WOPN: 7th Heaven for Pinot Geeks
“A marvelous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say,
Tasting note, William Shakespeare
It is a special time to be a Pinot Noir lover. Since the first World of Pinot Noir held
in 2001, there have been remarkable advances in the growing and crafting of
ultra-premium Pinot Noir in North America. Years ago at this event, one could
divide the offerings pretty much into good and bad. Pinot Noir was still causing a
lot of heartbreak. At this year’s 7th Annual World of Pinot Noir, held this past
weekend (March 2-3) at The Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach, California, it was more
like good, better, and wowee! Good Pinot Noir is true to the varietal but not much
more: “whitebread” Pinot as it were. Better Pinot Noir tastes like Pinot Noir, but
also shows a sense of place (terroir). And Wowee! Pinot Noir not only tastes like
Pinot Noir and shows a regional character, it has a sensuality that is easy to recognize
but always a challenge to describe.
It is the pursuit of this sensuality that led several hundred Pinot Geeks on a
pilgrimage to the Chapel of Pinot Noir on the Central Coast. Besides outstanding
seminars, meals, and camaraderie, there was the opportunity to taste the Pinot
Noirs of almost 160 producers in walk-around tastings on Friday and Saturday
afternoons. Winemakers were in abundance and eager to speak Pinot (see photos,
page 2). This event is really a joyous and convivial festival and the large and enthusiastic
throng prevents any serious geeky tasting. It is best to gather one’s self
at the end of the day, recline in a comfortable chair overlooking the ocean, and
while staring at your purple-stained finger tips and your disgustingly dirty wine
stem, pull back and leisurely savor some of the dreamy wines from the recesses
of your day’s memory.
Kathy Joseph and husband Tom Doyle, Fiddlehead
Paul Lato and friend, Paul Lato Wines
Jonathan Pey, Pey-Marin Vineyards
I spent some of my time interviewing winemakers for Grape Radio. These chats with Paul Austin
(Native 9 and Alta Maria), Scott Rich (Talisman Cellars), Kiwi Dean Shaw (Nevis Bluff), and Annette Hoff
(Cima Collina) will be featured in a future podcast at www.graperadio.com. Many other winemakers
and wine personalities were interviewed by the Grape Radio crew as part of their coverage of this
event. Eric Anderson is pictured with winemaker Mike Sinor of Sinor-LaValle).
It was impossible to visit and taste with all of the producers at the event. I did come away with a few
general impressions of interest.
1. Woman winemakers have a nice touch with Pinot Noir. They seem to have great success in capturing
the delicate texture and elegant nuances of the grape. As David Autrey (Westrey Wines in
Oregon) has said, “Women show a sense of balance in winemaking that you don’t see with men.”
There were several examples here including Cima Collina (Annette Hoff), Fiddlehead (Kathy
Joseph), and Lane Tanner Wines (Lane Tanner).
2. There is considerable interest in alternative closures. Dean Shaw, a Kiwi winemaker, said that
New Zealand wineries were fed up with bad corks and he, personally, has gone to the screw cap
closure for Pinot Noir. Peter Rosback of Sineann (Oregon) has changed over to glass stoppers for
his wines. The advantages are several: they produce a very secure and tight closure, they can be
reinserted after opening, they are very resistant to breakage, and they are recyclable. He feels
the screw cap closure is fragile and prone to breakage with loss of a complete seal if handled
roughly. He is using a German glass stopper with a traditional foil cap. Josh Jensen of Calera was
displaying glass closures at his table.
3. Many winemakers are wrestling with style. In a perfect world, most would opt for a classic,
elegant style of Pinot Noir with nicely balanced composition of good acid and moderate alcohol.
However, the Cab-centric consumers and many wine critics prefer a bolder, fruit-forward style
readily drinkable upon release.
