MacPhail: Get On the Wagon
James MacPhail began to produce Pinot Noir from North Coast appellations beginning in 2002 under the
MacPhail Family Wines label. A native son of Marin County in a family with roots in the area dating to the
1880s, his background includes a broad range of interests including dairy farming near Tomales Bay and
ventures into appliance retail, building materials and natural gas. He became an accomplished classical
pianist and bagpiper. In 1983, MacPhail was the youngest to swim across the Golden Gate and remains a
nationally ranked Masters Class competitive swimmer.
MacPhail developed his winemaking skills at Quivera, Pellegrini and Merry Edwards, and quickly focused on
Pinot Noir. After making wine in rented space for six vintages, he built a 5,000 case winery and tasting room in
Healdsburg in 2008 where he crafts about 4,000 cases annually of Pinot Noir sourced from the Sonoma Coast
and Anderson Valley. The winery has a rural barn aesthetic and employs passive solar design and daylighting
as well as a waste water wetland system for production waste to cleanse waste water that can later be used for
In 2007, MacPhail became the winemaker for Sequana Vineyards. These wines are crafted in much the same
style as MacPhail Family wines but the focus is on sourcing grapes primarily from the Green Valley of Russian
River Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Production at Sequana Vineyards is 11,000 cases per year.
Recently, MacPhail joined The Hess Collection bringing along MacPhail Family Wines while continuing his
work as the founding winemaker for Sequana Vineyards. The Hess Collection has acquired the MacPhail
Family Wines brand as well as existing inventory.
The colorful wine label of MacPhail Family Wines features a Radio Flyer wagon filled with grapes. This along
with the winery’s marketing program are very eye-catching, attracting my interest initially several years ago.
Early on, I found the wines a little hit and miss and stylistically they were often a bit generous in alcohol, ripe
and oaky. The wines did improve in the bottle over time because of bright acidity. Recently I had the
opportunity to taste the 2009 vintage Pinot Noirs from MacPhail and I came away with renewed interest and a
more favorable impression. Oak still plays a role in the wines but is more restrained and complimentary, and the
wines all show admirable balance. The 2009 Pinot Noirs are all quite approachable now, although the vineyard
designated Pinot Noirs will benefit from more time in the bottle. I think the wines will appeal to every Pinot Noir lover.
The winemaking regimen is as follows: grapes are hand picked and hand sorted, 100% de-stemmed and
undergo a 5-day pre-fermentation cold soak. Fermentation is begun with indigenous yeast and then
inoculated. Native malolactic fermentation occurs in barrel. Batonnage is performed weekly for 3 months. The
wines are aged 11 months in 40% to 100% new French oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. All the
2009 wines reviewed here were released in the fall of 2010 except the Wightman House and Vagon Rouge
which are scheduled for fall release in 2011 (the Home Girl Pinot Noir is a spring release).
MacPhail Family Wines is open for tasting by invitation and appointment only and usually MacPhail makes
himself available for these tasting sessions. Visit the website at www.macphailwine.com.
2009 MacPhail Home Girl Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH
3.67, TA 0.57, 135 cases, $29. A blend of all (10) single vineyards sourced by
MacPhail. Approximately one foot of wine at the bottom of each bottling tank
was moved back to barrels (40% new) and aged for another five months, then
bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass.
Rather flat nose offering dark red cherry, baking spice and leaf aromas. Cherry-driven,
slightly candied flavor with some oak showing up on the finish. A lighter
styled wine with fine-grain tannins, a bright texture, and bright acidity on the
finish. Drink now. Decent.
2009 MacPhail Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., ph 3.60, TA 0.63, 1,195 cases, $39. Sangiacomo,
Pratt, Wildcat and Gap’s Crown vineyards. Multiple clones including Dijon 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777,
Pommard, 2A, 9 and 23. Aged 11 months in 40% new and 60% 1 and 2-year-old French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Nuanced aromatic profile featuring scents of strawberries,
black cherries, savory herbs and old wood. Medium-weighted core of earthy dark red fruits possessing a wild,
exotic flavor and a slight green undertone. There is a fine dusting of tannins and adequate acidity. A solid wine
that is nicely crafted, but doesn’t excite. Good.
2009 MacPhail Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.65, 320 cases, $49. This
vineyard is in the Petaluma Gap region of the Sonoma Coast. Clones 115, 667 and 777. Aged 11 months in
40% new and 60% 1 and 2-year-old French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass.
The aloof nose features demure scents of dark stone fruits and smoky oak. In the mouth, the juicy dark plum,
blackberry and black raspberry fruit comes alive accented by underpinnings of anise, ash and complimentary
oak. The nicely ripened fruit is robed in gossamer tannins and the wine finishes with modest length. Good.
2009 MacPhail Raye’s Hill Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.82, TA 0.56, 178 cases, $49. Clones 667 (33%) and
Pommard (67%). Harvested at 27.5º Brix. Aged 11 months in 50% new
and 50% 1 and 2-year-old French oak barrels.
hue in the glass. Aromatically shy initially, but opens nicely over
time in the glass to offer scents of black cherry pie, red plums,
sandalwood and underbrush. Very polished in the mouth with
impressive mid-palate intensity of delicious black cherry, strawberry and
raspberry spicy fruit wrapped in fine sweet tannins. A wine of impressive
breeding and balance. This clonal mix always seems to delight me.
2009 MacPhail Toulouse Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.86, TA 0.54, $49. Clones
115 (30%), 667 (30%), 777 (30%) and 2A. Aged 11 months in 60% new and 40% 1 and 2-year-old French oak
Initially, oak-derived aroma of coffee predominates, fading over time with the emergence of shy black
cherry fruit and a little barnyard. Tasty core of red fruits enhanced with notes of spice, sandalwood and oak
with a slight coffee accent. Crisp with lively acidity. Good.
2009 MacPhail Wightman House Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.94, TA0.55, 66 cases, $55. 100% Martini clone.
Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak barrels.
reddish-purple color in the glass. An enticing and thoroughly seductive
wine that offers an hi-tone perfume of dark berry jam, spice, vanilla and
the slightest oak. Discreetly concentrated, earth-kissed flavors of
blackberry and plum sauce with a hint of tar and oak. The texture is dreamy
soft. Finishes dry with impressive persistence. Very little Martini clone is planted
in the Anderson Valley so this is a very distinctive wine representing an
impressive expression of this clone that will hold the interest of any serious Pinot
2009 MacPhail Vagon Rouge Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH
3.73, TA 0.57, 117 cases, $59. 5 hand-selected barrels. Sourced from
Toulouse, Wightman House, Frattey Shams, Raye’s Hill and Ferrington
vineyards. Aged 11 months in 100% new Tonnellerie Ermitage Medium Toast
French oak barrels.
Moderately intense color in the glass. Shy nose offering
aromas of cherry crisp, spice, briar and subtle oak. Soft and smooth on the
palate with satisfying flavors of red cherries, cardamon spice, and sandalwood
enrobed in firm fine-grain tannins. Nicely composed with oak playing a
complimentary supporting role. Picks up interest over time in the glass and is
even better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
Keep this one under wraps for a couple of years and then plan a special dinner around it. Very Good (+).
2005 MacPhail Toulouse Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 400 cases. Clones 2A, 777,
667 and 115. Native fermentations. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
reddish-purple hue in the glass. Very alluring nose offering scents of black cherries, dark berry compote,
brioche, cola, vanilla and subtle oak. Medium-weight flavors of black cherries, raspberries and cranberries
finishing with zingy citrus and oak in the background. Tannins have softened and the mouthfeel is all silk and
satin. Good (+).