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A Bounty of Ravishing California Pinot Noir Greets the New Year

Time to stock up your wine cellar with some of these new releases and Live Mas! The quality of California Pinot Noir has reached such unprecedented high levels in recent vintages that my job may soon become superfluous. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to review the marvelous results here of so many talented winemakers.



Aether Wine Company, Orcutt

Proprietor and winemaker Jeff Fink, formerly the winemaker at Tantara and Pence Ranch, launched this new project with the 2013 vintage. The name, Aether, is derived from the Greeks who saw the aether as the link between the early realm and the heavens, the so-called fifth element. The wines reviewed here are from the 2014 vintage. Jeff told me they were in primarily neutral oak for almost two years as they took time to come around. Some whole cluster inclusion was used. The wines all showed much better when re-tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle reflecting the reductive style of winemaking.

The wines are offered through a mailing list and on the website at www.aetherwines.com.



2014 Aether Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.54, $36. A blend from Pence Ranch, Dierberg, Drum Canyon, Hilliard Bruce, and Sanford & Benedict vineyards. Harvest Brix 22.8º-24.4º. 80% indigenous and 20% RC-212 fermentation. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas arrive slowly in the glass, offering notes of cherry, spice and burnt tobacco. Elegant and cashmere in the mouth in a light to mid weight style, featuring enticing flavors of dark red fruits, spice and toast and a subtle earthbound thread. Nicely balanced, with buried tannins and a modest but pleasing finish. Much more enjoyable when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. A solid everyday drinker. Score: 91

2014 Aether Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.45, $50. Vineyard first planted in 1971 by Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict.Clone 115. Harvest Brix 24.0º. 100% indigenous fermentation. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Black cherry fruit and seasoned oak interplay on the nose. A charge of dark red and black fruits seduce with juicy intent, backed by a firm tannic structure. Smooth in the mouth, with impressive length on the finish that has good cut. Much better when tasted the day after from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Immense charm. Score: 93

2014 Aether Drum Canyon Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.41, $50. Vineyard established in 2003 by the Dierberg family. 56-acres planted almost entirely to Pinot Noir. Calera clone. Harvest Brix 23.7º. 100% indigenous fermentation. Aged 27 months in neutral French oak barrels. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. An earthbound nose with added aromas of dark red and black fruits. Rather monolithic upon opening, showing more nuance and interest when tasted the following day from a previously opened and recorked bottle. Mid weight flavors of well-ripened black fruits, spice and tobacco and welcome intensity on the ending. Score: 92

2014 Aether Quinta Del Mar Vineyard San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.45, $50. A uniquely situated 20-acre Pinot Noir vineyard on the western flank of the Nipomo foothills near the town of Nipomo. Clones 115 and 777 planted in 2006. Harvest Brix 23.8º. 50% whole cluster and 100% indigenous fermentation. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, spice, vanilla and earthy flora are inviting. Mid weight flavors of blackberry, black raspberry and cassis with initially noticeable oak-driven flavors of cola, vanilla and toast. Considerably more enjoyable when tasted the following day from a previously opened and recorked bottle, with better oak integration and soaring flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and spice. Score: 93

2014 Aether Matrix Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $65. Harvest Brix 24.1º. Calera and 115 clones. 25% whole cluster, indigenous yeast, aged 27 months in neutral French oak barrels.The name implies a mosaic of flavors and aromas ever changing and moving through time. In the case of this wine, Matrix is a fusion of the energy and flavors of two vineyards with divergent yet simpatico character - Quinta del Mar and Drum Canyon. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Shy, but very pleasant aromas of black cherry and black raspberry fruits. Vivid array of dark red to purple orchard and berry fruits presented in a seductive, mid weight style with valued length. Seamless with a polished texture and ethereal refinement. Notable but not intrusive oak in the background. Finishes bright and quenching with a burst of cherry goodness. The most transcendent of the 2014 Aether Pinots. Score: 94



Brooks Note Winery, Novato

In 2004, Garret (Garry) Brooks left the world of technology in the San Francisco Bay area to pursue winemaking. After graduating from University of California at Davis, he made his first Pinot Noir at Acacia in 2007 and later moved on to Kosta Browne, working alongside Michael Browne and Shane Finley for two years. He then joined Dutton-Goldfield as an assistant winemaker working under Dan Goldfield. Dan introduced Garry to the unique geography, microclimates and vineyards of Marin County.