4. Unfortunately, Pinot to envy is fast becoming a rich man’s sport. Because of the increased costs of
farming Pinot Noir, as well as its limited plantings, the price of Pinot Noir from top vineyards has
risen. All of the costs in making fine Pinot Noir have escalated. Higher prices breed higher prices,
because no producer wants to under price his wine. This can give the consumer the impression
that the wine is not up to the standards of the more expensive bottles. Could triple figures soon be
There were many flat-out great Pinots at this event and there were considerably more that I never had
the opportunity to sample. The quality was very high every where I sipped and spat. It was saddening
to see so much great Pinot Noir dumped from spit cups at this event. The 2005 vintage in the Central
Coast of California is a stunner and maybe the best ever! Here are some producers with ‘wowee!’
wines and many others that were perfectly fine.
Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards It always is nice to see Richard Sanford pouring his wines at these
events. Despite many years in the Santa Barbara County wine scene, and one of the
first to plant Pinot Noir (Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1971) in the Ste. Rita Hills
appellation, he is still enthusiastic, and speaks patiently with all who come by to say
hello. A couple of years ago he left his namesake winery, Sanford, and began his
own label, Alma Rosa with wife Thekla. He retained over 100 acres of certified organic
estate vineyards including the La Encantada Vineyard. The winemaker at
Alma Rosa is Christian Roguenant. The Alma Rosa temporary tasting room in
Buellton is open from 11:00 to 4:00 daily. Website: www.almarosa.com.
Alta Maria Winery & Vineyards College buddies Paul Wilkins and James
Ontiveros are partners in Native9 as well as this new label created in 2005.
Their debut release was poured at WOPN. Paul has considerable experience
in Rhone varietals, having apprenticed with John Alban (Alban Cellars)
for several years, and also makes a Grenache from the Uriel J. Nielson
Vineyard. James is a master winegrower who has a knack with Pinot Noir.
He and Paul are planning to find small, hidden vineyard sites in the Santa
Maria Valley that can offer wines of great distinction. The phone is 805-
934-5206. The website is www.altamaria.com.
Arcadian Winery Joe Davis is a cerebral winemaker whose goal is to create wines for long aging. He
is an advocate of the Burgundian model, and inexperienced tasters may find the wines a bit austere
upon release. But those with patience will be rewarded. Joe was pouring his 1997 Pisoni Vineyard
Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir (the oldest wine I saw poured at the event) and this was one fine
mature Pinot. Joe sources his grapes from several notable vineyards in the
Santa Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, and Santa Lucia Highlands. His wines
(including some older vintages) are available on the website at
2003 Arcadian Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
From the most coveted block of the famed Pisoni
Vineyard. Many people say Joe’s Pisoni Pinot Noir is the most “unpisoni” of
the many that are produced from this vineyard. It really amounts to an interpretation
of the site and Joe prefers a more modest, medium-bodied, and understated
style that offers plenty of restrained power beautifully matched with a silky texture and bright acidity
at the end. I also sampled the
I also sampled the 2003 Arcadian Dierberg Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($50)
and the 2003 Rio Vista Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($65) and both were hitting on all cylinders.
Cima Collina A small-lot garage-styled producer with a talented winemaker, Annette Hoff. The
winery sources grapes from family-owned vineyards in the Monterey region, as well as the winery’s own vineyard at Hilltop Ranch in Carmel Valley. Cima Collina is Italian for hill
top. The website is www.cimacollina.com or phone 831-384-7806. Look for the
interview with Annette on an upcoming Grape Radio podcast. The blog on the
Cima Collina website is extremely informative and a recent award winner
among wine blogs.
Fiddlehead Cellars I don’t know of another winemaker in the business who has
more energy and passion than owner Kathy Joseph. Her Fiddlestix Vineyard is
now one of the most desirable sources for Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. She
was pouring a mini vertical of her Lollapalooza (try saying that after a few glasses
of Pinot), which is composed of the best barrels in her cellar. Lollapalooza is an
old English term meaning “best of its kind.” The Fiddlechix lineup of wines are
available at www.fiddleheadcellars.com. But I suggest you take a trip to Lompoc
and catch Kathy in her native environment for a real Pinot experience (1597 E.
