PinotFile: 8.32 March 1, 2011
- Embarrassment of Riches in Pinotland
- Thomas George Estates: On the Upswing
- Kosta-Browne: Stylin’ in 2008
- Siduri Wines: A Modest Winery with an Ambitious Range
- Samsara: Little Known Gem with an Emphasis on Whole Cluster
- george pinot: one man show
- Et Fille: Pretty in Pink
- Mining for Good Under-$30 Pinot: Inflation Tamers
- Mining for Very Good Over-$30 Pinot:Upping the Ante
- Campesino Cellars
- Tantara: Thoroughbred Pinots
- West Sonoma Coast Vintners
- My Purple Tongue Days with PET
- Pinot Briefs
- Aging Pinot Noir: Not An Exact Science
Embarrassment of Riches in Pinotland
Pinot Noir is now produced by more American wineries than any other red variety. Today, it is the wine
winemakers want to make and the wine consumers want to drink. We have fallen head over heels in love with
Pinot Noir. It was not that long ago, about twenty-five years, that consistency was the Achilles heal of American
Pinot Noir. There was plenty of lackluster Pinot Noir in the marketplace, sourced in many cases from vineyards
planted in the wrong location and farmed all wrong for this finicky grape. I personally spent a small fortune on
disappointing Pinot Noir throughout those formative years.
It is interesting to read an article by James Laube in the Wine Spectator from 1993 on Pinot Noir titled,
“American Pinot Noir: A Work in Progress.” It was the consensus of the time that there were few good Pinot
Noir winemakers and many wineries were too poor to afford the best equipment. Winemakers were learning on
the job and still discovering appropriate vineyard management and winemaking techniques. They were
plagued by flaws and inconsistencies in their wines. There was no discounting their dedication, however, and
that commitment has paid off in quantum leaps in quality and consistency.
Today, we have an embarrassment of riches in American Pinot Noir. We are blessed with a cadre of bright,
talented growers and winemakers, and a diverse array of remarkably pleasurable Pinot Noirs from all reaches
of California and Oregon. There is no longer a need to bring up the hackneyed goal attached to Pinot Noir in
years past that consistency is the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir.
The leap in quality of American Pinot Noir now challenges the wine critic to be more critical, more vigilant, more
fine tuned to small differences in quality. Clearly, ratings are gradually rising, with more Pinot Noirs receiving
higher scores. As an example, in the Wine Spectator’s January 31-February 28, 2011 issue on Oregon’s 2008
vintage of Pinot Noir, 60% of the 510 judged wines from that vintage had outstanding scores (90 to 94). This is
an astonishing number when you think about it. There are more Pinot Noirs receiving my highest accolades as
well as indicated by the large number of wines in this issue awarded the Pinot Geek title (93-95 equivalent) or
Very Good accolade (90-92 equivalent).
Its a great time to have a love affair with Pinot Noir. There is something for everyone, with many good wines
priced under $30, and many high-collared more expensive wines, delivering an indulgent and seductive
drinking experience. Whether your tastes veer to lighter-bodied, elegant Pinot Noir with lower alcohols (Mini-
Coopers), medium-bodied, moderate alcohol, harmonious wines (Corvettes), or big-bodied, riper, lush-flavored
Pinot Noir (Hummers), you will find something to please you.
The words of Steve Pitcher in The Wine News from 2002 ring out even more true today, “Of all the
accomplishments in American winemaking and viticulture in the last quarter of the 20th century, none as been
as impressive as the dramatic evolution of Pinot Noir from near-dismal failure to celebrated success poised at
the threshold of greatness.” I believe that since he made this remark nearly nine years ago, we can proudly
say American Pinot Noir has reached that threshold. If you aren’t buying American Pinot Noir from
accomplished producers such as the ones featured in this issue, you haven’t sampled them lately.
Thomas George Estates: On the Upswing
When I last made a significant mention of Thomas George Estates in the PinotFile in 2008, the iconic Davis
Bynum Winery on Westside Road had been sold to the Baker family of Toronto, Canada. I visited President
Jeremy Baker back then at a time the winery was undergoing a much-needed complete renovation. The
exterior and interior of the old winery, which had been a hops processing room next to a former kiln, was being
transformed into a modern winemaking facility with the latest winemaking equipment. The winery was
expanded to allow eventual production of 16,000 cases annually, and the tasting room was upgraded, retaining
its original location, but outfitted with a modern flair.
In 2010, caves (singularly unique to Westside Road) were built into the adjacent hillside to function as a barrel
aging facility as well as an additional tasting and entertaining area that would appeal to wine romanticists. New
landscaping was added to create an attractive outdoor picnic area. When I visited recently, I was amazed at
the transformation. The winery had become a destination, a sterling, hi-collared addition to the Middle Reach
array of prominent Russian River Valley Pinot Noir producers with an appeal to wine aficionados of all ages.
The wines of Thomas George Estates have been infused with a new spirit and quality as well. The estate
Baker Ridge Vineyard (formerly Lindley’s Knoll), which sits in a prime Middle Reach location adjacent the
Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard and Arista estate vineyards, was revitalized and partially replanted under the
direction of noted viticulturist Ulises Valdez. The Baker Ranch Vineyard now consists of 21 acres of Pinot Noir,
4 acres of Chardonnay and small amounts of Grenache and Viognier. The winery acquired the 26-acre Starr
Ridge Vineyard on Windsor Road and the 14-acre Cresta Ridge Vineyard in the Green Valley appellation, both
premium sources of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The new winemaker, Chris Rossi, is a University of California
at Davis graduate who left an eight-year stint as winemaker at Christopher Creek to join Thomas George
Estates. Like Jeremy Baker, Rossi is young and enthusiastic and has instituted modern winemaking
techniques, beginning with the 2008 vintage.
