California Pinot Noir from A to T
This time of year offers a welcome respite from my usual heavy load of wines to taste and review. It is much
too hot to safely ship wine, and everyone in the wine business is preoccupied with harvest anyway. However,
before my travels to Oregon in late July and early August, I did have the opportunity to taste quite a variety of
wines representing every major appellation in California except Carneros.
Armanino Family Cellars
A family owned winery that released its first Pinot Noir with the 2006 vintage. Grapes are sourced from multiple
appellations in California. Head Pinot Noir winemaker Chris Nelson has an impressive background, having
worked at Lynmar Winery in the Russian River Valley, Dry River Winery in Martinborough, New Zealand, and
Araujo Wines in Calistoga. This is my first exposure to the wines from this producer which are well made in
their style. They are Syrah-like in intensity, powerful flavored, very ripe, and bombastic, but the high alcohol
levels, tannins and oak are all well-integrated.
2010 Armanino Family Cellars The Pintail Doctor’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Complex array of aromas including dark berries,
briar, wine cellar, violin case and bark. Rich and burly, with copious amounts of sweet, sappy dark berry fruits
complimented by a subtle hint of oak. Smoothly textured with mild tannins and some fruit-driven length on the
finish. A bit monotone, but hard to ignore the vigorous fruit. Good.
A first-rate producer of Pinot Noir sourced from vineyards in Anderson Valley, Mendocino Ridge and Comptche
in Mendocino County. Winemaker Phil Baxter, Jr. is a University of California at Davis grad whose unique
Pinot Noir regimen includes no new oak barrel aging. The wines are produced at the family farm in Elk, high
above the Anderson Valley.
2009 Baxter Black Label Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
pH 3.71, 500 cases, $35. Sourced from several vineyards throughout
the Anderson Valley, a true cross-section of the AVA. 40% Martini, 40%
Pommard, 15% “DRC,” and 5% 667 clones. Native yeast
fermentations, 6-day cold soak, punched down by hand for 18 days,
then pressed using a gentle basket press. Aged 20 months in 100%
neutral French oak barrels before blending and bottling.
color in the glass. Brightly perfumed with scents of fresh dark red berries, gentle
spice, bramble and flowers. Light in the mouth with flavors of juicy dark
strawberries, raspberries and plum and a subtle riff of leafy herbs in the
backgrounm showing well-mannered fruit tannins with lively acidity and some length on the refreshing finish.
Pinot Noir unplugged (sans oak) offers a different tasting experience. Very good.
One of a small cadre of relatively unknown wineries in Humboldt County, California. Located in the tiny town of
Briceland, this winery was founded in 1985 by veteran winemaker Joe Collins and his lifelong partner, Maggie
Carey. Collins pioneered winegrowing in southern Humboldt County and he was involved in the establishment
and management of practically all the early vineyards in the area. Pinot Noir is sourced from neighbors who
farm tiny hillside vineyards in the area. Collins’ stepson, Andrew Morris, is the assistant winemaker. This
producer deserves more recognition. The Pinot Noirs, in particular, offer impressive quality at modest prices
often unmatched by other California wineries. Joe provided the map below detailing the location of the major
vineyards in southern Humboldt County (blue dots).
2010 Briceland Vineyards Humboldt County Pinot Noir
Table wine, 165 cases, $23. 25th vintage.
Season cut short by rain so each of the three vineyards from which fruit was sourced were blended
(Phelps, Ronda’s and Elk Prarie vineyards).
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The
aromatics pick up interest and power over time in the glass offering scents of dark red berries and
plums. Discreetly concentrated,sporting ever expanding flavors of dark red berries backed by
muscular tannins which need more time to integrate. Finishes with a very pleasing persistence of
perfectly ripe fruit. Very enjoyable and equally fine the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle. Very good.
2011 Briceland Vineyards Bosco Vineyard Humboldt County Pinot Noir
Table wine, 65 cases, $27. This vineyard is about a mile from the
winery on the western side of Briceland. Aged 6 months in oak.
Moderately light reddish color in the glass. A chameleon of a nose,
changing constantly, but at times offering aromas of red berries,
underbrush, bay leaf, and beet root. Delicious core of savory and spicy
dark red berries complimented by a hint of oak. A spirited wine with a wellbalanced
tannin load that is soft in the mouth and finishes with modest length.
2009 Briceland Vineyards Lake County Syrah
14.5% alc., 180 cases, $21.
Dark reddish-purple color in the
glass. Aromas of blackberry jam, black currants and white pepper. Soft in the mouth and modest in intensity
with a core of sweet blackberry and black grape fruit. Hints of tobacco, pepper and dark chocolate add
interest. Noticeable length on the finish that offers a bevy of black fruit and a hint of heat. Good.
Brophy Clark Cellars
Husband and wife team of John and Kelly Clark craft small lots of moderately priced Pinot Noir sourced from
vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Three wines were favorable reviewed by me in July 2012, but this wine
arrived too late to include in that issue.
