course — hanger steak with nicoise olive butter, arugula, pine nut crumbs, and aleppo fries —  was paired with 2018 Three Sons Cuvee Pinot Noir.  

This is Halleck’s first pinot noir beyond his estate wine (first produced around 2003), which is grown at 1,000-foot elevation in the Russian River Valley. Halleck refers to it as the “little brother” to the estate pinot.
It should be noted that Hallack does have three sons with his ex-wife Jennifer, who is still his amicable partner in wine. They also work with Rick Davis as a contract wine maker, and he is the proprietor of his own brand called CalStar Cellars.
charcuterie at AOC with halleck wine

The final course and wine were three cheeses with accompaniments (nuts and dried fruits) and the 2019 Clone 828 Pinot Noir.

This lovely old-world style pinot is single-vineyard, from Black Knight Vineyards in Sebastopol, and is produced from Dijon clone 828.

Clone 828 vines were originally planted in the area by Brice Jones of Sonoma Cutrer fame. Long story short, Halleck was one of the first to purchase these clone 828 grapes from Jones. Halleck made his pinot, and after Jones tasted it, Halleck was forced to go searching for another source as Jones kept the grapes for his own wines. Halleck found that source in Black Knight Vineyards around 2008, and the first crop of the 828 clone was harvested in 2013.

Halleck’s 2019 is gorgeous, with the earthy, fruity nose of an old world pinot, and luscious cherry fruit and baking spices.

How to Taste and Purchase Halleck Wines

Halleck Vineyard produces just 2500 cases per year total, so each wine noted above is produced in rather small quantities. About 80% of Halleck’s sales goes to wine club members and another 20% goes to restaurants and private clubs. However, you can purchase wine directly from Halleck’s Web site, so check there for pricing and availability.
Halleck says he “lives and dies” by wine tastings, which he does at his home, by appointment only.  He pairs his wines with local delicacies, including Valley Ford Cheese Co. Reserve a Sonoma wine
reservation at their Sebastopol estate and give them a try.
Until next time,