Gary and his spouse Joanne (her maiden name was Note) launched their commercial label in 2011, using fruit from Marin County and Weir Vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands.

Brooks Note shares a tasting room with Trek Winery in Novato. Check the website for hours and directions: www.brooks-note-winery.myshopify.com. Wine prices are reasonable.

2015 Brooks Note Marin County Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.68, 175 cases, $36. A blend of grapes from Kendric, Grossi Ranch and Chilean Valley vineyards. All three vineyards are on the Marin side of the Petaluma Gap, although Grossi is just outside the southern border of the new AVA. Cold wind and fog lead to thick-skinned grapes resulting in more structure and color in the wines. Cold nights and warm days provide good acidity. A cold snap on Easter weekend caused frost damage throughout North Coast wine country and decreased yields markedly. 10% whole cluster, open-top fermentation, 3-day cold soak, native yeast, aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 27% new, 27% once-filled and 46% neutral. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of blueberry, boysenberry, floral bouquet and feminine scent. Mid weight flavors of purple and blackberries smoothly integrated with gentle tannins. Deft oak input, with bright acidity and an uplifting finish. More sappy and heady when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 93

2015 Brooks Note Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir

13.8% all., pH 3.60, TA 0.72, 230 cases, $44. Rochioli and Wädenswil 2A clones from the lower, eastern blocks, and Romanée-Conti clone from the western blocks. 10% whole cluster, open-top fermentation, 3-day cold soak, native yeast, aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Terrific aromas of black cherry and baking spices leap from the glass. Just what you desire from Pinot. Light to mid weight gloriously fresh flavors of strawberry, cherry, spice and tobacco framed by toned tannins. Lovely balance and a very long, quenching finish. Still pumping out a deep well of fruit pleasure when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. The vintner really hit the mark in this vintage! Score: 95



Castalia Wines, Geyserville

Terry Bering has been the cellar master at J. Rochioli Vineyards since 1990. He launched his own label in 1992 with the production of a single Pinot Noir based on Rochioli Vineyard grapes. The name, Castalia, refers to Apollo’s favorite spring on Mount Parnassus in ancient Greece that bestowed drinkers of the spring gifts of poetry and inspiration.

I have been a fan of Castalia Pinot Noir for many years and have reviewed every vintage since 2000. If you are not on the Rochioli mailing list, this is one wine from Rochioli Vineyard that you can buy. It is also the only bottling other than one from Gary Farrell that is permitted to put Rochioli Vineyard on the front label. The wine is sold in 6 and 12 bottle lots only. Visit www.castaliawines.com.

2015 Castalia Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 323 cases, $60. Sourced from Rochioli ranch vineyards. Clones originated from the West Block along with Dijon 777, 115 and 667. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Highly aromatic, offering soaring scents of Bing cherry compote, allspice and nut meg with a compliment of oak. Loved the nose. Intense attack of oak-kissed Bing cherry fruit in a mid weight style. A seductively creamy texture holds court in the mouth, the tannins are in sync, and the finish is generous with cherry goodness. The wine was considerably more appealing when tasted later in the day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with much better oak integration. A year or two of cellar time is advisable. A Rochioli vineyard wine that you can actually buy! Score: 94



Cellars 33, San Francisco

An urban winery in San Francisco founded by Baltimore transplants, John and Katie Fones, in 2010. John developed his winemaking skills working at Freeman Winery. Visit www.cellars33.com.

2015 Cellars 33 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.635, RX 0 g/L, 175 cases, $30. A blend from two diverse vineyard sites including one in the hills west of Westside Road and Hummingbird Hill Vineyard located in the Petaluma Gap. Harvest Brix 23.5º. Aged 10 months in neutral French oak barrels. Bottled unfiltered. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of blueberry, briar, rye crisp and nutty oak lead to a light to mid weight styled wine featuring flavors of blueberry and purple grape with subtle oak in the background and a citric thread also plying the background. Soft tannins and a plush mouth feel offered promise but the wine finished with a sweet and sour tone. Score: 87

2015 Cellars 33 Hummingbird Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.604, RS 0 g/L, 150 cases, $48. Pommard and Rochioli clones. Harvest Brix 23.9º. 100% de-stemmed, 50% native and 50% inoculated primary fermentation with native malolactic fermentation. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. Bottled unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose is primary upon opening but pleasant, offering aromas of black cherry and rye toast. Discreetly dense and sappy, featuring luscious black cherry and black raspberry fruit flavors in tune with oak support. Nicely balanced, with admirable finishing persistence. Score: 90