2010 Brophy Clark Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.62, 300 cases, $24. From the
Garey and Goodchild vineyards. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish-purple color
in the glass. Demure aromas of black fruits with a note of cigar box and tarry oak. Respectable, well-spiced,
black raspberry and black cherry flavored core, somewhat buried in toasty oak. May improve over time as the
oak integrates. Decent.
A highly popular Pinot Noir specialist producing wines sourced from West Sonoma County vineyards. Ross
Cobb, who trained under both Burt Williams and Bob Cabral at Williams Selyem, was the winemaker at
Flowers Vineyards & Winery from 2004 and 2008. His Cobb wines are distinctly elegant and balanced with
generous aromatics and flavors. The mailing list unfortunately is currently full.
2009 COBB Coastlands Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 295 cases, pH 3.38, $70. A variety
of Pinot Noir selections from this 15-acre vineyard planted in 1989. Located 4 miles inland from the Coast, the
clones planted include Pommard, Martini, Wädenswil and Mt. Eden. Aged 20 months in 35% new French oak
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Pungent and shy initially, opening over time to
reveal more pleasing aromas of plum reduction sauce. Modest intensity with flavors of dark plum and currant,
accented with earthy, oaky notes in the background. Not particular appealing the first day but much better the
following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle displaying more expressive aromas and flavors,
veering more to the redder fruit spectrum. Definitely a nervy, higher acid style. Good.
2009 COBB Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 120 cases, $80. A
one-half-acre nursery was planted by Diane Cobb with over twenty varieties of Pinot Noir to determine which
were best for the Coastlands site. The plantings were later doubled with what she believed was the best in the
nursery. This wine is from 1.5 acres as a memorial to Diane Cobb who passed away in 2006. Aged 20 months
in 38% new French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Enticing scents of dark
Queen Anne cherries, sawdust and sandalwood. The dark red cherry core is fresh and vivid, held in check by
taut tannins, and finishing strong and focused with a hint of citrus. Seamless with admirable finesse, and a
delight to drink. Very good.
2009 COBB Emmaline Ann Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., 260 cases, $70. This 3-acre vineyard is located near Occidental on
a south-facing slope a few miles inland from Coastlands Vineyard. Dijon
clones 115 and 777 are planted in Goldridge sandy loam. At 800 feet, this site is influenced by the Pacific Ocean. More fog and shade than other vineyards Cobb works with giving at a particularly delicate expression of Pinot Noir. Yields are commonly less than 2 tons per acre. Aged 20 months in 30%
new French oak barrels.
Light reddish color in the glass. Lovely aromas
of fresh cherries, red berries and rose petals with a touch of spice and
oak. Highly enjoyable flavors of dark red cherries and berries with a pleasing
citrus riff on the cherry-driven, very long finish. Seductively elegant with supple
tannins. True to the Cobb style with lighter color, lower alcohol, redder fruits and
bright, focused acidity.
An iconic Russian River Valley producer of small lot, hand-crafted Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Zinfandel and Chardonnay, with a focus on estate grown wines. The annual production of 7,000 cases is sold
primarily to faithful followers on the mailing list. Founded by Tom and Carole Dehlinger in 1975, the second
generation of Carmen and Eva Dehlinger are now working in the family business. The winery engages in no
expensive promotion so that prices remain reasonable. The wines have a reputation for age ability.
The 2010 vintage had poor set caused by frost and rain in the spring and only 43% of normal production
resulted. No attempt was made to make up the shortfall at the expense of quality such as adding in some of
the press wine or purchasing grapes. Crop size has returned to normal for the 2011 vintage.
2009 Dehlinger High Plains Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.4% alc., $60. From the highest ground of
the 1989 planting. Usually these grapes are included in the Estate blends or Reserve bottling. 96% Pommard
and 4% Swan clone. Yields were 1.25 tons per acre.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very
ripe fruit aromas featuring Bing cherries with a hint of spice and seasoned oak. Rich, long and plush, with
copious amounts of black cherry and black raspberry fruit with a sidekick of oak vanillin and cola. The
bombastic sap is very seductive and persists on the dry finish which has healthy tannins and a bit of heat. Retasted
the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the fruit veered to the dark (over ripe)
side. Good for its style.
2009 Dehlinger Altamont Vineyard Old Vines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 325 cases, $60. From the original 1975 hillside planting
(Pommard, Martini and Swan clones), and the 1982 Octagon planting (Swan
clone). Yield was 1.5 tons per acre.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the
glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of fresh dark cherries, strawberries and
raspberries with a hint of baking spice and a trace of oak. Nicely flavored with a
moderately rich core of dark red cherries, red plums and raspberries with a
touch of sandalwood, cola and savory herbs in the background. The peacock
tail finish is memorable, still evident the following day from a previously opened
and re-corked bottle. This wine shows better balance than the High Plains and
has more potential for aging. Very good (+).
Eric Kent Wine Cellars
I have written extensively about Kent Humphrey and his consistently superb wines. The works of art that grace
every front label are quite striking and heighten the drinking pleasure of the wine contained within. His wines
(Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah) are sourced from vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Russian River
Valley and are sold primarily to wine club members. Over time, his wines have taken on a more modest
stylistic approach, more reflective of his personality.
