Recent California Pinot Noir Tastings are Inspirational
To inspire can mean to cause someone to have a feeling or emotion and California Pinot Noir is currently offers
an exalting experience. I use a mnemonic to assess quality of Pinot Noir - “BLING” - and California Pinot Noir
currently has an abundance of bling. B = balance (integration of alcohol, acid, tannins, fruit and oak), L =
length of finish, I = intricacy (nuance and complexity), N = nose, and G = God blessed, as in, “God this is
Kurt Beitler, an Oregon native, directs the farming and winemaking of Bohème Wines, rooted in the town of
Occidental in West Sonoma Coast. The winery’s namesake Bohemian Highway winds through Sonoma’s coast
of redwoods. Kurt leases three vineyards that are among the nearest to the Pacific Ocean in all of North
America: Stuller, Taylor Ridge and English Hill.
Kurt’s grandfather is Charlie Wagner, who founded Caymus Vineyards in 1972, and his uncle is Chuck Wagner.
Kurt was invited to work at the family’s Caymus Winery in Napa Valley during the summers and was
encouraged to enter the wine business. Kurt’s first vineyard management job in 2000 followed college and was
at the Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard in Occidental owned by his uncle, Chuck Wagner. It was while working
here that he had an epiphany about the sensational wines from that region that led to the founding of Bohème.
The small production Pinot Noirs are sold through a mailing list and on the website. The winery’s Cellar Door
Tasting Room is located in Occidental and is open Friday through Sunday or by appointment. Chardonnay and
Syrah from the Occidental region are also offered (reviews of Chardonnay are also in this issue). The website
There is plenty of nuance in the Bohème Pinot Noirs which separates them from the ordinary. The extended
time in barrel blesses the wines with more maturity.
2012 Bohème Stuller Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 472 cases, $53. This 6-acre vineyard
dates to 1998 and is located amidst the redwoods at 1,200 feet elevation with views of the Pacific Ocean 6.4
miles away. Clone 115 is planted in clay loam and 667 in gravelly hilltop soils. Yield 1.8 tons per acre. Aged 20
months in once to four times used French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The
nuanced aromatic profile satisfies, with scents of black cherry, sarsaparilla, pine needle and sandy loam.
Pleasingly silky and slightly viscous on the palate which features mid weight dark red and black cherry, black
raspberry and cola flavors with an earthy undertone. Opens nicely in the glass over time, displaying
commendable harmony and some finishing length marked by uplifting acidity.
2012 Bohème English Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 766 cases, $49. This 8.5-acre
vineyard is located at the southwestern edge of the Sebastopol Hills overlooking the Russian River Valley and
Marin Coast. Yields 2.81 tons per acre. A barrel selection from clones 115, 667, Vosne-Romanee, BRC and
Calera harvested and fermented separately. Aged 21 months in neutral French oak barrels.
reddish purple color in the glass. Lovely aromas of black cherry, raspberry, woodland and cherry leather. The
wine’s flavors echo the nose with a perfectly ripened fruit profile. There is a slight smoky note in the
background conferred on the wine by oak. The wine offers boundless elegance and a gratifying finish.
2012 Bohème Taylor Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 305 cases, $55. This vineyard is located on a bluff 4.8 miles
inland from the Pacific Ocean at 915 feet elevation. Swan selection is
planted in sandy loam Goldridge soils. Yields 2.15 tons per acre. Aged
20 months in once to three times used French oak barrels.
light reddish purple hue in the glass. The highly expressive nose offers a
perfume of red cherry, cake spice, rose petal and sandalwood. Plenty of
luscious cherry goodness engages the mid palate in a polished,
elegantly style wine with refined tannins and integrated acidity. A
compliment of baking spices is enmeshed. This is a very classy wine
with pinpoint balance and a vivacious charge of cherry hanging on at the
The Donum Estate, Carneros
The Donum Estate, originally founded in Carneros, is now spread over three California appellations. The
Donum Ranch (Donum means “gift of the land”). is a 147-acre property planted to 70 acres of Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay in Carneros, (including the 20-acre Ferguson Block Vineyard located less than a mile away from
Donum Ranch and also in Carneros), the 16-acre Winside Vineyard located in the Russian River Valley, and
further north is the 11-acre Angel Camp Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Donum farms all three vineyards,
providing three different estate grown interpretations of California Pinot Noir. A variety of Pinot Noir clones are
planted on the various sites including the “Donum selection,” Calera, Chalone, Hanzell, Martini and Swan
selections, and Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777.