The 2007 Thomas George Estates wines were made by a different winemaker and included a number of non-estate
grape sources. After the winery officially opened in January 2009, these wines were offered and I
received a number of disappointing reports about the wines from visitors. The 2008 vintage wines now
available were the first produced in the new winemaking facility under the direction of Rossi are impressive
and are a world apart in quality. Beginning with the 2009 vintage, essentially all Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
was estate grown. The crew at Thomas George Estates is pictured below (L to R, Chris Rossi, Jeremy Baker,
Operations manager Sean Tevik, and one of three winery dogs, Muki).
In January 2011 I tasted several 2008 Pinot Noirs out of bottle as well as a 2009 Russian River Valley bottling
and a 2009 sparkling wine. I re-tasted several wines at home a month later. The 2008 and 2009 vintages will
be the last for Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir as the winery concentrates solely on Russian River Valley vineyards.
Rossi de-stems the grapes and uses a basket press for gentle pressing. New oak is kept to a minimum: no
wine receives more than 40% and I found that none of the wines showed a heavy-handed oak influence (which
I prefer). The ultimate goal of the winery is to feature primarily Pinot Noir (50% of bottlings as vineyard
designated and 50% in the Russian River Valley blend) and Chardonnay, with a few other limited varietal
bottlings and sparkling wine for fun.
2009 Thomas George Estates Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Blanc
14.0% alc., pH 3.20,
190 cases, $27. Whole cluster pressed to tank, fermented and aged in stainless steel with no malolactic
Straw color in the glass. Attractive aromas of white peaches, exotic flowers and green apples.
Pleasingly dry and crisp with flavors of peaches, pears, honey and roasted nuts. A pleasant change from
Chardonnay. Serve slightly chilled as a refreshing aperitif. Good.
2009 Thomas George Estates Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 1,280 cases, $38. To be released March 1, 2011. 100%
estate fruit, clones 777, Pommard, 114, and 115. Aged 11 months in
31% new French oak barrels.
A nose to die for featuring bright aromas
of black cherries, raspberries and Asian 5-spice. Delicious black cherry
bombast with a hint of clove and earthiness. The hedonistic flavors are
intense and persistent, and enrobed gently in fine-grain tannins. Plenty
to like in this medium-framed wine that is très Russian River. This wine is a
definite step up from the 2008 vintage bottling.
2009 Thomas George Estates Sparkling Brut Rosé Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
12.5%, 90 cases,
$50. 100% Dijon clone 115 from Starr Ridge Vineyard picked at 19.5º brix the first part of August.
inaugural sparkling wine release is one of only a handful of sparklers made by Russian River wineries. The
pink salmon robe is attractive, the fine bead is welcoming, and the strawberry, citrus and candied cherry flavors
are alluring. The wine is crisp and clean with an uplifting and refreshing finish that draws one back to the
glass. Will work beautifully both as a celebratory event wine and a fashionable table wine. Very good.
2008 Thomas George Estates Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.64, 719 cases, $38. 55%
clone 115, 32% 459, 13% 828 from Bush Family Vineyard and Windsor Oaks Vineyard. Aged in 38% new
French oak barrels.
Nicely composed aromas and flavors of spiced cherries and berries, and cola and with
gossamer tannins. A solid, very drinkable wine. Good.
2008 Thomas George Estates Campbell Ranch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.50,
336 cases, $48. The Campbell Ranch Vineyard is located near the town of Annapolis in the true Sonoma
Coast. Clone 777. Aged 18 months in 33% new French oak barrels.
The aromas and flavors are more savory
than fruity with a hint of tar evident. Well-endowed with plenty of tannic backbone. Needs time to open.
2008 Thomas George Estates Baker Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 186
cases, $55. A blend of all blocks in the vineyard including 55% Dijon, 25% Swan, 15% Pommard and 5%
Wädenswil clones. Aged in 37% new French oak barrels.
Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass.
Scent of dark cherries and berries with hints of violets, wet leaf, marzipan and raisin. Rich and ripe, with fullflavored
array of dark fruits including black currants with hints of cola and spice. Soft and silky in the mouth.
Veers to the ripely flavored side. Good (+).
2008 Thomas George Estates Lancel Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., pH
3.59, 478 cases, $55. This vineyard is farmed by Ulises Valdez. 48% Pommard and 52% 777. Aged in 39%
new French oak barrels.
Brooding aromas of plum sauce, cigar box and graham. The flavor in this wine
strikes a chord with me. I liken it to a black cherry dark chocolate truffle without the sugar. Hearty but silky
tannins support the generous dark fruits leaving a smooth impression on the palate as the finish lingers on and
on. Very good (+).
2008 Thomas George Estates Baker Ridge Vineyard Backbone Block Russian River Valley Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.58, 60 cases, $65.
Baker Ridge is located up an adjacent hill from the winery, at an altitude
of 280 feet. This wine is sourced from a Martini clone block planted in
1990 by Davis and Hampton Bynum. Aged in 33% new French oak
Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. The wine offers a bright
array of aromas with staying power in the glass including scents of berry
jam, spice and subtle oak. Charming core of perfectly ripened cherry and berry
fruits with a hint of brown spice set off by bright acidity and caressed by firm but
abiding tannins. Impeccable balance for the long haul. Very classy juice.
