There are certain Pinot Noirs that just hit you, leaving you speechless, and groping for appropriate descriptors.
When this happens, you know that you have found a great wine. These wines were the best
I tasted at Pinot Days.
2006 Benovia Winery Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
$60. I have tasted this wine several
times both in barrel and in bottle and I can’t wait until August 19 when this and two other equally
superb 2006 Pinot Noirs (Cohn Vineyard and a Proprietary Blend from purchased fruit) are released to
the mailing list.
This wine is the whole package. Charmingly dark red fruited with nicely spiced aromatics, a
full onslaught of fresh fruit, an appealing elegance, and an ending so refreshing that it makes you reach
for more. I had to swallow this one.
Benovia Winery is owned by Jim Anderson (left), who has
provided the financial support to create a state-of-the-art
winery at the site of the original Mary Edwards winery in
the heart of the Russian River Valley. Anderson has resurrected
the aging Cohn Vineyard, acquired land adjacent
to the winery, and is planting new Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
vineyards. A hospitality center is also planned.
Talented winemaker Mike Sullivan (who previously
starred at Hartford Family Winery, second from left) is in
charge and manager Bob Mosby (far right) keeps the
operation running smoothly. The wines are sold through
a mailing list at www.benoviawinery.com. 707-526-4441.
2005 Bink Wines Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir
7-acre Weir Vineyard is farmed meticulously by Bill and Susan Weir. Planted
about 15 years ago at 850-1000 feet in a unique cool microclimate, the vineyard
is divided into older plantings (DRC suitcase clone and Wadenswil 2A)
and newer plantings (Pommard Rochioli Riverblock). Williams Selyem has
bottled a superb vineyard designate Pinot Noir from this vineyard for several
years and Drew Wines bottles a terrific example.
A Pinot Noir with a Burgundian
soul with plenty of earthy and mineral underpinning. The dark red fruits
are juicy and pure and the wine is beautifully balanced and composed.
Bink Wines is a partnership between owners and winemakers Deborah
Schatzlein (pictured right who was pouring at Pinot Days) and Cindy
Paulson. All of the wines come from the Yorkville Highlands appellation,
which is located just south and inland of the Anderson Valley in Mendocino
County. The name, Bink, comes from the Manx cat with a black coat
and beguiling eyes. The lineup includes a Syrah and Merlot as well. All
of the wines are crafted at Bin to Bottle in Napa. The wines are sold on the
website at www.binkwines.com. 707-246-4468.
2006 Black Kite Cellars River Turn Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Pinot Noirs are offered from the Black Kite Estate Vineyard in the cool deep-end
of the Anderson Valley. The talented winemaker is Jeff Gaffner (left) and the
viticulturalist is Paul Ardzrooni (right). The Kite’s Rest bottling was favorably
reviewed in PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 60. Three other bottlings are from special
blocks in the vineyard (River Turn, Stony Terrace, and Redwood’s Edge). I
found the River Turn the most approachable now of the block-designate Pinot
Like the Kite’s Rest, it offers flashy and showy dark red fruits, mouthwatering
acidity, and a lingering aromatic finish. I wrote excellent with an exclamation
Owned by Donald and Rebecca Green, Black Kite Cellars is named for the beautiful but endangered
Black Shouldered Kite that is native to the Anderson Valley. Pinot Noirs from the 2006 vintage are
available on the website. A Four Pack containing one bottle of each Pinot Noir is offered as well as a
Mixed Case of all four. A rising star in the Anderson Valley. Consult the website at
2005 Clary Ranch Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
$50. Paul Clary farms a 15-acre vineyard at the
headwaters to Chileno Creek in the hills of Petaluma and produces one Pinot Noir.
The 2004 vintage
was quite good and well received in the wine press. The 2005 is even better with more elegance, less heft
and ripeness, and softer tannins. It is drinking beautifully now.