President Anne Moller-Racke is a pioneer winegrower in the Carneros region who was instrumental in
developing the Buena Vista Carneros Estate, and helped establish the Carneros AVA and Carneros Wine
Alliance. In 2001, she launched The Donum Estate project, now owned by Winside, Inc.. The winemaker, Dan
Fishman, has been a part of the winemaking team since 2007, becoming head winemaker in 2012. Kenneth
Juhasz is the consulting winemaker. Tasting of the single vineyard estate wines is by appointment only by
calling 707-939-2290. The Stemmler label wines are also part of The Donum Estate wine production. Visit
The relatively warm 2013 vintage followed three cooler growing seasons. Bud break occurred very early due to
a warm spring. Cooler weather at the right times in early and late September prevented an escalation of sugar
levels. The year was very dry, requiring irrigation in the growing season. Harvest began at the Winside
Vineyard on September 2, and ended in Carneros on October 8.
The resultant wines are rich, bold expressions of Pinot Noir, but the 2013 vintage wines offer less extraction but
comparable ripeness and more charm than their hedonistic 2012 counterparts. Although the wines are raised in
a generous percentage of new oak, there is only a light imprint of oak in the wines. Only free-run juice is used
in the Donum wines.
2013 Donum Single Vineyard Estate Grown Carneros Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.59, 650 cases,
$72. Sourced from the best blocks of the estate 70-acre vineyard and includes a selection of the most
appealing barrels within each lot. 95% Donum selection and 5% Calera selection. Aged on fine lees 14 months
in French oak barrels, 60% new.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Savory and fruity notes
compliment the aromatics, including scents of black cherry, cardamom spice, toast, earthy flora and bramble.
A mid weight styled wine with succulent black berry and black plum fruit flavors built around a core of typical
Carneros earthiness, with suave tannins and easy approachability, and good finishing persistence.
2013 Donum East Slope Single Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.65, 157 cases, $90. Sourced
from an east-sloping vineyard block of the Donum Ranch planted
to a Calera selection. East Slope is a cool site, prone to uneven
set with a mix of large and small berries. 5-day cold soak, slow
natural fermentation, brief extended maceration, aged 16 months
in French oak barrels, 40% new.
Moderately light reddish purple
color in the glass. The most expressive nose in the 2013 Donum lineup,
with welcoming aromas of Bing cherry, cake spices and sandalwood.
This wine oozes charm and freshness, featuring mid weight flavors of
cherry, dark red berry and plum. Cohesive tannins and acidity make for
seductive drinking. The finish has remarkable staying power as well as a
dancing suavity. This wine is a perfect prelude to seduction.
2013 Donum West Slope Single Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.62, 269
cases, $90. Sourced from the middle portion of west-sloping vineyard block, a 5.5-acre site at the
Donum Ranch. The Donum Roederer selection (the “Donum selection”) is the mainstay of the Donum
Carneros Pinot Noir and certain vines developed further depth and complexity, so a stand-alone West
Slope bottling was started in 2007. 100% Donum selection. 100% de-stemmed, 8-day cold soak, 4
weeks in tank, aged on the lees 15 months in French oak barrels, 63% new.
Medium reddish purple
hue in the glass. A very engaging wine, offering hi-tone aromas of darker berries and cherries and a
sprightly note of potpourri. The luscious core of dark red and black berry fruits is long and expansive, and
accented by hints of cola, sweet oak, and earthiness. Impeccable balance, with a silky countenance and a
classy finish of notable aromatic persistence.
2013 Donum Single Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.74, TA 0.58, 890 cases,
$72. Anne Moller-Racke planned and planted the Winside Vineyard, formerly the Nugent Vineyard in the mid
1990s, and has farmed the property ever since. Dijon clones 667 and 115 were planted here initially with
Pommard added in 2009. All three clones were included in this wine beginning in 2012. A barrel selection that
was first offered in 2005. 100% de-stemmed, 6 to 10-day cold soak, slow fermentation with punch downs, and
aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 70% new.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The
aromas of cherry liquor and oak draw you into this middleweight styled wine offering crunchy black cherry and
dark strawberry fruit flavors. Aggressive on the attack, with a polished mid palate demeanor, and a modest
finish. Welcome harmony and easy drink ability.
2013 Donum Single Vineyard Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.69, TA 0.59, 293
cases, $90. First introduced in 2009, this wine has consisted of only Dijon clone 667, but in 2013, the Pommard
eclipsed the Dijon 667 block and Pommard makes up the majority of the blend. Typically, this is the winery’s
richest blend. Long cold soak, extended maceration after primary fermentation, aged 14 months in French oak
barrels, 70% new, and the best barrels selected.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of
crushed dark cherries emerge with swirling. This wine has more swagger than finesse, yet is still agile, offering
an intensely flavored cherry core accented with cola, spice and oak notes. The finish leaves a slight sense of
warmth behind, but is clearly more generous and persistent than the regular Russian River Valley bottling.
