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Looking Under 14.0%

Some of my readers have inquired about the availability of Pinot Noirs with under 14.0% alcohol from North America. This led me to survey alcohol levels of the 2007 vintage from each of the major Pinot Noir producing appellations in California and the Willamette Valley of Oregon. My goal was to discover which regions had the most Pinot Noirs under 14.0% or averaged under 14.0%. I surveyed between 8 and 25 well-known wineries in each appellation. I took the readings from tech sheets on the winery’s websites which tend to be more accurate than label figures because the tech sheets are created at or shortly after the time of a wine’s release. Labels are often printed months in advance and as the wine ages in barrel before release, the alcohol level frequently changes a small amount.

What is so magical about 14.0% alcohol? Government regulations in the United States (TTB) require that the alcohol percentage appear on the front or back label unless it is 14.0% or less in which case the label may simply state “table wine” or “light wine.” Regulations do not require that the alcohol level on the label be precise. The allowed margin of error for wines 14.0% or under is 1.5% and for wines over 14.0% alcohol is 1.0%. Therefore, a label that reads 12.5% alcohol, may have anywhere between 11.0% and 14.0% alcohol. Any wine with 14.0% and above alcohol level cannot be labeled with less than 14.0% alcohol and vice versa, a wine under 14.0% alcohol level cannot be labeled as above 14.0%. A wine with 13.5% alcohol cannot be labeled 15.0% and likewise, a wine with 14.5% alcohol cannot be labeled 13.5%. Got it? Wines with alcohol at or below 14.0% have less of a tax burden.

Sta.Rita Hills

With the long growing season in this appellation, it is hard to craft Pinot Noirs with less than 14.0% alcohol unless some alcohol reduction technique is employed. I found nine wines with less than 14.0% alcohol: 2007 Babcock Grand Cuvée (13.7%), 2007 Babcock Rita’s Earth (13.5%), 2007 Clos Pepe Estate Clos Pepe Vineyard (13.9%), 2007 Clos Pepe Estate Clos Pepe Vineyard Vigneron Select (13.9%), 2007 Drew Gatekeeper (13.8%), 2007 Lafond Arita Hills (13.8%), 2007 Longoria Rancho Santa Rosa (13.9%), 2007 Longoria Lovely Rita (13.9%), and 2007 Fe Ciega (13.9%).

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 13.5% - 15.8%
Average alcohol percentage (2007): 14.45% (61 wines)

Santa Maria Valley

I found seven wines from 2007 that had less than 14.0% alcohol: 2007 Au Bon Climat Bien Nacido (13.5%), 2007 Fess Parker Bien Nacido, 2007 Kynsi Bien Nacido (13.9%), 2007 La Fenetre Le Bon Climat (13.5%), 2007 Lane Tanner Bien Nacido (13.9%) and Julia’s (13.8%), and 2007 Landmark Solomon Hills (13.8%).

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 13.5% - 15.8%
Average alcohol percentage (2007): 14.5% (28 wines)

Santa Cruz Mountains

I found six 2007 Pinot Noirs from Rhys Vineyards under 14.0% alcohol: Alpine Road (13.0%), Horseshoe Ranch (12.3%), Family Farm (13.3%), Skyline (13.0%), Home (13.3%), and Alpine Swan Terrace (13.3%). Also, 2007 Muns Vineyard (13.9%), 2007 Mount Eden (13.8%), 2007 Thomas Fogerty Rapley Trail B Block (13.8%) and M Block (13.7%), 2007 Windy Oaks Estate Cuvée (13.9%).

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 13.3% - 15.0%
Average alcohol percentage (2007): 14.2% (34 wines)

Santa Lucia Highlands

I found two 2007 wines with alcohol level below 14.0%: 2007 Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield (13.1%) and 2007 Roar Garys’ (13.8%).

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 13.1% - 15.1%
Average alcohol percentage (2007): 14.54% (26 wines)

Russian River Valley

I found twenty-two 2007 Pinot Noirs under 14.0% alcohol: 2007 BPinot (13.9%), 2007 Balletto Burnside (13.9%) and Winery Block (13.9%), 2007 D&L Carinalli (13.6%), 2007 De La Montanya Felta Creek Pinot Squared (13.6%), 2007 DXG RRV (13.85%), 2007 george Ceremonial (13.5%), Hansen (13.6%), and Martaella (13.9%), 2007 Dutton-Goldfield Sanchietti (13.5%) and Freestone Hill (13.5%), 2007 Joseph Jewell Appian Way (13.5%), 2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards Cuvee de Trois (13.8%), 2007 Longboard (13.7%), 2007 Pali Wine Co Inman Olivet (13.6%), 2007 Paradise Ridge (13.7%), 2007 Pillow Rd. Vineyard (13.6%), 2007 Roessler Dutton Ranch (13.8%), 2007 Williams Selyem Riverblock (13.9%), Allen (13.8%), Westside Road Neighbors (13.8%), and Bucher (13.9%).

