Located in Sebastopol on the Sonoma Coast in California, Radio-Coteau is one of the few winery estates in the United States to hold Demeter organic certification – the largest organisation for biodynamic agriculture.
Renowned for its organic and biodynamic practices and its unique holistic approach to cultivating vines, Radio-Coteau is usually associated with its second-to-none Pinot Noir that so well reflects the area’s terroir.
Radio-Coteau was founded in 2002 by Eric Sussman. Originally hailing from New York, Sussman got a degree in Agricultural Systems and Environmental Sciences, specialising in sustainable viticulture.
The estate – formerly Lemorel winery and then gone by the name of Joseph Morelli & Sons before Prohibition – actually dates back to 1892 and features a varied agroecosystem with livestock, fruit trees and a garden.
The history of the estate owes much of its current structure to his founder Eric Sussman’s love affair with Burgundy and the time he spent in France during the late 90s. As a matter of fact, Eric Sussman moved to France after graduating in 1991 and a relatively short stint over at Staton Hills in Washington working as a winemaker.
Upon his return to California in 1997, Sussman worked alongside Randall Graham at Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz. Production was massive there, consisting of about 100,000 cases annually, yet Sussman was missing the traditional, ever so attentive Burgudian feel he had become so very fond of. He then quit his job as an associate winemaker at Dehlinger in 2001 and acquired Radio-Coteau.
The years prior to the acquisition of the estate were indeed the years when Sussman became fully aware of the potential of the land.
The estate’s sandy loam Goldridge soil – a much prized soil type found throughout California AVAs – as well as Sonoma terroir, were everything Sussman needed to feel prodded to launch his very own label.
As a matter of fact, Radio-Coteau spells out “nature” at every stage of production, hence drawing upon Sussman’s years gaining hands-on experience during his many visits to eminent cellars and vineyards in Beaune, France, as well as on natural winemaking and biodynamics studies that he completed while working at Châteaux Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Pauillac, Comte Armand and Jack Prieur domains from 1995.
Radio-Coteau’s production is heavily influenced by Old-World techniques, as well as the typical Burgundian traditional touch that left such an indelible mark on its proprietor.
His inaugural vintage — Pinot Noir from the true Sonoma Coast and Savoy Vineyard in the Anderson Valley occurred in 2002.
Sussman exclusively focuses on his own wines, and no output is destined to other wineries.
In 2012 Radio-Coteau added to its portfolio 17 hectares of land featuring a historic ranch and vineyards sitting on a ridge above the town of Occidental, in West Sonoma County.
Today the estate is consolidating its presence as one of the finest producers in the fine wine industry.
Radio-Coteau wine production spans across 5 different grape varietals such as Pinot Noir, accounting for 51% of production, immediately followed by Syrah, consisting of 30% of the pie and Chardonnay making up 14% of the output. Besides Riesling, Zinfandel accounts for 5% instead.
At the winery, technology moves fast but nature stays its course, as this reflects the pace of winemaking, as well as how things are done down at the estate.
At Radio-Coteau several of the winemaking techniques acquired in France by Sussman are put to good use. Only native yeasts are employed in primary and secondary fermentation, with minor amounts of sulphur added throughout this stage. Only free-run juice is used and the wines are only racked once before bottling. Due to meticulous timing-related reasons, bottling is carried out in-house, in order to better see to such delicate phase prior to release.
In 2008 Radio-Coteau received Demeter certification with regard to the estate’s biodynamic and organic fruit sources.
Besides Radio-Coteau we can find a second label called County Line Vineyards – more wholesale-driven compared to the former one due to the market condition in 2008 characterised by more potential sellers than buyers – produced by means of the very same techniques used at Radio-Coteau, to create down-to-earth yet exceptional natural appellation-based wines.
What is really unique to Radio-Coteau is a quintessential holistic approach to winemaking, hinging on non-interventionist practices befitting a self-sustaining organism, impacting on both the soil and the surrounding ecosystem. Dry-farming, a type of vine-growing without irrigation used in almost rainless regions, is practiced alongside extended ripening to better reflect the traits of the terroir in the wines.