2010 Eric Kent Small Town Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.65,
TA 0.63, 365 cases, $45. Released spring 2012. Label artist is Kelly Puissegur.
A blend from two Freestone vineyards (Cleary Ranch and Michael Valentine)
with a dose of Roberts Road Vineyard from the Petaluma Gap and Stiling
Vineyard from the Russian River Valley. Clones are 39% 777, 28% 115, 19%
Swan and 14% 667.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Fresh aromas of
blackberries and black plum sauce with a hint of oak. Mid weight flavors of black
cherries, black berries and plum reduction sauce with an earthy undertone.
Supple tannins, good supporting acidity, and some length on the finish. The
wine grows on you over time in the glass indicating more time will reward the
patient. Very good.
Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong crafts small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains
appellation including the Woodruff Family Vineyard which he farms. A native of Healdsburg, he learned his
winemaking in the Santa Cruz Mountains a decade ago.
2010 Ghostwriter Woodruff Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., $44.
reddish color in the glass. Aromas of strawberries, red cherries, sandalwood and wood spice, with wood
predominating over time in the glass. Relatively light in weight, with appealing flavors of ripe strawberries and
cherries with oak in the background. Supple tannins with a good spark of acidity make for an easy drinking,
food friendly wine. Fashioned for drinking now. Good.
In 2008, Gundlach Bundschu celebrated 150 years of operation making it California’s oldest family owned
winery. The estate 320-acre Rhinefarm Vineyard is located at the southernmost point in Sonoma Valley and its
varied terrain allows cultivation of both cool-climate and warm-climate varieties. The single estate Pinot Noir
carries a Sonoma Coast designation and contains 20% 40+year-old heritage selections combined with 80%
Dijon clones 667 and 777.
2010 Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.88, TA 0.59, 3,080
cases, $35. 8 blocks harvested separately. Heritage, 115, 667 and 777. 100% de-stemmed, 5-7-day cold
soak, indigenous and RC21`2 yeast strains, aged 10 months in 40% new French oak.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Accessible nose with aromas of roasted stone fruits, candied rose and
vanilla. Veers to the extreme end of ripeness with flavors of black cherries, dark berries and currants, backed
by a hint of oak,displaying fine-grain tannins and a dry finish. Decent.
Owner and winemaker Deborah Hall farms a small estate Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vineyard on 130 acres
tucked away off Highway 246 in the Sta. Rita Hills. A Pinot Noir bottling from the estate Santa Rita Creek
Vineyard is offered along with “Trois,” a blend of grapes from three unnamed vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills
AVA. The packaging is quite unique consisting of a hand blown glass bottle with an embossed glass seal, a
handmade paper label, and a beeswax seal, all intended to simulate the packaging of early California
missionary wines. All the historical aesthetic adds to the appeal of the wine inside. The estate also contains
the Dona Marcelina Vineyard, the oldest producing vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Using a recipe written in
1891, Deborah crafts an Ancient Vine Angelica, a fortified dessert wine from the Mission grapes growing at
Dona Marcelina Vineyard.
2009 Gypsy Canyon Trois Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
13% alc., $90.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Hi-tone aromas of fresh, ripe
black raspberries, blackberries, spice and a subtle green note. Delicious
essence of dark berries, with complimentary notes of spice, dark chocolate and
cola. Well-balanced with fine-grain tannins and bright acidity. Elegant and
refined, with a very dry, fruit-driven finish with admirable intensity. Very good.
Stewart Johnson farms the Kendric Johnson Vineyard located just south of the Petaluma Gap in the Marin
County AVA. Planted in 2002, this 8.5-acre vineyard contains multiple clones and yields are painfully low. I
have enjoyed every vintage since the first in 2004. A great value among unique California Pinot Noirs.
2009 Kendric Vineyards Marin County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.40, TA
0.53, 580 cases, $36. Released fall 2012. 6th vintage. Clones 37, 115, 667,
777, 828, Pommard and Martini. Harvested at about 2.0 tons per acre at about
24º Brix. 60% whole cluster fermentation, 10% saignee, no cold soak, both
indigenous and proprietary yeast, 30-day extended maceration, aged in 40%
new French oak barrels for 27 months, gently fined and filtered.
color in the glass. Very seductive aromas of ripe cherries, red currants,
sandalwood and walnuts, picking up interest and intensity over time in the glass.
Relatively light in weight but flavorful, offering notes of brandied cherries, spice,
and a hint of vanillin oak, with some of the cherry fragrance returning to haunt
the finish. Very soft tannins make for easy drink ability. Very good.
Laetitia Vineyard & Winery
A very large Central Coast estate, consisting of 1,888 acres of which 620 acres are planted to vines, including
the largest privately owned Pinot Noir plantings in California (434 acres). Located 3 miles inland from the
Pacific Ocean at an elevation of 255‘ to 720’ the soils are rocky clay loam from volcanic and ocean floor parent
material. Pinot Noir vines include Dijon 113, 115, 459, 667, 777, 828, Pommard 5, Wädenswil, Martini 13 and
Veteran winemaker Dave Hickey started at the winery when it was originally Maison Deutz in 1990, and he now
oversees the sparkling wine production while his son, Eric, directs the still wine program. This is one of
California’s most consistently reliable producers of sparkling and still wines, and the lineup of wines reviewed
here are very impressive.