2015 Cellars 33 Katie’s Cuvée Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.487, RS 0 g/L, 72 cases, $48.This wine focuses more on grace than power. Harvest Brix 23.4º. Aged 10 months in once used French oak barrels. Bottled unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with savory, floral and oak notes complimenting the crushed black cherry fruit theme. Mid weight flavors of black cherry, black currant and toasty oak are well in tune with the tannic backbone. The velvety mouthfeel attracts pleasure. Score: 89



Donelan Family Wines, Santa Rosa

This family owned and operated winery was founded in 2009 by Joe Donelan along with his sons Tripp and Cushing. He has used his long-term relationships with small growers to access unique parcels of vineyards in Sonoma’s Knights Valley, Green Valley and Russian River Valley. Joe says, “It is like real estate: if you have a great location, then you should be in good shape. I believe that the best wines are not made, they are discovered. Site really trumps all variables.” The winery’s focus is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rhone varietals.

The wines are named after his loved ones including his mother, wife, children and grandchildren. 80% of production is sold to mailing list customers. Tripp Donelan oversees winery sales and Cushing Donelan manages marketing and hospitality.

The tasting room offers guests the opportunity to interact with a family member or winemaker Joe Nielsen. The “Donelan Portfolio Tour & Tasting” ($35) lasts 60 minutes and includes a private tour of the production facility, a flight of four current releases of cool climate and Rhone varietal wines. The “Road Less Traveled Tour & Tasting” ($60) lasts 75 minutes and includes a comprehensive tasting of five of Donelan’s highly-allocated Rhone wines. Tasting experiences are offered daily by appointment only. Visit the website at www.donelanwines.com for further details.

2013 Donelan Two Brothers Sonoma County Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 1,630 cases, $55. Heavy wax capsule. Sourced from multiple sites in Sonoma County. Whole cluster inclusion (% not specified). · Light ruby red color in the glass. Whole cluster driven nose with aromas of cherry, savory herbs, and burnt tobacco. Mid weight flavors of cherry, red berry and warm brown spices with a hint of tobacco and woody intent. Silky in the mouth, with suede tannins and a moderately intense finish. The wine shows the slightest amount of oxidation. Score: 89

2014 Donelan Tripp’s Block Perl Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 290 cases, $78. Heavy wax capsule. Vineyard is located at 2,000 feet elevation above the fog line. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Enticing aromas of boysenberry, blackberry jam and fertile earth. Exhilarating attack of black cherry and strawberry fruit flavors with a hint of spice and caramel. Impeccable balance, with gentle tannins and a silky texture. A very engaging and accommodating wine finishing with uncommon length. Score: 92

2015 Donelan Cushing’s Block Barbed Oak Vineyard Bennett Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 222 cases, $78. Heritage clones. Vineyard is exposed to prolonged foggy mornings that temper and extend the growing season. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, sweet pipe smoke, clove, burnt tobacco and cardamom spice. The luscious black cherry and black raspberry fruits make an immediate impression upon entry. The wine really brings the senses to alert. Ideal balance, buried tannins, the slightest oak input, and a very long, fruited finish make for a very special wine that an be thoroughly enjoyed now. I liked this a lot! Score: 94



Ellen Redding, Wines That Deliver, Napa

I was browsing the Pinot Noir aisle recently at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California, when the Ellen Redding label caught my eye. Apparently winemaker Patrick McNeil works with small, family owned vineyards in Marin County and Napa Valley to make wines that are described as “fruit-forward, site-specific, and off the beaten path. His tagline is “Wines that Deliver.”

In the early 1970s, Patrick’s father moved the family to an old ghost winery in the Napa Valley and set out to revive this historic winery estate and unknowingly participate in the renaissance of the Napa Valley wine industry as we know it today.

It turned out that I bought a bottle of the 2015 Ellen Redding Marin County Pinot Noir and found it to be mesmerizing. The wine is a loving ode to Patrick’s grandparents. Joseph Dennis McNeil courted Ellen Josephine Redding via the U.S. Postal Service from 1925 to 1928 and more than 50 different envelopes exist. Each new vintage and colorful envelope tells their story. The envelope depicted on the label of this bottling celebrates the summer months, 90 years ago in 1927, when several letters found their way to Patrick’s vacationing grandmother in Santa Cruz, California.