Thomas George Estates has an impressive, easily navigable website. Live
views of the wine cave, winery and vineyards are offered. All wines are sold
through the online store. The tasting room at 8075 Westside Road is open
daily from 11:00 to 5:00. Events and picnics may be planned at the winery
or vineyards and can include the “Toastermobile,” a portable kitchen offering
gourmet meals at any of the winery’s picnic areas or Cave. Four ranching
guest houses have been renovated and are available for rent with wine club
members receiving 50% discounts for their stay. 707-431-8031. Pictured
right are the new concrete wine fermentation tanks from Sonoma Cast
Stone used for white wines. The tanks breathe similar to wood but do not
Kosta-Browne: Stylin’ in 2008
Dan Kosta and Michael Browne are alumni of a landmark Sonoma County restaurant, John Ash & Co.. Dan
Kosta grew up around wine in Sonoma. His father owned a wine store in Santa Rosa and wine was a frequent
topic of discussion at the household dinner table. After joining the staff at John Ash & Co., Dan worked his way
up to Head Sommelier. Michael Brown was born in the San Francisco Bay area, but grew up in Washington
State. Upon returning to Santa Rosa in 1987, he enrolled in pre requisite courses at Santa Rosa Junior
College to become an architect. During schooling, he worked in wine retail and at a number of restaurants but
it was at John Ash & Co. where he developed a passion for wine and food and decided to become a
Dan and Michael began their winemaking venture by putting all their tip money into a “co-op” cookie jar in the
kitchen of John Ash & Co.. After raising $2,600, they bought a half-ton of Pinot Noir grapes, a single barrel,
and a used, hand-crank de-stemmer/crusher and produced their first vintage in 1997.
That year, Michael left John Ash & Co. to become an assistant winemaker at Deerfield Ranch Winery in the
Sonoma Valley, but much of his winemaking acumen was self-taught. He likes to say he learned his
winemaking at “Hard Knocks University.” Dan and Michael attracted an initial investment group and in 1999
made 2,600 cases of Lake County Sauvignon Blanc. This venture proved financially unrewarding and the
principals parted ways.
In 2001, they teamed with Chris Costello and his family in developing a fiscally conservative and thoughtful
business plan. Success followed soon after. Pictured below (L to R, Dan Kosta, Chris Costello, Michael
The 2003 vintage of Kosta Browne was highly regarded by wine writer James Laube of the Wine Spectator,
who awarded all the 2003 Pinot Noirs scores ranging from 90 to 96. The mailing list quickly filled up, Kosta
Browne appeared on every pinotphile’s radar, and the winery quickly became a member of the fraternity of
prestigious Russian River Valley wine producers, many of whom had been crafting world-class Pinot Noir since
Kosta Browne made wine in a number of facilities initially, finally settling in a large space in the former Vacu-
Dry apple processing plant in Sebastopol. Twenty years ago, the Washington apple growers got together and
bought the Vacu-Dry processing plant in Sebastopol, shutting it down and effectively shutting down the apple
industry in Sonoma County. The plant, now owned by SonomaWest Holdings, is home to numerous wineries
and artisan food producers. The Kosta-Browne leased facility is perfectly suited to the current 10,500 case
Kosta Browne’s success stems from three sources. First, Dan and Michael are congenial and customer
oriented, are well-liked in the wine community, and are willing to support many charitable fund-raising activities.
Each year, magnums and larger formats are bottled, but are only donated to charitable causes and never sold
to customers. This greatly increases their value and the bottlings demand very high prices (a 6L bottle was
auctioned at a charity event in 2009 for $20,000). Kosta Browne also supports many wine events where they
generously pour nearly their entire lineup of wines (photo below was taken at World of Pinot Noir). Second,
Dan and Michael were able to use their long-standing friendships and contacts to source grapes from top
growers in the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations. Quality grapes
are critical to producing fine wine. The precedent for this in the Russian River Valley was set by Williams
Selyem whose success was built on acquiring fruit from top vineyards in the region. Third, Michael has given
Kosta Browne Pinot Noir a distinctive stamp: a fruit-forward, hedonistic style that seduces to a broad audience
of wine lovers. The wines are deep in color with moderately high alcohols, vibrant aromatics, restrained
balanced tannins, silky textures, subtle oak highlights, and ripe, opulent fruit.
In 2009, Dan Kosta, Michael Browne and Chris Costello wanted to pay off some of the original investors and
acquire a new partner. They sold a controlling interest in the winery to Vincraft for reportedly $40 million
dollars. Nothing much has changed, however, with Michael Browne continuing as winemaker and Dan Kosta
and Chris Costello managing the operation.
I visited Kosta Browne in early 2010 and tasted the lineup of 2008 Pinot Noirs shortly after bottling
(www.princeofpinot.com/article/880/). Wedged between the spectacular 2007 and 2009 vintages, the wines
are nevertheless impressive and were sold out quickly when offered. I recently re-tasted the lineup of 2008
Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs. All the wines are well-crafted in the bold Kosta Browne style. Although the wines
are no longer available from the winery, it is prudent to remember there will be another vintage. The song will
be different but the composer will be the same.
The winemaking regimen for the 2008 vintage at Kosta Browne was as follows. Grapes were de-stemmed,
with some whole cluster barrels vinified separately to be added back if deemed appropriate for the vintage and
the wine. An average 5-day cold soak was followed by inoculated fermentation lasting 9 to 14 days on average
with 1 to 2 hand punch downs per day in 1- and 5-ton open-top stainless steel and wood vessels. The wines
were barrel-aged for 16 months in French oak sourced from eight different coopers. The percentage of new
French oak varied between 42% and 52% with most bottlings close to 50%.
2008 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.67, $52. Castaldi, Thorn Ridge
Ranch, Graham, Pleasant Hill, Copain, Nonella, Amber Ridge, Keefer and Koplen vineyards.
A touch of
confection in this wine with its aromas and flavors of black cherries, black raspberries, and a hint of smoky oak.
Seductive when first opened, but loses some allure over time in the glass. A moderately rich appellation wine
that won’t send pinotphiles into a tither, but very serviceable. Good.
2008 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., pH 3.66, $52. Sourced from Gap’s Crown
(southern Sonoma Coast in Petaluma Gap), Terra de Promissio (southern Sonoma Coast in Petaluma Gap)
and Walala (Annapolis) vineyards.
The nose is brooding initially, opening slowly to reveal darker fruit aromas
that are savory and underlain with a slight ash smell. The core of ripe dark berry and plum fruits struggle to
emerge from a smoky overlay. Decent.