Clary Ranch Wines are sold through the website by e-mailing Paul Clary. Visit the website at
www.claryranch.com. 707-773-3884. The history of Clary Ranch is quite interesting and has been previously
detailed in the PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 12 devoted to the Petaluma Gap producers of the
2006 Derbès Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., 428
cases, $47. Derbès Wines produces Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
purchased from the Moore and Sweeney vineyards. Dijon clones 115 and
777. Barrel aged for 15 months in 50% new French oak.
I have been a fan of
Cècile’s wines for a few years, but this is her best effort to date. A prototypical
Russian River Pinot Noir showing Bing cherry, red berries, baking spice, and
cola in the aromas and flavors. Slippery tannins and a seamless texture.
Extremely user-friendly now. One of the top three I tasted at Pinot Days.
Derbès Wines was founded in 2001 by a husband and wife team from diverse backgrounds. Billy
Derbès is an aerospace engineer from New Orleans, and Cécile Lemerle-Derbès is a French-born
winemaker who has worked at Champagne Bollinger, Schug, and Opus One. Wines are available on
the website at www.derbeswines.com. A high-density, hillside, spring-fed vineyard has been planted
at the Derbès estate, and plans are afoot to build a winery. The Chardonnays from Double T Ranch in
Carneros and Heintz Vineyards in the Russian River Valley are very French styled and quite good. Les
Pinots is also offered, an unusual 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
2007 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Cleary Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
(barrel sample). Kent Humphrey has been crafting beautiful Pinot Noirs and
Chardonnays from the Russian River Valley for three years now. His vineyard
sources have been the Stiling Vineyard and the Windsor Oaks Vineyard. The
Cleary Vineyard is his first foray into the Sonoma Coast.
Like so many 2007
Pinot Noirs from the North Coast that I have sampled, this one jumps out of the
glass with enchanting aromatics and perfectly ripe fruit that hits all of the high
notes. Kent seems quite pleased with this one and he should be.
Eric Kent vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from the Stiling Vineyard and the Windsor Oaks Vineyard
from the 2006 and 2007 (barrel samples) vintage were being poured as well. The 2006 wines have
good structure and plenty of sweet, ripe fruit, but are higher in alcohol and not as expressive as the
2005 and 2007 vintages. Eric Kent wines are sold primarily through a mailing list with generous discounts
to wine club members. Visit the website at www.erickentwines.com. 707-527-9700. The original
artwork on the labels compliments the excellent wines inside. Kent’s sister, Renee Humphrey,
(pictured on page 6), is Director of Wholesale & Distribution.
2005 Ft. Ross Vineyard & Winery Ft. Ross Vineyard Reserve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 531 cases, $49. Well-known winemaker Ed
Kurtzman (Freeman, August West) crafts superb Pinot Noirs from this vineyard,
one of the closest (less than one mile) to the Pacific Ocean in the Sonoma
Coast appellation. This bottling is from the most distinctive barrels,
many of which are very shy-yielding old clone blocks. Aged 11 months in
40% new French oak.
Still a youngster and will need a good year or two to
come in to its own, but it is showing huge promise at this time. Silky entry, richly layered dark fruits, and
mouth-coating fine-grain tannins. Immensely satisfying.
Ft. Ross Vineyard & Winery is owned by Lester and Linda Schwartz who came to the true Sonoma Coast
from South Africa. Linda has studied viticulture and has an affinity for working the soil and operating
farm equipment. Along with Lester, the two of them developed their 44-acre vineyard beginning in
1994. The vineyard has nice mixture of clonal variety with field selections of Calera, Pommard, and
Swan and Dijon clones 115 and 777. The Schwartz’s also planted Pinotage, a varietal unique to South
Africa and their Ft. Ross Pinotage is the best made in this country. The sales office is 550 Indiana St, San
Francisco, CA. In addition to limited retail distribution, the wines are sold through the website at
www.fortrossvineyard.com. . Vintages dating back to 2002 can be purchased from the winery’s library.
