PinotFile: 8.25 November 7, 2010
- Revisiting New Zealand Pinot Noir
- Carabella: Pinot as it Was Meant to Be
- 2010 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition
- Sips of Pinot
- Pinot on the River 2010: Wilted in the Rain
- Pinot Briefs
- Second Labels Now Commonplace
Revisiting New Zealand Pinot Noir
In 2008, I presented an extensive review of New Zealand Pinot Noir in the PinotFile titled, “Finicky Pinot Noir
Thriving in Middle Earth,” (www.princeofpinot.com/article/539/). That article followed my travel to New Zealand
in 2008 and the wines reviewed were from the 2003 to 2006 vintages. I found the wines to be inconsistent, but
a handful of exported Pinot Noirs were capable of a world class drinking experience. The styles varied but the
Pinot Noirs veered more toward New World flashiness than Burgundian restraint. I felt California’s value priced
Pinot Noirs were generally superior to those from New Zealand despite the claims of wine writer Matthew Jukes
who has said, “New Zealand can claim to make the best good-value Pinot in the world.”
The 2008 New Zealand Pinot Noirs have been arriving in the stateside retail market in recent months and I
decided to take another look at the quality of the wines being exported. The 2008 vintage was an excellent one
in Martinborough and Central Otago, but was marred by rains in Marlborough. The grape harvest in 2008
ballooned to 280,000 tons, a 39% increase above 2007 due to excellent flowering and a favorable growing
season along with an increasing number of areas coming into production. This increase in production and the
global recession has caused concerns about oversupply as inventories accumulate of premium New Zealand
wines from past vintages. As in the United States, premium New Zealand Pinot Noir sales have faltered.
New Zealand is about the size of Oregon, and despite the relative infancy of its modern wine history, its planted
Pinot Noir acreage surpassed Oregon in 2009 (11,619 acres to 11,523). Pinot Noir now makes up 15% of New
Zealand’s total vineyard plantings, second only to Sauvignon Blanc and is New Zealand’s second most
exported variety. The two biggest export markets for New Zealand are Australia and the UK, but it is projected
that the United States eventually will become the number one export market for New Zealand wines. In 2008,
New Zealand wine exports were worth $797.8 million, a 14 percent increase over 2007 and a significant
increase from the $60 million the industry exported just over a decade earlier.
The modern Pinot Noir winegrowing industry in New Zealand dates to the mid 1970s beginning with
experimental plantings of Rolfe and Lis Mills of Rippon Vineyard on the banks of Lake Wanaka in the Central
Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand, and concurrently, Nobilo Vintners in Auckland on the North
Island. The wine industry has shown remarkable growth reaching 643 wineries by 2009, varying in size from
small boutique operations producing a few thousand cases to huge conglomerates with annual sales exceeding
two million liters. 85% of New Zealand wineries are foreign-owned.
Geographically, New Zealand has both a North Island and South Island as shown on the New Zealand
Winegrowers map on Page 2. The latitudes of 36 to 45 degrees allow wine grapes to be grown throughout
both islands except on the cold west coast and pocketed frigid areas. All the major grape growing regions have
a maritime climate except Central Otago which is the only viticulture area blessed with a continental weather
There are ten wine regions, but only half have major plantings of Pinot Noir (2009 total acreage is given in
parentheses). The Wairarapa on the southeastern tip of the North Island includes multiple sub-regions including
well-known Martinborough (2,123 acres). Nelson is located in the north-central part of the South Island and
25% of the vineyards are planted to Pinot Noir (452 acres). Marlborough, in the northeastern corner of the
South Island, has the largest and most recognizable wineries, the largest plantings of Pinot Noir, and the
largest production of inexpensive Pinot Noirs (4,942 acres). Waipara is a subregion in the northern part of
Canterbury along the coast of the South Island south of Marlborough (769 acres). Central Otago is the most
southerly wine region in New Zealand known for its spectacular scenery. 60% of the vineyards are planted to
Pinot Noir (2,970 acres).
Early plantings of Pinot Noir in New Zealand were primarily Pommard 5, UCD 10/5 (a clone imported to New
Zealand in the 1960s from Wädenswil Research Station in Switzerland by government viticulturist Frank
Berrysmith), and UCD 2/10. Later UCD 6 and 13 were added and in the early 1990s, the New Zealand
government released the Dijon clones including 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and 375. There are suitcase clones in
the ground as well. Phylloxera has surfaced in New Zealand but is not a significant problem yet. Spread is
very slow and there is constant replanting and new planting of Pinot Noir vines on resistant rootstock. The
viticulture scheme here has always encouraged non-irrigated vines and organic farming. A code of sustainable
practices, Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, was developed in 2002. Soils are primarily alluvial
throughout the country, with some pockets of limestone.
The New Zealanders pioneered the use of screw cap closures and since 2001 practically every winery uses
them exclusively for white wines, and all reds except the ultra-premium bottlings which are shipped to the
United States with corks to avoid the cheap image that screw-capped wines still have among wine enthusiasts
here. There has also been experimentation with Diam agglomerate cork but I did not see this closure on any of
the bottlings I sampled recently.
It has been difficult to define a distinctive style for New Zealand Pinot Noir as there are vast differences in
microclimates, viticulture and winemaking throughout the two islands. Vintage differences play a significant
role in New Zealand as well. Like California and Oregon, there are stylistic extremes varying from elegant,
restrained and classic Pinot Noirs, to heavily extracted and generously oaked fruit bombs. Bennett Traub has
claimed New Zealand Pinot Noir falls in the middle ground between New World flashiness and Burgundian
restraint. He says, “They fit stylistically between the riper, more opulent style of Pinot Noir of top wines from
Sonoma, Mendocino and Oregon, and the classic, terroir-focused wines from Burgundy.” Geoff Kelly, writing
recently in The World of Fine Wine (Issue 28 2010), points out the criticism that has plagued New Zealand
Pinot Noir. I agree with him that the Pinot Noirs often lack textural quality, complexity of aroma and flavor and
an expression of place. The may show a floral, leafy quality due to under-ripeness while others are overripe
with black plummy flavors. Excessive oak and moderately high alcohol show up as well, although alcohols
generally are less than California. That said, the wines have plenty of fruit weight with good color and bright
acidity, and are consistently reliable. Age ability parallels California and Oregon Pinot Noir with most premium
wines drinking at their prime three to six years after release.
The Pinot Noirs from the two major Pinot Noir producing regions, Martinborough and Central Otago due show
differences. The wines from Martinborough tend to have more color and sturdier tannins, sometimes
displaying a subtle gaminess, and have lower total acidity. The Pinot Noirs from Central Otago, in contrast,
display more vibrant fruit and flamboyance with some of the best wines offering delicacy and subtlety.
There are a handful of stellar producers in New Zealand and many export their wines to the United States.
Some of the top bottlings from these and other wineries are not exported. Plenty of inexpensive Pinot Noir
from Marlborough is exported and available on supermarket shelves, and these wines, although direct, cheap
and supply a satisfactory daily drinking experience, give a skewed and desultory impression of what New
Zealand Pinot Noir can be. The value-priced New Zealand Pinot Noirs find it challenging to compete with
similar wines in California and Oregon, especially since a number of quality stateside producers are now
releasing second labels that are priced around $25. As in the United States, Pinot Noir from New Zealand may
not always be 100% Pinot Noir in the value-priced category. In New Zealand, since 2006, 85% of the wine must
be from the variety, vintage or area on the label (In the United States, at least 75% of the volume of the wine
must be composed of the designated grape variety).
Tim Atkin MW, one of Great Britain’s most respected wine writers, recently listed twenty-five world-class New
Zealand producers of Pinot Noir (The World of Fine Wine Issue 27 2010): Ata Rangi, Bald Hills, Bell Hill, Burnt
Spur, Churton, Craggy Range, Escarpment, Felton Road, Gibbston Valley, Grasshopper Rock, Julicher Estate,
Martinborough Vineyards, Ma Maison, Mount Difficulty, Mount Edward, Neudorf, Pegasus Bay, Pyramid Valley,
Quartz Reef, Rippon, Schubert, Seresin Estate, Two Paddocks, Valli, and Wooing Tree. Most of these
producers export to the United States and are available from several sources (Sherry-Lehman, JJ Buckley, Hi-
Time Cellars, K&L Wines, Southern Wines, and others). Check www.wine-release.com for retailers.
