A Winery to Watch: Three friends and their Minus Tide Wines

Kelly J. Hayes

2019 Minus Tide Feliz Creek Vineyard Carignan Rosé

There are many rosé wines out there. But single variety, single vineyard wines from California? Well, that reduces the number by a lot. The grapes for this wine were sourced from a block of 112-year-old, dry farmed head trained vines in the Feliz Creek Vineyard. Pale in color, but balanced with lively acidity, the wine is a perfect complement for a “plateau de fruits de mer,” or perhaps with some abalone, if you could find it.

It’s nice when a plan comes together.

The troika of partners at Minus Tide Wines of Mendocino County are enjoying the kind of “overnight” success that only comes after years of preparation, perspiration and planning.

It was the mid-2000s when three budding California wine entrepreneurs — Kyle Jeffrey from So Cal, Miriam Pitt of Palo Alto and Brad Jonas from the Mendocino Coast — experienced the serendipitous magic of chance meetings on the campus at Cal Poly University in San Louis Obispo (SLO).

“I think I just found out while we were standing in line on, like our first day at school, that he was also into wakeboarding,” Kyle laughs now about meeting Brad.

Soon enough, the pair – who had both arrived to study in the school’s highly acclaimed, hands-on enology program — discovered they had much more in common than just wakeboarding. “We had similar palates and preferences,” Brad said. “And from a philosophical standpoint we knew that we wanted to make site-specific, vineyard driven wines with a minimalist approach.” Sharing their love of wine, Miriam took a different path studying wine tourism and marketing. But when the three got together back in those days at SLO, the synergy of interests, ambitions and talents led them to dream about one day making wine together.

Cut to 2020 and Kyle, Brad and Miriam (now married to Brad) are preparing to produce their fourth vintage of Minus Tide Wines after receiving rave reviews for many of their first releases, especially their Old Vine Carignan Rosé. And they have done all this as a “second job,” as all three hold full-time positions helping others produce and sell their wines.

In her role as an account executive at JAM PR, Miriam has had a hand in public relations for a number of the most lauded brands in wine, including Duckhorn, Spottswoode, Sea Smoke and Chappellet, among others. Skills perfected there have helped her present and promote the Minus Tide wines professionally to many of the world’s top wine journalists.

Kyle and Brad worked harvests over the past decade in far-flung wine destinations. These include the biodynamic vineyards of Henri Cruchon in Lausanne, Switzerland, the cool climate pinot fields of Central Otago in New Zealand and the syrah/shiraz hotspot of Australia’s McLaren Vale. Now Kyle is the winemaker for Woods Beer and Wine Co. on Treasure Island in San Francisco, while Brad serves daily as assistant winemaker at pinot noir specialist Toulouse Vineyards in Philo in the heart of the Anderson Valley. That is where Minus Tide produces their wines. “Vern Boltz (Toulouse owner and wineamaker) gave us his blessing to make our wines in his facility, otherwise we couldn’t have done this (project),” Brad said.

The global experience has brought the trio to the sweet spot of Mendocino, where the focus is on the production of the non-interventionist processes that are the hallmark of the Minus Tide wines. Site-specificity, as the original philosophy dictated, shows itself in the cool climate style Minus Tide Syrah from the Valenti Vineyard, which sits high in the coastal mountains just a few miles from the Pacific in the Mendocino Ridge appellation. This wine has notes reminiscent of a peppery Côte-Rôtie made from the same variety in the Northern Rhone region of France.

Then there is the Minus Tide 100% Carignan sourced from ancient vines at the Feliz Creek vineyard near Hopland, California. Not a variety you’ll find much of in the new world, Brad raves about the vines from which they hail. “These are enormous, gnarly vines, many up to 80 years old.” The wine is fermented in a closed-top, egg-shaped fermenter and is presented un-fined and unfiltered. A wine that proves everything old is new again. I recently put a chill on a bottle and sipped it with some deeply smoky pork ribs and loved it.

Oh, and about the name: Brad grew up along the Mendocino Coast. “We were looking for something that evoked the feel of the ocean, and a minus tide is when you can really see what is going on along the coast,” he explained. The logo features an abalone shell on a vineyard post and sets a tone so strong one feels the salt of the sea.

Still, I can’t help but think the tide is rising for these three college friends.