CAPTURE: Tell us how Immortal Estates came about, and the story behind the name and the jellyfish logo.
TIM MARTIN: When I took my first trip to see this special vineyard, I saw something that looked like it was out of Europe. With a 55-degree slope, it represented something that was just not done anymore due to envi- ronmental issues.
We wanted to rebrand the vineyard but had not made a firm decision. While sitting at a local restaurant, the sommelier insisted I try a 1905 sherry. Well, it made me stop and pause realizing I was sipping something stunning and while everyone who had a hand in making this sherry was gone, I was savoring it years later.
It made me think about that mountainside vineyard and the fact that the founder who carved it out with his bare hands was gone. However years later we will have the enjoyment of drinking a beautiful cabernet. The vineyard seemed to take on a spirit of immortality in my mind. The spirit of the owner that crafted this vineyard by hand lives on, and that became the new brand – Immortality Estate.
Shortly after this experience with the sherry, I stumbled onto information about the Immortal Jellyfish, which when it gets old reproduces itself again.
With my passion to create things that live beyond myself, such as the hand crafted wines that are 100-200 years old, it seemed the Immortal Jellyfish was the beautiful and perfect logo for the Impassable Mountain Reserve.
C: Describe the style of Immortal’s new release-the Impassable Mountain Reserve.
TM: The 2014 Impassable Mountain style is a luxurious cabernet with all the structure you want in a cabernet, very well balanced and appealing. It is a mountain fruit caber- net that has a beautiful mouth feel but all the structure you want.
C: Would you classify it as a cult wine?
TM: I guess I would. We are setting a bar for a high end Sonoma Cabernet, and are only making 400-500 cases. Although Napa has been doing this for a long time, you do not think of Sonoma as a high end Cabernet at $300 a bottle.
C: Where does the technology of wine- making stop and art begin to take over?
TM: The artistic part for us comes at the very beginning when we pick the best fruit. For this special vineyard, which pro- duces the Impassable Mountain Reserve, everything is done by hand from selection of vines through the wine making process to the packaging. Our wine decisions are always to select the best of the best. That is the difference in a cult wine, versus business decisions for the books.
C: What was the most difficult part of cre- ating a wine at a level that received a rare 100-point rating from Robert Parker?
TM: You have to make hard decisions. We made a hard brand decision to invest into the vineyard by removing 25% of the vine- yard, and replanted better rootstocks to grow the vineyard to the next level.
We will not see the fruits of that investment for seven years.
C: With a limited production, will we see it on wine lists of restaurants we might know?
TM: We will only produce 400 or 500 cases at most, so other than the winery, Impassable Mountain will be available at select high-end restaurants.
C: If you were not in the business of making wine what would you choose to do?
TM: As a kid I grew up playing music, and thought I wanted to become a rock star or a music producer. Then I came upon the impor- tance of winemaking and winemaking became my song, so to speak.
C: What is your most memorable wine moment?
TM: Early on in my career, I was in Bordeaux with friends drinking a Cheval Blanc, one of the first wines of France. The wine was so good, we were not drinking it we were sipping it. That moment was the turning point for me to be committed to winemaking.
C: Who is the one person you would like to share a bottle of wine with?
TM: Steve Jobs. It would be fascinating to talk with him because he was passionate about what he created, and the products we enjoy today have lived beyond himself.
The Bay Area’s thriving wine industry welcomes an exciting new addition with Immortal Wines.
Located deep in the Mayacamas Mountains, far off the beaten path of the Wine Train and the typical Napa Valley tourist spots lies the picturesque and idyllic Hidden Ridge vineyards. Encompassing 50-planted
acres of lush garden fruit, Hidden Ridge has been producing wine since the early 90’s with moderate success. While their product was good, they lacked the marketing focus and business acumen to push the business forward among the industry’s numerous competitors.
However, all of that is about to change with the help of Tim Martin. Martin, a businessman with experience in the wine business, visited Hidden Ridge with his partners a few years ago and immediately recognized the potential of the property and its unique and varied landscape.
Unlike most Napa Valley vineyards, Hidden Ridge’s land can vary significantly in elevation from one acre to the next, allowing its fruit to receive sun and stress from multiple angles depending on what part of the slope it’s located. That gives the grapes a truly diverse and diverse range of flavors and it’s a feature that is hard to find in a California wine vineyard.