During the past year I reviewed impressive offerings from Alana Estate, Rippon, and Seresin Estate. All the
following reviewed wines are currently available in the United States. They are organized according to region
of origin. Prices for premium New Zealand Pinot Noirs are comparable to those from California and Oregon.
New Zealand Pinot Noir remains a niche market and a novelty in the United States, but will appeal to
pinoaficionados with varied and international interests.
The first vineyards were planted in Martinborough in 1978 by Alistair Taylor at about the same time that a report
by Derek Milne was published identifying the stony terraces around the town of Martinborough as ideal for
viticulture. By the early 1980s, the area had five mainstay wineries: Ata Rangi, Te Kairanga, Chifney, Dry River
and Martinborough Vineyard. The second wave of wineries arrived in the late 1980s including Palliser Estate,
and the third wave followed in the 1990s with the arrival of Escarpment and Craggy Range Vineyards at Te
2008 Ata Rangi Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.5% alcohol, $45,
screw cap. Imported by Epic Wines, Aptos, CA.
Very shy aromas of darker
berry fruit with hints of oak and green garden. Tasty attack of earth-kissed dark
red cherries and berries which persist on the fruit-driven and uplifting finish.
Nicely balanced and silky textured. Still closed and will benefit from a few years
in the cellar. Very good.
2009 Cobblestone Te Muna Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
alc., 694 cases, $60 (but available in the US at half that price). Imported by
Cobblestone Vineyards, Napa, CA. From a vineyard on Te Muna Road.
Inaugural wine from this producer that was awarded the “Wine of Show” trophy
at the 2010 Romeo Bragato Wine Awards in New Zealand.
Moderate reddish purple
color in the glass. The nose is shy with demure berry fruit, sandalwood
and a hint of mint. Big-boned core of tasty dark red fruits balanced by healthy
tannins and bright acidity producing a grapefruit-tinged finish. Picks up interest
with time in the glass and shows admirable persistence on the bright finish. The
high alcohol is well-integrated. Good.
2008 Craggy Range Kidnapper’s Vineyard Martinborough New Zealand Chardonnay
$17. Imported by Kobrand Corp, NY, NY. The 2008 vintage was stellar for Chardonnay in New Zealand.
Very light straw color. Pleasingly clean aromas of white peaches and citrus. Discreetly rich flavors of
white stone fruits and apples with a citric peel lift on the refreshing finish. Good (+).
2008 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $33. Imported by Kobrand Corp, NY, NY. Vineyard
planted to 8 clones in more than 40 different parcels. Indigenous yeast
fermentation, aging for 1 year in French oak barrels without racking. Moderately
dark reddish-purple color in the glass.
Complex nose offering scents of black
cherries, strawberries, sandalwood, and dried herbs including sage. Very tasty
essence of dark red cherries and berries with noticeable persistence of cherry
flavors on the generous finish. A very subtle green note and hint of tobacco and
mushroom peeks out. Softly textured and very smooth in the mouth and very
approachable now. Very good.
2008 Dry River Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
$95, long neck bottle. Imported RO Imports LLC, Napa, CA.
Moderately deep reddish-purple hue in the glass. Amazingly vivid array
of dark fruit aromas including hi-tone raspberry with nuances of tea and
dried rose petals. Delicious and well-mannered complex of cherry and
berry flavors with a very subtle leafy note. Seamless and seductive with
flavors that caress the mouth and fan out beautifully on the lush and generous
finish. More elegant and approachable than some vintages of this wine. One of
the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs and one of the most spellbinding Pinot Noirs I
have sampled this year.
2008 Over The Edge Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $13, screw cap. Imported by Meadowbank Estates,
Alexandria, VA. Second label of Escarpment. Winemaker Larry
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Deep and
intense aromas of black cherries, black raspberries and plum sauce.
Delicious core of darker fruits including black currents. Full-bodied
and Caliesque in style but with restrained tannins and a soft, sexy and plush
mouth feel. I dare you to find a better Pinot anywhere in the world at this price.
Highly recommended. Very good.
Winemaker Larry McKenna of Escarpment
2008 Russian Jack Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
alc., $18, screw cap. Imported by Sorting Table, LLC, Napa, CA. A
second label from Martinborough Vineyards. Named after a famous
swagger who helped clear the land.
Moderately deep perfume of black
cherries, blackberries and vanilla bean. Tasty core of dark cherries
and berries accented with cola and vanilla. A charming middle weight
wine with soft tannins and pleasing intensity. Cool package. Good.
2008 Palliser Estate The Great Walter Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $55, screw cap Imported by Negociants USA Inc, Napa, CA.
This wine is the fourth in the “Great Dog” series from Pencarrow Vineyard in
Martinborough. Clones 667 and 777. Aged 16 months in 66% new French oak
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of dark
berry jam and subtle oak. Delicious dark berry core that really attacks the mid
palate with a vengeance. Hints of Dr. Pepper and tobacco add interest. Oak
has a definite presence but is beautifully married to the fruit. Soft in the mouth, this wine
really grows on you over time in the glass. Very good.
2007 Palliser Estate Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
$26, screw cap. Imported by Negociants USA Inc, Napa, CA.
color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile featuring dark cherries and
berries, savory and oregano spices, ash and oak char. Full-bodied assortment
of purple fruits with a hint of pepper and pharmaceutical. Well-structured with
firm tannins and a clean finish with a tarry note. Decent.
2008 Brancott South Island New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $10, screw
cap. Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. Sourced from vineyards
in Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago. Produced by the conglomerate,
Montana Wines Ltd., in Auckland.
Lighter garnet color in the glass. Attractive
scents of wooded cherry, raspberry and summer herbs. Simple and direct
flavors of strawberries, cherries, Red Vines, and herbs wrapped in silky tannins.
Nothing epiphanic, but varietally true and hard to complain about the ten spot
price tag. A good starter Pinot for newbies. Decent.
Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region and the center of the New Zealand wine industry.
The Marlborough wine region represents 62% of the total vineyard area in the country. It’s reputation was
established by Sauvignon Blanc which was first produced here in 1977. Today, the region is widely considered
to produce the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc. The most visible winery is internationally famous Cloudy Bay,
now owned by the French Champagne house, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. In the 1970s, Montana started
producing wines which were labelled by vintage and grape variety.
The region has fertile soil and temperate weather with warm, sunny days and cool nights allowing for a long
growing season. The majority of plantings are around Renwick, Blenheim and Cloudy Bay in the Wairau
Valley. Further south in the Awatere Valley are plantings near Seddon on terraces of the Wairau and Awatere
2009 Cairnbrae Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., pH 3.58,
$17, screw cap. Imported by Station Imports, Colorado Springs, COL. Vineyard
neighbors the famous Cloudy Bay Vineyard. Winemaker is Christie Brown.
Moderately intense reddish-purple color in the glass. Cherry and red berry
aromas with floral and leafy accents. Slightly tart dried cherry and pomegranate
flavors with a green leaf note of under ripeness. The very bright acidity on the
finish clamors for food. The wine has some delicate charm but the fruit and
acidity are not in cinc. Decent.
2008 Dashwood Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $14,
screw cap. Imported by Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, NY. From Awatere
and Wairau Valley vineyards. Produced by Vavasour Wines Ltd.
reddish-purple hue in the glass. Fresh aromas of dried red fruits and herbs.
Light and simple redder fruits are featured with cherry-red candy flavor
prominent. Bright with gossamer tannins making for easy drinkability. Decent.
2006 Delta Vineyard Hatters Hill Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.0% alc, $23, screw cap. Imported by Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, NY. From
Delta Wine Co.. Tom Hatter was a colorful character who lived in rural
Marlborough in the early 1900s. The vineyard was named after him. Dijon
clones. Winemakers Matt Thomas and David Glege MW partnered to produce
Dark red cherry and berry aromas with hints of smoky oak, grass and
leaf. Discreetly concentrated core of strawberry and raspberry fruit with
underpinnings of grass, tobacco and oak enveloped in mildly firm tannins and
sporting a bright citrusy finish. Decent.
2008 Nautilus Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
$26, screw cap. Imported by Negociants USA Inc, Napa, CA. 7 day
cold soak, aged in French oak barrels. 5 clones from 6 vineyards.