2005 george Vintage IV Nuptial Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
$50. George Levkoff is a Williams Selyem offshoot who crafts his Pinot Noirs in
the image of those that Burt Williams produced in the early 1990s. He uses
100% new Francois Freres French oak but the oak is never intrusive. His Pinot
Noirs are quintessential Russian River Pinot Noir and every year make my All
Balance and finesse with power is the hallmark of george Pinots
and this one is right in step. The aromatics feature crushed strawberries, dusty
cherries, and spice. The flavors are long in the mouth and echo the aromas. A fine, velveteen texture is
complimented byperfectly integrated tannins. A wine that caresses. Had to swallow this one.
George Levkoff tells me that he will be offering five different Pinot Noirs in the next vintage. The Nuptial
Vineyard has had a name change to Ceremonial Vineyard (I was kidding him that this sounded like
a mortuary plot). The wines are sold in many of the top restaurants in San Francisco, Las Vegas and
New York - often at $250 a pop. Somehow this just doesn’t seem fair, as george’s profit is about $20 a
bottle when he sells a bottle wholesale to a restaurant. You have to be on the mailing list to get your
allocation: visit www.georgewine.com. 707-495-7783. A picture of george (he prefers all lower case) is
on the following page (right) with his buddy, Joey Manfre, a graphic designer of wine labels.
2004 Hallcrest Vineyards Barrel Select Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
437 cases, $35. Veteran
winemaker John Schumacher crafts multiple exquisite Pinot Noirs from purchased grapes. This wine is
a vintner’s reserve from special barrels.
I have tasted this wine previously on several occasions and it has
always showed well. A bold wine with plenty of showy ripe fruit, but with defining acidity and a smooth
texture. A complete wine.
Hallcrest Vineyards dates to the 1880s when the Hall family named the property in Felton in the Santa
Cruz Mountains. John Schumacher, a University California Davis trained winemaker, took over and resurrected
the property beginning in 1987. He has been a pioneer in organic viticulture and winemaking.
John is a lot better at making wine than maintaining his website and I have urged him to update it (he
plans to do so in the near future). In the meantime, you can visit the Hallcrest Vineyards tasting room to
obtain the excellent lineup of Pinot Noirs or call 831-335-4441. His prices are very sensible. If you visit,
try to get an appointment with John for the full experience.
2006 Kenneth Volk Garey Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
This vineyard was planted in the late 1990s to be the premier vineyard of the
Robert Mondavi Corporation’s Santa Maria Valley holdings. It is named for
the tiny township of Garey on Foxen Canyon Road adjacent to the vineyard.
Sourced from a vineyard block planted to clone 777.
This wine has been big
and intense in the past, but this vintage is toned down. Discreet spicy cherry
nose with a serenade of juicy and ever-expanding red and blue fruit flavors.
This one has the full arsenal. Check for future release date.
Kenneth Volk is a Central California winemaker legend who is best known as
the founder of Wild Horse Winery where he crafted superb Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for year. He
has now scaled down with his own label sourcing fruit from premium vineyards in the Santa Maria
Valley. His years of experience serve him well and he continues to retain an energetic enthusiasm for
his craft. His winery, located at 5230 Tepusquet Rd in Santa Maria, was the old Byron Winery. A tasting
room here is open daily. The wines may be ordered online at www.volkwines.com. 805-938-7896.
2006 Paul Mathew Vineyards Ruxton Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 275 cases, $35. The Ruxton Vineyard is located on
the western edge of the Green Valley appellation. A two-acre block
planted on Goldridge soils with Dijon clones 115, 667, and 777 was
sourced for this wine.
This sturdy beauty is marked by lush black cherry
fruit from start to finish. Earth and truffle notes add interest. Integrated
tannins and a long, opulent finish.