‘Farming at this angle isn’t allowed anymore. The most you can farm is at a 15-degree angle and ours is at a 50 degrees. It does not sound like a very big deal but when it comes to wine, it’s a huge deal. What you’re getting here is true mountain fruit, but mountain fruit on a slope with many different flavor profiles.’ Said Martin.
He knew right away how much potential there was for Hidden Ridge, so he worked with their original winemaker and brought on the best possible team of vineyard managers and horticulturists to help create wine that was as exceptional and unique as the property it comes from. He wanted to show that Sonoma, typically known for its Chardonnay and Pinots Noir, can truly compete in the Cabernet market. It’s an effort that has definitely paid off. Impassable Mountain, Immortal Wine’s signature Cabernet, has received rave reviews from critics and collectors alike. Robert Parker ‘the world’s most trusted wine authority’ has consistently scored the wine a 97 out of 100 on his rating scale. It’s a wine that exemplifies the complexity of flavors created by the varied elevations of the Hidden Ridge vineyards.
“We are able to get all these different nuances from the land and the very best of the best goes into Impassable Mountain. It a true collectors’ wine.” Said Martin.
Slope, the other Cabernet in Immortal’s debut collection, is a more accessible option for wine lovers to enjoy, but still has a well-balanced and remarkable in taste. Both will be available on Immortal Wine’s website in the coming months.
And this is just the beginning for the brand. There are plans to produce a number of other wines at Hidden Ridge, including an estate-grown Rose, and the potential for developing additional collections endless.
As excited as Martin is excited about the many business possibilities that Immortal has to offer, it’s clear from his enthusiasm that this is also a passion project. He is genuinely captivated by the wine and branding industries and is looking forward to make a real contribution to the market by challenging the wine community’s perception of Sonoma Cabs.
“I’m excited because I think the world is ready to know more about Sonoma. People don’t think of Cabernet when they think of Sonoma, but I love a challenge.”
California's Latest Immortal Beloved
This can be a sad story or a happy one. You be the judge.
Everybody and their sister is writing about Immortal Estate, a newly branded Sonoma County wine that is, unlike so many brand-driven wines, actually something special. Everybody is writing about it because new owner Tim Martin is a branding expert, and he's much better at corralling the media than the previous owner.
Martin, whose best friend is superstar consulting winemaker Philippe Melka, was savvy enough to put together a Denver-based investment group to buy the property when the founder's widow decided to sell. Martin already has a successful Napa cult brand in Tusk Estates, a mailing-list only Cabernet with a waiting list. Tusk is just about impossible to buy, and that's part of the point.
"I'm a less-is-more guy when it comes to branding for wines," Martin says. "I like for people to discover the wine's secrets."
The new Immortal Estate has some secrets to discover.
The 165-acre property is in a valley that once held a remote hunting lodge at up to 500 meters (1640 feet) of elevation snuggled in between Napa and Sonoma Counties. Pride is the only winery nearby, but you can't see it from the property.
This story you've heard before: Lynn Hofacket and his wife Casidy Ward moved out from their native Oklahoma to wine country and wanted to develop something special, so they bought this ranch.
The property, which Hofacket dubbed Hidden Ridge, could not be developed today. Much of the 50 acres of vineyards are on volcanic soils on a 55-degree slope. Germany's Mosel region might be the only other place in the world with vineyards that steep. It's mind- boggling to stand at the top looking down and think about the workers who have to tend the vines. They're not on the electricity grid so equipment has to be powered by gasoline or generators.
If you're wondering if it was illegal to plant vines there, Martin says Hofacket was fined three separate times. Sonoma County code doesn't allow planting on slopes higher than 15 degrees, and "now they would shut you down", Martin says. But the vines are there now and the vineyard has been grandfathered in.
The vineyard was a labor of love for Hofacket, a construction magnate before he got the wine bug.
"Lynn didn't have a vineyard management team," Martin says. "He did everything himself with the help of one guy."
But marketing wasn't Hofacket's strength. Despite strong critical reviews, he struggled to sell the wines.
Part of it he blamed on the Sonoma County appellation: the vines are 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, but as Hidden Ridge sits alone it doesn't have a prestigious Cabernet AVA it could use. It is technically part of the Fountaingrove AVA, but nobody knew where that is before and now, Martin says, "It sounds like fire." (Martin said he could see a ring of fire around the property last fall, but he says the ridge wind kept smoke from descending into the grapes.)