Lovely aromas of dark red cherries, strawberries, raspberries with a
complimentary spice note. Highly perfumed right out of the bottle.
The flavors echo the aromas with added accents of sassafras and
savory herbs. Moderately rich with impressive persistence on the finish which
sports some restrained dry tannins. Charming and easy to drink. Still fine the
next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good (+).
2008 Saint Clair Family Estate Vicar’s Choice Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $18, screw cap. Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Skokie,
ILL. Owners Neal and Judy Ibbetson, Marlborough pioneers since 1978, have a
relative who is a vicar in the Anglican Church and this wine is his choice of barrel
samples. The winemaker is Matt Thomson.
Light in color. Savory and fruity
nose that appeals with aromas of strawberries, spice and dried herbs. Light on
the palate with flavors of red fruits and herbs. Simple, but nicely composed and
easy to drink. Good.
2007 Saint Clair Family Estate Omaka Reserve Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
alc., $28, screw cap. Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Skokie, ILL.
Moderately deep reddish-purple
color in the glass. The aromas build in intensity over time in the glass, offering a jolting array of oakkissed
and spiced dark fruits. Thick and dense on the palate, with hedonistic liquor-like flavors of
blackberries, ollaliberries, and black plums with an earthy underpinning, caressed by downy tannins.
The mouth coating sap really makes an impression. A Caliesque style Pinot without the high alcohol.
2007 Seresin Estate Leah Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
$29, screw cap. Imported by The Sorting Table, LLC, Napa, CA. A blend of
vineyards. Fermented with wild yeast, aged 11 months in French oak barrels,
Moderately dark reddish-purple robe in the glass. Deep and
haunting perfume of black raspberries, cedar, sap, oak and cigar box. Earthy,
sweet dark fruit core with added interest from cassis, mushroom, plum sauce
and tobacco flavors. Well-muscled with firm tannins which are buffered by bright
2008 Sherwood Estate Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
$15, screw cap. Imported bySouthern Starz, Inc., Huntington Beach, CA.
Vineyards in Marlborough and Waipara owned by Dayne and Jill Sherwood
Shy aromas of red cherries and berries with a leafy accent.
Simple and light, with flavors of cherries, strawberries, dried herbs and a hint of
oak on the finish. Gossamer tannins make for easy sipping. Decent.
2008 The Crossings Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $15,
screw cap. Imported by WJ Deutsch & Sons Ltd, Harrison, NY.
A lighter style
with soft scents of black cherries, toffee and toasted oak, and diluted flavors of
earthy red berries and cherries with oak in the background. Quaffable. Decent.
Nelson is home to 24 boutique wineries. The vineyards are scattered about the alluvial loam soils of the
Waimea Plains and up on the hills of Upper Moutere. The region is situated on the western side of the country
near the northern tip of the South Island. Mountains to the west of the region provide a rain shadow effect
while the coastline moderates temperature extremes. Nelson receives more rainfall than neighboring
Marlborough, but its northern exposure gives it lengthy days of sunshine and the second highest total hours of
sun in the country. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir compete with the best in the country.
2008 Neudorf Tom’s Block Nelson New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 4,080 cases, $30, screw cap.
Imported by The Country Vintner Inc., Ashland, VA. Owners Tim and Judy Finn, winemaker John Kavanaugh.
Wild yeast fermentation, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered.
reddish-purple robe. Very shy redder fruits on the nose with notes of sweet oak and dried apple. Mediumweighted
flavors of red berries including cranberry with a hint of spice box. Smoothly textured with dusty
tannins. This wine has some charm but at present the flavors trump the aromas. Good.
2007 Neudorf Moutere Nelson New Zealand Pinot Noirneud
630 cases, $48, screw cap. Imported by The Country Vintner Inc.,
Ashland, VA. Wild yeast fermentation, aged 11 months in French oak
barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark reddish-purple
color in the glass. Demure but pleasing aromas of darker cherry and
berry fruits including black currants with a subtle underpinning of oak.
The dark fruit veers to the ripe side but is very tasty. Seamless with a
refreshing acid tang on the finish. Even better the next day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle offering an impressive display of fruit and a
peacock finish. Worth a search.
Waipara is a sub-region of Canterbury, about an hour’s drive north of Christchurch. Canterbury became a
focus of attention when the 1984 St. Helena Pinot Noir brought notoriety to the area. Many thought this area
might be the anointed home of Pinot Noir in New Zealand and Pinot Noir has become the dominant variety
here. Most desirable plantings are on hillsides facing away from the coast. Eastern mountains block out rain
from Australia so the region is warm and dry. Pegasus Bay is Waipara’s most noted wine estate, with Pinot
Noir vines dating to 1985.
2007 Mountford Estate Waipara New Zealand Chardonnay
alc., $33, screw cap. Imported by Infinity Imports, Los Angeles, CA.
Straw colored in the glass. Alluring scents of green apple, bergamot,
honey and buttered popcorn. Delicious and nuanced with flavors of citrus
peel, apple, toffee and allspice. Slightly creamy in texture with bright
acidity and a welcoming note of minerality. An impressive wine that
supports the notion of many that New Zealand Chardonnay can be striking.
2007 Mountford Estate Liaison Waipara New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $30, screw cap. Imported by
Infinity Imports, Los Angeles, CA. Composed of estate and purchased grapes.
Moderate reddish-purple hue in
the glass. Lovely perfume of darker fruits with a notable presence of smoky oak. Hearty core of black cherry
and ollaliberry with undertones of earth, ash, tobacco and oak char. The flavors have some lingering presence
on the finish which is marked by citrus peel. The wine is showing too much oak char at present, but this may
well integrate over time. Good.
2008 Waipara Springs Premo Reserve Waipara New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $20, screw cap. Imported by Wine Imports LLC,
Napa, CA. From the oldest vines in the Waipara Valley. The family
estate was established in 1989. 100% de-stemmed, natural yeast
fermentation, aged 15 months in French oak barrels.
perfume of black cherries, crushed berries, bay leaf and oak toast.
Long and complex on the palate with hints of roasted nuts and brown spice
augmenting the tasty ripe cherry and berry flavors. Soft in the mouth with
refreshing acidity and admirable harmony. Very good.
2007 Mountford Estate Waipara New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $42.
Imported by Infinity Imports, Los Angeles, CA. Fruit de-stemmed, 1 week cold
soak, aged 16 months in French oak barrels with up to 33% new.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of dark berries and cherries with
some smoky oak. Smooth and polished, with focused flavors of black
raspberries and black cherries accented with toasted oak and earthy and gamey
tones. Like the Liaison bottling, showing plenty of oak at present. Good.
Note: Listen to the recent interview with Mountford Estate winemaker C.P. Lin
on Grape Radio at www.graperadio.com/podcast/GR-ENG-USA-2010-11-01.mp3.
Central Otago’s viticultural history began with Frenchman John Desire Feraud, who was attracted to the area
during the Dunstan gold rush of 1862. He planted the first wine grapes in Central Otago in 1864. Commercial
winemaking thrived for twenty years, but when he left the region, the wine industry ceased and wasn’t revived
until the plantings farmed by Rolfe Mills in 1975 in the Wanaka area of Central Otago. Mills later planted the
Rippon Vineyard in 1982, the first commercial vineyard in Central Otago since the gold rush days. The first
commercial release of Pinot Noir from Central Otago was the 1987 vintage from pioneer Alan Brady at
Gibbston Valley Winery. Other early pioneering wineries include Taramea, Black Ridge, William Hill and Chard
Farm. Felton Road was the first major commercial vineyard and winery in Central Otago. Established in 1991,
Felton Road was releasing wines by 1997 that were bringing international attention to Central Otago. Many
wineries and extensive plantings, particularly of Pinot Noir, followed.
Central Otago is located at 45 to 47 degrees latitude, the same latitude as Burgundy and Oregon’s Willamette
Valley in the northern hemisphere. It is the fastest growing wine district in New Zealand. Snow capped
mountains are a prominent part of the landscape in winter, but the sun shines brightly during the summer and
autumn. Very little rain falls in Central Otago per se, but the surrounding country is quite wet so that water is
readily available. The river silts, clays, loams and sands that make up the soils are interspersed with ground
schist rocks and are therefore free draining. There is a generous amount of mineral compounds present, but
restricted plant growth due to low rainfall has resulted in low organic content in the soil, and the soil is low in
vigor. Irrigation is a necessity and is finely tuned to keep the vines at the desired degree of stress.
