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Sips of Recently Tasted Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Many consider the Russian River Valley to be a homogenous region producing wines that are very similar in style and character. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are numerous varied microclimates much like there is in Burgundy, resulting in considerable diversity in the wines of the Russian River Valley as shown in the wines reviewed in this issue.

Davis Family Vineyards

The wines from Davis Family Vineyards in Healdsburg are in high demand and frequently sell out quickly to the winery’s wine club members. Guy Davis and his son Cole craft consistently outstanding Pinot Noirs as well as many other varietals.

The 2012 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir received a Double Gold and the 2013 White Rhone Cuvée Luke won a Double Gold and Best of Class at the 2014 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition.

The winemaking is the same for all Pinot Noirs reviewed. Following a 5-7 day cold soak, fermentation is initiated with native yeast, gravity flow is employed in the winery, and winemaking is minimalistic. The wines are aged for 10 months in 1/3 new, 1/3 1-year-old, and 1/3 2-year-old French oak barrels. The differences in the wines are attributable to the vineyard location. A map of the vineyard sources is seen here. Campbell Ranch is in the Sonoma Coast AVA and the Pinot Noir from this vineyard is reviewed in the next section of this issue.

Check out the newly designed website at The winery’s tasting room and organic garden lounge is located in Healdsburg just steps away from the Russian River. Hours are 11:00 to 5:00 Thursday through Sunday. Box lunches can be ordered in advance to enjoy onsite.

2012 Davis Family Vineyards Starr Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $55. The warmest of Davis Family Pinot Noir sites. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Plenty to like in this wine that features aromas of dark cherries, sous-bois, spice and new oak. The mid weight charge of spicy black cherry and black raspberry fruits has noticeably intensity and carry-over to the long, cherry-driven finish. Soft and smooth in the mouth, the wine has mouthwatering tension that lifts the experience. Score: 91

2012 Davis Family Vineyards Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $55. This is an expression of the Green Valley and is composed of Pommard and Dijon clones. This is one of the coolest climate sites in the Russian River Valley. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. The glorious nose is deep and inspired, with vivid aromas of fresh cherries, spice, Prada leather coat and rose petal. A cherry bombast on the palate that really made me sit up and take notice. Discreetly concentrated with added accents of spice, raspberry and plum with a complimentary note of smoky oak. An absolutely delicious and harmonious wine that floods the mouth with flavor. Score: 94

2012 Davis Family Vineyards Horseshoe Bend Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $55. This vineyard is the coolest and most coastal of the four Russian River Valley vineyard designated Pinot Noirs. It sits on a ridge above the town of Occidental above the fog at an elevation above 1,000 feet. The ocean breezes create slightly thicker skins adding structure and earthiness to the wine. · Moderately dark reddish purple hue in the glass. A riper fruit profile with aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currant, plum, dark chocolate and smoky oak. Very lush on the palate with soft tannins and a fruit-laden finish. An appealing wine that lacks only a little nervy tension. Score: 90

2012 Davis Family Vineyards Soul Patch Estate Grown Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $55. Soul Patch is the winery’s estate hillside vineyard that Guy planted in 1996. It is oriented with an eastern facing slope to it receives the gentle morning sun as it burns off the Pacific Ocean fog and dodges the afternoon sun. This bottling is a barrel selection of the favorite barrels in each vintage. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The nose is very shy, revealing delicate aromas of cherry and black raspberry. The fruit core is intense and sappy, offering flavors of black raspberry, boysenberry and spice, framed by firm tannins. Oak is evident in the background. Rather tight but the finish hints at the goodness to come. This bottling typically takes time and I would leave it alone for 3 to 5 years while you drink the other 2012 wines in the Davis lineup. Score: 91-93

2013 Davis Family Vineyards Cuvée Luke Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley White Rhone Blend

13.4% alc., $30. 48% Rousanne, 35% Marsanne, 17% Viognier. · Light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Nicely perfumed with scents of yellow Babcock peach and various tropical fruits. Highly enjoyable, with bright flavors of peach, quince, mango and slight nutty oak. Viognier definitely has put a stamp on this wine through notes of spice and jasmine. Slightly viscous on the palate with impeccable balance and breeding. Score: 92


Winemaker Scott Rich is just now releasing his 2011 vintage wines. He crafts his Pinot Noirs for structure, richness, depth and graceful aging. As a result, they benefit from extra time before release. The wines are held in bottle for a year or longer. The 2011 wines were bottled in July 2013.

Scott sources fruit from a number of exotic vineyard sites that are often on the edge and challenging to farm. The remainder of the 2012 Talisman Pinot Noirs will be reviewed in this issue elsewhere.

Visit the website at A tasting room is located in Glen Ellen in a historic building that is over 110 years old. Hours are 12:00 to 5:00 Thursday through Monday, but appointments are encouraged.