2003 Fiddlehead Lollapalooza Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 312 cases, $50.
The 2002 was as smooth as a baby’s bottom, the
2003 is just starting to round out beautifully, and the 2004 is a youngster that drinks
like mother’s milk. I told Kathy I preferred the 2003 and she replied, “Good thing, that’s the one that is
currently for sale!”
Flying Goat Cellars Owner and winemaker Norm Yost is a veteran winemaker
in Santa Barbara County whose label specializes in limited quantities of
vineyard designated Pinot Noirs from the Central Coast. He crafts his beautiful
Pinot Noirs in a small winery in the Lompoc ghetto. The phone is 805-688-
1814 and the website www.flyinggoatcellars.com.
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery This small artisan producer of fine Pinot Noir is located at the historic
Russian settlement of Fort Ross a few miles from the Pacific Ocean on the extreme or true Sonoma
Coast. Noted winemaker Ed Kurtzman (Freeman and August West) crafts some very stylish Pinot Noirs
2003 Fort Ross Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
($37). The estate vineyard has a nice mix of Calera,
Swan and Pommard selections along with Dijon clones 115 and 777.
This Pinot is
a love letter from the Coast with its charming perfume, ethereal style, powdery
tannins, and refined acidity on the backend.
The owners honor their South African heritage
by planting and producing a Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut)
as well and I am told it is one of the best examples produced in the world! I applaud
the winery for encouraging the diversity of wine in all of its expressions.
There is actually a fan club for Pinotage (www.pinotage.blogspot.com). The Fort
Ross wines are available on the website at www.fortrossvineyard.com.
J. Wilkes Jeff Wilkes worked for many years at Bien Nacido Vineyard
in a number of capacities. He began his first foray in winemaking with
the start of the J. Wilkes label in 2001. He uses grapes from selected
blocks of the Bien Nacido Vineyard and Solomon Hills Vineyard. Jeff
also produces a very credible Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir’s pale twin. Call Jeff at 805-899-2845. Www.jwilkes.com.
2005 J. Wilkes Bien Nacido Vineyard Q Block Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 172 cases, $60. I have thoroughly enjoyed Jeff’s Pinot
Noirs since the first releases, but I must admit that this may be his best to date. Jeff focuses refined
aromatics, soft textures, and overall elegance and this wine hits the mark on all three.
The nose is complex
with fruit, violets, smoke and spice leading to dusty red cherry spiced fruit and touched off by refined
acidity on the lengthy finish. This is the stuff Pinot dreams are made of. Magnums are available for the
first time as well. The 2004 vintage of the same wine needed more bottle age and will be released along
with the 2005 within the next several months.
Lane Tanner Winery Lane Tanner has a lot of flare and a great sense of
humor. Since she was mentored by the late, great Andre Tchelistcheff, she has
taken the title of Pinot Czarina in his honor. Lane is a one-woman winery. She
has a style and sticks to it: picks her fruit often earlier than others, looks for
exciting tastes and not overripe flavors; uses oak judiciously so you never
think oak when you taste her wines, and seeks a substantial acid backbone
that portends a long life and a good time at the table. Her wines are available
at www.lanetanner.com, and are very well priced. See feature story in a future edition of the PinotFile on
the full lineup of Lane Tanner Pinot Noirs.
2005 Lane Tanner Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 264 cases, $30.
The back label says “When are we going to live, if not now?” She has that right. This wine has a very nice
perfume of ripe cherry, cassis and toast. There is plenty of backend power and a great sweet cherry kiss
at the end that lasts and lasts. The whole package is nicely composed and balanced. What a novel idea -
a California Pinot Noir with 13% alcohol - you can drink a couple of glasses without getting sideways.
Not for Cabophiles or lovers of FrankenPinots.