Paul Mathew proprietor and winemaker Mat Gustafson (his great smile is pictured below) is an accomplished
winemaker who developed an interest in Russian River Pinot Noir while working as the Wine
Buyer and Sommelier at John Ash & Co. Restaurant (see PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 58). Subsequently, he
became the winemaker at Sebastopol-Dutton Estate Winery (2001). He believes in slow, indigenous
fermentations with minimal use of sulfur dioxide. His involvement with the Duttons allows him special
access to top vineyard sources for his own label. Mat’s other Pinot Noir offerings include a Russian River
Valley Pinot Noir, a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and a vineyard-designate TnT Vineyard Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir. All are worth trying as well. The wines are offered on the informative website at
2006 Pleasant Valley Vineyards Dylan David Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.65, 75 cases, $85, released February 2009. From a small estate vineyard planted to Dijon clones
in the Corralitos region of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Dijon clones 113, 114, 115. Whole berry and whole cluster fruit. Aged 19 months in 100% new French oak barrels.
This is an outstanding example of the tremendous potential for
Pinot Noir from this small growing region at the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Rich, sumptuous crushed wild berries in the nose. Bursting with fresh raspberry
flavor enhanced by subtle oak overtones. Endless echo of aromas and fruit on the finish.
The alcohol is well-integrated from start to finish.
Pleasant Valley Vineyards was founded by Craig and Cathy Handley (next page) in
1996. By 2010, they will be expanding their Pinot Noir production with fruit from nearby Deer Park
(Lester) Vineyard. The 2005 vintage Estate Pinot Noir is currently offered on the website at
www.pvvines.com. The Corralitos Wine Trail Open House Event will be held again in September this
2005 Raye’s Hill Vineyard & Winery Henneberg Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 280 cases, $26. This is the first vineyard-designate from the Henneberg
Vineyard for Raye’s Hill. This 14-acre vineyard is farmed by Matt and Jeannie
Henneberg and is in close proximity to the Raye’s Hill estate. Clones are 115 and
This is a very charming wine with plenty of spice and vim. On the demure
side, with impeccable balance. Very high quality for this modest price.
Raye’s Hill was founded by Raye and Dan Sokolow, Chicago refugees who planted their estate vineyard
in 1997. They currently produce about 1,000 cases of wine, primarily Pinot Noir, from their estate vineyard
and several other vineyards in the Anderson Valley. The wines, including vintages back to 2003,
are available on the website at www.rayeshill.com. Tasting is by appointment. 707-895-3439.
2006 Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Comptche Mendocino County Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 400
cases, $40. The Oppenlander Vineyard is located 8 miles from the Mendocino Coast as the crow flies
and is just north of Anderson Valley. Pommard and Dijon clones 114 and 115 are planted in
Oppenlander (510) heavy clay loam which is unique to Comptche. Several wineries are producing
superb vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from this vineyard including Adrian Fog, Baxter, and Phillips
Hill Estate (see PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 60). Fruit is also sourced and blended by Handley, Navarro
I am fascinated by the Pinot Noirs I have sampled from this special vineyard. The wines
have an exotic reach to them and really show off the unique terroir. This is a beguiling Pinot Noir with
scents of fresh berry fruit, oak vanillin, and violets. The sweet-fruited palate of red berries coats the
mouth and earth notes add interest. Robust and virile, but discreet.
Oppenlander Vineyard is owned and farmed by Bill and Norm Shandel (below). The winemaker is
John Pepe (below). This is the best wine you probably have never heard of but if you look closely in the
picture below, you will see a long list of awards the wine has accumulated in major wine competitions.
The Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noirs have been produced since 2002. There is currently
no website or online sales. This is one of those rare finds that you have to work to locate. This is not a
beautifully-landscaped and highly-profiled vineyard and the Shandel’s label is plain and simple. What
is important here is what is in the bottle and that is great down-to-earth Pinot Noir. The Shandel’s
Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir is distributed locally in Mendocino, but your best bet is to call to
order: 707-937-5400. John tells me the wines age extremely well and become “pure silk” in five years.
John also told me that the Shandels produce a Wild Himalayan Blackberry Jam from fruit harvested on
the ranch. John notes, “Harvesting is a bitch, but WOW! Is that stuff good.
