DeRose Vineyards is a name well-known to wine lovers for its rustic cellar of a tasting room in the wilds of Hollister, on Cienega Road, smack in the middle of old California. Much of the Hollister hills still look much like they must have 200 or 300 years ago, without the asphalt, fences and occasional power and phone lines.
The atmosphere at the DeRose tasting room in Hollister is strictly casual, although the wines are serious in their intent and purpose. And now, they have a second location, in San Martin. It’s also casual, but make no mistake: this is not a frivolous hobby for the DeRose family.
Winegrower Pat DeRose means business when it comes to raising grapes. His son Alphonse (Al), now in charge of all the winemaking for DeRose, is also absolutely serious about the craft and the business of winemaking, traveling to Chile each year to craft wines for his Alchemy wine label. They work hard to preserve this piece of history.
Why? The DeRose family has a legacy to protect and pass on. You’ll get to hear all about it from Don Barnes and his wife Marietta, who is Al’s sister, at the new tasting room on Fitzgerald Avenue in San Martin. This second DeRose tasting room is located in a garage with an array of collector cars owned by Rich Bergin of Little Uvas Cellars, with whom the DeRose tasting room shares the grounds.
The bar, crafted by Barnes from old redwood tanks and salvage wood from the old Almaden winery, has a hammered copper top and turns out to be a most pleasant place to enjoy a tasting. Or, be seated at one of the many tables, where you will be greeted with a cold glass and splash of Chardonnay, followed by a flight of wines, served in small carafes, so that you may take your time and enjoy the trip through history that is about to cross your lips.
But, at least for your first visit, it’s best to stand at the bar and absorb the background, as it explains almost everything. Barnes is a graphic designer and photographer who did all the DeRose labels and whose work is displayed on the tasting room walls. His company is called Cellar Ideas.
If you know something of California wine history, the name “Almaden” might ring with many grape-derived memories. Almaden Vineyards, named for the New Almaden quicksilver mine, was established in San Jose in 1852, making it the oldest commercial winery in California.
With agricultural land already giving way to the urbanization of San Jose, in 1953, the company moved south, purchasing vineyards in San Benito County that had been planted 100 years earlier by French and German immigrants. Near the present-day location of Eden Rift, they established an enormous facility for making red wine.
The property’s largest cellar was four acres in area with a capacity of 37,000, 59-gallon barrels. It was at one time “the world’s largest covered wine cellar,” according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 1987, the assets were sold to Heublein, after which it sat idle. Today, Almaden Vineyards, is currently located in Ripon and is the property of The Wine Group, and wines are still made under that label.
In 1988, the DeRose family, along with the Cedolini family, both of whom had made wine for many generations, and their friend Eddie Miller, saw an opportunity, and purchased the former Almaden property on Cienega Road. Included in the sale were 100 acres of extremely old vineyards which had been left to their own devices.
This is the crux of the story, because those old vineyards are at the core of what makes DeRose so special. Very few wineries can boast the lineup of DeRose, with their old vine Negrette, Cabernet Pfeffer, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel. They also grow Viognier, and to round out their offering, bottle some Chardonnay.
When Pat DeRose set about restoring these gnarly vines, he discovered old plantings of what was then called Pinot St. George, dating back to 1855. Now known as Negrette, it is dark skinned, tiny of berry, and hard to ripen, but when it does get there, it’s fat with blackberry and blueberry and ample tannins. He also found Zin and Cab Pfeffer that had been planted in 1905, along with Cabernet Franc.
These dry-farmed vines are still producing extraordinary wines to this day, using native yeast only, and very little new oak. You could say they are authentic to the original award-winning wines that came off this land, except, thankfully, they are not made in big redwood tanks.
You really cannot leave the DeRose tasting room without trying the old vine Negrette and the Cab Pfeffer. Al DeRose also makes Negrette from the Siletto Vineyard, in San Benito County.
Among the many other wines available for tasting are the 2018 Pinot Noir, robust and generous of dark cherry, blackberry and boysenberry, with firm tannins to complement the abundant fruit; and the 2021 Super Tuscan Blend, a satisfying cherry pie combo of Sangiovese, Negrette, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The first two are from Hollister and the latter from the Little Uvas Vineyard, which surrounds the San Martin tasting room campus that is home to both brands.
Under the Alchemy label from Chile, you can also sample Carmenere, Syrah and Malbec, and if you like sparkling, you can purchase bottles of crémant sparkling Auxerrois, rosé and Symphonie, a hybrid that you won’t soon forget, with its sweet summer garden of perfume.
Because the DeRose tasting room in San Martin shares space with a very active auto restoration shop that specializes in Detroit muscle cars, it’s fitting that some of the DeRose labels are dedicated to classic old autos, including the 2018 Continental Cab that sports a 1957 Mark II, and is made from old vine Cab Pfeffer and Cab Franc.
There’s also a Sharknose Chardonnay and a Hollywood Red blend, perfect gifts for that car collector in your friends and family circle. Once again, it’s a nod to the importance of history.
The DeRose San Martin Tasting Room, 255 Fitzgerald Ave. in San Martin, is open Fridays from 2-7pm and Saturdays and Sundays from noon-5pm. For information, visit derosewine.com.