Cellaring is advised for this wine as it is still closed and brooding at this stage.
2013 Donum Single Vineyard Ten Oaks Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
12.9% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.60, 158
cases, $72. Sourced from the Pommard block at Winside Vineyard, named after the ten majestic oak trees that
border it on two sides. 15% whole cluster, 7-day cold soak, spontaneous fermentation, pump overs used but
punch downs avoided to prevent over-extraction. The wine was aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 40%
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Haunting aromas of Bing cherry, spice, rose petal and wine
cave. Intense attack of crunchy cherry fruit with added complimentary flavors of spice and cherry cola. A
teasing wine that draws you in with its appealing crispness. Still highly aromatic the following day when tasted
from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2013 Donum Single Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.58, 423 cases, $72.
Sourced from the Angel Camp Vineyard located in the deep end of the Anderson Valley north of Philo. Seven
clones of Pinot Noir in volcanic, sandy soil at 500 feet elevation. A barrel-selected blend from all the vineyard
blocks. 6-day cold soak, extended maceration of 20 to 26 days.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. A
forward drinking wine, offering aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry jam, vanilla and toast. Plenty of
luscious fruit goodness with matched tannins, complimentary oak and a charge of fruit on the finish. Ripe
flavors but not too ripe.
2013 Donum Single Vineyard Angel Camp Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.69, TA
0.57, 135 cases, $90. Sourced from an 11-acre property planted to Wädenswil, David Bruce, Martini and Swan
selections as well as Dijon clones 115, 667, and “828.” The largest component was the co-fermentation of Dijon
115 and 777. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 87% new. A favorite six barrel blend.
reddish purple color in the glass. Brooding aromas of ultra ripe black fruits lead to a full-bodied and intensely
sappy wine featuring black cherry and black currant flavors framed by matching tannins. The fruit load has
embraced the high percentage of new oak which is well integrated. Unusually dense for a Pinot Noir and the
boldest wine in the 2013 Donum lineup.
Fogline Vineyards, Fulton
A boutique winery with a production facility and tasting room in Fulton, Sonoma County, and an estate Fogline
Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain directly above Gap’s Crown Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap region of the
Sonoma Coast AVA. The Fogline Vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir clones 115, Pommard, Swan and Mt. Eden
and Chardonnay clones 76 and Old Wente. In 2014 Sauvignon Blanc was established. The first harvest was in
2011.The winery was founded in 2009 by Brent Bessire and Evan Pontoriero. Zinfandel, Syrah, and a Rosé of
Pinot Noir are offered as well as two Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs. The wines are sold on the website and at the
tasting room. Visit www.foglinevineyards.com. Evan Pontoriero is one of the four featured winemakers on the
Petaluma Gap Wineries River Cruise, “Cruising the Rhone River,” March 23-30, 2017. See
www.princeofpinot.com/article/1785/ for details.
2013 Fogline Hillside Block Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., pH
3.60, TA 0.62, 95 cases, $55. Released October 2015. Fogline Estate
Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. Clones 115, Pommard, Swan and Mt.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Uplifting aromas
of Bing cherry, dark red raspberry, baking spice and mulch. Thoroughly
satisfying, with vivacious flavors of cherry, raspberry, spice, cola and
dried herbs. Balanced t n’ a with a pleasing cherry and cranberry
appointed finish. Still very solid the following day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle meaning the wine has somewhere to go in
2013 Fogline Fogline Neighbors Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.65, 72 cases, $65. Released October 2015. A blend of three vineyards on the western face
of Sonoma Mountain: Sun Chase (1200 feet elevation), Janian (900 feet elevation) and Fogline (850 feet
elevation). Clones 667, 777, 115, 114, Pommard, Mt. Eden and Swan. 30% whole cluster fermentation.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The nose evolves slowly over time in the glass, eventually
giving hi-tone aromas of black cherry, black raspberry and seasoned oak. Dark fruited on the palate with
inviting intensity that carries over on the fruit-dominated finish. The slightly sinewy tannins are folded in, and
the barrel management is ideal. Still inviting the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
Can be enjoyed now, but has the balance to last.