The 2009 vintage offered excellent growing conditions with a daily morning marine layer giving way to cool
sunshine in the afternoons. The growing season ended in late September and early October when the grapes
were picked during a late season warming trend. 2010 was one of the coolest years on record for Laetitia with
many days shrouded in fog until the late afternoon. Aggressive fruit drops were necessary to insure ripening.
A late summer heat wave allowed the grapes to properly mature.
2010 Laetitia Estate Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.76, TA 0.615, 18,000
cases, $25. Released January 12, 2012. 100% de-stemmed, 3-day cold soak, quick fermentation,
aged 11 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Very
aromatic upon opening, offering clean scents of black cherries and black raspberries with hints of dark
chocolate, bark and prune. The flavors veer to the overripe side but never cross the line, offering
tasty notes of plump dark cherries and berries with a savory mushroom and earth undertone. Silky
smooth on the palate with modest length on the bright finish. The longer the wine was in the glass, the better I
liked it. An excellent value with wide availability and one of the more consistently reliable Pinot Noir bottlings in
the marketplace. Good (+).
2010 Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
alc., ph 3.77, TA 0.623, 1,200 cases, $40. Released January 12, 2012.
Composed of the most concentrated estate fruit that is given more hang time on
the vine and a lengthier time in oak. The wine is a blend of 60% of the same
consistent vineyard blocks while the remaining 40% are special lots that stand
out with the vintage. Clones are 115, 667, 459, Pommard 5, Wädenswil, and
Martini 13. Aged 11 months in 40% new and 60% neutral French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose picks up intensity
and romance over time in the glass revealing very enticing aromas of perfectly
ripe blackberries, clay and forest floor. Delicious, rich core of black cherry and
blackberry fruits with a riff of cherry cola on the generous, very slightly hot finish which has noticeable length.
The tannins are rather reserved making for good drinking now. Very good.
2009 Laetitia Single Vineyard La Colline Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., pH 3.43, TA 0.62, 220 cases, $60. Released
September 12, 2012. Sourced from original estate plantings. Only made
in exceptional vintages. The name, La Colline, means “the hillside” in
French. 4-day cold soak, whole berry fermented in small open top
fermenters with the addition of RC212 yeast. Gently pressed after 6 days
of fermentation and racked into 30% new French oak barrels for an aging period
of 11 months.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very
accessible aromas of baked plum, berry pie glaze, musk and oak. Delicious
middleweight melange of blue and black fruits, most noticeably raspberries.
Very polished and refined on the palate with impeccable balance (no oak or tannin in sight). A slight underlying
minerality adds interest. Pleasing persistence and length. A very regal wine that is approachable now, but will
benefit from further bottle age.
2009 Laetitia Single Vineyard La Coupelle Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.57,
290 cases, $60. Released September 12, 2012. La Coupelle means “the cup” in French. From a protected
block located below Les Galets that receives maximum sunlight and is shielded from the cool winds of the
Pacific Ocean. Soils are diablo clay and volcanic rock.
Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. A bit
shy, but does offer delicate aromas of dark Bing cherries, raspberries and mushrooms on the grill. Dense,
robust flavors of dark berries that exhibit a mouthfilling presence. Notes of cola and dark chocolate arrive as
well. Juicy, with firm tannins and modest length on the finish which is a little hot. Good (+).
2009 Laetitia Single Vineyard Les Galets Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.55,
276 cases, $60. Released September 12, 2012. Les Galets means “the stones” in French. From low-yielding
blocks picked from early to mid October. 65% Dijon clone 115, 35% Wädenswil clone 2A. 4-day cold soak,
whole berry fermented in open top fermenters with the addition of RC212 yeast. Aged 16 months in 30% new
French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Deeply colored, earth-kissed fruits are
featured in this wine which is discreetly concentrated and long in the mouth, with refined, svelte tannins and a
vivid, lengthy finish featuring spiced black plums. The fruit has character and noteworthy class. This wine is
approachable but still youthful. Very good.
2008 Laetitia Brut Rosé Arroyo Grande Valley Sparkling Wine
alc., pH 3.08, TA 0.975, 802 cases, $28. Released September 12, 2012.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were fermented with Prise de Mousse
traditional Champagne yeast and stored in stainless steel while the wine
underwent malolactic fermentation. It was then racked and filtered and
blended with only the brightest, least tannic, lowest alcohol lots of barrelaged
still Pinot Noir. Bottled in the spring of 2009 and kept en tirage for 36
months. The still wine component is aged in mature French oak barrels.
rose-pink color in the glass. Great bead. Lovely aromas of red berries, rose
petals and pastry cream. Delicious core of moderately rich tasting red
strawberry, cranberry and red raspberry flavors with a hint of pink grapefruit. Dry and uplifting, finishing with
some length and a lasting, slightly tart note of citrus-laden berries. I get excited for great Brute Rosé, and this
wine is a sublime example.
