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Chasseur: Quietly Crafting Princely Pinots

Bill Hunter is one of a band of winemakers focusing on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown in the West County of Sonoma around the towns of western Sebastopol, Freestone and Occidental. Hunter developed an early interest in wine working as a wine steward at the famed Chronicle Restaurant in Pasadena, California, which was widely known for its extensive wine list. He went on to graduate from the University of California at Davis and gained his early winemaking experience at Rombauer, Bonny Doon and Chauffe-Eau Cellars. In 1994, he began to make some wine on the side, eventually starting his own label, Chasseur, the French word for Hunter. In 2002, he was joined by partner Alex P. Barhtolomaus, the Managing Director of Billington Imports, allowing Hunter to devote himself full time to Chasseur wines. He now produces 5,000 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at his small garagiste winery in Sebastopol.

Hunter is a quiet winemaker who shuns the limelight. I have never seen him pouring at a wine event. Regardless, his lineup of Pinot Noirs are quite impressive, particularly the single vineyard bottlings which are all quite distinctive, complex, and widely touted in the wine press. I recently tasted through most of the lineup of 2007 Chasseur Pinot Noirs. The wines are deeply colored, full-bodied and fruit-driven with reigned-in tannins and oak. All the wines are unfined and unfiltered. The lineup of 2007 Pinot Noirs are very similar but with slight but noticeable differences. None of the wines will disappoint, regardless of which one you choose to drink.

2008 Cazar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $18. · Well spiced Bing cherries on the nose. Medium-weighted dried cherry, rhubarb and oak flavors. Savory herbs and earth notes add interest. Smoothly textured with a crisp finish. A pretty good drink that is clean, tasty, and a steal for the tab. Widely available in the retail market. Decent (+).

2007 Chasseur Holder Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 75 cases, $50. From a 1.5-acre vineyard in the Green Valley farmed by Bruce Holder and Mary Ann Wheeler. One mile east of the town of Occidental, the planting includes clones 667 and 115 (2000). · An impressive wine that begins with lovely aromas of black cherries, spice, dark chocolate and a hint of smoke. Tasty black cherry and black raspberry essence with a sweet edge, leaving a lush impression in the mouth. Perfectly balanced with fine tannins and a pleasing tang on the finish. Angelic.

2007 Chasseur Sexton Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 200 cases, $55. From the Cornerstone Vineyard on Sexton Road planted by James Pratt to clones 113, 114, 115, 777 and 828 in 2000. The vineyard is 500 feet above the town of Freestone. · Unusual aromatic profile featuring black raspberry jam, dried mustard, fennel and Chinese Five-spice. Discreetly concentrated fruit core of berries and perfectly ripe plums that coats the mouth with a velvety richness. Hard to stop drinking this smooth and sensual wine. Very good (+).

2007 Chasseur Blank Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 275 cases, $60. From the Blank Road Vineyard owned by Kenneth Goodin and planted and managed by Jim Pratt beginning in 2001. Clones 115 and 777. · The nose is a bit flat and stinky showing black cherry fruit and oak. Very subdued initially but builds in richness in the glass. Fruit-driven and one-dimensional and difficult to cozy up to now. Try again in a year. Decent.

2007 Chasseur Freestone Station Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 375 cases, $60. Freestone Station Vineyard is owned by the Cleary family and farmed by the Dutton family. Situated in Freestone. Clones 115, 777, 23 and Pommard. Low yielding vineyard harvested late in October. · Plenty going on in the nose with aromas of black raspberries, blackberries, red grapes, rhubarb, spice and complimentary oak. Tasty dark red berry fruit that is silky and viscous in the mouth with a long, clean finish. This wine gets better and better in the glass over time. Very good (+).

2007 Chasseur Joyce Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 100 cases, $60. From the Joyce Vineyard farmed by Charlie Chenoweth. 3 acres on a ridge south of Freestone planted to clones 115 and 777. · Enticing scents of berries and cherries highlighted by notes of forest floor and pine. Rich core of juicy dark cherry, berry and plum fruit leaning to the dark red side. The texture is all silk and satin and the tannins are supple. Great now, but withholding some of its potential. It should improve with cellaring because the balance is spot-on.

2007 Chasseur Sylvia’s Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., 100 cases, $60. From a tiny .9-acre vineyard owned and farmed by the Dutton family. Planted in 1994 on a ridge above the town of Graton in Goldridge soils. Clone 115. · A ripe style with flavors of ripe plums and berries, raisin, root beer and port. Wellcrafted, easy to drink, but stewed fruit, even when slight as in this wine, is not my thing. Decent.

2007 Chasseur Umino Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 250 cases, $60. From David Umino’s 11-acre vineyard southwest of Sebastopol on Blucher Valley Road. Planted to Dijon 115, 667, 777 and 459 in 1997. A vineyard-designate bottling since the 2006 vintage. · Aromas of dark berries with a toasted oak and subtle anise edge. Well-defined earth-kissed dark fruits with complimentary oak flavors. Soft, dry tannins and a finish that sails along smoothly. Very good.

Chasseur vineyard-designate wines are sold primarily through a mailing list. Appellation Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast are also produced and are distributed in the fine wine retail marketplace. All the above 2007 Chasseur Pinot Noirs and the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir are still available on the website at www.chasseurwines.com. Total production, including Chardonnay, is 2,700 cases. The website is quite informative. Chasseur operates under the LLC, Hunter Wine Cellars. 707-829-1941.

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