2008 Felton Road Cornish Point Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $50, screwcap. Imported by Wilson Daniels, St.
Moderately dark ruby color in the glass. Haunting perfume
of dark stone fruits with hints of oak, compost and pine. Mouth watering
and juicy with bright flavors of earth-kissed black cherries, plum sauce, cola,
and nutmeg. Well-proportioned tannins and acidity with pleasing
persistence of the fruit flavors on the finish. Drinkable now, but can cellar with
confidence as it will age effortlessly. The stuff that Pinot dreams are made of.
2008 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $65, screw cap. Imported by
Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA. Sourced from Felton Road’s original owner’s (Stewart Elms) first plantings on
loamy soil, the so-called “sweet-spot” of the vineyard.
Darkest of the three wines reviewed here. Brooding and
tight with a hint of smoky black fruits and toasted oak. Picks up fruit intensity and interest over time in the
glass. Moderately dense core of earth-laden black plum and cassis fruit with accents of oak. Grand cru flavor
intensity and finish. The tannins are still flamboyant and the wine is reluctant to give up its charm now, but will
be great in several years. Still closed the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very
2008 Felton Road Block 5 Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $65, screw cap. This block is planted on loam, clay and
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aggressive
aromas of dark Bing cherries, forest floor, spice and pencil lead. Dense
and unctuous black cherry core with citrus in the background. Fine-tuned
tannins buffer the acidity beautifully. An exceptional wine that is
really big and really good, but needs time for full expression. Tasted the
next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the fruit was more
giving but cellaring is definitely indicated. For grown-ups only.
2008 Mud House Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $19,
screw cap. Imported by Wine Trading Collective, San Francisco, CA.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Initially the wine offers bright
aromas of strawberries, red cherries and sage, but fades some over time in the
glass with toasted oak peeking out. A lighter weighted Pinot that is not much
more than pleasant fruit, but is easy to drink. Confected flavors of red cherries,
red berries and red hard candy cling to the finish. Decent.
2008 Quartz Reef Bendigo Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.28, $25, screw cap.Imported by Station Imports, Colorado Springs,
Colorado. Clones 10/5, 5, 115, 667, 777 and Abel. Aged in 33% new French oak
barrels. Gently fined.
Scents of fresh picked berries with plenty of sweet oak.
Dark raspberry, blueberry and black cherry fruit is featured wrapped in healthy
dry tannins and bright acidity. A vivid and juicy wine that is refreshing to drink
and I suspect will improve over time in the bottle. Good.
2008 Tarras Vineyards Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
screw cap. Imported by Saranty Imports, Harrison, NY. The winery is named
after the Central Otago town of Tarras. From The Steppes Vineyard.
reddish-purple hue in the glass. Attractive aromas of ripe dark fruits. Tasty
black cherry and dark red plum fruit with nicely proportioned tannins and acidity
and some persistence on the pleasing finish. A nicely composed solid wine.
2008 Wild Earth Deep Cove Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
alc., $19, screw cap. Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange, San
Francisco. Sourced by Bannockburn Estate vineyards owned by the Quider
family and other Central Otago vineyards.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the
glass. Attractive aromas of strawberry pie, baking spices and balsam. Soft and
smooth on the palate, offering a decent core of red berry flavors with a hint of
tutti-frutti. This one is simple and direct and goes down easy. Decent.
Carabella: Pinot as it Was Meant to Be
There are many superb producers of Pinot Noir in the Chehalem Mountains. Chehalem (Sha-HAY-lum) is
derived from a Native American word, Chahelim, that was the name of a band of Native Americans who lived in
this part of the Willamette Valley. The name translates as “gentle place” or “place of flowers.” Dick Erath
planted the first vineyards in this region in 1968 on a 49-acre property he bought and named Chehalem
Mountain Vineyards. David Adelsheim, Dick Ponzi and others led the second wave in the 1970s. Carabella
Vineyard is a more recent addition to the Chehalem Mountains landscape, releasing its first vintage in 1998
from a 27-acre vineyard located on a 58-acre site on the southeastern side of Parrett Mountain, one of the
three sub-regions of the Chehalem Mountains appellation. Carabella Vineyard is part of the Inchinnan Farm, a
hazelnut orchard still owned by the McDonald family.
Carabella’s winemaker is geologist and petroleum engineer Mike Hallock. Trained as a winemaker in Colorado
of all places, (the owner of the Combine Cellars in Denver had moved his winery to Colorado to capture an
emerging wine market there), he searched for twelve years to find an ideal site for growing grapes before
acquiring his site in 1995. He studied the soil types in Oregon and searched for the oldest soils, believing they
produced the best wines. Mike and his wife, Cara, partnered with Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad and
her spouse, John, a retired Oregon University surgeon, to launch the Carabella Vineyard project. For several years
Hallock commuted between Denver and Oregon to make Carabella wines, finally moving to the Willamette
Valley permanently in 2001. He developed his winemaking skills working alongside Kathy Joseph of
Fiddlehead who made wine in Oregon for several years, while taking University of California at Davis classes.
Pinot Noir is the main emphasis at Carabella Vineyard with five Pinot Noir clones planted including Pommard,
Wädenswil, and Dijon 113, 114 and 115. There are also two blocks of Pinot Gris and two blocks of Dijon 76
Chardonnay. Planting started in 1996 with added vines in 2007. The soils are mainly Nekia and Jory volcanic
gravel. The vineyard is farmed sustainably and without irrigation.
Currently, Hallock crafts his wines at the 12th & Maple Wine Company custom crush facility in Dundee. About
half of the Carabella Vineyard grapes are sold to other wineries, including Daedalus, Owen Roe, Rex Hill and
Hallock has sought to create Pinot Noirs with finesse and elegance and his 2008 vintage Pinot Noirs are proof
that he has achieved his goals. New oak is limited to 33% with the remainder of the aging carried out in second
and third year French oak barrels. Hallock’s years of experience with his vineyard is now paying off and his
current offerings are Pinot Noir as it was meant to be: aromatic, charming, refined and charismatic. His wines
are among the finest I have sampled from Oregon’s superb 2008 vintage. All the wines were released
November 1, 2010. The Pinot Noirs are all 100% Pinot Noir.
2008 Carabella Dijon 76 Clone Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay
13.5% alc., 208 cases, $26.
Light straw color in the glass. Lovely scents of
green apple, lemon zest, jasmine, vanilla and polished wood. Reserved but
pleasing flavors of lemon, papaya, and apple. Fresh and crisp with an
underlying minerality unadorned with oak. Hallock takes Chardonnay seriously
and it shows. Good.
2008 Carabella Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 681
cases, $35. This wine is a blend of the entire vineyard.
Knockout fruity nose
right out of the bottle redolent with hi-tone spicy plum and berry aromas.
Delicious essence of perfectly ripe cherry and berry fruits offered in a
moderately rich format supported by fine-grain tannins and complimentary
mineral-driven acidity. The wine is smooth and easygoing with beautiful
harmony. Still fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle
indicating a respectable longevity. Very good.
2008 Carabella Mistake Block Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 90 cases, $55. In 1998, while planting Dijon 113
vines, some vines were mislabeled resulting in 13 rows of Pommard
clone which gave some of the best wine from the vineyard in 2008.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. All the Pinot fruits are
represented in the nose with some added floral interest and spice.
Very tasty melange of dark red berries, black cherries and plums with an
earthy undertone. Constantly intriguing, revealing nuances with every sip.
Pleasingly smooth in the mouth with firm but silky tannins. I just love the
seamless texture of this wine.
2008 Carabella Inchinnan Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 150 cases, $54. 57% Wädenswil plus Dijon 115 and 114.
Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Picks up aromatic intensity in
the glass over time offering a plethora of aromas of dark stone fruits, allspice, rose
petals, and a hint of cut flowers. Delicious dark plum and blackberry fruit flavors
with a bit of sauvage, with eye-opening mid palate intensity, yet still only
hinting at its future potential. Very smoothly textured with amazing
persistence on the prodigious finish. A benchmark Pinot Noir for Oregon in 2008
that will be nothing short of spectacular in five years.