For more information, visit www.winesthatdeliver.com. Inquire to purchase at patrick@winesthatdeliver.com.

2015 Ellen Redding Marin County Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 120 cases, $36. Sourced from Chilean Valley Vineyard, located in the Petaluma Gap AVA. Dijon clones 667, 777 and 115. 33% whole cluster, 7-day cold soak, native primary and secondary ferments, aged in two once-used and three neutral French oak barrels. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Very expressive aromas of blackberry, black raspberry, warm spice, vanilla and brioche. Delicious mid weight plus for of sweet black fruits rounded out with tastes of spice, cola, dark chocolate, black tea and toast. Velvety in the mouth with a hedonistic slant but enough tannins and oak to corral the rich fruit core. This wine grew in appeal when tasted later in the day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle and I could not stop drinking it. My notes say, “great.” You won’t find a better California Pinot Noir in the marketplace at this price. Score: 95



Karah Estate Vineyards & Winery, Cotati

This estate is located on 144 acres above Highway 101. Founded by Mohamed “Michael” Sarah, a native of Libya, in 1995, the site was originally named Windy Hill Estate Vineyards. In 2008, the name was changed to Karah Estate Vineyards along with a renewed commitment to producing the highest quality, affordable Pinot Noir.

The Karah Estate Vineyard is planted on steep hillsides in the new Petaluma Gap AVA, The site is exposed to moist marine air and winds and the resulting effect is low yields and a long growing season.Six separate vineyards were planted to Pinot Noir between 1995 and 2002.

Wines are fermented in small, open-top fermenters using a combination of native and proprietary yeasts.

The winery’s tasting room, located in the production barn, is open Friday-Sunday. The wines are relatively inexpensive considering the quality. Visit www.karahestatevineyard.com.

2015 Karah Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.61, RS 1.2 g/L, $30. Aged in French oak barrels, 35% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Very charming aromas of dark cherry, blackberry, black tea and nutty oak. Nicely composed, with vivid flavors of cherry pie and baking spices with a layer of oak. Impressive vibrancy and brightness in a nimble, mid weight style that can be enjoyed now for its silkiness and welcoming demeanor. My only nit would be that oak currently plays too big a role. Score: 90

2015 Karah Estate Reserve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., pH 3.52, TA 0.57, RS 1.1 g/L, $N/A. Aged in French oak barrels, 30% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Ripe fruit aromas of cassis, blackberry jam and black grape juice. The dark fruit definitely veers to the ripe side but is seductively rich, and the integrated alcohol lends a satiny mouthfeel to the experience. A hedonistic mid weight plus offering with much better oak integration than the regular Estate bottling. The wine is still a bit reserved and will find its full footing with more time in bottle. This ripe-fruited, sappy wine is well-crafted in this style and will find appeal. Score: 92



Littorai, Sebastopol

This winery needs no introduction with nearly fifty features or mentions in the PinotFile over the years. I have reviewed multiple wines going back to the 1990s. Many wines have made my annual All-Americans list. Proprietor Ted Lemon is one of the most respected winemakers in California and his wines are consistently lauded by the Pinot Noir cognoscenti.

All vineyard sources are farmed sustainably by organic and in several cases biodynamic methods but not certified.

Littorai wines are sold through an allocated mailing list with limited fine restaurant distribution. Tasting is available at the Littorai estate by appointment. Visit www.littorai.com.

2015 Littorai Wendling Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., $75. A newer source for Littorai. 23 acres located in Philo, in the deep end of the Anderson Valley, planted by Paul Ardzrooni (Ardzrooni Family Wines) and two winemaking colleagues in 2009 (I believe Ted Lemon is a partner). The vineyard is planted entirely to multiple clones of Pinot Noir and is organically farmed. The site is the most northwestern vineyard in the Anderson Valley AVA giving it close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The nose offers intriguing whole cluster nuances of exotic spices, pipe bowl, rose petal and earthy flora. Impressive attack of black cherry, plum and spice flavors with a savory undertone. Expansive in the mouth, with a very long, succulent and juicy finish. Beautifully composed with a firm structure taming the fruit. Score: 94