2008 Kosta Browne 4-Barrel California Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.59, 96
cases, $72. Four barrels are identified from 70 different lots and the final four
barrel blend is chosen independent of vineyard or appellation, thus the California
designation. Amber Ridge Vineyard (667), Garys’ Vineyard (Pisoni), Kanzler
Vineyard (667, whole cluster), and Koplen Vineyard (667, wood tank fermented).
Brooding, opening reluctantly to reveal a high-spirited array of dark red berries
and cherries that push the ripeness envelope and find every nook and cranny in
the mouth. Still very tight with plenty of tannin but offering textural and flavor
interest from the significant whole cluster addition. Notes of cola and root beer
emerge over time. Sampled two days later from a previously opened and recorked
bottle, the wine was starting to display a vibrant display of fruit that literally leaped out of the glass.
Don’t think about opening this connoisseur’s wine for two years. Very good (+).
2008 Kosta Browne Amber Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.56, $72.
Located in Windsor, this vineyard is planted in Goldridge and sandy clay loam soils. Clones 667, 115 and 777.
Subdued, but pleasant scent of redder cherries and berries. Soft and elegant on the palate with mild tannins
and a modest charge of strawberry and cherry flavor on the finish. Lacks the pop of flavor of the other KB
wines in this vintage, seemingly shallow in comparison, and deficient in finishing intensity. Good.
2008 Kosta Browne Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., pH 3.53, $72. Inaugural
single vineyard bottling for this source owned and managed by Premier Pacific Vineyards. Previously the
backbone of Kosta Browne’s Sonoma Coast bottling. Clones 115, 667, 777 and Swan.
The nose opens
beautifully over time revealing intense black cherry aromas with a spice cabinet background. Lovely essence
of moderately intense flavors of black cherries on the palate framed by soft tannins and lifted by decent acidity.
Very soft and smooth in the mouth with finishing tenacity. A fruit-driven wine that is quite tasty. Very good.
2008 Kosta Browne Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.57, 422 cases,
$72. Exclusively Pisoni selection, 3.1 tons per acre. 18% whole cluster.
The nose explodes with a vengeance
initially showing flashy dark berry and stone fruits with subtle scents of pine and mint. Tasty core of black
cherry and blackberry fruit with impressive flavor intensity and persistence. The soft texture makes the wine
very user-friendly. Better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.
2008 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
pH 3.66, $72. Seventh vintage from this vineyard in Sebastopol. Clones 667,
115 and Pommard.
The wine is a little deeper purple color than the other wines
from this vintage. Exotic medley of dark fruits on the nose which have a
pheromone attraction. Moderately intense boysenberry and dark plum sauce
flavors that are fat on the palate, leading to a finish that makes a statement.
Despite its powerful fruit and substantial structure, the wine retains a smooth,
even velvety, texture. Very good.
2008 Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.63, $72. Keefer Ranch is owned and managed by Marcy
Keefer and her son, Craig Strehlow. Clones 23, 114, 115, 777, Pommard 5.
Located in the cool Green Valley.
Along with the Rosella’s, the most feminine
wine in the Kosta Browne lineup. A bit brooding but opens slowly to reveal
pleasing aromas and flavors of dried black cherries, plums and a melange of
fresh berries with a hint of minty oak. Discreetly concentrated with restrained
tannins and a welcoming soft and smooth texture, this vintage offers a darker fruited
interpretation of this vineyard. Very good.
2008 Kosta Browne Koplen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., pH 3.58, $72. All the fruit from the vineyard farmed by
Dennis and Lynn Koplen goes to Kosta Browne. Dijon clone 667, 3.1
tons per acre. 18% whole cluster.
Always a wine of great interest that
demands your full attention. Profusely perfumed with aromas of
boysenberry jam and spice box. Full-blown hedonistic attack of dark
berry and plum flavors that grab hold and persist throughout the
flamboyant finish. Despite its big-boned character, the wine retains an
appealing charm with a silky, almost ephemeral mouth feel. Quintessential KB.
2008 Kosta Browne Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., pH 3.50, $72.
From the 45-acre Pisoni Vineyard perched at 1,300 feet above the Salinas Valley. Pisoni clone, 2.5
tons per acre.
Similar to the Garys’ bottling but more withdrawn, only offering a glimpse of its full
potential. Enticing black cherry and mixed berry aromas and flavors with a subtle overlay of spice.
Exquisite and pure with a downy mouth feel that will thrill any pinotphile. A more delicate interpretation
of this vineyard that needs a few years in the cellar to reach its potential. This could turn out to be a
2008 Kosta Browne Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.61, $72. Pisoni selection and 828 clone
from a vineyard farmed by Gary Franscioni. 3.0 tons per acre.
perfumed and nuanced nose featuring aromas of fresh red raspberries,
cherry cobbler, baking spices and dark red rose petals. Delicious
melange of dark red berries and cherries with hints of allspice and
vanillin carrying through with impressive finishing intensity. Mild finegrain
tannins and balanced acidity create a very charming wine that has a
demure appeal. Hard to say no to.
A local wine club, Le Grand Crew, invited me recently to a dinner and horizontal tasting of 2008 Kosta Browne
Pinot Noir at Mr. Stox Restaurant in Anaheim, California. Fourteen people were in attendance, most of them
seasoned wine drinkers. The wines were opened, decanted and re-bottled earlier in the day. All were served at
cellar temperature. The Keefer Ranch Vineyard bottling was by far the favorite of the group, with six of the
fourteen in attendance voting it their favorite. The Kanzler Vineyard and Koplen Vineyard tied for second and
the Garys’ and Rosella’s tied for third, with the Pisoni fourth.