Joseph Jewell, Forestville
Micah Joseph Wirth and Adrian Jewell Manspeaker launched their winery in 2007 with 300 cases of Pinot Noir
and have gradually expanded their production to the current offering of 2,500 cases annually. Micah was raised
in Alexander Valley and learned winemaking from his winemaker father Christopher Wirth at ElvenGlade and
Raptor Ridge in Oregon. He was also mentored by Gary Farrell and Susan Reed at Gary Farrell Winery where
he became cellar master. Adrian studied winemaking and viticulture at University of California Davis extension
program and developed his winemaking skills at C. Donatiello Winery and Peay Vineyards. Pinot Noir is
sourced from several Russian River Valley and Humboldt County vineyards. Chardonnay and Zinfandel are
also offered. A tasting room was opened in Forestville in 2015. The wines are sold at the tasting room and
through a mailing list at www.josephjewell.com.
The wines reviewed here were all better when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle indicating that if enjoyed now, decanting would be recommended. Better yet, cellar the wines for another
6 to 12 months.
2013 Joseph Jewell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
pH 3.63, TA 0.59, 1,150 cases, $34. A blend of several
vineyards: Hallberg, Floodgate, Appian Way, Bucher and
Nurmi. 100% de-stemmed, aged 10 months in French oak
barrels, 15% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
reddish purple color in the glass. Nice perfume of Bing cherry,
cherry pie spice, purple grape and a hint of oak. A solid offering
of mid weight black cherry, blueberry and spice flavors with a top note of
toast, earth, tar and black tea. Modest tannins, with some finishing
intensity and a slight sense of alcoholic warmth on the finish.
2013 Joseph Jewell Hallberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.27% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.56, 200
cases, $48. Release April 1, 2016. This original apple growing property, named after the former owners, Don
and Marcia Hallberg, was sold to Emeritus Vineyards in 1999. Goldridge soils. Yields 2.40 tons per acre. 100%
de-stemmed, aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 22% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
reddish purple color in the glass. The scent of black raspberry, blackberry, spice and woodland is inviting. Up
front black raspberry and blackberry fruits blanket the mid palate, carrying over on the lifted, juicy and very long
sweet-fruited finish. A compliment of oak plays in the background in this harmonious offering. Considerably
more enjoyable the next day when tasted from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2013 Joseph Jewell Floodgate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.22% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.61,
200 cases, $44. Release April 1, 2016. This vineyard is located in the Middle Reach of the Russian River
Valley. Clones 777. Yields 2.13 tons per acre. 100% de-stemmed, aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 22%
new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose is primary, even when
checked the following day, with only earthy, oak-driven aromas. Much better and giving on the palate, with a
mid weight core of sweet, sappy blackberry, black raspberry, and blueberry-pomegranate fruits supported by a
touch of oak. The polished, velvety mouthfeel is alluring.
2013 Joseph Jewell Appian Way Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.22% alc., pH 3.51, TA
0.61, 92 cases, $46. Release April 1, 2016. Vineyard is located just outside the town of Forestville. Farmed as
an organic apple orchard until 2001, the 2-acre vineyard is now planted to Pinot Noir clones 115, 777 and
Pommard in Goldridge soil. Yields 3.40 tons per acre. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark reddish purple
color in the glass. The nose is steeped in purple berry, hazelnut and vanilla aromas. Soft on entry and exit, with
mid weight plus flavors of spiced plum, ollaliberry and blueberry-pomegranate. Super ripe in profile with even a
hint of prune peeking out. Nicely composed with a deft touch of oak, merged tannins, and a satiny texture. A
slight sense of warmth shows up on the finish. Unchanged when tasted the following day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle.
2013 Joseph Jewell Elk Prairie Vineyard Humboldt County Pinot Noir
12.91% alc., 50 cases, $39. This
vineyard is located at 1200 feet elevation on Fruitland Ridge.
Light strawberry red in color, Highly aromatic,
with a perfume of strawberry shortcake, red cherry and sandalwood. Lighter in weight, featuring flavors of red
cherry, red berry, strawberry, blueberry and spice. The tannins are hidden, and the finish is mildly tart.
Considerably more enjoyable when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle,
showing soaring aromatics and highly expressive fruit with plenty of charm.
2013 Joseph Jewell Alderpoint Vineyard Humboldt County Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.51, TA
0.56, 100 cases, $34. Martini clone. Yield 2.01 tons per acre. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 10 months
in French oak barrels, 25% new. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the
glass. Both fruity and savory aromas announce the wine, including scents of cherry, raspberry,
spice, underbrush, oak and herbs. A polished wine on the palate, with mid weight flavors of cherry,
raspberry and boysenberry, framed by matching tannins and a subtle top note of oak. The finish is
modest but satisfying.