A popular value-priced Pinot Noir from Belle Glos composed of juice from all three of Bell Glos’ California
vineyards in Santa Barbara County, Monterey County and Sonoma County. Pronounced “May-OH-mee,” the
name is “Coast” in the language of California’s Wappo tribe. Widely distributed and readily available.
2011 Meiomi Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $19, screwcap. 51% Monterey County, 23% Santa Barbara County and
26% Sonoma County.
Deep purple color in the glass. Aromas of black fruits, fig spread, vanilla and caramel.
Moderately intense flavors of boysenberries, spice, candied violet, beet root and vanilla. The berry fruit is
sappy and delicious and has the signature Belle Glos imprint, but there is too much vanilla from oak on board
and the mild confected quality detracts for me. On the positive side, the tannins are well honed and the wine is
velvety soft on the palate. Not a classic Pinot Noir by any means, but one that does deliver plenty of sweet,
tasty fruit that some may find attractive especially at the modest price. Good.
Patz & Hall
A California standard, Patz & Hall has been producing Chardonnay since 1994 and Pinot Noir since 1996. The
winery is a joint effort between winemakers James Hall and Anne Moses, and the sales and marketing team of
Donald and Heather Patz. The winery sources grapes from about 15 prestigious vineyards located in regions
ranging from the Santa Lucia Highlands north to Mendocino County. Although known for distinctive single
vineyard bottlings, the lesser priced Sonoma Coast appellation Pinot Noir is a consistent performer year after
year. With the 2010 vintage, all fermentations are indigenous, the result of moving into a new winery in
Sonoma a few years ago. James Hall believes the 2010 wines are “across the board some of the best wines I
2010 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $45. Fruit from Gap’s Crown Vineyard is a major
element in this wine, which also includes grapes from winegrowers like the Duttons, Martinellis, Charlie
Chenoweth and Steve Hill. The season produced a concentrated crop with small berries and thick skins to this
vintage Pinot Noir is one of the most extracted expressions of this wine ever. Wild and cultured yeast
fermentations. Aged in 45% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark reddish-purple
color in the glass. A full-bodied arsenal of dark berry, fruit leather, spice and raisin aromas and flavors with an
earthy, forest floor undertone. A burly wine that makes no apologies for its copious fruit and tannin. Lacking
finesse and nuance, it nevertheless accomplishes it’s goal in this very cool vintage. Good.
2010 Patz & Hall Chenoweth Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 814 cases, $55. Wild and cultured yeast fermentations, 10%
whole clusters, aged in 60% new French oak barrels, bottled without
fining or filtration. First designated as a single-vineyard bottling in 2004.
This 7-acre vineyard is planted in Goldridge soils at the far western edge
of the Russian River Valley AVA (Green Valley) overlooking the
Chenoweth family’s homestead. It is farmed exclusively for Patz & Hall. Dijon
Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Upon opening, the
nose is an array of savory notes of briar, Herbs de Provence and dairy,
becoming more fruity over time exhibiting aromas of lovely, spiced raspberries.
Upon entry, the wine immediately grabs your attention with ever expanding, palate satisfying flavors of dark
cherries and dark red berries complimented by a hint of oak-driven vanillin and maple. Beautifully composed
with balanced, suave tannins and focused acidity, finishing with a long and amorous kiss of black cherries. An
exceptional wine that will reward furthering cellaring.
I usually taste Paul’s latest releases each March at the winery in Santa Maria, but this past March when I was
traveling in the area the wines had just been bottled, and Paul preferred not to show them. Six months later, I
tasted several of the 2010 Pinot Noir releases at home and the wines were stunning, among the finest Pinot
Noirs being produced in California today. Beginning with a six-barrel production in 2002, Paul has progressed
to 52 barrels for the 2010 vintage, which includes two Chardonnays and seven single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. He
has been able to quit his sideline day job at another winery and devote his attention full time to his own label
where he thoroughly enjoys his hands-on work in the cellar.
The wines are expensive, sell out instantly when offered, and are only sold through a mailing list. A careful
search may turn up a few bottles in the retail market. Almost from the beginning, Paul Lato Wines have been
served in three-star Michelin restaurants including The French Laundry, Per Se, and the Meadowood Resort.
The 2010 wines were sold for the first time internationally to the best restaurants in Stockholm, Copenhagen
and Tokyo. Paul only makes a few barrels of each vineyard-designated Central Coast wine so there is not a lot
to go around. You don’t see many pinotphiles selling Paul Lato wines on the secondary market because they
are just too good.
The 2010 wines reviewed below drink well now but will age. Like always, Paul’s wines have harmony and
balance. A cut above. (Other 2010 Paul Lato wines offered and not reviewed here are “Belle du Jour” Hilliard-
Bruce Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay, “Le Souvenir” Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley
Chardonnay, “The Prospect” Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, and “Lancelot” Pisoni
Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir)
2010 Paul Lato “Atticus” John Sebastiano Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 125 cases, $65.
Dark reddish-purple color in the
glass. Masses of perfume emerge over time in the glass revealing scents
of perfectly ripe dark berries, black currants, wood shed and spice.