Lost Canyon Winery This is a winery of true gargariste origins, beginning in a
garage in Montclair Hills of California 25 years ago. Today, the urban winery
resides in a turn of the century building near the childhood home of Jack London
on the Oakland waterfront. Three Pinot Noirs are produced from vineyards in
Los Carneros and Russian River Valley. I have been a fan of the wines since
their first release in 2001. The 2005 lineup has a more elegant slant. A full report
on the wines will be forthcoming in another issue. The wines are available
Melville Melville is a very innovative estate winery in the Santa Rita Hills that
farms an extensive clonal diversity of Pinot Noir. Their estate small lot collection
for 2005 includes High Density (172 cases, $46), Clone 115 Indigene (171 cases,
$46), Terraces (818 cases, $52), and Carrie’s (816 cases, $52). The wines are
available from the winery at 805-735-7030 and www.melvillewinery.com.
2005 Melville Terraces Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
This is off the
charts. There is a striking complexity to both in aromatics and flavors. The Terraces
may be more red fruit inspired and the Carrie’s more dark fruit driven, but
both are refined and stylish. Alcohols are hefty. Classy wax seals also.
2005 Melville Carrie’s Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
This is also off the
charts. There is a striking complexity to both in aromatics and flavors. The Terraces
may be more red fruit inspired and the Carrie’s more dark fruit driven, but
both are refined and stylish. Alcohols are hefty. Classy wax seals also.
Paul Hobbs Winery Paul Hobbs has a colorful winemaking background.
He rose to notoriety at Simi in the mid 1980s, subsequently
made wine in Argentina, consulted for Peter Michael, Fisher, Lewis and
Chalone, and most recently has a winemaking project in Hungary. He
started his namesake label in 1991. In 1998 he planted his estate vineyard,
Lindsay Vineyard, located near Graton in the Russian River Valley
and named it in honor of his father. In 2003 he built a winery overlooking
Hobbs is also releasing a 2005
Ulises Valdez Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and a 2005 Hyde Vineyard Carneros
Pinot Noir. The wines are sold through a mailing list at www.paulhobbs.com. The wines were offered
for sale at the WOPN and a call to the winery at 707-824-9879 may be rewarded.
Paul Lato Wines Paul Lato bleeds Pinot Noir. He is a rare individual of great passion
who is humble yet aristocratic, both humorous and charming, and with a smile that
shows a zest for wine and the good life. Paul told me I was smart to be a Prince, because
“Kings sit around doing nothing with their clothes off, and the Prince actually runs the
show and knows everything that is going on.” Paul is from Poland via Canada and his
small production of Pinot Noir and Syrah each year (250 cases) has had a big impact on
the Central Coast wine scene. His unique wines are sold through a mailing list at
www.paullatowines.com or through the Wine Cask futures program. Paul also
makes a Syrah in the Pinot style which is to die for.
2005 Paul Lato "Duende" Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
75 cases, $50.
wine has it all. Gorgeous perfume and fruit, long, stylish and smooth in the mouth, this Pinot
Noir delivers the sensuality and charisma that Pinot Noir so often promises, but rarely
surrenders. This is the work of a true artisan and artist. I did not meet one seasoned taster
at the event who did not love this wine. I admit it, I went ‘gaga’ for this one.
Scott Paul Wines Two of Scott Wright’s inspirations and mentors were Greg La Follette and Ted
Lemon. He is dedicated to handcrafting Oregon Pinot Noir using low yields (less than 1.7 tpa),
organic/biodynamic viticulture, wild yeast fermentations, and limited use of
new oak (no more than 20%). Alcohols are sensible (the 2004 and 2005 Le
Paulée Pinots Noirs he was pouring were in the 13.1-13.8% range. He bottles
his wines under Stelvin screw capclosures. Scott’s Pinot Noirs are all about
elegance and finesse. He personally exudes a soft spoken and unassuming
passion for Pinot Noir. His winery and tasting room are located in Carlton at
128 S. Pine St. and the wines are also sold on the website at
www.scottpaul.com. Scott also imports Burgundies and his website is filled
with information on Burgundy.
