Meet the Maker
Nurturing Nature: The Science and Magic of Alta Orsa Wine
Pairing science with wonder, Alta Orsa’s 2022 Chardonnay is what Maker, Nate from Ted Lasso, and Grans alike would all call “divine.”
By Maker Wine
April 20, 2023
Martin Bernal-Hafner has a profound awareness of the interconnectedness of the world. The way the moon influences the tides, the nuance in the rhythm of the seasons, how plants feed microbes and fungi, and the water, nutrient, and gas cycles that govern life.
He also acknowledges that some mysteries of the earth may forever elude our comprehension, such as the subtle energies we can feel but not see, the tones that animals can hear but we cannot, and the inspiration behind the interweaving roots of families of trees beneath the surface.
Martin knows there’s meaning beyond what we can measure. And that just because we can’t fully comprehend something doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Maker Team visiting Martin at Alta Orsa Winery
Meticulousness meets magical realism meets Martin
Martin was born and raised in Colombia. Perhaps uncoincidentally, so was magical realism—a literary genre which blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, and where natural elements often become characters in their own right.
With an innate passion for agriculture, conservation, and craft, Martin recognizes that different frequencies exist and coexist. We’re just not always capable of tuning into them. But we can observe, listen, and try.
And this is the ethos that Martin brings to wine.
Now, Martin wasn’t always a wine guy. In fact, his career began in finance. But his wife’s family had deep roots in the wine industry, and she wanted to get a hands on experience in the craft. So together, the couple uprooted their lives and moved in with a winemaker in Rhone Valley. Both quickly learned to love the intersection of agriculture, science, tradition, culture, and community that permeates the wine world.
The two doubled down on their newfound passion and moved to Mendoza, Argentina to master the art of Malbec alongside Paul Hobbs at Vina Cobos. Eventually, Martin followed Hobbs back to his flagship winery in Sebastopol, California. Years later, Martin and his partner Roger Peng opted to launch their own unique wine venture—pairing regenerative farming practices with a strong sense of place, and a little bit of magic.
Welcome to the world, Alta Orsa.
From Maker's visit to Alta Orsa
“Wine is not just wine, it’s a community and culture.”
Rooted in science, conservation, and dash of wonder, Martin’s winemaking process is both meticulous and metaphysical. Natural yet carefully nurtured. While drinking wine may elevate the human experience, Martin believes it’s the unique combination of grapes, terroir, farming practices, and human hands that shape the larger experience.
Alta Orsa, which in Latin means 'high/deep rooted, beginning/undertaking' is a fitting name for the 160-acre rugged mountain property nestled beneath the watchful gaze of Duncan Peak. When Martin took on the stewardship of the 10-acre organic vineyard, he approached its care with both an agricultural lens and a deep-seated penchant for conservation. Through this holistic approach, Martin and his team have created something entirely new, dynamic, and balanced, tapping into the natural synergy between the vines, the soil, and the surrounding environment.
The intricacies and impact of a single vineyard
For Martin, the vineyard itself is a complex natural ecosystem that he’ll never fully comprehend, but strives to nurture. Practicing regenerative and organic farming, Alta Orsa uses compost and worm casting extracts as soil preparations, 600+ sheep to mow, and diverse cover crops to feed the soil and support other microorganisms—all in the name of creating a resilient ecosystem that can withstand and combat the impacts of climate change.
"Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing."
Of course, it takes more effort to farm so conscientiously. But as Ted Lasso and Martin both know, "Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing."
Genius knows how to keep things simple
Beyond fastidious farming techniques and love of earth’s mysteries, Martin’s end goal is pretty pure: to make wine that he likes to drink, and in turn, hopes others will like to drink too.
For this specific wine, Martin set out to create a light, approachable, Chardonnay that would pair with oysters and sunny days. And tapping into his imagination and focus, he’s delivered exactly that.
About the wine
Martin describes the personality of this Chardonnay as an Italian foreign exchange student living in California. It’s naturally a relaxed and happy grape, and these attributes have only been nurtured by sunny, slow-moving Sonoma County.
“It’s the kind of wine to enjoy on a clear 70-degree afternoon while sitting in a garden with friends.”
There’s a balance and a confidence to this wine, plus a few fun European quirks. Light and bright, this Chardonnay is the type of character that would drive a yellow Vespa. It’s a 3 (out of 10) on the buttery scale, not dense or sweet. And it pairs perfectly—and we mean perfectly—with oysters. And a smoked salmon salad too.
It’s not every day you meet a person who can shift between science and emotion so seamlessly. Who can operate on different planes at the same time, and fuse the best of both worlds so naturally.
For Martin, wine is not one simple note. It’s a symphony of rugged land, scientific observation, patience in the process, and faith in himself to make something great.
With Alta Orsa, Martin has created something much bigger than the sum of its parts. He’s made wine that plays well with our planet and our palates. Wine that’s totally unique, yet extremely well-adjusted. That is of the moment, while already an instant classic.
We can’t wait to pour this Chardonnay for our friends while sharing a picnic. Or for our grans while sharing stories and using words like “divine.” Because in case it wasn’t abundantly clear, when it comes to Martin, this Chardonnay, and Alta Orsa wines, we at Maker most definitely “believe.”