Winemaker Ted Lemon crafts appellation-driven and vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from northern Sonoma
Coast vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley appellations. He closely directs the farming
practices of his sourced vines emphasizing organic and biodynamic viticulture. The name, Littorai, is derived
from a pleural noun formed from the Latin word litor-, which means “the coasts.” His Pinot Noirs and
Chardonnays are produced to reflect a sense of place, and are highly lauded and extremely age worthy. Ted’s
30-acre estate property in Sebastopol is a recommended visit for wine enthusiasts because it is a unique
example of a biodynamic farm. A hay-bale walled gravity-flow winery was opened on the property in 2009
where tastings are held. The winery is surprisingly simple and functional, with no signage, for Lemon says,
“This is not an indulgence.” An estate vineyard, The Pivot, is adjacent the winery. Visitors are welcome to taste
and tour the estate by appointment. The wines are highly allocated through a mailing list, with limited restaurant
distribution. Visit www.littorai.com.
Some of the 2013 vintage wines are reviewed here. The spring offering of the 2014 vintage wines has just
concluded. The 2013 vintage saw significant rainfall in December and early January followed by a frosty period
in later January. Following a multi year drought and a very dry spring, early season irrigation was applied,
something very rare at Littorai. The year offered one of the longest and slowest veraisons Ted had ever seen.
Harvest was conducted between September 4 and 18.
Pinot Noir vinification is as follows. Grapes are harvested at night and fermenters naturally rise in temperature,
starting native yeast fermentation. During fermentation, a combination of punch down and pump over
techniques are used. Both stainless steel and wood fermenters are used. The wines are generally pressed at
dryness. A proportion of whole clusters are included in the tanks, with the percentage depending on a number
of criteria including vintage and vineyard conditions, but rarely surpassing 30% in any given fermenter or
bottling. The Pinot Noirs are rarely racked and remain on the lees until bottling. The vineyard designated wines
are aged in about 25% new French oak barrels where they remain for approximately 14 to 17 months. The
press lots are declassified (a rare practice among Pinot Noir producers) into the Sonoma Coast or Les Larmes
Anderson Valley blends or sold off in bulk. The appellation Pinot Noirs are exposed to less new oak, are aged
about 11 months, and are intended for earlier consumption.
Ted notes, “The 2013 vintage wines do not lack structure, but the aromas are fresher and more vegetal than
2012. The fruits are on the less ripe spectrum. They are more aromatically complex and generally more suited
for nearer term drinking than the 2012 vintage Pinot Noirs. 2013 is much closer to 2010 in style, with great
aromatics. We suggest you be patient with them because there is more muscle and grip than the charming
2010 vintage wines.”
My overall impression following a tasting of the wines reviewed here is that the wines are classically styled and
balanced to age, and most likely will pick up some weight and be better in 3 to 7 years (typical for Littorai Pinot
Noir). They are not heavily extracted or manipulated, the wines have suave tannins, and are very food friendly.
The Platt Vineyard and B.A. Thieriot Vineyard are clearly standouts.
2013 Littorai Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., 709 cases, $70. Vines dating to 1995.
Farmed using organic and biodynamic principles. Clones 114, 777, Pommard and Swan. Yields 2.74 tons per
acre. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 25% new.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The
nose leads with aromas of cherry, sous-bois and shaved oak. Toothsome flavors of black cherry and cinnamon
spice are accented with toasty oak. Rather delicate and elegantly styled, with structured tannins and a silky
mouthfeel. Easy to drink now, with an appealing grip on the finish, but the wine is slightly sullen and withdrawn.
Largely unchanged the following day when tasted from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, although the
tannins seemed more prominent. Give this wine some cellar time.
2013 Littorai B.A. Thieriot Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 186 cases, $80. The vineyard is located
southwest of the town of Occidental, overlooking Bodega at an
elevation of 900 feet. Goldridge over sandstone soils. Littorai has
a long term lease on this site so that it is farmed as if it was an
estate vineyard. Farmed for over a decade using biodynamic
methods. Yields 1.99 tons per acre. Vines planted in 1991 and
1994. Clones are Swan, Pommard, 114, 777, Calera and a proprietary
clone. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. This has been
my favorite Littorai bottling since I first discovered it 15 years ago.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Alluring, even intoxicating
aromas of fresh cherry, raspberry, blackberry, sous-bois and spice.