2005 Scott Paul Le Paulée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
$40, April 2007 release.
Light in color and body, this wine delivers
toasted herbs, cocoa, and cinnamon toast scents. Lovely red currents and
wild strawberries on the palate made it difficult to spit out. The silky texture is
alluring. This is a style of Pinot Noir for connoisseurs.
TR Elliott Theodore R Elliott has come to Pinot Noir late in his winemaking
career. He spent considerable time crafting Cabernet at
Carmenet Winery and then Chardonnay at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards.
His launched the TR Elliott label in 2002 with his family. The two 2004
releases were poured from magnum at WOPN. The wines are available
on the website at www.elliottfamilycellars.com or phone 707-291-4559.
2004 TR Elliott Three Plumes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 400 cases, $32. A blend of clones 115
and Pommard from Vine Hill Vineyard. Both are excellent examples of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
which often has warm spice and cola complementing the fruit.
Red fruits, plenty of finesse, ripe tannins,
and a juicy and mouthwatering finish.
Talisman Cellars Scott Rich learned his craft under Tony Soter at
Etude in Carneros. He started his small label in 1993. Scott is a lover of
unique terroir and he searches high and low for vineyards that are
challenging and expressive. “I like to express terroir - that is the
beauty of Pinot Noir - and that comes through in the more extreme vineyards.”
Each of his bottlings are typically 200-300 cases. Last year I
tasted through a vertical of his Pinot Noirs (see Volume 5 of the Pinot-
File) and found them to be terrific wines that showed their age extremely well. Look for a podcast
interview of Scott Rich on Grape Radio in the near future. Scott’s wines are sold through a mailing list at
www.talismancellars.com. The phone number is 707-258-5722.
2004 Talisman Ted’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 208 cases, $40.
This is the crowd pleaser in the lineup
that is drinking beautifully now. Wilted red roses and wild red cherries come to mind in the bouquet.
There are nicely composed red fruits and magic spice. A very drinkable Pinot Noir.
The Donum Estate Anne Moller-Racke knows Carneros. She has tended the
vines here for more than 20 years. Since leaving Buena Vista in 2001, she has
concentrated on one estate Pinot Noir (The Donum Estate) and the wines of
Robert Stemmler both sourced from the over 250 acre estate she retained adjacent
to the Buena Vista property (originally named Tula Vista, it was rechristened
The Donum Estate) The current winemaker is Kenneth Juhasz (also
of Auteur). Anne was pouring a vertical of the Donum Estate Pinot Noir, 2003-
2004-2005. These are very Burgundian and earthy-styled Pinot Noirs, with
explosive flavors of plums, candied cherries and a touch of game. Full and
expansive in the mouth, they are classy and polished Pinot Noirs.
The wines are in the 600 case production range and sold through the
website at www.thedonumestate.com.
PERFECTLY FINE PINOTS
2005 Cargasacchi/Point Concepcion Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
2004 Churchill Cellars Bella Luna Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
2005 Elkhorn Peak Cellars Napa Valley Pinot Noir
2004 Keller Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2004 Ken Brown Cargasacchi Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
2004 Red Car Amour Fou RRV Pinot Noir and 2005 The Aphorist Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2004 Schug Carneros Estate Pinot Noir
2003 Rippon Central Otago Pinot Noir
2005 Tantara Silacci Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
2004 Thomas Fogerty Winery Rapley Trail Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
2005 Windward Vineyard Monopole Paso Robles Pinot Noir
Cargasacchi Dinner & Tasting
One of the offline events I attended was a comprehensive tasting of Cargasacchi Vineyard and Jalama
Vineyard Pinot Noirs. Cargasacchi Vineyard is 16 acres planted in 1999 to Dijon clone 115 (scion selection
from Burgundy’s Morey Saint Denis), and located at the extreme west end of the Santa Rita Hills
(an excellent map of many of the vineyards and wineries in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation is available at
www.staritahills.com). The soils are ancient sea floor sediment. Peter Cargasacchi is a meticulous
farmer who continues in his family’s farming heritage which dates to the early 1900s. A second vineyard,
Jalama, was planted a couple of years ago in the Jalama area outside of Lompoc. His grapes have
been highly sought after. Many of the winemakers who source fruit from Peter were at the event. The
table was filled with 46 wines! In addition, the last wines started by Michael Bonacorssi before his untimely
death in 2004 and finished by Greg Brewer, were opened. Stories about Michael were affectionately
bantered about the room and Michael was toasted for his undying commitment to crafting
fine wine. Wines on the table included multiple vintages from notable producers like Ampelos, Babcock,
Brewer-Clifton, Cargasacchi, Hitching Post, Ken Brown, Loring Wine Co, Point Concepción, Pali,
Siduri, and Waltzing Bear. My favs: 2002 and 2005 Point Concepción Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir.