Kosta Browne wines, which will include a Chardonnay beginning with the 2009 vintage, are sold through a
mailing list which is full at present. Visit the website (www.kostabrowne.com) to sign up for the wait list. The
wines are often available on the secondary retail market and auction sites. The winery is not open to the
public, but the winery participates in many major Pinot Noir festivals as well as a number of popular wine
events and charitable auctions around the country (check the winery’s News page on the website for the
Siduri Wines: A Modest Winery with an Ambitious Range
Adam and Dianna Lee are accomplished self-taught winemakers who operate out of a modest warehouse in
an industrial park in Santa Rosa, a no frills operation where the emphasis is on the wines. Since a quite launch
in 1994 consisting all of 107 cases of Pinot Noir, the Lees have found an ambitious and changing number of
excellent vineyard sources for Pinot Noir stretching all the way from Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains in the
northern Willamette Valley to the Santa Rita Hills in California’s southern Central Coast. Their winery holds the
distinction of producing more unique Pinot Noir bottlings than any other boutique winery in California. Adding
to their impressive Pinot Noir offerings, the Lees also produce Syrah, Chardonnay and other varietals under the
Novy Family Wines label, named after Dianna’s family, the Novys.
Siduri’s rise to success has been meteoric with critics fawning over the winery’s Pinot Noirs since the first
release. Robert Parker, Jr., has called Siduri, “One of California’s top Pinot Noir producers,” and Matt Kramer
has said, “To taste Siduri is to taste some of the best Pinot Noirs made in American today.”
Siduri has always been committed to quality. Grapes are purchased by the acre and crops are rigorously
thinned. All work in the winery is hands-on with a commitment to top cooperage sources, and all wines are
bottled unfined and unfiltered if possible. Stylistically, the Pinot Noirs have been generally full-bodied, fruit- driven
and Caliesque in style, yet balanced and consistently reflective of their vineyard sources and vintages.
The logistics of producing so many individual wines is daunting and occasionally a wine misses the mark, but
the majority of Siduri’s production is first rate. A commendable achievement to say the least.
Over the years the Lees have modified their original hedonistic style of Pinot Noir, now offering more restrained
and nuanced wines that I find much more appealing and easily recommendable. According to John Haeger, in
his book, Pacific Pinot Noir, “Siduri Pinots seem to me to be the original poster children for a category of
hedonistic, expressive, fruit-sweet, nicely textured, appealing American Pinots that would be popularized by
producers such as DuMOL and Testarossa. Meanwhile, Siduri itself seems to have evolved toward slightly
soberer, more elegant wines that are more expressive of their individual terroirs.” Perhaps, more attractive, is
the fact that Siduri has not achieved the cult status reserved for some hi-brow California producers, and you
can actually buy the wines, often at very sensible prices. The Lees have raised their prices little over the years
and offer wines in every price range from under $20 to $70 among the 7,500+ cases of wine they produce
For the full story on Siduri, refer to previous features in the PinotFile.
Winemaking at Siduri is in line with other premium Pinot Noir producers. Many wines are made from 100% destemmed
fruit, with whole cluster inclusion determined by lignification of the stems and the grape source and
vintage. Primary fermentations are driven by both resident and inoculated yeast, malolactic fermentations are
naturally conducted if possible. The wines are aged 10 to 18 months in French oak barrels and bottled unfined
and unfiltered. Ryan Zepaltas has been the assistant winemaker for several years.
I recently sampled a number of new 2009 Siduri Pinot Noir releases representing select appellation and
vineyard-designate bottlings. The appellation bottlings are all solid wines that represent great value. They all
show admirable balance and easy drinkability. Choosing between them boils down to personal taste. The
vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs are a step up in texture, layering, flavor intensity and sophistication. The Lees
are happy with the 2009 vintage in California, “We think it provided a great combination of richness and
backbone and it seems like a vintage that will age successfully.”
2009 Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 2,657 cases, $20, screw cap. A blend of several wellknown
vineyards (Van der Kamp, Sapphire Hill, Sonatera and others) and clones (Martini, 667, 777, 115,
Pommard and Mt. Eden).
An appealing perfume of spiced black cherries and raspberries with oak in the
background, fading some over time in the glass. Moderately intense black cherry core with some strawberry
and pomegranate flavor in the background. A little earthy and oak influenced with a finish that is a little shallow.
A back porch Pinot that is definitely worth the tab. Decent.
2009 Siduri Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 1,132 cases, $30, screw cap.
Russian River Valley nose of Bing cherry and baking spice with a medium-weighted core of tasty and
richly flavored dark cherries. The tannins are restrained and a touch of oak in the background is
complimentary. A solid drinker. Good (+).
2009 Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 1,855
cases, $30, screw cap. 45% Rosella’s Vineyard, 26% Pisoni
Vineyard, 20% Garys’ Vineyard, and 9% Sierra Mar Vineyard. Clones
include Pisoni selection, 777, 828 and Pommard.
The deepest and
darkest color in the lineup. Aromas of fresh plums, blackberry jam and
a hint of oak. Intense, yet charming essence of black Pinot fruits with
a substantial tannic backbone. A seamless and highly enjoyable wine that is
clearly representative of Santa Lucia Highlands terroir. Very good.
2009 Siduri Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,028 cases, $30, screw cap.
aromas of berry compote and bacon. Moderately intense flavors of juicy dark berries and plums
with a hi-tone backbone fueled by lively acidity. A lot to like here with plenty of tasty fruit, gossamer
tannins and a refreshing finish. Good (+).
2009 Siduri Keefer Ranch Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 247 cases, $48.
Subdued but alluring perfume of
strawberries, red cherries, cream soda and dried rose petals. Delicious
and vivid cherry and berry flavors with hints of baking spice and oak. A
hi-collared wine with a lovely mouthfeel, comforting finesse, and a bright
pop of cherry on the finish. This vineyard continues to impress.
2009 Siduri Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 298 cases, $50. Siduri is entering the second decade of
working with this vineyard. A combination of Pisoni selection on 5C
rootstock (33% whole cluster, indigenous fermentation), and Pisoni
selection on 3309 rootstock (15% whole cluster, inoculated with a
Williams Selyem winery yeast isolate).
Enticing aromas of black
cherries, deeply colored berries and cola. A lip smacker with oodles of
fruit that saturates the palate and persists on the finish with a clinging
vengeance. Soft and smoothly textured, this is a kick-ass Pinot that will bring
you to your knees.