Gracious and sexy, with finesse rather than swagger, offering a mid weight core of nicely ripened black cherry
and black raspberry fruits framed by a hint of tannic sinew, integrated juicy acidity and a deft touch of oak. A
note of exotic spice sneaks in at the finish. A very seductive wine. Turn down the lights when you pull the cork
on this beauty.
2013 Littorai Platt Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.4% alc., 613 cases, $70. Littorai section
of vineyard planted in 2004 and are highest elevation blocks on the property at 750 feet. The vines are
planted to a rootstock and clones specifically chosen by Littorai. Platt is only 6 miles from the coast and
overlooks the town of Bodega. Goldridge sand loam over marine origin sandstone soils. Organically
farmed. Clones “828,” 115, 777, proprietary, and Calera. Yields 4.67 tons per acre. Aged 16 months in
French oak barrels, 25% new.
Moderate cherry red color in the glass. A wonderland of aromas greet
the drinker with notes of black cherry, blackberry, woodland and seasoned oak. Impressive attack of
heady dark cherry and dark red berry fruits transition to a plush mid palate embossed with a woodsy, savory
note, finishing with uncommon length and charm. A wine of special breeding with cohesive tannins and acidity.
Even better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. This wine has somewhere to go.
2013 Littorai Roman Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., 234 cases, $75. Roman is a hilltop
vineyard situated at 1150 feet elevation northwest of the town of Philo. Soils are Boont loam over sandstone.
Farmed using organic materials and biodynamic methods. Vines planted in 1999. Yields 2.48 tons per acre.
Clones 114, 667 and a proprietary clone. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 25% new.
reddish purple color in the glass. Stunted aromas of red cherry, leather chaps, spice and woodland. Light to
mid weight in style, with flavors of cherry, cranberry and strawberry and a slight herbal riff. Restrained, even too
calm, but nicely balanced, with a slightly tart finish. This wine has the most under ripe fruit of the wines tasted
here. Unchanged the following day when re-tasted from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2013 Littorai Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
12.7% alc., 565 cases, $70. This vineyard is
located on the cooler end of the valley but is protected on two sides so it is warmer than most of its neighbors.
Farmed using organic materials. Pinole and Boont loams over Franciscan shale soils. Vines planted in 1991,
1992 and 1993. Yields 3.16 tons per acre. Clones 114, 115, 667, 777, Calera and Pommard.
purple color in the glass. Aromas of compost, mushroom, cherry and blueberry lead to a smooth and suave
palate of red cherry, red berry and blueberry flavors. Very satisfying, even uplifting, with pinpoint balance and a
finish awash in vibrant fruit. The tannins are unusually tame in this vintage.
2013 Littorai One Acre Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 143 cases, $80. Littorai’s original vineyarddesignated
Pinot Noir. A hilltop vineyard situated at 1600 feet elevation in the mountains northeast of Boonville.
The vineyard succumbed to phylloxera several years ago and was replanted in 2005 when the rootstock, row
orientation and clones were changed. Soils are Bearwallow loam over marine origin sandstone. Yields 2.87
tons per acre. Clones are 114, 777, “828,” and Swan. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 25% new.
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose has already developed complexity, offering scents of black
plum, black raspberry, pungent earth, compost, char, and floral intricacy. This wine has considerable mid palate
presence and finishing power, yet is light on its feet. The richest and ripest wine of those tasted, with mid
weight plus flavors of black raspberry, purple grape and blackberry and a light imprint of oak. A charismatic
wine that will be a joy to follow over time.
Matrix Winery, Healdsburg
Proprietors Ken and Diane Wilson founded Matrix Winery in 1986. Located on Westside Road, Russian River
Valley’s Rodeo Drive of Pinot Noir, the winery produces multiple varietals from the winery’s 400 acres of estate
vineyards as well as other premium vineyards. The Wilsons also own seven other wineries including Wilson
Winery, Mazzocco Sonoma, deLorimier Winery, Jaxon Keys Winery, Soda Rock Winery, Pezzi King Vineyards
and St. Anne’s Crossing all located in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The winemaker is Diane Wilson, who
has won many medals in wine competitions including Sweepstakes at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and
San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The Matrix tasting room is at 3291 Westside Road and is open
daily. Visit www.matrixwinery.com.
2013 Matrix Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.1% alc., pH 3.52, TA 0.60, 923 cases, $38. Sourced
from Matrix Estate, Monroe Vineyards and Boschetti Vineyards. Native yeast fermentation, aged in French oak
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Very fragrant initially, with aromas of well-ripened Bing
cherry and baking spice, giving way over time in the glass to oak-driven scents of smoke, cigar and woodland.
