MacMurray Ranch: Getting Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris right

A view of McMurray Ranch Winery in Sonoma's Russian River Valley. (Courtesy of

A view of MacMurray Ranch Winery in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. (Courtesy of

You have to love a winery that decides on its niche and sticks to it.

MacMurray Ranch only produces Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and if that’s all you make, then it better be good.

And is it ever.

Sonoma’s MacMurray Ranch makes a collection of Pinot Noirs specific to key cooler growing regions including the home vineyard in the Russian River Valley. And they make a Russian River Chardonnay and Russian River Pinot Gris. That’s it.

Since the first vintage was released in 2000, the quality has been top-shelf.

The name MacMurray should be a tip-off on the history of this property: Actor Fred MacMurray of TV’s “My Three Sons” and Hollywood’s “The Apartment” and “Double Indemnity,” bought this ranch in 1941, restored the buildings and raised cattle, sheep and chickens, and planted orchards and vegetable gardens — but nary a grape vine.

The ranch’s Hollywood years were 1954 to 1970, when MacMurray entertained his silver-screen friends, including golfing buddy Bing Crosby.

MacMurray died in 1991, and the Gallo family purchased the 1,700-acre ranch in 1996. They recultivated the land for vineyards to increase their holdings in Sonoma County and rack up another prestigious addition to its growing portfolio. First vintage: 2000.

Also in 2000, Gallo asked Fred’s daughter Kate MacMurray to be the brand’s ambassador, a role she still plays today.

The present winemaker is Chris Munsell, whose winemaking experience includes Geyser Peak, Beam Wine Estates and Domaine Chandon.

Here’s a taste:

MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River Valley 2012, $20

There is Pinot Gris and then there is MacMurray’s: so rich, ripe, dry, complex. For grown-up palates. It can tame rich scallops and lobster. It can court planked whitefish. I think it would be ever so perfect with pork as well. It’s all about baked apple, pear, dried fig and white peach notes, and is silky on the palate and bone-dry with a honeyed tropical sweetness in the midpalate. It finishes dry. Now this wine could stir some conversation among diehard wine lovers.

MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River 2011, $28

Amazing mouthfeel, depth of flavor, balance, elegance: It hits all the buttons. It opens up in the glass offering aromas of raspberry cherry, boysenberry, lavendar, red currant. Tannins are like velvet; the infusion of spicy, smoky oak is seamless. It’s made off blocks of grapes in the Russian River Valley selected by winemaker Chris Munsell, with a small complement of grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands. The cool, challenging 2011 vintage in California gave this wine a boost.

MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Central Coast 2011, $23

Central Coast is the huge AVA that stretches from San Francisco south to Santa Barbara along the ocean. The sub appellations include the high-rent Santa Lucia Highlands where most of these grapes are grown — it’s an area bathed with cool breezes off the Pacific that make for ideal conditions for Pinot Noir. This wine is a little less giving of its Pinot character until it warms up in the glass, when you catch the full intense cherry, blackberry, plum, dark chocolate and cola notes accented with vanilla and oak. In the mouth, tannins are silken, good acidity holds the package together. It’s a good great buy for a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.

These wines are widely available.

You can reach Sandra Silfven at