Carabella wines are sold as futures with futures samples poured on Thanksgiving and Memorial Day
weekends. Mailing list members receive futures offers in January. Current releases are available through the
website (www.carabellawine.com). The phone is 503-925-0972.
2010 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition
The 36th annual Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition was held October 1-3, 2010. 25 respected
judges evaluated 1,084 entries. 37 wines were awarded Best of Class Award, 7 wines received a Double Gold
Award, and 142 wines a Gold Award. There was no Pinot Noir among the three Sweepstakes winning wines.
All the results are viewable at www.harvestfair.org.
I have some misgivings about wine competitions, having served as a judge in a few competitions myself.
Statistician Robert Hodgson reported research in 2009 that was widely publicized (www.articles.latimes.com/
2009/sep/04/business/fi-wine4). His findings indicated that repeated judgments of the same wine, by the same
expert, are so widely disparate that the ratings and medals given to wines are essentially meaningless. When
Hodgson studied the results of multiple wine competitions, he found the medals were spread around at
random, essentially what one would expect by chance alone. Some wineries are aware of this and admit
sending their wines to many different competitions because the wine, assuming it is good, will eventually win a
gold medal by chance if submitted to enough competitions.
From a consumer standpoint, the benefits of the results of wine competitions may not have much affect as the
results are not widely publicized and a majority of wine consumers pay no attention to medals won, preferring
instead to heed the recommendations of wine critics whom they respect. Noted wine writer and critic, Matt
Kramer, recently addressed this matter in the Wine Spectator (November 15, 2010). I agree completely with
his recommendation to believe in individual tasters. Kramer said, “Never believe a tasting panel. I don’t care
who is on it. If what you are seeking is a median mediocrity of taste, then tasting panels are for you.......If
you’re going to take advice, which is not a bad idea, then know who you’re getting it from. Because you can’t
calibrate your own singular palate against multiple others any more than you can get good direction from five
people at once.” I have sat on enough tasting panels to know that the scores given to any wine vary widely
among the panel and the best that can be hoped for is a consensus or compromise which essentially says
All that said, I still look at the results of some of the most prestigious wine competitions, but only pay attention
to those wines which win major awards such as Sweepstakes, Best of Class, Double Gold or Gold. Below you
will find the Pinot Noirs which won Best of Class, Double Gold and Gold at this year’s Sonoma County Harvest
Fair Wine Competition. The 25 judges considered approximately 105 wines blind each day in flights of 8 to 14
wines - yikes! I tasted a few of these winners myself after the event to see how my palate matched up. As you
can see, the results were varied with some winners failing to draw my high praise. Look for many of these
wines at retailer Bottle Barn (also a sponsor of this competition) in Santa Rosa, California.
Best of Class
(An award given after re-tasting the Gold award-winning wines in the class. Classes are divided according to retail price)
2007 Eric K James Carneros Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $25 (but
available for as little as $18 in the retail marketplace).
reddish-purple color in the glass. Alluring aromas of dark cherries and
berries with hints of mocha, spice and leather. The berry core really
grabs on during entry bringing you to attention. Underpinnings of root
beer, brown spice and oak add interest. Smoothly textured and easy
to drink. This is about as good a value in California Pinot Noir as I have ever
tasted. The label sports a turkey making this a perfect wine for an upcoming
Thanksgiving dinner. Its darker fruit tones will match well with dark meat and
stuffing. The heavy bottle will impress your relatives and they will think you paid
a lot more. Very good.
2007 Macrae Family Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($34.50)
2009 Suncé Winery & Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
garnet color. The ripe plummy fruit has a confected edge, smelling like hard
candy and tasting very sweet. There are hints of bacon and cherry cola on
board. The velvety fruit is wrapped in firm tannins and the wine seems to want
for more acidic vibrancy. Decent.
2008 Taft Street Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $24 (but
available for as little as $16 in retail marketplace).
Moderately intense reddishpurple
color in the glass. Uplifting scents of strawberries, red cherries, leaf and
smoky oak. Moderately light in weight, with the red berry and cherry core
lacking in mid-palate intensity. There is a slight confected note of Red Vines
and a subtle undertone of oak char. There is not enough going on in the glass
to grab your serious attention, but this is a very serviceable Pinot for the money.
2008 Windsor Vineyards Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($22)
2009 Balletto Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($24)
2007 DeBurca Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($24.99)
2008 Hook & Ladder Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($25)
2007 Selby Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($27)
2008 Bennet Valley Cellars Bennett Valley Pinot Noir ($28)
2008 Calstar Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($28.50)
2008 J. Keverson Haas Family Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., $32.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Noticeable legs in
the glass due to the high alcohol. A bit shy, put pleasing scents of sweet
raspberries, black cherries, biscuit, vanilla and oak. A rich, generous wine with
berry, cherry and vanilla cola flavors that explode in the mouth and dance on the
finish with tenacity. The tannins are reigned in and the alcohol is well-integrated.
This is a Pinot for those who like the rush of busty California fruit. This type of
wine shows well in a lineup with other wines at wine competitions. Good.
2007 Mahoney Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir ($32)
2008 Balletto Vineyards Burnside Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($34)
2008 Armida Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($39)
2008 Rodney Strong Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40)
2007 TR Elliott Three Plumes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40)
2007 Sapphire Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40)
2008 Lost Canyon Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($42)
2008 Davis Family Vineyards Soul Patch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $42 (but available for as little as $32 in retail
marketplace). Proprietor and winemaker Guy Davis consistently crafts
outstanding Pinot Noirs.
Captivating perfume of rich and deep ripe dark
berries with a hint of dried rose hips and cut flowers. Mouth coating
flavors of fresh picked black raspberries and blackberries that attack the
mid palate with a vengeance and persist on the long and lush finish.
Striking in its impeccable balance and sexy, silky texture. Class in the glass.
2008 Davis Family Vineyards Horseshoe Bend Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., $42 (but available for as little as $32 in retail
This wine pleases with aromas of dark stone fruits, including
spiced prunes. Highly enjoyable flavors of dark berries, dark stone fruits,
stewed prunes and dark chocolate. Sappier and riper than the Soul Patch
bottling, but not jammy, and possessing the same harmony and silky texture.
Typical warm weather Pinot. Very good.
Sips of Pinot
2008 Cherry Pie Stanly Ranch Napa Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $45.
Very shy fruit on the nose with prominent scents of oak, pine pitch
and varnish. Hearty and full-flavored with copious amounts of black cherry and
black raspberry essence set off by brown spice and oak. Generous and fruity
rather than classy or complex. The flavors clearly trump the aromas at this
2008 En Route Les Pommiers Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
$45. Founded by the partners of Far Niente. A blend of Manzana Vineyard and
Graton Vineyard in Green Valley and Amber Ridge Vineyard in the Russian
River Valley. Clones are Pommard 5, Dijon and heritage. Aged 11 months in
55% new and 45% once-used French oak barrels.
Medium ruby color in the
glass. The nose is reluctant initially, offering more charm the following day from
a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Aromas of strawberries, cherries, and
spice particularly oregano. The kirsch and berry core strikes a chord with its
vivid and juicy character accented by notes of baking spices, brioche and smoky
oak. Admirable harmony with fine grain dusty tannins and a fruit-filled finish.
Not quite up to the excellent 2007 vintage of this wine but solid. Very good.
2008 La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Moderately intense reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose wants
for fruit, featuring instead primarily smoke and ash aromas. Smoky and tarry
cherry flavors that are slightly tart and fail to satisfy. A disappointing wine with
fruit that never really surfaces and is overshadowed by a brisk acidity.
2009 Sean Minor 4 Bears Winery Carneros Pinot Noir
alc.,pH 3.63, $17 (but available for as little as $13). 100% Pinot Noir
and a blend of Pommard and Dijon clones. 100% de-stemmed, coldsoaked
for 3 days, aged 9 months in 15% new French oak barrels.
Moderate ruby hue in the glass. Striking perfume of strawberries,
raspberries, pear and savory spices. Tasty red, blue and black berry
core with a cola and oak note. Quite smooth on the palate and will attract many
fans, especially at the low price. A local retailer I know blew out cases of this
wine. Will stand up to hearty fare. Very good.