Martin thinks Hidden Ridge just isn't a great name for a wine, even though it perfectly describes the property. He's keeping the vineyard name but not for the wine brand itself.
"One of the first things I noticed was that people called it Hidden Valley, like the ranch dressing," Martin says.
Hofacket bounced his prices up and down, at one point charging just $40 a bottle for one of the few wines that may have cost that much to produce, given the remoteness of the vineyard. In 2010 he decided the grapes weren't up to his standards so he didn't pick them.
In 2011, a wet and cool year, he made only a second-label wine. The next main release, 2012, cost $80 a bottle.
In December 2014, Robert Parker gave 97 points to the 2012Hidden Ridge Impassable Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, and he gave a preliminary score of (96-98+) to the 2013 vintage. Those were the highest scores the Wine Advocate had given Hofacket, and he must have felt partially vindicated.
On March 3, 2016, Parker released his final rating for the 2012 wine. He gave it 100 points, writing: "If you want a quintessential example of what perfection is in my business, taste this wine ... the incredible pure aromatics of blue, red and black fruits, the minerality, the volcanic, earthy sweetness that emerges in a subtle fashion, the full-bodied opulence, the staggering finish of more than a minute, and its unreal concentration certainly make this one of the most compelling and profound Cabernet Sauvignons I have ever tasted ... This should be nearly immortal ... a legacy wine from Sonoma."
Now THAT is vindication. But Hofacket did not live to read it; he had died in November 2015.
I'm struck by Parker's use of "immortal" because that is the word Martin chose to rebrand the wine after his group bought it from Hofacket's widow.
"I tried a 1905 Sherry once, and realized everyone who made this wine was gone," Martin said. "But their work, the wine they made with their hands, remained."
That's how he chose the name Immortal Estate, and the logo of a tiny jellyfish that, in theory, can live forever by regenerating itself back to a polyp. The marketing outreach was cheesy enough that I was skeptical; longtime readers know that skeptical is my default state. But after seeing the vineyard, I agree: it's special.
"Philippe (Melka) said there's wine being made all over the world but there really are just a few special places," Martin says. "Philippe calls this a monopole. It's a different area and it has its own climate. We're learning every year what works here."
Martin's team is replanting some of the vineyard to add other Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot – to add to the main wine. He's also planting Provence grapes around a lake at the bottom of the valley to create a Provence-style rosé.
"We spent the last year adding massive amounts of nutrients to the soil because the previous owner didn't want to do that," Martin says. "You have to give back to the earth or at some point she stops giving to you. Someone told me, why would you do anything to a wine that got 100 points from Parker? Because that's not how I think. I think you should always challenge yourself to be better."
Immortal Estate will charge $303 for a wine that peaked at $125 under Hofacket. There are 500 cases of the 2014, and it's an impressive wine, with layers of berry flavors, some dark chocolate, fine-grained tannins that give a firm yet smooth mouthfeel, and a long finish.
Hofacket created this wine. And it lives on.
By Annette Hanami
For Tim Martin, a brand designer, building Tusk into a cult Cabernet was a matter of marketing aspiration in a bottle, from branding, labeling, packaging, to the luxurious quality of winemaker Philippe Melka’s wine. It’s in the moment.
But one night while dining at Torc in Downtown Napa, he was served a rare 1905 Sherry that sparked a revelation. While the Sherry winemakers have passed on, their spirit lives on through the wine. It was about that time that he had the opportunity to acquire a unique vineyard on the Mayacamas range, Hidden Ridge, whose ageworthy 2013 Cabernet wines Robert Parker rated a perfect 100 points, calling it “nearly immortal”. And so Immortal Estate was born.
The spectacular vineyard’s steep slopes and high elevation site produces deep, rich and concentrated fruit, while the 1,000 foot vertical span adds complexity. The Impassable Mountain Reserve (400 cases) is their small production, icon wine but given the large 50-acre vineyard, Immortal Estate will also produce a second wine called “Slope” to enable a shared journey with their customers. The longevity of the wine inspired Martin to select for its logo the elusive and immortal Turritopsis Dorhnii jellyfish. For more information, check the website.
They say a good quality product can sell itself. Hogwash! In an era marked by crowded marketplaces, big data, and hyper-dynamic marketing practices, selling a product requires deft strategy. In many cases, the fine line that separates success and failure lies upon a brand’s ability to consistently deliver on message for ever changing marketplace. For Tim Martin, co-founder of Gauge Branding and owner of Immortal Estate – previously Hidden Ridge Vineyard – his latest passion project is a testament to the power of rebranding: reviving a stagnant vineyard into a luxury wine brand.