Ultra ripe flavors on the palate of black cherry, boysenberry, cola and dark chocolate. Noticeably oak-infused
and a bit drying with a slight sense of warmth on the sappy finish.
2013 Matrix Winery Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.60, 199 cases, $65.
A best barrel selection of wines from Nunes, R. Buoncristiani and Bacigalupi vineyards. Native yeast
fermentation, aged 18 months in French oak barrels and bottled unfined.
Moderately light reddish purple color
in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, kirsch, vanilla and spice lead to a delicious core of fresh cherry fruit
accented with baking spices. Nicely balanced with plenty of heady cherry saturating the palate and lasting
through an extended finish. Much more charm and nimble character than the regular Russian River Valley
2013 Matrix Winery Matrix Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.1% alc., pH 3.76, TA 0.62, 248
cases, $56. Clones 667, 777 and “828.” Native yeast fermentation, aged 18 months in French oak barrels, and
bottled unfined. Clones 667, 777 and “828.” A best barrel selection of wines from Nunes, R. Buoncristiani and
Bacigalupi vineyards. Native yeast fermentation, aged 18 months in French oak barrels and bottled unfined.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Initial aromas of black cherry, blueberry and blackberrypomegranate
give way to more oak overlay with time in the glass. Very luscious and super-ripe fruited with top
notes of cola, dark chocolate, expresso and tobacco engaging the deep black cherry core. The wine is plush
on the palate with submerged tannins, displaying a sense of lip warmth on the finish.
2013 Matrix Winery R. Buoncristiani Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.60, 199
cases, $52. Vines date to 2002. Clones 115 and 777. Native yeast fermentation, aged 18 months in French oak
barrels, and bottled unfined.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The engaging nose leads off
with aromas of Bing cherry and Asian 5-spice. A comforting wine on the palate with a silky texture and wellspiced
flavors of dark cherry and blueberry-pomegranate. Nicely composed, with integrated tannins and an
2013 Matrix Winery R. Buoncristiani Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.64, TA
0.60, 99 cases, $68. Vines date to 2002. A selection of the finest barrels from this vineyard. Native yeast
fermentation, aged in French oak barrels, and bottled unfined.
Moderately light cherry red color in the glass.
Very ripe fruited profile with aromas of blueberry and blackberry, and mid weight, ultra ripe flavors of blackest
cherry, blackberry and blueberry-pomegranate. A bit earthy with a mushroom note. The wine picks up interest
with more nuance over time in the glass, finishing with a juicy and oak-kissed, cherry-driven finish.
2013 Matrix Winery Bacigalupi Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.58, 124
cases, $68. Vines date to 1995 and 2003. Pommard and Wente clones. Native yeast fermentation, aged in
French oak barrels.
Moderately light cherry red color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, leather, sandalwood and
raisin lead to a mid weighted wine with a core of dark red cherry and berry fruits and a top note of smoky oak.
Modest tannins, juicy acidity and redeeming elegance with some power on the slightly warm finish.
Pali Wine Co., Lompoc
The Pali Wine Co. Pinot Noir cuvées are set for release this spring. These are well-priced, consistently reliable
wines crafted by winemaker Aaron Walker with input from consulting winemaker Kenneth Juhasz. Aaron
developed his winemaking skills working for respected Central Coast producers including Arcadian, Kunin
Wines, Stephen Ross Wine Cellars and Hitching Post. While developing his winemaking acumen, he worked
as a server at the Hitching Post in Buellton where you may have had occasion to meet him. The wines
reviewed here are blended to maintain consistency from year to year, and are available at the winery’s two
tasting rooms in Lompoc and Santa Barbara, and online through the website at www.paliwineco.com.
2013 Pali “Riviera” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 4,479 cases, $22, screwcap. Sourced from
Collins Ranch, Arrowhead and Champlain Creek vineyards. Aged 18 months in barrel, 30% new French oak.
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose is quite earthy, offering clay-kissed aromas of blackberry
jam and mushroom. On the palate, there is an assemblage of chunky dark fruits and added accents of black
tea and anise. Very ripe fruited and robust, with structured tannins, modest vibrancy and a dry finish. Nothing
speaks of Sonoma Coast character in this fruit-driven wine.
2013 Pali “Bluffs” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 454 cases, $23.50. Aged 10
months in barrel, 30% new French oak.
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. Nicely perfumed
with aromas of blackest cherry, blackberry, spice and violets. Expansive and juicy on the palate, with
ripely flavored black cherry, black raspberry and blackberry fruits. The sappy fruit attracts attention,
and persists through a generous finish that leaves a hint of warmth in its wake.