2008 Small Vines Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 461
cases, $40. From high-density plantings of 2722 to 3630 vines per acre. Dijon
clones 112, 113, 114, 115, 459, 667, 777 and Swan. 6.5% whole cluster, mostly
native yeast fermentation, 20 days on skins, mostly native MLF, aged 15 months
on fine lees in 39% new French oak barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Demure lovely scents of Bing cherries and red raspberries with accents of spice
box and sweet oak. Vibrant and fresh fruit flavors with an earthy bent, picking up
interest and intensity in the glass over time. Nicely balanced t n’a and a suave
mouth feel to boot. Quintessential Russian River Valley Pinot. Very good.
2007 Tantara Evelyn Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., $90.
reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is darkly fruited with heavy emphasis
on oak related scents of smoke and mocha java. Thick and rich on the palate,
with a generous offering of dark stone fruits, black cherries, and cassis with
underpinnings of coffee and tobacco, all wrapped in soft tannins. Almost syrupy
in texture and Schwarzenneggarish in heft. The oak peeks out on the dry finish.
Needs time in the cellar to integrate the oak. Good.
2008 ZD Wines Norman de Leuze Founder’s Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $65. Crafted from organic grapes grown at ZD’s estate vineyard in
Carneros. From a 6-acre block planted to the Hanzell clone. Aged 15 months
in French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Exotic
and well perfumed nose of dark berries, black cherries, tea, wet leaves and
floral elements. A rich, big-boned, and dense wine flush with black cherry,
blackberry and black plum fruits with a subtle savory herbal note and restrained
oak highlights. Very unique and individualistic with a silky smooth texture that
attracts another sip. Markedly better the next day from a previously opened and
re-corked bottle. I suspect this wine will be remarkable with five years of
cellaring. Very good.
2007 Grey Stack Bennett Valley Cuvée Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 175 cases, $26. First Bennett Valley cuvée and the first
wine from two new sources in the AVA. A blend of three vineyards.
Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels and 9 months in
Shy but alluring melange of berry aromas with a rose petal
note. Uniquely flavored core of fresh, juicy wild berries wrapped in
fine-grain tannins. The fruits has impressive persistence on the pleasing finish.
Really delicious the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2007 Rainborne Bennett Valley Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.65, 228
cases, $38. This winery was founded in 2007 by winemaker Steve Kirby. His
background includes a successful career as a classical ballet dancer followed by
a degree in enology and viticulture from University of California at Davis and
fourteen years of experience crafting wine. All his wines are sourced from dry farmed
vineyards because he firmly believes that dry-farmed grapes best show
the uniqueness of each individual vintage. Sourced from Blue Moon Vineyard. 10% whole cluster. Natural fermentations. Aged 11 months in French oak
barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Spend some time with this wine and you will be rewarded. Attractive
perfume of sweet-scented oak-tinged dark red berry and Bing cherry fruit. Sleek
and refined, with a great backbone of acidity and tannin, this fruity wine lingers
with verve on the finish. Over time in the glass, the oak and tannins mellow and the fruit comes to the
forefront. Even better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. A good cellar candidate
that will age effortlessly. Very good.
A number of impressive Pinot Noirs have been appearing in the marketplace from Bennett Valley. The
appellation consists of only about 700 planted acres, but the wines from this tiny appellation are making an
impression on wine aficionados. Matanzas Creek Winery, which released a Bennett Valley Pinot Noir from the
2007 vintage, its first since the 1970s, is the highest-profile producer in this region.
Bennett Valley is located at the foot of Sonoma Mountain in Sonoma County approximately four miles from
the Russian River Valley. It is Sonoma County's newest appellation, approved in December 2003. The
appellation is surrounded by three mountains: Taylor Mountain to the West, Bennett Peak to the East, and
Sonoma Mountain to the South (see map below).
Most vineyards are planted between 500 and 600 feet elevation and enjoy a consistent marine influence
throughout the growing season. The Crane Canyon/Grange Road gap in the mountains allows cooling fog
and wind to enter the valley moderating summer temperatures and creating conditions that are ideal for cool
climate grape varieties. The soils are mainly rocky and volcanic in origin.
The Bennett Valley Grapegrowers Association (www.bvgg.org) lists 31 member growers and 8 wineries
scattered among the 8,140 total acres. 66% of the planted acreage is Chardonnay and Merlot, with Pinot Noir
only making up 9% of the total.
More information on Bennett Valley available on the Grey Stack Cellars website at www.greystackcellars.com.
2008 Alchemist Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
$25. Sourced from La Colina Vineyard in the Dundee Hills. 18 day
fermentation, 20% whole cluster, aged 12 months in 25% new French
oak barrels. Produced by Union Wine Company.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Opens reluctantly to reveal lovely
scents of fresh berries, sap and old wood. Full-bodied but lithe and
silky, with an array of berry, black cherry and cassis fruits touched by oak and
accented by an appealing earthiness. Still youthful. Better the next day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.
2008 Bethel Heights Vineyard Estate Grown Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $25. An Oregon certified sustainable wine.
Medium reddish-purple hue in the glass. Pleasing aromas of spiced berry
compote, chocolate toffee and mocha java. Tasty moderately rich dark berry
and plum core with a subtle oak accent of coffee and dried herbs. Enough
power to satisfy now, but withholding some of its charms. Better the following
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating further bottle aging
will be beneficial. Good.
2008 J Christopher Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $29.
spiced cherries, coffee and oak. Well-oaked red and purple fruits with
undertones of tea and mocha. Crisp acidity with notable firm tannins. Drinks
better over time in the glass and should improve with time in the cellar. Decent.
2008 Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $32.
Moderately dark ruby color in the glass. A
fruity nose redolent with bright dark red berries and cherries with a hint of pine needle and spice. Delicious
essence of black raspberries and black cherries enveloped in gossamer tannins. Reasonably pleasing and
refreshing although on the lighter side. Beautifully composed with well-integrated oak and a soft, dreamy
texture. A straightforward, solid wine that is drinkable now. Good.
2008 Penner-Ash Dussin Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
$40. From an estate vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton District planted in volcanic
and sedimentary soils.
Darkly colored. Brooding aromas of black fruits with
hints of brioche and toasty oak. A polished, refined and sophisticated offering
with plenty of earthy black fruits and a healthy tannic backbone. Monolithic and
closed now, but gets better over time in the glass. Very soft in the mouth with
oak playing a supporting role in the background. Like many 2008 premium
wines from Oregon, this one needs a few years in the cellar. Should turn out to
be spectacular. Very good.
2009 Wakefield Adelaide Hills Australia Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., pH 3.55, $17,
screw cap. Imported by American Wine Distributors, South San Francisco, CA.
This wine is part of the Estate Series wines. Wakefield was founded by Bill
Taylor, Sr., in 1969 along the Wakefield River in the Clare Valley. The fruit is
sourced from growers throughout the Adelaide Hills. The fruit was de-stemmed,
60% cold-soaked for 4-6 days, fermented in stainless steel, aged for up to a
year in one and two-year-old French oak hogshead barrels.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark fruits, warm walnuts, pine pitch
and sweet smoke. Richly endowed with dark stone fruits and plenty of firm
tannin balanced by bright acidity. Tasty, but doubt if I would identify this as Pinot
Noir if sampled blind. For those looking for something different at a reasonable price. Decent.
2007 Horton Vineyards The Tower Series Virginia Norton
13.0% alc., $15. I
reviewed the excellent book, The Wild Vine, recently (www.princeofpinot.com/article/
943/), and was finally able to track down a bottle of Norton wine to sample. Norton is a
native Virginia grape. Aged 14 months in oak.
Inky purple color in the glass. Aromas of
crushed and cooked dark berries, smoke and a chemical note. Feral and peppery
black fruits with a pharmaceutical taste in the background and a tangy lift of acid on the
dry finish. Well-crafted and possessing an attractively smooth texture. Reminds me of
Petite Sirah in heft and size of its tannic backbone. Needs hearty food. An “acquired”
Pinot on the River 2010: Wilted in the Rain
There was plenty of disappointment and at this year’s Pinot on the River held at Rodney Strong Vineyards in
the Russian River Valley on Sunday, October 24. The region had been deluged with six inches of rain over the
weekend and the organizers, Eric Hall and Gregory S. Walter did not have an alternative venue. It was held
partially under a tent on a grassy knoll in ankle deep water and mud. I was fortunate to wear some weather
boots but some of the women came unprepared and left early. 100 wineries were scheduled according to the
program, but several did not show up because of the inclement weather. There was no dollies or assistance
for wineries trying to move their wine in the rain from the parking lot to the tasting site which was some
distance away. Consumer attendance was noticeably poor giving the impression that the bloom had come off
the rose for Pinot Noir. For the $85 admission fee, there were no amenities such as signage to identify where
the wineries were located (they were not in alphabetical order), spit buckets, spit cups, bottled water or a place
to stash your umbrella. The few food offerings had to be purchased. The program consisted of a single sheet
of paper with a list of wineries with nothing more than phone numbers and web addresses and no other
information. There was hardly any blank space to record tasting notes.