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 13.5%-15.1%
Average alcohol percentage (2007): 14.3% (127 wines)

Sonoma Coast

I found twenty-two 2007 Pinot Noirs under 14.0% alcohol: 2007 Anthill Farms Peters (13.6%), 2007 C. Donatiello Hervey (13.6%), 2007 Ceritas Escarpa (13.7%), 2007 Chronicle Sonoma Coast (13.8%), 2007 Cobb Coastlands (13.9%), Joy Road (13.8%), and Rice-Spivak (13.3%), 2007 Drew McDougall (13.5%), 2007 Dutton-Goldfield McDougall (13.5%), 2007 Flowers Sonoma Coast (13.4%), 2007 Fogdog (13.5%), 2007 Freestone Pastorale (13.5%) and Quarter Moon (13.5%), 2007 Freestone Vineyards (13.5%), 2007 Littorai Hirsch (13.8%) and B.A. Thieriot (13.6%), 2007 Pali Wine Co Durrell (13.6%) and Thorn Ridge (13.9%), 2007 Rivers-Marie Willow Creek (13.8%), Summa (13.2%) and Summa Old Vines (13.4%), and Woodenhead Buena Tierra (13.9%).

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 13.2% - 15.8%
Average alcohol percentage (2007): 14.0% (54 wines)

Carneros

I found nine 2007 Pinot Noirs with less than 14.0% alcohol: 2007 Artesa Carneros (13.9%), 2007 Buena Vista EVS Swan Selection (13.9%), 2007 Ceja Carneros (13.8%), 2007 Domaine Carneros Avant-Garde (13.8%) and Estate (13.8%), 2007 Mi Sueno (13.7%), 2007 Schug Carneros Estate (13.5%), Iund (13.5%), and Estate Block 10 (13.5%), Robert Sinskey Vineyards Carneros (13.6%), Three Amigos (13.6%), Vandal (13.7%) and Four Vineyards (13.6%), ZD Carneros (13.9%) and Norman de Leuze Founder’s Reserve (13.9%).

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 13.5% - 15.6%
Average alcohol percentage (2007) 14.25% (41 wines)

Anderson Valley

I found seventeen 2007 Pinot Noirs with less than 14.0% alcohol: 2007 Anthill Farms Demuth (13.8%), 2007 Brogan Cellars Morning Dew Ranch (13.6%), 2007 Copain Baker Ranch (13.5%) and Hacienda Sekoya (13.5%), 2007 Coulour Roma’s (13.85%) and Monument Tree (13.52%), 2007 Drew Fog-Eater (13.7%), Savoy (13.9%) and Monument Tree (13.8%), 2007 Greenwood Ridge Mendo Ridge (13.8%), 2007 Husch Vineyards (13.9%) and Husch Nash Mill (13.9%), 2007 LIOCO Demuth (13.8%), 2007 Littorai Savoy (13.5%), 2007 Navarro Vineyards Deep End Blend (13.9%), 2007 Phillips Hill Marguerite (13.9%), and Williams Selyem Ferrington (13.9%).

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 13.5% - 14.95%
Average alcohol percentage (2007): 14.1% (51 wines)

Other California regions: 2007 Au Bon Climat Isabelle (13.5%), 2007 Kendric Vineyards Marin County (13.9%), 2007 Dutton-Goldfield Devil’s Gulch Ranch (13.9%), 2007 Williams Selyem Vista Verde Vineyard San Benito County (13.9%), 2007 Castle Rock Monterey County (13.5%), 2007 Praxis Monterey County (13.5%), 2007 La Crema Monterey County (13.8%), 2007 Lucas & Lewellen Santa Barbara County (13.0%), 2007 McMurray Ranch Central Coast (13.0%), 2007 Olivia Brion Wild Horse Valley (13.9%), 2007 Lucky Star California (13.5%), and 2007 Mark West California (13.8%).

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Wines with more than 14.0% alcohol were the exception in the Willamette Valley in the 2007 vintage. Oregon Pinot Noirs show more variability in alcohol levels from vintage to vintage. In 2003 and 2006, for example, the alcohol levels were similar to California and many wineries bottled Pinot Noirs with alcohol levels significantly above 14.0%. I found 53 wines from the 2007 vintage that I had reviewed that were less than 14.0% alcohol. Producers to look for include Anam Cara Cellars, Anne Amie Vineyards, Antica Terra, Arterberry Maresh, Bethel Heights, Cardwell Hill Cellars, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Evesham Wood, Kelley Fox, Ken Wright, Laura Volkman, Pali Wine Co, Patricia Green Cellars, Rocco, Roots, Scott Paul, Shea Wine Cellars, Solena, Soter Vineyards, St. Innocent, The Eyrie Vineyards, The Four Graces, Van Duzer, Verve, and Willakenzie,

Range of alcohol percentage (2007): 12.7% -14.5%
Average alcohol percentage (2007): 13.4% (68 wines)



At Pinot Noir 2010 held in Wellington earlier this year, Steve Smith MW stated that the United States version of Pinot Noir “are too high in alcohol.” I looked at 43 2007 and 2008 New Zealand Pinot Noirs from the country’s three major Pinot Noir growing regions (Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago).

Range of alcohol percentage: 13.0% - 14.6%
Average alcohol percentage: 13.8%

In summary, look to these California producers for producing Pinot Noirs under 14.0%: Au Bon Climat, Lane Tanner, Dutton-Goldfield, george, Cobb, Freestone, Rivers-Marie, Littorai, Williams Selyem, Schug Carneros Estate, Robert Sinskey Vineyards and Drew Wines. Oregon clearly has the most number of wines under 14.0% alcohol in certain vintages such as 2007.

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