Oh, there were also at least 50 other Pinot Noirs available for sampling from California, Oregon and
Cargasacchi wines are substantial and muscular interpretations of Peter’s vineyards.
For 2005, there is a Jalama Vineyard Santa Barbara County and Cargasacchi
Vineyard Santa Rita Hills bottling. Point Concepción wines are described as
“food friendly,” and, indeed, they are lighter-styled with more red fruit and floral
highlights. The 2005 Santa Barbara County was released in February. The wines
are available through a mailing list at www.pointconcepcion.com.
For more tasting notes of Cargasacchi wines, go to Eric Anderson’s excellent wine
blog at www.grape-nutz.com.
Domaine Dujac Dinner
It has become a tradition to do a Burgundy tasting and dinner of some type in conjunction with the
WOPN event. This year we decided to feature the red Burgundies of Domaine Dujac. For those
regular readers of the PinotFile, you know I am a fan of Dujac wines. As I wrote recently, “I am no expert
on Burgundy, but I know great Burgundy when I find it. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Comte de
Vogue, Leroy, Rousseau, and others have their following, but Dujac really makes my taste buds stand erect. In the puzzling and confusing maize of Burgundy producers, Dujac is one domaine that you can
single out as a consistent star whose wines, although difficult to come by and not inexpensive, are
priced sensibly considering the quality.” Domaine Dujac was begun in 1967 and currently has holdings
in Clos de la Roche, Clos St. Denis, Bonne Mares, Echezeaux and Charmes-Chambertain. The
wines are all aged in 100% new oak. Owner and winemaker Jacques Seysses crafts wines that are light
in color and less extracted and dense than many other Burgundy estates. Never blockbusters, they are
elegant and balanced. Seysses says, “It is a mistake to take all of this too seriously. Some winemakers
become big-headed and think they are changing the world. But I’m not an artist, I’m just trying to
make good wine.” Jacques Seysses and his son, Jeremy, also craft a line of negocient wines under the
label Dujac Fils et Perè.
In between the 1996 Le Grande Dame Champagne and the 1990 Yquem, we cooed and awed over
six Dujac wines. We also tried a 1999 F. Mugnier Chambolle Musigny les Fuees 1er Cru and 1999
Groffier Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses 1er Cru, but really, they could not offer the enchanting
aromatics and flavors that the Dujac wines did.
2005 Domaine Dujac Morey St. Denis
Not the aromatics or breeding of the Grand Crus, but a
very satisfying drink with a satiny texture from start to finish. Interesting pepper and anise flavors. Elegant,
but not wimpy and perfectly balanced. Best wine in this lineup for the money by far.
1997 Domaine Dujac Clos St. Denis
This can be a burly wine, but in this vintage it is a pussycat. Endless
spices with cashmere tannins. Wild herbs and exotic spices leap out on the nose. Really sexy juice.
2001 Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche
This Grand Cru vineyard always struts its royalty for Dujac.
There is an amazing amount of power here but the wine slides down like warm syrup. A little animale,
some tea-like edge, and sturdy red and blue flavors. This is a killer that in all good sense shouldn't be
opened for another ten years.