2013 Pali “Huntington” Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 3,140 cases, $23.50. A blend of
grapes from vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos. Aged 12
months in barrel, 30% new French oak.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry
reduction sauce, peat and oak lead to a mid weight styled wine offering black cherry and black raspberry
flavors with noticeable oak seasoning. Easy to drink, with silky tannins and integrated acidity.
Screen Door Cellars, St. Helena
A tiny family project of winemakers Bobby and Shannon Donnell producing small lots of Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir since the 2012 vintage. I found the first two releases from Leras Family Vineyard to be striking
examples of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and highly recommended the wines. The wines are produced in
St. Helena in the Napa Valley, but the couple live in Shannon’s hometown of Sebastopol. The wines are
available on the winery’s website at www.screendoorcellars.com.
2014 Screen Door Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 240 cases, $50. A blend of two
vineyards, primarily Pommard clone. Aged in 100% French oak barrels, 40% new.
Moderate reddish purple
color in the glass. Very ripe fruited, featuring aromas of black cherry, blackberry and black grapes. Plenty of
crunchy, sweet black fruits are nicely spiced and framed by matching tannins. Nicely crafted, with wellintegrated
oak and some finishing generosity. This wine pushes the ripeness envelope, but keeps its Pinot Noir
character in perspective.
2014 Screen Door Cellars Leras Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 25 cases,
$65. Primarily Pommard clone. Aged in 100% French oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderate reddish purple color in
the glass. Lovely aromas of Bing cherry, spice and rose petal. Soft and polished on the palate, with
middleweight flavors of well-spiced red and black cherry fruits. The suave tannins make for easy drinking and
the cherry-driven finish is remarkably long. The wine was even better when drank from a previously opened
and re-corked bottle showing more fruit intensity and glorious spice.
Sea Smoke, Lompoc
Sea Smoke Estate Vineyard has been considered on of California’s most exceptional vineyards. The Sea
Smoke Estate Vineyard was planted in 1999 on a south-facing hillside in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Ten Pinot Noir
clones coexist including 777, 667, Wädenswil, 115, 113, “828,” 459, 09, 16 and Pommard 05. Natural vigor
reduction derives from the shallow clay soils on the hillsides and carefully selected rootstocks. Each evening a
layer of marine fog (”sea smoke”) funnels up the Santa Ynez River canyon, cooling the vines and extending the
growing season. The entire vineyard has been farmed biodynamically since 2013. Meticulous farming
techniques include managed deficit irrigation, suckering and shoot thinning, cluster thinning post fruit set, green
drop and wing removal on remaining clusters. Winemaker Don Schroeder has been with Sea Smoke since
2003. Estate wines include Botella, Southing and Ten Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sea Spray sparkling wine.
The wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list at www.seasmoke.com.
2013 Sea Smoke Southing Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.63, $60. Southing represents
the diversity of the entire Sea Smoke Estate Vineyard. 100% gently de-stemmed, cold soaked for 1 to 4 days,
cultured yeast fermentation, punch downs, and a total maceration time of 14 to 18 days. Free-run juice was
sent to tank and pressed, with both free-run and press wines racked to barrels. Aged 16 months in French oak
barrels, 55% new.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Plenty of oak-driven spice and vanilla
compliment the fruit aromas of blackberry and floral notes of rose and violet. Discreetly concentrated, with
flavors of purple and black fruits, graced with spice, dark chocolate and floral accents. Soothing tannins are
nicely balanced by juicy acidity and there is some length on the fruit-driven finish.
2012 Sea Smoke L.D. Sea Spray Blanc De Noirs Sparkling Wine
11.9% alc., pH 3.15, TA 0.90, $80. 100% Pinot Noir
vinified by methodé champenoise. 9 months in Barrel and 24
months en tirage. A long, cool fermentation was completed in
stainless steel tanks followed by once-used and neutral French
oak barrels. After 9 months of aging on the lees, the wine was
bottle aged an additional 24 months en tirage before disgorging.
The wine was finished with no dosage.
Lovely delicate pinkish orange
color in the glass. The nose is searching and complex, offering scents of
yeasty lees, salty ocean, peach pit, walnut oil, and subtle cherry and
raspberry fruits. Tremendous vibrancy in the mouth with a lively bead,
offering flavors of peach, orange water, dried cherry, cranberry and
brioche. Thoroughly dry, with noticeable persistence of flavors on the
soprano finish that delivers a tight grip of acidity. This wine calls out for foie gras.