The bright spot at the event was the high quality of the Pinot Noirs offered and the cheerful attitude of the
winemakers and winery assistants who weathered the storm so to speak to proudly pour their wines. One
person, in particular, stood out for me. Here was Richard Sanford, an icon in the wine business, having
traveled over 400 miles, smiling, speaking in his usual soft and pleasing manner, and enthusiastically pouring
two of his outstanding 2008 Alma Rosa Pinot Noirs. Many wineries send tasting room assistants or other
employees to pour at a lesser event like this. Not Richard. He is a tireless promoter of his wines and manages
to appear at practically every Pinot Noir event in California. I have the utmost admiration for him because he is
not one to rest on his laurels.
In 2002, a number of events played out that eventually led Richard to loose his namesake
Sanford Winery. Undaunted, in 2005, Richard and his wife, Thekla, began a new venture,
Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. Alma means “soul” in Spanish, reflecting the Sanfords’
view that their wines represent the soul of the Rancho Santa Rosa, the original Mexican
land grant on which their vineyards are planted. When Richard left the Sanford Winery, the
Sanford & Benedict Vineyard and the La Rinconada Vineyard and winery were relinquished
in exchange for the El Jabali Ranch (the site of the Alma Rosa tasting room and Sanford’s
personal home) and the La Encantada Vineyard. The Sanfords now organically farm over
100 acres of estate vineyards. There are several Pinot Noirs produced, along with
Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir Vin Gris. The Alma Rosa tasting room
is open daily from 11:00 AM to 4:30 PM at 7250 Santa Rosa Road in Buellton. The wines
are also sold online at www.almarosawinery.com.
There were a number of Pinot Noirs that really stood out for me at this event. My sampling was brief so I do
not have extensive tasting notes. However, when wines grab your interest after a brief encounter, they are
worth seeking out and spending some time with.
Arista 2008 Longbow Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2008 Manoni Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot
Noir, and 2008 Toboni Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (All are very solid wines and different -
Toboni is exceptional).
August West 2009 Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and 2009 Graham Vineyard
Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ( One of the few wineries pouring the 2009 vintage and these two wines
were astonishingly good and surprisingly very approachable now. Winemaker Ed Kurtzman is really on his
game in 2009).
Benovia Winery 2008 Cohn Vineyard Sonoma County Pinot Noir (Planted in 1970, this
vineyard outdates most other plantings in the Russian River Valley), and 2008 Le Pommeraie
Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (From a Martinelli Family vineyard which was once an apple
orchard along the Laguna Ridge - clones 777 and 828 - remarkably intense fruit flavors with
bright acidity and certain to be one of my 2010 All Americans).
Buena Vista Carneros Winery 2007 Ramal Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2007 Swan Clone Pinot
Noir, and 2007 Dijon Clones Pinot Noir (All reviewed previously and still tasting great).
Eric Kent 2009 Small Town Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and 2009 Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir (Eric was pouring barrel samples and these were very impressive and rather precocious).
Foursight Wines 2009 Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir (Several hundred cases of Pinot from 08 were made but severe spring frosts that year caused a 40% loss in crop for that vintage. The wines will be released in 2011. Several lots were not affected buy the wildfires that summer. The 2009 is
an excellent followup to their very good 2007 vintage wines).
Heart O’ The Mountain 2008 Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir (A great followup to the fine 2007
vintage estate Pinot Noir with more modest alcohol, more complexity).
Kokomo 2008 Peters Vineyard Pommard Clone Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (A beautiful
wine crafted in a charming, restrained style but still sporting the earthy, dark fruits of the
Pommard clone. Look for my review of this new producer in an upcoming issue).
Littorai 2008 Mays Canyon Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2008 Platt Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot
Noir, and 2008 Pivot Vineyard (Estate) Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (All are exceptional wines with
impeccable balance that we have come to expect from Ted Lemon and no signs of smoke taint. The Platt
Vineyard bottling is crazy good now).
Small Vines 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2008 MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Both
are bright, discreetly concentrated, with layers of fruit and interesting aromatic nuances. The MK Vineyard
bottling is top shelf).
Sojourn 2009 Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (I continue to be impressed
with the Pinot Noir from Sojourn and this wine, not released yet, was one of the best I
sampled at the event).
Talisman 2007 Wild Cat Mountain Los Carneros Pinot Noir (Scott Rich crafts interesting, complex and
exotic Pinot Noirs from challenging sites that will give those French something to talk about).
Russian River Valley Immersion Weekend with the Prince Ever
wonder what the Prince does on his trips to wine country - where he eats, how he
tastes at wineries, what’s it like to get special treatment? I have donated a 4-day
extended weekend in the Russian River Valley to ¡Salud! The Oregon Wine Auction
November 12-13, 2010. The trip includes a $1000 voucher for airfare, 3 nights at the
Benovia Winery 3-bedroom, 2-bath vineyard cottage, hosted lunches at Benovia
Winery, Lynmar Winery and J Winery, tours and tastings at top wineries several of
which are not open to the public including Kosta Browne, Williams Selyem, du MOL,
Littorai, and Freestone Vineyards, dinner wines provided by the Prince from his own
cellar, 3 magnums of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne, Williams
Selyem and Mary Edwards, a first-edition copy of the book Passion for Pinot signed by the author and
photographers and nearly 200 winemakers and winery owners, and a copy of the James Beard Award winning
DVD, Stewards of the Land, featuring the Russian River Valley. The timing of the trip will be subject to
availability of the Benovia lodging and my schedule. You may bid on this oral auction item even if you do not
attend the event. Visit www.saluda auction.org for details on how to bid on this item. This Oregon Wine
Auction proceeds go towards providing health care for seasonal farm workers in Oregon. As a retired
physician, this is a cause close to my heart. Contact me if you have any questions about the weekend trip or
how to bid.
Sideways Sequel Wine Enthusiast (October 12, 2010, www.winemag.com) reported that writer Rex
Pickett has written a sequel to his novel Sideways titled Vertical. The book is self-published and will be
available on Amazon.com in November 2010. The novel picks up seven years later with Miles as a successful
author with a movie produced from his novel (just like Pickett). Jack is divorced, drinking too much, and is
unemployed. Miles’ mother has had a stroke and wants to stay with her sister in Wisconsin. Miles is offered
the opportunity to be the Master of Ceremonies at the International Pinot Noir Celebration. The pair hatch a
plan to lease a handicapped-equipped van, hire a pot-smoking caretaker, and take off to the Willamette Valley
on their way to Wisconsin. The director of Sideways, Alexander Payne, and producer, Michael London, are
seriously considering a movie based on Vertical.
Hall Wines Acquires Majority Interest in Roessler Kathryn and
Craig Hall, proprietors of the 35,000 case Hall Wines in Napa Valley, has
acquired a large interest in the 7,000 case Roessler Cellars which specializes in
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Owner Roger Roessler will retain partial ownership
and will be involved in the promotion of the label. Roger Roessler, along with his
brother Richard, are focusing on their own R2 umbrella of wines including Pinot
Noir, Chardonnay and Rhone varieties that are reasonably priced and sourced
from Roessler’s estate vineyard, other vineyards and purchased bulk wine. The
Roessler wines, which have been produced at Carneros Vintners, will now be
made at Hall’s St. Helena winery. The R2 wines will continue to be crafted at
Carneros Vintners. A Black Pine Pinot Noir has already been released as part of the R2 lineup. Roessler
winemaker Scott Shapely will consult initially with Hall’s winemaker Steve Leveque on the 2010 vintage at
Latest Figures The Department of Food and Agriculture reports that 90 percent of the wine made in the
United States originates in California, which grows 3 million tons of grapes yearly and produces more than 2.5
billion bottles of wine. Washington state is the country’s second biggest producer of wine. California is the
fourth leading wine producer in the world behind France, Italy and Spain. Although Napa Valley is regarded as
the most well known of California wine making regions, it produces less than 5% of all the wines made in
California, but accounts for more than 30% of dollar sales of California wines. There are about 3,000 wineries
in California and 4,600 wine-grape growers. More than 117 varieties of wine grapes are grown in California.