Wendling Vineyard, Anderson Valley



2015 Littorai Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $75. This wine is from an iconic California vineyard planted in the early 1990s just north of the town of Philo. This is the only valley floor vineyard that Littorai works with anywhere. Located at the cooler end of the Anderson Valley, but protected on two sides so the site is warmer than one might expect. Several blocks that Littorai sources from are dry farmed. Littorai is the largest purchaser of Savoy Vineyard grapes since 1995. The vineyard is farmed organically. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The aromatic goodness explodes over time in the glass, offering hi-tone black cherry and spice cabinet aromas. Intense and sappy, with mid weight flavors of black cherry, blueberry, pomegranate, raspberry and spice, with a nuanced earthy underpinning. A sophisticated wine that satisfies from attack to finish, offering impeccable balance. This wine has that ephemeral Pinot quality that is the Holy Grail of vintners. Score: 97

2015 Littorai The Pivot Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., $85. This is the Littorai Estate Vineyard located at the winery site. 3 acres located on a ridge top between Sebastopol and Freestone, just seven miles from the coast. Five different clones of Pinot Noir are planted (not specifically disclosed). Biodynamically farmed. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose only reluctantly offers black cherry, pomegranate, spice and underbrush aromas even two days later. Much more embracing on the palate, with mid weight flavors of purple grape, boysenberry, warm spices and a touch of oak. Rich entry, rich middle and rich finish. Seems a bit grouchy at this stage but hints at better days ahead. Score: 92

2015 Littorai The Haven Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., $90. Another estate site lying northwest of the town of Occidental on a 1,200 foot ridge. Approximately 40 different rootstock and clonal combinations planted in 2001 within a 4-acre vineyard. Biodynamically farmed. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Upon opening, the nose is primarily barrel driven. When tasted the following day, the nose was exotically spiced, with plenty of blackest cherry fruit aroma and a hint of tobacco. A mid weight plus treasure with unctuous black raspberry and blackberry fruit, warm spices, and earthy, savory character. Flat out delicious with enviable harmony and an extraordinarily intense and persistent finish. Score: 95





Mignanelli Winery, Sonoma

Winemaker Byron Mignanelli founded this winery in 2011, focusing on coastal Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Some grape sources include old vine, original plantings in California and Oregon. Typically, the wines undergo 40% or more whole cluster and native fermentation, and are aged on the lees with racking only just before bottling.

The wines are relatively inexpensive considering the high quality and are sold on the website at www.mignanelliwinery.com.

2015 Mignanelli Central Coast Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., $30. Dijon, Pommard and Martini clones planted in 1980, 1999 and 2004. Native fermentation, aged in French oak barrels, 20% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Leading off are aromas of red cherry, cranberry, raspberry, rose petal and a hint of oak. Lighter in weight with a core of black cherry fruit picking up some intensity over time in the glass, but leaning a bit on oak. The juicy finish takes on some tannic muscle. Score: 88

2015 Mignanelli Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., $36. Clones 115, “828,” Mt Eden and Martini planted in 1980 and 1999. Native fermentation, aged in French oak barrels, 20% new. Bottled unfixed and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. The nose opens slowly in the glass to reveal aromas of dark red cherry, spice, violets, herbs and warm brioche. Mid weight flavors of cherry and raspberry are framed by prominent tannins that stick out on the finish, yet the tannins are in tune with generous fruit persistence. Score: 89



Sojourn Cellars, Sonoma

The 2018 Spring Release wines were sampled with winemaker Erich Bradley and again in my usual fashion at home. The 2016 wines were bottled in August and are scheduled for a January release (Gap’s Crown Chardonnay is a fall release). The Chardonnays are reviewed elsewhere in this issue.

Erich told me that the 2016 vintage was close to a “dream” vintage. Yields were very decent and slightly higher than in 2015 as the vines were more in balance. Moderate temperatures during the summer allowed for proper flavor development and harvest allowed for leisurely picks. The result was wines with concentrated flavors and freshness derived from good acidities.

The wines are sold through a mailing list at www.sojourncellars.com. Personal and intimate tasting is available by appointment at the Sojourn Tasting Salon in downtown Sonoma. Winemaker Erich Bradley is assisted by associate winemaker Randy Bennett and proprietor Craig Haserot. The location of the winery’s vineyard sources are seen on this map:



2016 Sojourn Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.60, 2,900 cases, $39. A blend of eight vineyards in the Sonoma Coast ranging from Occidental to the Petaluma Gap. Clones 115, “828,” 667, Pommard and Wädenswil 2A. 100% de-stemmed, open-top fermentation, native yeast, aged in French oak barrels, 50% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Very giving aromas of Bing cherry, blueberry, spice and cigar box. Good weight and juiciness in a forward style featuring a luscious for of black cherry and spice flavors. Nicely composed with integrated moderately toasty oak and a solid finish. A deft AVA offering. Score: 90