Siduri Wines are sold primarily through a mailing list at www.siduri.com, but many larger production wines are
in retail and restaurant distribution. An informative newsletter is sent out monthly. The wines are released
throughout the year. A personal tasting experience is offered at the winery by appointment, 10:00 AM to 3:00
PM, seven days a week. Phone 707-578-3882 or e-mail at email@example.com. In 2010, Siduri was named
“Sonoma County’s Best Winery” by the San Francisco Chronicle online poll.
Samsara: Little Known Gem with an Emphasis on Whole Cluster
Most pinotphiles are very familiar with Melville Winery, but Chad and Mary
Melville have a small side project called Samsara, a Sanskrit word meaning
the eternal cycle of life. The couple produce small lots (typically 75 to 100
cases) of Pinot Noir and Syrah from carefully selected vineyards in the Santa
Rita Hills. Whole cluster fermentation is featured since the Melvilles feel that
whole clusters lend a spiciness and complexity to the wines they craft. All
Samsara grapes are purchased by the acre and the Melvilles have a strong
voice in how the vines from which they source grapes are managed. Their
emphasis is on winegrowing, and they proclaim on their site, “We grow wine,
we don’t make it.”
Winemaking is as follows. A cold soak of 8 to 13 days is followed by native yeast fermentation and 3 to 7 day
extended maceration following fermentation. The juice is hand-bucketed into French oak barrels following a
gentle pressing and is aged for 18 months (Pinot Noir) to 24 months (Syrah). Native malolactic fermentation
occurs at its own pace and the wines are racked once, just before bottling, and neither fined or filtered.
I recently sampled three 2008 Samsara vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from the Santa Rita Hills. These are
modern, intensely flavored, fruit-driven California-styled Pinot Noirs, well-crafted, and with a twist created by
the significant whole cluster inclusion.
Samsara wines are sold primarily through a priority release list at www.samsarawine.com. Guaranteed
allocation is offered for each new Samsara wine and the wines are shipped free before public release. Visit the
website at www.samsarawine.com. A 2009 Sta. Rita Hills appellation bottling ($30) is also currently offered.
2008 Samsara Ampelos Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
alc., 123 cases, $42. From a biodynamically farmed site.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Beautifully nuanced aromas and
flavors, strapping and hearty but more reserved than the other two 2008
Samsara bottlings. It offers black raspberries, creamy strawberries,
cinnamon and ginger flavors with an earthy undertone, holding on
tightly on the dramatic finish. Keeps getting better and better in the
glass over time. A delicious, supple, tannin-filled wine with personality. I drank
this with roast duck and it was a match to die for.
2008 Samsara La Hermanas Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
108 cases, $44.
The darkest of the three Samsara Pinot Noirs tasted. More
subdued on the nose but picking up interest in the glass over time revealing
aromas of dark stone fruits, spice, oak, and dark roses. Delicious and vivid plum
and blackberry flavors with an underpinning of dark chocolate and vanillin. Only
in California can you get high-spirited fruit like this. Drink this with a big ribeye
steak. Very good.
2008 Samsara Turner Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 96 cases, $46. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of black cherries, berry jam, purple rose petals
and a hint of spice. Tasty core of dark red Pinot fruits with a subtle stem note and a slight confected accent.
Nicely balanced with fine-grain tannins and a silky mouthfeel and some persistence of fruit aromas on the
finish. A solid wine, but offering a monotone of fruit flavor. Good (+).
george pinot: one man show
“One-man show” is usually used as a descriptor for a comedian standing on stage and entertaining an
audience. George Levkoff, owner, grape sorter, winemaker, bottler, labeler, marketer, deliverer, and front man
for george pinot (George likes lower case - visit www.georgewine.com), is truly a one-man show, and a bit of a
comedic and lovable figure as well. George always stands out from the crowd because he never, never, ever
wears long pants regardless of the weather or the event he is attending. I don’t think he even owns a pair of
long pants, despite spending a good part of his working day in a frigid winery. If you are visiting Healdsburg in
frigid January, bundled up to fight off the cold, and you see a guy walking the square in short pants, it will
almost certainly be George.
George is a refugee from the bond trading market who had a wine epiphany when a friend brought a couple
bottles of Williams Selyem Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir to share with him at dinner. Shortly thereafter, he
trashed all his long pants and ties, and headed to Sonoma County intent on making wine. He showed up one
day at Williams Selyem and was received by Burt Williams’ daughter Margi. He tried to buy some Pinot, but
was told that since he was not on the “list,” he could not acquire any. Margi offered him some swag - hats,
shirts with the Williams Selyem logo. George was not easily discouraged and inveigled his way into an
internship at Williams Selyem which lasted from 1999 to 2002. He also worked at the smaller Brogan Cellars
With grapes from David Hirsch of Sonoma Coast’s famed Hirsch Vineyard, he released 150 cases of his
inaugural Pinot Noir in 2003. The wines were fashioned exactly in the Burt Williams mold using yeasts from
Williams Selyem and only Francois Frères as cooper. His wines immediately caught the attention of top
sommeliers at restaurants in Las Vegas and New York who were enamored by their elegance and food friendliness.
George Pinot quickly became a cult wine. Insiders say that some well-known movie stars will only
drink george pinot when they dine out.
I have been a fan of george pinot from the beginning, entranced by the finesse and sensuality that his wines
exhibit. I have reported on practically every release among the previous six vintages in the PinotFile. His
winemaking regimen is not particularly unique. He de-stems 100% of the grapes after careful sorting, cold
soaks them a few days, uses Williams Selyem Jackass Vineyard Zinfandel yeast for inoculation, bottles only
free-run juice (except in the Sonoma Coma bottlings), and ages the wines in 100% new Francois Frères
French oak barrels. The wines are bottled without fining or filtration and hand-numbered.