By volume, Chardonnay is the clear leader, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, White Zinfandel and
Sauvignon Blanc. Wine grapes are grown in 48 out of the 58 counties in California.
US Monitoring Pinot Noir from the Languedoc The TTB has enacted new restrictions that
require importers and wholesalers in the US to obtain a declaration from the French government that the wine
has been produced within French appellation rules. The TTB also plans to scrutinize the marketing of
mislabeled Pinot Noir in the US.
Los Gatos-Saratoga Wine Trail Five historic Santa Cruz Mountains wineries have joined to attract
tourists and wine enthusiasts to the Los Gatos-Saratoga region. The Wine Trail is 12 miles in length and
includes Fleming Jenkins Vineyards & Winery (owned by Dr. Greg Jenkins and spouse Peggy Fleming, an
Olympic Gold Medalist), Testarossa Winery (the oldest continuously operating winery in the San Francisco Bay
Area), Cinnabar Winery, Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards (owned by former NASA test pilot George Cooper
and located in the historic Fruit House that was built in 1922), and Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards (set in a
landmark winery among the redwoods overlooking Saratoga village). Visit www.lgswinetrail for information.
Too Lazy to Pull Out the Cork? The new Metrokane Electric Rabbit Corkscrew has a recessed
spiral that fits neatly over a wine bottle and is compact in design. The illuminated LCD screen shows how
many corks you can pull before recharging. Pulls all types of corks, even synthetic plastic ones. Includes a foil
cutter and AC charger. No base required for charging. Great Christmas gift. $50. Visit www.metrokane.com
New Pest in Vineyards: Pinot-Loving Baboons A new threat to South African vineyards are
groups of wild Cape Baboons which have taken a liking to Pinot Noir and other grapes. Reportedly they prefer
Pinot Noir over Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The primates have been driven from their natural habitat by
fires and are able to consume up to 1,300 pounds of grapes a day. The problem has been difficult to manage
as baboons have protected status.
Increasing Cork Closures in the US Premium wineries in the United States are increasingly
turning to cork closures according to a survey released in September 2010 by the Cork Quality Counsel and
based on data from A.C. Nielsen. Of the top 100 top selling brands priced at over $6, 72 use cork closures, an
increase of 7.5 percent during the preceding five months. Cork closures showed an average annual sales
increase of 10.2 percent, compared to annual growth of 3.7 percent for alternative closures. “100% Cork,” a
campaign to educate U.S. wine consumers about the benefits of cork closures and is funded by the
Portuguese Cork Association and the Cork Quality Council, released the sales figures
Ravenous Birds Feasting on Pinot Noir in Oregon The late harvest in Oregon has led to an
increased threat from flocks of birds, and, according to OregonLive.com, between 5 and 50 percent of
growers’ crops will be eaten before harvest ends this year. Ripening was pushed back by two to three weeks
by a damp spring and cool summer. Birds include starlings, jays, robins, cedar waxwings and flickers.
Deterrents used with mixed effect are propane cannons, automated noise makers, shotguns, field hands
banging trash can lids, flashy reflective tape, and of course, netting which is not currently in widespread use in
Lompoc City Council Approves Tasting Rooms in “Wine Ghetto” The Lompoc City
council amending the zoning ordinance and now allow tasting rooms in the Sobhani Industrial Park known
affectionately as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. The 85,000-square-foot industrial park is nearly full now with
wineries and tasting rooms including Jalama, Flying Goat, Ampelos Cellars/Chien Wines, Fiddlehead Cellars,
La Vie Vineyards, Loring Cellars, New Vineland/Piedrasassi, Nicolaysen Family Vineyard, Palmina, Samsara
Wine Co., Zotovich, and the group tasting room known as Taste of Santa Rita Hills.
Moderate Drinking Lowers Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death in Women Researchers
reported in the journal Heart Rhythm that “light to moderate alcohol intake (one to two alcoholic beverages
daily) make be considered part of a healthy lifestyle for overall chronic disease prevention including the
prevention of sudden cardiac death.” Women who consumed one to two alcoholic drinks (4 to 8 ounces) a day
were also shown to be 60 percent less likely to develop fatal heart disease and had a lower risk of suffering a
heart attack. No difference was found among the different types of alcoholic drinks. The researchers noted that
the findings may in part reflect a healthy lifestyle that women who drink moderately enjoy and not totally
attributable to the benefit of alcohol. Past research has shown that men who drank light to moderate amounts
of alcohol also showed the least amount of risk for sudden cardiac death.
Tasting 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir Podcast on Grape Radio Join the Grape Radio crew as
we taste five top 2008 Oregon Pinot Noirs and discuss the wonderful 2008 vintage for Pinot Noir in Oregon.
The program includes 16 questions on Oregon Pinot Noir to test your Noiregon IQ. Visit www.graperadio.com.
Small Vines Harvest 2010 Video Check out the video to watch the harvest of high-density Pinot
Noir plantings farmed by Small Vines Wines. Owner, farmer and winemaker Paul Sloan stars in this video from
the Russian River Valley. If you are in the area, Paul and Kathryn Sloan are having an intimate winemaker
dinner for only ten guests on November 18, with a special multi-course meal and a rare tasting of Small Vines
Wines library wines at Michelin 2 star restaurant Cyrus in Healdsburg. Visit www.smallvines.com/blog.
San Francisco Vintners Market - Harvest in the City On
Saturday, November 20 and Sunday, November 21 at Fort Mason Center, this
event will feature wineries from all over California plus imported wines from
around the world. This is the first of its kind wine tasting experience where you
can taste wines from over 200 wineries, and buy the wine you like on the spot.
Barrel samples and library wines will be available for tasting as well.
Admission is $40 in advance ($80 to access reserve wines priced at $50 per
bottle and higher). A trade tasting will precede both public tastings. Visit
www.sfvintnersmarket.eventbrite.com for information and tickets.
Raptor Ridge Winery Opening A new permanent production facility and tasting room has opened in
Newberg, Oregon in the Chehalem Mountains. The Raptor Ridge Winery is surrounded by its estate vineyard
(18 acres, mostly Pinot Noir) and has breathtaking views of Mount Hood, Adams and St. Helens. Raptor Ridge
was founded in 1995 by winemaker Scott Shull, with early vintages crafted in a renovated horse barn next to
his home. As the business expanded, wine production was conducted off property at a number of shared
winery spaces. The luxury of a permanent winery home has now been realized.The new tasting room at 18700
SW Hillsboro Hwy has an innovative “Apothecary Station,” which allows guests to educate their olfactory
senses by sniffing samples of key aromas in wine. Tasting room hours are seasonal with tours available by
appointment. The phone is 503-628-8463 and website is www.raptorridgewinery.com.
Second Labels Now Commonplace
A trend among Pinot Noir producers, both in the United States and New Zealand, has been to release a second
label in the marketplace that takes many forms, but is intended to be a more inexpensive and more accessible
bottling that does not detract from the flagship label. These second tier wines may be crafted from declassified
juice, unfinished rescued wine on the bulk market, or from grape sources not considered to be prime
candidates for the winery’s premium bottlings. Invariably these wines are inferior to the premium primary label
wines, but that does not mean the wines do not have a place. They are usually priced below $25, and are solid
daily drinkers. Some are very good for the money. They are vinified by the same winery staff, but employ less
or no new oak, require less hands-on attention, less aging, and may be blends of different appellations, various
vintages or even different varieties of grapes (a wine labeled “Pinot Noir” in the United States only needs to be
composed of 75% Pinot Noir). Information about second labels is not always readily available, with many top
wineries failing to acknowledge them on their website or marketing materials. Usually one has to look at the
back label to find the primary winery name listed after “Produced and bottled by” in tiny print. Some second
labels are very secretive and it can be near impossible to track down the primary producer. I have compiled a
list of second labels which you can use as a reference. The primary winery name is on the left and the second label is on the right. You may know of others and please let me know and I
will add them to the list. Look for these wines to be significantly discounted in the retail marketplace.