2005 Talisman Thorn Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., 339 cases, $50. This vineyard is located on the northern edge of the
Petaluma Gap, a very cold and foggy site. It is essentially dry-farmed.
The clones are 115, Swan selection, and Pommard. 25% whole cluster.
Aged 18 months in 60% new French oak.
This is currently the most showy
of the 2005 Talisman Pinot Noir lineup, but even this wine will benefit from
decanting if drunk now. Plenty of showy ripe black cherry and wild berry
fruit, hints of oak, earth and tar. Mouth filling richness with excellent balance and length and a defining
acidity which portends a long life ahead.
Talisman is a family affair with Scott Rich (below) handling the winemaking and Marta Rich the sales and
distribution. Scott was the winemaker at Etude for a number of years. I call Scott a “terroir-ist” because
he purposely seeks out unique vineyard sites where farming is challenging and on the edge. He feels
these sites provide the most interesting wines. His wines need a couple years in the bottle to full blossom.
I also sampled the 2005 Adestra Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir, the 2005 Hawk Hill Russian River
Valley Pinot Noir, and the 2005 Red Dog Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir. All were beautifully crafted. The
wines are offered on the Talisman website at www.talismanwine.com. Tasting by appointment. Like
most winemakers, he is a very affable guy to hang with. 707-258-5722.
2006 Tantara Evelyn Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
150 cases, $90. This wine was first produced
in 1998 and honors Evelyn Waldron, co-owner Bill Cates’ mother who passed away in 1998. This wine is
a cuvee, meant to represent the pinnacle of the vintage. It is not always the biggest wine in scale, but
with great balance and finesse. It contains a bit more whole cluster than the other Tantara single vineyard
wines. The wine is built around Pinot Noir from Block 1 at Bien Nacido Vineyard, planted to
Mt. Eden and 115 clones. The particular block the grapes are sourced from is extremely stressed and
low yielding, producing intense fruit. Some fruit is also blended from Dierberg Vineyard and/or Solomon
Hills Vineyard, and some from Santa Rita Hills, depending on what best harmonizes. Release date
is July 26, 2008.
This wine almost brought me to my knees. Seamless in every way, it was brimming with
pinotosity. An extroverted nose, tannin so fine as to be imperceptible, and a long, chewy finish. The velvety
mouth feel was remarkable. Worth every penny.
Jeff Fink (next page with Michele Bassett) and Bill Cates are co-proprietors and co-winemakers at
Tantara Winery which is located at Bien Nacido Vineyards. They are both from Virginia who met up in
California and founded Tantara in 1997. The two produce a broad range of Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, and
Chardonnays from multiple sources primarily within Santa Barbara County. They farm 14 acres in Bien
Nacido Vineyards. The label prominently features a horse once owned by Bill Cates named Tantara.
The wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and online at www.tantarawinery.com. Tasting is by
2005 Donum Estate Carneros Pinot Noir
850 cases, $65. This is the
fourth release of this superb wine which is among the best Carneros has to
offer. Average bloom to harvest time for The Donum Estate Vineyard is 115
days, but in 2005 it was 130 days. The extended hang time has produced a
special wine. 100% de-stemmed, aged in 75% new French oak.
vigorous red cherry and red current fruits filled out with herbal overtones and
lavish oak. Powerful, but yet silky and elegant. Beautifully balanced. I have
tasted this wine on several separate occasions and it has always grabbed me.
The Donum Estate is meticulously farmed by winegrower Anne Muller-Racke who is passionate about
precision viticulture. Kenneth Juhasz (also Auteur) is the talented young winemaker. For 2006, a new
offering will be released: 2006 The Donum Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This was also tasted
at Pinot Days and is sourced from a special block at the Nugent Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.
This is a showy and lavish wine that is big and virile. Robert Stemmler wines are also produced in conjunction
with The Donum Estate, also crafted by Kenneth Juhasz. The 2005 Robert Stemmler Nugent
Vineyard Pinot Noir was sampled as well and definitely worth your interest. The Donum Estate wines
are sold on the website at www.thedonumestate.com.