In recent years, George has vinfied small lots of multiple vineyard designated Pinot Noir from the Russian
River Valley and a blend labeled Sonoma Coma. If you have spent any time in Healdsburg and were looking
for some nightlife, you will understand the humor behind the name, Sonoma Coma. George owns no
vineyards and crafts his wines at Moshin Winery on Westside Road. Total annual production is less than 1,000
cases. Join the mailing list to acquire the wines. A listing of notable restaurants that carry george pinot is on
the website (Prime, The Four Seasons, Michael Mina, Cut, Delmonicos, Charlie Trotter’s and Dry Creek
Kitchen to name a few). The current vintage (Vintage VII, 2009) is sold out, but get on the mailing list for next
year. Besides the wines reviewed below, a Sonoma Coma blend is offered, composed of fruit from the five
Russian River Valley vineyards that supply fruit to george wine company (280 cases, $600 a case).
2009 george Vintage VII Ceremonial Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 208 cases, $700 a case. Farmed by the Martinelli
Effusive aromas of blackberries, plums, mocha and oak spice.
Luscious and full-flavored, classy and polished, with a long, generous
finish. Elegantly crafted exhibiting finesse over fruit heaviness, with
charming flavors of dark stone fruits, ripe berries and plum reduction
sauce accented by a hint of peppery spice and game. Each sip leaves you
begging for more.
2009 george Vintage VII Hansen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 185 cases, $700 a
case. George says this vineyard is influenced by the adjacent dairy farm and is a favorite on the East coast and
among French sommeliers who treasure the smell of fumier.
The nose lacks fruit, offering aromas of oak cask,
aged wood, barnyard and wet earth. On the palate, the savory dark red fruit flavors are subdued with an
underpinning of tar, earth, and bright hi-tone acidity. Decent.
Et Fille: Pretty in Pink
Pink has become the popular signature of the new “girlie girl” culture, but rarely appears on the labels of
serious wines, being confined to rosés, Champagne, and gimmicky wines like Hello Kitty. The pink labels on Et
Fille wines, however, are very stylish, and make sense given the father-daughter collaboration that forms the
foundation of this winery. I happen to find the labels to be very classy.
The Mozeico family is quietly turning out some of Oregon’s finest Pinot Noirs.
Father Howard, whose background is in software, has been making Pinot Noir
since 1984. Daughter Jessica first assisted him with his winemaking efforts in
2000 and the name Et Fille was hatched. “Et Fille” (“ A Fee”) means “and
daughter” in French. Howard jokes, “Mozeico et Fille” just wouldn’t work. It
made sense to design a pink-themed label, since the winery incorporated a
daughter into the team.
The goal at Et Fille is to craft small lots of distinctive single-vineyard Pinot Noir
in a style suited to the character of each individual vineyard’s terroir. No
attempt is made to produce every vineyard-designated Pinot Noir in the same
fashion. Father and daughter feel strongly that each vineyard has a unique
voice, and they wish to preserve this precious expression of terroir in their
artisan Pinot Noirs. A superb Willamette Valley blend Pinot Noir is produced as
well and is one of Oregon’s finest each year.
The wines reviewed below were made to seduce with harmony and silky
textures. All the wines are well-crafted with intense flavors at relatively low
alcohols and offer well-balanced acidity. Choosing one as a favorite is really a matter of personal taste. Except
for the Willamette Valley blend, all the wines will benefit from further cellaring. The prices are very reasonable
considering the quality. These are not girlie-girl wines!
Et Fille wines are produced at August Cellars, a state-of-the-art gravity flow winery in Sherwood, Oregon, that
is shared by several small wineries. A tasting room here offers some of the Et Fille Wines but an appointment
is needed for an extensive tasting (503-449-5030). The wines are sold through a mailing list and are available
for purchase on the website (www.etfille.com). Magnums are available.
2009 Et Fille Kalita Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 220 cases,
$38. Aged 10 months in 33% new French oak barrels.
Subdued, primary aromas of spice, violets, cut flowers
and mint. Some very alluring dark red cherry and berry fruit peeks out showing impressive grip, focus and
length. Still helter-skelter with fine-grain tannins to the front. All silk and satin on the palate. Like a new Louis
Vuitton purse: you need to break it in before showing it off. Will come around sooner than the 2008s, but
needs another year or two. Excellent the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.
2009 Et Fille Maresh Vineyard Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 103 cases, $42. Pommard clone. Aged 10 months in
French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass.
Demure, but pleasing perfume of red and black berries, with hints of
smoky oak and tobacco. A young, but sophisticated wine, with a stunning
array of black cherry, red currant, and red plum flavors robed in immature
tannins. The pedigree of the fruit is obvious. Still showing some unintegrated
oak. A powerhouse that is impenetrable and not ready for prime time. Like a
new pair of Christian Louboutin shoes: able to attract plenty of attention.
2008 Et Fille Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., 931 cases,
$24. A blend of seven vineyards.
This wine has really blossomed
since I tasted it last year. Demure red and black berry medley on
the nose echoed on the palate. Medium-bodied and discreetly
lush, the dark red berry flavors are wrapped in gossamer tannins
and set off by bright acidity. The texture is particularly alluring: all
silk and satin. Drinking perfectly now and one of the best 2008 Willamette
Valley blends you will find in the marketplace. Very good.
2008 Et Fille Nicholas Vineyard Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., 172 cases, $34.
From the well-known Nicholas Vineyard farmed by Nick
and Sheila Nicholas. Pommard clone. Aged 10 months in
31% new French oak barrels.
color in the glass. Beefy, husky and dark-fruited on the nose. Thick, broad
flavors of blueberries, black cherries, black raspberries and dark plums.
Tremendous concentration and grip, but retains an attractive feminine tone.
Perfectly balanced with a soft but ruffled texture in a worn leather jacket sort of
way. Impressive finishing persistence. Even better two days later from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle, indicating this wine will be an ideal cellar candidate. Everything you
want and some things you didn’t think to ask for in an Oregon Pinot at the right price.