Mouthfilling flavors of blackberries and black plums with an earthy
undertone, expanding in the mouth and lingering long and stout on the
finish. Very silky on the palate with suave tannins. A harmonious wine with a
fruit core that is extremely pure and vivid.
2010 Paul Lato “Seabiscuit” Zotovich Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 75 cases,
Dark reddish-purple robe in the glass. Glorious aromas of dark red and black stone fruits and dark
strawberries, with hints of spice, red rose petals, and forest floor. Intense and sappy on the palate with
luscious black cherry and blackberry flavors, lifted by bright acidity and complimented by ripe tannins.
The fruit intensity is stunning but not jammy, and beholds an intensity that lasts and lasts on the
peacock tail finish. A thoroughbred.
2010 Paul Lato “Alegria” Hilliard-Bruce Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 75 cases, $70.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very expressive nose, offering hi-tone aromas of berry tart,
dried rose petals, malt and vanilla. Moderately flush with well-ripened dark red and black berries including
ollaliberries, with an accent of new oak and an earthy underbody. Smooth and seamless and quite enticing,
although not quite as expressive as the other wines in this vintage. Very good.
2010 Paul Lato “”Duende” Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 75
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. A feminine perfume of ripe Queen Anne
cherries with an exotic array of spices. Stunning entry, with delicious dark cherry, black raspberry, ripe
strawberry, stem and white chocolate flavors, enriched by lively acidity and framed by soft, rich tannins.
Amazing fruit clarity and intensity. The most expressive wine immediately upon opening among those
tasted at this session. Plenty of pinotosity at work.
2010 Paul Lato “Suerte” Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 150 cases, $70.
Dark reddish-purple color in the
glass. The nose is brooding initially, opening over time to reveal very
appealing aromas of spiced berry cake, forest floor and cedary oak.
Moderately rich core of dark cherry, berry and plum flavors with a hint of
oak vanillin. Think sweet blackberries with fresh cream. Gathers
intensity and interest over time in the glass, reaching a state of flamboyance that
is striking. Seamless, with well-managed fine grain tannins and integrated
acidity. Finishes long and scented. Tasted the following day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was even better, continuing to pump out
the pleasure at a welcome pace. My favorite by a hair among the five wines reviewed here.
Owner-partner and winemaker Eric Sussman has a varied training background, having spent time in Burgundy
at Comte Armand in Pommard, Domaine Jacques Prieur in Meursault, and Dehlinger in the Russian River
Valley. The name, “Radio-Coteau” is two conjoined words derived from the Rhone region of France, literally
translated as “broadcasting from the hillside.” The inaugural Pinot Noir releases were from the 2002 vintage.
The focus is on vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley.
2010 Radio-Coteau La Neblina Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., 894 cases, $45. 100% Hallberg
Vineyard. Dijon clones 777 and 115. Aged 15 months in FRench oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very perfumey and floral with added aromas of orange
blossoms and candied, spiced raspberries. Moderately rich, featuring sweet, sappy black raspberry and plum
fruit flavors that pick up intensity over time in the glass. A fruit and floral driven wine that is soft and gentle in
the mouth. Good.
Thackery is an eccentric, even maverick winemaker who crafts his distinctive wines at his home in the small
town of Bolinas in Northern California. In his bib overalls, he strikes you as a farmer, but when you speak with
him he impresses you as a scholar. His website offers an extensive history of winemaking and the
understanding of wine, but no information on Thackrey’s own wines. He has crafted a Pinot Noir (Andromeda)
from Devil’s Gulch Vineyard in Marin County since 2002. The wine reviewed here from Anderson Valley is the
2010 Sean Thackery Cassiopeia Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $45. Named for the constellation, this is Thackery’s newest
project, conceived as an exploration of clonal influence. There are five wines
that make up the Cassiopeia project: four made from a single Dijon clone (114,
115, 667 or 777) all grafted to identical rootstock, planted at the same time,
farmed identically and subject to the same exposure at the Wentzel Vineyard.
This, the fifth wine, is a blend of all four clones to demonstrate how the
characteristics of each informs the wine.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in
the glass. Aromas of dark red berries, briar, oak, herbs, and exotic flowers.
Medium bodied flavors of dark red cherries and berries with a backing of savory
herbs. A bit exotic and intriguing. Lovely soft and polished mouthfeel. More expressive aromatically the
following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.
Small Vines Wines
Paul and Kathryn Sloan are owners of Small Vines Viticulture, established in 1998 to plant and manage ultra
high density planted vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. The company’s
motto is, “The smaller the vine, the better the wine.” Byron Kosuge is the consulting winemaker. The wines
are offered from vineyards that Small Vines Viticulture farms and are sold through a mailing list.
2010 Small Vines Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., pH 3.73, TA 0.56, <100
cases, $65. Mostly Calera with some 115 and 777 clones. High-density plantings (2722-3630 vines per acre).