2016 Sojourn Rodgers Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.59, 800 cases, $48. This vineyard is located high on a ridge in the heart of the Petaluma Gap. The foundation of this wine is two blocks of Pommard clone with clone 777 adding a layer of bright fruit. 15% whole cluster. Open-top fermentation, native yeast, aged in French oak barrels, 50% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, blueberry, spice, underbrush and subtle smoke draw the drinker in. Light to mid weight flavors of oak-kissed black cherry and black raspberry are expansive in the mouth. Slightest feral and gamy character. Creamy and suave in the mouth with an extended finish. Even better mouth. Slightest feral and gamy character. Creamy and suave in the mouth with an extended finish. Even better when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 93

2016 Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.67, TA 0.61, 1,250 cases, $59. Sourced from a vineyard on Roberts Road located at the western base of Sonoma Mountain. Clones 115, 777 and Swan. 100% de-stemmed, open-top fermentation, native yeast, aged in French oak barrels, 50% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Bright aromas of cherry, raspberry, woodland spice and sawdust. Bombastic cherry and raspberry flavors with polished tannins and supportive oak. Commendable harmony with a memorable dark red raspberry fueled finish. Score: 93

2016 Sojourn Walala Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.69, TA 0.57, 475 cases, $69. This vineyard sits at 1,200 feet above sea level, just inland from the Pacific Ocean near the coastal town of Annapolis. Clones 113, 115 and “828.” 5% whole cluster. Open-top fermentation, native yeast, aged in French oak barrels, 50% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. A nose of complexity, showing aromas of black cherry, wild dark berry, spice, undergrowth, floral bouquet and a hint of sweet oak. A wine of great fortitude the palate, with waves of boysenberry, blackberry and pomegranate fruits that hang on through an extended luscious finish. The satiny texture is quite appealing as is the wine’s seamless composure. This vineyard really impresses when the vintage allows. Score: 94

2016 Sojourn Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.61, 1,350 cases, $69. This vineyard is located on Roberts Road just above the Sangiacomo Vineyard. Clones “828,” 115 and 667. 10% whole cluster. Open-top fermentation, native yeast, aged in French oak barrels, 50% new. Bottled unfixed and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, blackberry jam, briar and woodland spice. The biggest, baddest wine in the lineup, with a sappy core of well-ripened purple and black fruits that saturate the palate with goodness. Slightly fatiguing to drink, but a hedonist’s delight with well-matched tannins, integrated acidity, complimentary oak tones of toast and vanilla, and a long, meaty finish. Score: 93



Three Sticks Wines, Sonoma

Noted former Williams Selyem winemaker Bob Cabral released his first Estate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Three Sticks with the 2015 vintage. The 2015 vintage was extremely small yet quality was extraordinary and Bob really nailed it with this vintage.

2015 was the fourth drought year in a row. Untimely winds and cold during spring bloom reduced flowering and resultant yields by 25%. Harvest was earlier than ever, with grapes brought in by August.

I thought the entire lineup were among the top wines I had tasted in 2017 but the tasting was too late to include them in my 2017 All-Americans. The wines were released to mailing list customers August 15, 2017. You should make it your New Year’s resolution to snag some of these wines for your cellar. Chardonnay reviews are in this issue also.

Visit www.threestickswines.com. Tasting is available by appointment in the historic Adobe in downtown Sonoma.

2015 Three Sticks Durell Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.49, TA 0.60, 178 cases, $70. Clones 667, 115 and 777. 25% whole cluster, open-top fermentation, aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 60% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Aromas of brioche bramble and nutty oak lead to a mid weight styled wine with tantalizing black cherry, black raspberry, pomegranate and warm spice flavors that satisfy. Velvety and seductive in the mouth, with streamlined tannins and a virile finish of good length. The barrel management is spot on. The nose was much more expressive when the wine was sampled later in the day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 93