2011 Talisman Gunsalus Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 172 cases, $50. Released October 2014. Pamela and Glen Gunsalus carefully farm this Green Valley of Russian River Valley vineyard planted in Goldridge soil. · Moderately light ruby color in the glass. Intensely perfumed with aromas of Bing cherry, sandalwood and spice. Charming and elegant in style, with middleweight flavors of cherry and baking spice rounded out with supple tannins. Very juicy on the finish with some persistence. A typical cherry-driven wine from this vineyard, showing a slightly more demure character in this cool vintage. Score: 91

Ram’s Gate Winery

This is a relatively new winery located at the gateway to the Carneros wine region. The portfolio of wines are from marquee vineyards in Sonoma County and Carneros whose growers share over 278 years of experience. Winemaker Jeff Gaffner has over 30 years of experience and directs the fastidious vinfication process. The three wines reviewed here are very luscious, bursting with sappy fruit.

Visit the website at The winery and tasting room is housed in a modern interpretation of weathered farmsteads of old Carneros just past Sonoma Raceway on the right. Hours are 10:00-6:00 Thursdays through Mondays by appointment.

2012 Ram’s Gate Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.54, 734 cases, $70. A medium to early ripening site with well-drained, stony loam soil. Aged 11 months in 75% new French oak. · Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Fragrant with aromas of Bing cherries, cola, pie spice and subtle smoky oak. Soft and smooth on the palate with a tenacious middleweight core of black cherry and purple berry fruit framed by oak-driven notes of toast and spice which adds a layer of flavor. This wine displays the luscious, opulent fruit that the Russian River Valley is known for but still has verve and brightness. The tannins are well integrated and the finish is long and satisfying. Score: 90

2012 Ram’s Gate Ulises Valdez Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.48, 344 cases, $70. Vineyard planted in 2006 on steep slopes. Soils are gravelly, rocky clay over sandy loam. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Awesome aromas of Bing cherry pie glaze, blueberrypomegranate, and rose petal. The aromas carry remarkable intensity over an extended time in the glass. The dark cherry, boysenberry and pomegranate fruit is on the ripe side but is stunning in intensity of flavor, and augmented by a touch of cardamom spice and toast in the background. The oak is much more complimentary in this wine. The sappy core is clothed in a soft, seductive cloak of tannins. This wine still had plenty of swagger the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 91

2012 Ram’s Gate Ulises Valdez Silver Eagle Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.54, 344 cases, $70. This vineyard is located in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley and is owned and farmed by noted viticulturist Ulises Valdez. The vines were planted in 2007 on a hillside near the town of Occidental just 6 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. This wine really pushes the ripeness envelope. The aromas of purple grape syrup, blackberry, anise and oak tend to be muted over time. The full-bodied core of mixed black and purple berries and the blackest cherries is sweet, syrupy and concentrated. Soft and velvety in the mouth, this wine has a firm, but not imposing tannic backbone. The finish is noticeably long and intense. A bit tiring when tasted over time with a super ripe, cooked fruit quality on display. Succulent rather than complex. Score: 88

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Winemaker Theresa Heredia has honored the Gary Farrell style of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir which typically displays a racy energy due to bright acidity. She has, however, added some subtle nuances of her own choice, including small amounts of whole cluster fermentation and extended post-fermentation maceration when appropriate. The wines are always well-crafted.

Both of the wines reviewed here were 100% de-stemmed. After a 5 to 7-day cold soak, fermentation was initiated with proprietary yeast. Both punch downs and an occasional gentle pump-over were used. After a 10 to 15-day extended maceration, the wine was pressed off the skins and seeds, inoculated for malolactic fermentation, and racked into French oak barrels from several cooperages. The wines were racked off the lees once prior to bottling.

The timeless and classy tasting room on Westside Road is a required stop for all Pinot Noir aficionados. Gary Farrell has retired from winemaking, but his legacy lives on. Visit

2012 Gary Farrell Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.645, 444 cases, $60. Release date February 2015. Sourced from the vines at the Bacigalupi’s Frost Ranch. Wente selection of Pinot Noir. Aged 14 months in 40% new French oak. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, strawberry, cranberry and nutty oak lead to an elegant mid weight palate of red fruits with strawberry the most prominent. A layer of complimentary oak in the background adds interest. An enjoyable, understated, forward drinking wine, with supple tannins and a lip-smacking finish driven by a good cut of acidity. Score: 90

2012 Gary Farrell Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., pH 3.46, TA 0.702, 433 cases, $55. Vineyard owners Don and Barbara Stiling converted a 48-acre apple ranch to vineyards in 1988. The site has well-drained Goldridge soils and is exposed to lingering coastal fog intrusions. Swan selection. Aged 14 months in 40% new French oak. · Moderate ruby color in the glass. The aromas of Bing cherry, raspberry and spice are vibrant upon opening, fading a bit in the glass as the cherry fades and dried herb scents emerge. Relatively light with silky tannins and juicy acidity, featuring oak-kissed cherry and raspberry fruits with a savory herbal undertone. The finish is driven by a burst of racy cherry fruit. Score: 90

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