Native yeast fermentations, aged 15 months in 33% new French oak. 100% free run.
color in the glass. Vibrant aromas of dark red cherries, rose petals, and oak spice. A hint of apple core
detracts. Middle weight flavor of black cherries with a complimentary hint of oak. Admirable finesse with mild
tannins and some staying power on the fruit-driven finish. Better the following day from a previously opened
and re-corked bottle. Good (+).
2010 Small Vines MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.54, 143 cases, $65.
Dijon clones 114, 115, 667 and 777. Native yeast fermentations, aged 15 months in 50% new French oak.
100% free run.
Medium reddish-purple hue in the glass. Aromas of mixed berry compote, shrub and oiled
wood. Moderately rich core of darker berries with a hint of old wood and stem, fashioned in an elegant style,
yet displaying a healthy tannic presence. Better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle with better integration of tannins. Needs more time in the cellar. Very good.
Stomping Girls Wines
Uzi and Kathryn Cohen were inspired to start their own winery by three generations of family winemaking
history. The name honors Uzi’s winemaking grandmother, Esther, his sister who stomped the grapes, and the
“stomping girls,” the Cohen’s daughters who worked in the cellar. Stomping Girl Wines was founded in 2008.
The wines are produced from purchased grapes.
2010 Stomping Girl Unhinged Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.76, TA 0.573, 200
cases, $28, screwcap. From several small family owned vineyards (Corona Creek, Lauterbach and
Beresini). 100% de-stemmed, 4-day cold soak, native yeast fermentation, aged in mostly neutral
French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. A
commendable, simple and straightforward offering, with aromas and flavors of black cherries, dark
raspberries, and subtle oak. The middleweight core of fruit is wrapped in polished tannins leading to
a smooth, satiny mouth feel. Nothing is out of place. Good (+).
2010 Stomping Girl Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH
3.80, TA 0.53, 100 cases, $36. 86% Lauterbach Hill Vineyard and 14%
Beresini Vineyard. 100% de-stemmed, 4-day cold soak, native and
inoculated yeast, aged in most neutral French oak barrels for 15
months. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish-purple color
in the glass. Very savory nose featuring aromas of brier, herbs, spice
and Bing cherries. Moderately rich core of dark red cherries and berries with
modest finishing strength. Notes of cola and spice add interest. Soft and
smooth on the palate with supple tannins. There is no weight from oak, so the
wine is fresh, pure and easy to drink. Very good.
2010 Stomping Girl Corona Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 202 cases, $34. This
vineyard is located in the Petaluma Gap. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, native yeast fermentation.
Aged in French oak barrels. Unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of coffee,
bark, tar, black cherries, sage and spice. A bit reduced upon opening. Appealing rich flavors of black cherries,
dark berries and cassis, with a noticeable cloak of oak manifested by coffee flavor. Finishes with a little heat.
May show better integration of oak over time, but not to my taste at present. Tasted twice. Decent.
This venerable winery was founded by Robb Talbott in 1982 with the planting of the original mountaintop
Diamond T Estate Vineyard and the construction of the original winery in Carmel Valley. In 1994, Talbott
acquired the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard (planted in 1972 and situated on 585 acres of benchland in the Santa
Lucia Highlands, 13 miles south of Monterey) which became the home to the current winery. Winemaker Dan
Karlsen is a veteran with well over thirty years of winemaking experience. The winery’s offerings are bottled
under various labels including Case Pinot Noir, Kali-Hart Pinot Noir, Logan Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and
Talbott Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Karlsen notes, “We are not trying to make wines of different quality levels.
We are showing the different expressions of Pinot Noir that our Sleepy Hollow Vineyard is naturally able to
Sleepy Hollow Vineyard has about 20 different blocks of Pinot Noir and from these blocks, roughly 70 individual
lots were fermented and aged in 2010. The goal was to capture a homogenous expression of ripeness in
every lot. All Talbott Pinot Noirs are vinified with no crushing, pumping, enzymes, cold soaks or extended
2010 Talbott Kali Hart Estate Grown Monterey Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.87, TA 0.63, $21, screwcap.
100% estate grown fruit from Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, sourced from vines that range from 10 to 40 years old.
This wine is made to be bright and appealing upon release. 100% de-stemmed, aged 9 months in 20% new
French oak barrels. Kali Hart Pinot Noir is named after Robb Talbott’s youngest daughter.
Medium purple color
in the glass. Aromas of very ripe, even roasted purple fruits. Intensely fruited with nearly over ripe flavors of
blackberries and sweet plums with a note of black tea. Drinks smooth and easy with a flourish of sweet fruit on
the finish. Nicely crafted and highly drinkable. Decent.
2010 Talbott Logan Estate Grown Monterey Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.80, TA 0.65, $25. Meant
to be a fruit-driven expression of the Talbott house style coupled with the complexity that Sleepy
Hollow Vineyard is known for. Logan Pinot Noir is named after Robb Talbott’s son. 100% destemmed,
aged 10 months in 20% new French oak barrels.