2015 Three Sticks Gap’s Crown Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.48, TA 0.60, 220 cases, $70. Vineyard is located on the western slope of Sonoma Mountain in the recently approved Petaluma Gap AVA. The area enjoys the cooling effects of both wind and fog plus a sweeping western exposure. Swan, “828,”, 115 and Rochioli selection of Pommard. 20% whole cluster. Open-top fermentation, aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 55% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Lovely mix of aromas including boysenberry jam, underbrush, tobacco and biscuit. Delicious mix of purple and black fruits in a middleweight style that offers exquisite balance. The sexy, satiny texture makes the eyes light up as does the extremely long finish that never seems to quit. An extraordinary wine. Score: 97

2015 Three Sticks Walala Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.52, TA 0.59, 218 cases, $70. Inaugural release. This 17-acre vineyard is perched on a ridge at 1,200 feet elevation just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean near the town of Gualala and in the middle of 19,000 acres of pristine forestland. This heavily maritime-influenced vineyard is on the extreme edge of Pinot Noir viticulture. Soil is Goldridge sandy loam along with gravelly Hugo loam. 25% whole cluster, open-top fermentation, aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 55% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Sensational aromas of blackberry, cassis and warm Holiday spices that are deep and persistent. Mid weight plus flavors of slightly sweet purple and black berries are bold and generous accented with the right amount of spice. Bombastically flavored with majestic fruit, yet elegantly composed with impressive balance and a silky mouth feel. This on-the-edge vineyard continues to astonish with its fruit concentration. Score: 95

2015 Three Sticks Cuvée Eva Marie Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.62, 112 cases, $90. Inaugural release. One Sky Vineyard is located high atop Sonoma Mountain and is a new jewel in the crown for Three Sticks. At 1,400 feet elevation, growing grapes here can be a challenge. A mix of heritage and Dijon clones planted strategically in Goulding cobble clay loam that provides excellent drainage. 25% whole cluster, open-top fermentation, aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 57% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Captivating aromas of blackberry, sage, earth and mulch. The wine captures the heart with a dreamy texture that is pure silk. Vibrant flavors of purple and black fruits with the right touch of spice and oak compliment. The wine wows the senses with appeal, finishing long and charitable. My notes say, “Wow!” Score: 95



More Wines

2014 Anaba Westlands Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., pH 3.59, TA 0.56, 264 cases, $54. The name of this wine is a nod to the West Sonoma Coast. O’Connor, Barlow Lane Private and Mariani vineyards. Pommard, Swan and 115 clones. Harvest Brix 23.5º. 100% de-stemmed. 5-day cold soak, gentle pump overs and punch downs. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 30% new. Winemakers Ross Cobb and Katy Wilson. · Light ruby red color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of red cherry and berry, burnt tobacco and fertile earth. Light to mid weight and bright and juicy in style, with a core of fresh cherry and raspberry fruit weathered to a bit of tobacco flavor. Very delicate with dapper tannins and an uplifting finish. Score: 90

2015 La Crema Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.57, 30,086 cases, $30. Sourced from eight vineyards including the estate Gran Moraine Vineyard and Estate Zena Crown Vineyard. 100% destemmed, 3-day cold soak, open-top fermentation, free-run juice sent to French oak barrels, 24% new, where the wine was aged 9 months. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Quite woody on the nose with aromas of vanilla, toast and oak spice dominating the boysenberry fruit. Mid weight plus in heft, with ripe fruit flavors of black cherry, boysenberry and blackberry overlain with considerable oak input (black tea, coffee). Score: 87

2015 RAEN Royal St Robert Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 800 cases, $60. Vinified by Carlo and Dante Mondavi of Society of Research in Agriculture & Enology Naturally. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. The nose hints at whole cluster with aromas of mulch, spice and rose augmenting the fruit aromas of red berries. Quite tasteful in a mid weight style, with flavors of blackest cherry, black raspberry, boysenberry, spice and earthiness. Well-integrated tannins and acidity make for current drinking. The wine’s intense and very long finish is most impressive. Score: 92

2016 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Lot 23 Carneros Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $12.99. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of coddled black cherry, spice, cola and fertile earth with oak showing up in the glass over time. Silky in the mouth, with mid weight flavors of black cherry, raspberry, purple plum, mushroom and earth. Elegantly composed, with gossamer tannins, finishing with welcome cherry succulence and a bit of tobacco oak. A very good value. Score: 87

2016 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Lot 80 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $12.99. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The nose opens slowly to reveal aromas of purple and black berries, marzipan, wood spice and dark chocolate. Sleek and easy to drink, with a mid weight core of dark berry fruits backed by toasty oak. Rather elegant, with soft tannins, building in intensity over time in the glass. Score: 87


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