Last updated on February 27, 2021
Discover a maverick when you meet Terragena Vineyard’s Chris Buchanan. Making a dramatic career change in 2008, Chris moved from New Orleans to Humboldt County’s Myer Flat. As a mathematical researcher, Chris was keen on creating everything from scratch. He started with nothing and ultimately developed a small limited production off-the-grid winery. It began with a yurt and moved to the construction of off-the-grid water and power sources. By 2010 he built his vineyard house. Finally, in 2013, Chris planted his 2-acre vineyard with various clones of Pinot Noir.
Terragena means born of the earth and represents all aspects of Chris’s property, from building the structures, constructing his power sources, and planting the vineyard. They all were born of the earth. Like a pioneer moving across the country in the 1800s, he started with a piece of land and created something unique and wonderful with his off-the-grid winery.
Off-The-Grid Winery – Vineyard
Chris chose this Humboldt County for several reasons, including its coastal origins in proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The land is less expensive, and the area diverse. His property is located on a ridge, and the soils are composed of shale and sandstone.
Not only is Chris’s endeavor off-the-grid, but he also could not have picked a more obscure and remote area to cultivate grapes and produce wine. The area is rural and isolated. Fortunately, one will soon discover, Humboldt County is proving to be an excellent area for producing some outstanding wines. Chris’s portfolio consists of 20 different wines. Besides the grapes he cultivates, Chris sources grapes from six small family vineyards.
Chris’s independent spirit drives his ability to produce his entrepreneurial wines. His winemaking philosophy is based on sustainability, and this encompasses his view of sourcing his utilities off-the-grid. In that respect, his winery is self-sustaining. He is his own utility company. Water comes from two sources. For the vineyard, captured rainwater irrigates his vines. This water does not have minerals. Chris feels this helps showcase the terroir where his grapes are grown. An underground spring supplies water for drinking and other uses. This water has natural minerals.
For Chris, sustainable wine involves a sense of community and connection. The combination of science and art reflects in Chris’s wines. Science is where Chris came from, and the art of winemaking keeps him going. In the end, he often follows his heart and passion.
Virtual Wine Tasting with Craft Wine Association
My first encounter with Terragena wine was during a virtual tasting with the Craft Wine Association. Chris is a member of the Craft Wine Association, an organization celebrating American small-production wineries.
Wines sampled during the virtual tasting:
Terragena 2018 Riesling, Wiley Vineyard: This Riesling is unique because it is a field blend with about 8% Muscat. The Muscat adds a nice element to the Riesling and accents the wine with Alsatian characteristics. This aromatic wine exhibits flavors of citrus and stone fruit. I found an outstanding example of the quality of Riesling coming from the Anderson Valley.
Terragena 2017 Nebbiolo, Lost Coast’s Dragon Vineyard: This Nebbiolo is light with bright acidity and elegance but very different in a good way from what one typically expects of a Nebbiolo. I found the wine more intriguing with each sip.
More Terragena Off-The-Grid Wines
Chris wanted a colleague and me to get a greater sense of what his wines are about, and we were privileged to be sent six additional wines to sample after the virtual tasting.
Terragena 2017 Chardonnay Abbassi Vineyard: Abbassi Vineyard located in the Carneros AVA of Sonoma produces Chardonnay grown in Huichica Loam, a soil that features sandy and silt loam. The wine aged in a combination of neutral, French, and Hungarian oak. I found a crisp Chardonnay with bright acid with flavors of pear.
Terragena 2016 Nebbiolo Lost Coast’s Dragon Vineyard: The Lost Dragon Vineyard is located at the base of the Trinity Alps, more inland in Humboldt County. Due to its location, the climate is more continental and allows for growing Italian varieties such as Nebbiolo and Barbera. Looking at the color of this Nebbiolo, you almost think Rosé and this wine is almost like a Rosé. I found a light, versatile wine that works with a wider variety of cuisines. The Nebbiolo is ideally suited for summer fare.
Terragena 2017 Barbera Lost Coast’s Dragon Vineyard: This wine showcases lots of dark fruit. With intense earthy aromatics, including Mesquite and dark fruit flavors, this wine pairs perfectly with red meats, hamburgers, or steak.
Terragena Pinot Noir
Comparing three Pinot Noirs, I got a good feel of Chris’s experimentation with the grapes he grows.
Terragena 2017 Wiley Vineyard: The grapes come from the deep end of the Anderson Valley near Philo. The wine aged in a combination of Hungarian and French oak. I found this wine to be the most complex and masculine of the three Pinots. On the palate, find dark fruit accented by sage.
Terragena 2017 Pinot Noir Single Barrel: Utilizing 115 Clone Pinot Noir from Abbassi Vineyard in Carneros, the wine aged in neutral oak. The thought behind this wine shows how the age of the barrel influence the single clone Pinot Noir. I found a well-integrated light and elegantly balanced wine. The dominant flavor of strawberry prevailed.
Terragena 2017 Pinot Noir Elk Prairie Vineyard: Elk Prairie Vineyard is one of the more well-known Pinot Noir vineyards in Humboldt County. This vineyard influence Chris to cultivate Pinot Noir in his own vineyard. Growing Dijon Clones primarily and dry farming, the wine has a tannic structure. The wine exhibited elegance with more tannins than the other Pinot Noirs tasted. This Pinot Noir exhibited forest qualities with flavors of red berries.
With Chris, his admiration of old-world wines comes through but with an independent spirit that makes his wines unique and exceptional and a true inspiration for the up-and-coming Humboldt County.
Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.