Medium reddish color in the glass. Shy
aromas of blackberry jam with an oaky, earthy undertone. Middleweight sappy flavors of dark berries
and plum reduction sauce with a hint of oak-driven coffee in the background. Ripe fruit tannins keep
the high alcohol in check and the wine finishes with modest, pleasing length. Good (+).
2010 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Estate Grown Monterey Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.68, TA 0.64, $40. 50% Martini clone planted in
1972 and 50% Dijon clones ranging in age from 15 to 20 years, all from
the finest blocks of Sleep Hollow Vineyard. 100% de-stemmed, aged
11 months in 20% new French oak barrels.
color in the glass. Reserved but pleasing aromas of black fruits, violets,
tar and oak. Very pretty mid-weight fruited core offering flavors of black
currents and blackberries balanced beautifully with ripe tannins and acidity.
Impressive freshness, polish, lift and finish. Still relatively reserved and needs
time in the cellar, but this wine clearly speaks loudest of Sleepy Hollow Vineyard
The Other Guys (Moobuzz, Pennywise, Leese Fitch)
A separate division of Don Sebastiani & Sons that started as a sales division of a new family venture in 2004, it
was spun off completely from Don & Sons (Aquinas, The Crusher, Smooking Loon, Pepperwood Grove) in
2010 by the three children of Don and Nancy Sebastiani (Donnie, August and Mia). This innovative brand is
directed at restaurants and retailers and is especially appealing to millennial wine drinkers with names like Hey
Mambo, moobuzz, and Plungerhead, and the incorporation of new packaging like screwcaps and Zork
2011 Moobuzz Monterey Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.68, TA 0.61, 5,400 cases, $15, Zork closure. 86% Monterey, 10% Mendocino, 4% Lodi. 86% Pinot Noir, 10% Sangiovese, 3% Tempranillo, 1% Syrah.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very fragrant with
bright aromas of dark red fruits, rose petals, spice and a hint of spicy
oak. Plenty of Pinot fruit singing with enough fine-grain tannins to add
a pleasing mouthfeel and enough oak in the background to compliment
the fruit and lend the wine some credence. A simple, but satisfying
2011 Pennywise California Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.58, 27,000 cases, $11. Primarily sourced from the Merwin Vineyard in
Clarksburg with contributions from vineyards in Monterey, Santa Barabara, Solano County, Lodi and the Sierra Foothills. 90% Pinot Noir, 6% Barbera, and 4% Sangiovese.
Light red color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with
aromas of fresh cherries and sandalwood. Light flavors of cherries, cranberries and strawberries with mild
tannins and no oak in sight. Soft in the mouth, and easy to drink. A pleasant, straightforward Pinot Noir that is
true to the varietal. A good back porch wine. Good.
2011 Leese-Fitch California Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.58, TA 0.56, 30,000 cases, $10.50, Zork closure.
76% Pinot Noir, 13% Syrah, 6% Grenache, 5% Barbara. 23% Monterey, 21% Lodi, 18% Clarksburg, 14%
Mendocino, 9% Sierra Foothills, 8% Northern Interior Valley, 7% Santa Barbara.
Medium reddish-purple color
in the glass. Aromas of strawberries, red cherries, raspberries, smoky oak and campfire. Medium weight core
of red cherry and raspberry flavors with a smoky, woody undertone. Juicy and easy to drink with mild fine grain
tannins. Fruit tends to fade rather quickly over time in the glass. Decent.
Brothers David and Tim Duncan are the Managing Partners of Twomey Cellars, which is separate from Silver
Oak Cellars that is also owned by the Duncan family. The primarily Pinot Noir Twomey winemaking facility is
located on Westside Road in the Russian River Valley and the Merlot winery is in Calistoga. The intent at
Twomey Cellars is to produce appellation-designated Pinot Noirs (Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, and
Russian River Valley) unless the wine is sourced from a single vineyard of special pedigree (Bien Nacido
Vineyard in the case of Santa Barbara County). The initial winemaker at Twomey Cellars was Daniel Baron
who now functions as winemaker for Twomey Merlot and oversees winemaking at both the Calistoga and
Healdsburg wineries. The Pinot Noir (and Sauvignon Blanc) winemaker is Ben Cane, who has infused an
enthusiasm and refinement into the wines which is clearly apparent in the 2010 vintage.
2010 Twomey Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.63,
1,100 cases, $50. Released September 29, 2012. The backbone of this wine comes from Blocks 1, 7
and 9, all organically farmed hillside plantings. This is the first vintage that grapes were obtained from
Block N, one of the original 1972 plantings of own-rooted Martini clone. Aged 15 months sur lies in 35%
new and 65% once-used French oak barrels.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Demure
aromas of dark red cherries and berries with hints of rose petals, spice and underbrush. Moderately rich
with an array of red and black berry flavors supported by svelte tannins and lifted by bright acidity. Elegant and
soft in the mouth, with an impressively long, crisp finish. Much more expressive and enjoyable the following
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle showing hi-tone aromas of cherries, exotic woods and
spice. Will need the most cellaring of all the 2010 Twomey Pinot Noirs, but will be well worth the wait.