As a child, Martin worked as a prep cook for his Italian grandfather. His penchant for all things culinary led him to two accomplished decades in restaurant and hospitality management. After working in Napa Valley for a decade with legendary Robin Lail and her wine project, Lail Vineyards, in addition to launching his own project, Tusk Estates, Martin launched Gauge Branding with partner Mark Wiegard. At Gauge, Martin focuses on cultivating brand DNA and crafting marketing strategies for emerging winemakers, cold-brew coffee makers, and bourbon distillers. In 2017, he fulfilled his lifelong dream to own a vineyard and thus became the new owner of Hidden Ridge Vineyard, now known as Immortal Estate.
In its original incarnation, Hidden Ridge Vineyard was a small vineyard with a cult-like following. Its 2013 Impassable Mountain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon received a coveted 100-point score from venerated wine critic Robert Parker, who described it as a “quintessential example of what perfection is.” The brand’s only other wine, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon 55% Slope, also received a laudable 97+ score. Yet despite such critical accolades and high remarks, the vineyard and its compelling wines went largely unrecognized. The problem wasn’t the wine, but rather the branding or lack thereof.
To say the vineyard’s unique location is off the beaten path would be an understatement. Located on 150 acres of land on the Sonoma side of Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas Mountains, the secluded vineyard runs the ridge between the Napa and Sonoma valleys. West of St. Helena, the estate’s 50 planted acres span the slope of Spring Mountain. What makes the vineyard unique is its 55-degree slope, a deviation from the county’s set 15-degree maximum. Since the area was originally developed by Lynn Hofacker and Timothy Milos in 1990, the estate is grandfathered in.
With its extreme slope and mountainous terrain, the area is an anomaly compared to typical auspicious properties. After initially purchasing the land, Hofacker spent years learning the land and developing the vineyard. This distinctive terroir provides unique soil and light conditions for the mountain fruit used to produce the vineyard’s acclaimed cabernets. The property’s exposure to the early afternoon breezes from the Russian River compounded with the area’s climate keeps the wines natural acidity and nuanced flavors. Rich, dark, and full-bodied, the wines boast a complex range of palette notes like cassis, dense cocoa, sweet spice, and truffles. “These mountain fruit are incredibly delicate,” said Martin. “The wines produced here are unlike anything else you can find. It really speaks to just how special this location is.”
While Hofacker proved to be accomplished in producing remarkable cabernets, his tenuous efforts in establishing his brand and marketing his creations kept the Hidden Ridge name a little-known secret. Today, Martin has made it his mission to change that.
When reimagining Immortal Estate, Martin had one goal in mind: to create a world class cabernet from Sonoma, which no one has ever seen. “I was intrigued by this idea that we have drawn lines and said, ‘Napa does this well, Sonoma does this well,’ but these are arbitrary lines we drew on a map. Mother Earth didn’t do that,” said Martin in an interview with Napa Valley Register. “So when I tried this wine for the first time it opened up my brain, I felt like I learned something, because this is a Sonoma cabernet that you don’t expect to have these kinds of profiles. I was blown away and sort of accepted this challenge of communicating to the world that Sonoma can make amazing cabs.”
For Martin, the new Immortal Estate was launched as an evolution of Hidden Ridge Vineyard. Rather than disregarding the past, Martin aims to honor the original vineyard by building upon its legacy of winemaking and transforming the brand into a prestigious name that will stand the test of time. “I love the fact that every day I get to work on something that I hope will outlive me,” said Martin. “Lynn, the founder of the vineyard, he’s part of that spirit. Here’s a man who crafted this amazing property. He passed away, and yet, this vineyard lives on; it’s like the spirit of his is there.”
If ever there was a symbol to represent endurance and eternal life, the immortal jellyfish would be it. As the only immortal creature on the planet, the jellyfish is able to reset itself and transform back into an adolescent state to essentially start over. With this in mind, Martin made the mysterious creature the focal point of the vineyard’s new branding. “Like the immortal jellyfish on our labels, we want clients’ memories with Immortal Estate wines to live forever,” said Martin in a press release. “We believe the way to do that is to deliver a truly luxurious wine experience through incomparable wines. We believe something special happens when people come together around good wine. Our goal in everything we’re doing is to create these immortal moments for people.”