2008 Et Fille Kalita Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., $38.
Pommard and Wädenswil clones.
The nose is currently closed for business but the flavors say Wow! Mouth
coating core of strawberry and black cherry fruit makes you sit up to attention, keeping you interested through
the soft, intensely fruity and refreshing finish. Showing very little leg now, and only hinting at its future
greatness. Note: some of the Oregon 2008 Pinots are closing up now and this is a perfect example. Cellar
this wine for a few years and then enjoy over the next five to ten years. Very good (+).
2008 Et Fille Deux Vert Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 149
cases, $42. Inaugural single-vineyard Pinot Noir from this site. The vineyard is owned by Mike and Patty
Green. Wädenswil, 113 and 114. Aged 10 months in 33% new French oak barrels.
A distinctive wine that
reflects its Yamhill-Carlton roots. The nose is a challenge to describe but a pleasure to experience with aromas
of exotically spiced stone fruits, fig, fruit bin and a hint of pine. Intensely flavored and big-boned dark fruit with
undertones of earth and cola, yet silky and light on its feet with a huge, supple finish. Generous tannins should
soften over time, but this will always be a tannic wine. Pair with protein like some rare prime rib. This wine is
like a tatted biker girl: rugged but very appealing in black leather. Cellar this one. Very good.
Mining for Good Under-$30 Pinot: Inflation Tamers
It used to be said that finding good, cheap Pinot Noir was an oxymoron. Not anymore. Allen Meadows has
been quoted as saying, “It is a sad fact that inexpensive, high-quality Pinot Noir is almost non existent.” I agree
that high-quality Pinot Noir is never a bargain, but today there are many bottlings from California and Oregon
that offer good to even very good quality Pinot Noir perfectly suitable for everyday drinking.
Many people, particularly the Millenials (ages 21 to 34) and Generation X (ages 35 to 46), are looking for good
wines that are affordable and are currently driving wine market growth. The over-47 wine drinkers make up the
largest proportion of daily wine drinkers and purchase much of the high-end Pinot Noir, but the wine
consumption in this group has changed little over the past several years.
The San Francisco Business Times recently reported (www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2011/02/07/theother-guys-wine-sales-soar-66.html) that The Other Guys, which is a separate company under the family
umbrella of the Don Sebastiani Family of Companies, had an astonishing 66 percent increase in sales over the
last year to 169,000 cases. This surge in sales was led by several brands including Leese-Fitch, Hey Mambo,
Plungerhead, The White Knight, MooBuzz, and Pennywise. The company predicted that sales will increase
another 50 percent in 2011 to 250,000 cases. The wines are priced in the $8 to $14 per bottle range and offer
eye-catching names, labels and alternate closures, all features attractive to the Millenials and Generation X.
The MooBuzz and Pennywise Pinot Noirs are reviewed below and offer solid value.
Tim Fish, writing in his blog, Exploring Wine with Tim Fish (www.winespectator.com/blogs/show/id/444), wrote
an article recently titled, “What Does It Take to Make an $8 Wine.” He notes that the market is flooded with
available bulk wine and companies like Don Sebastiani & Sons buy producer’s excess wine at a steep discount
and bottle it under their own label. Often the purchased bulk wine is blended with wine produced from existing
grape contracts. Winemakers may employ shortcuts like oak staves instead of barrels and micro-oxygenation,
both of which can simulate oak-barrel aging.
Micro-oxygenation is a controlled and extended introduction of small amounts of oxygen into
wine, developed in the early 1990s by winemaker Patrick Ducorneau, who worked with the
highly tannic grape Tannat in Madiran. Ducournau started a company, Oenodev, which offers
the technology worldwide. Vinovation in California is Oenodev's representative in the United
During oak barrel aging of wine, the wood allows a gentle and slow aeration of wine
contained therein. Tannins are polymerized into forms that are softer on the palate. The
process of micro-oxygenation mimics the effects of barrel aging in wines that are kept in
stainless steel tanks. Oxygen is released from a ceramic device placed at the bottom of the
fermentation tank. Oxygenation is achieved in a shorter time, and when combined with oak
chips or staves to add wood flavor, a significant cost savings results compared to the use of
oak barrels. In addition, micro-oxygenation can remove green characters and sulfides from
Jamie Goode in The Science of Wine (2005) notes, “Although micro-oxygenation is quite a
new technique, the enthusiasm with which winemakers have adopted it suggests that there
must be something to it, even though the exact details of the underlying science aren't
actually clear yet.” He quotes Clark Smith of Vinovation as saying, “All the enormous Central
Valley producers are currently using micro-oxygenation techniques, and perhaps as many as
one-third of the ultra-premium North Coast wineries are at least experimenting with it.”
Not all large producers of inexpensive wine resort to these shortcuts. Take Kendall-Jackson, for example. The
2008 and 2009 vintages of their Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir (reviewed below) that retail for $18, can
frequently be found for a dollar or two less, and offer a very good drinking experience. Tapping into their vast Pinot Noir vineyard holdings, Kendall-Jackson produces a Pinot Noir with a production level of over 50,000
cases that will raise the eyebrows of even the most stodge pinotphile. The Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir is aged
for 9 months in 15% new, 95% French, oak barrels. The lots, which come from Monterey County, Santa
Barbara County and Mendocino County, are kept separate until the final California blend.
The recent explosion of second labels offered by premium Pinot Noir producers is a reaction in part to the
lucrative market for good, affordable Pinot Noir. Certainly, oak staves and micro-oxygenation are not part of
the winemaking regimen for these serious Pinot Noir producers, but they are often shouldered with very
drinkable wine that does not fit into their vineyard-designate or appellation bottling program. A good example
of this are the $19 2009 Pali Wine Co. Cuvée Pinot Noirs. As owners Tim Perr and Scott knight hand-selected
barrels for their single-vineyard bottlings, they found they were left with excess juice. Combined with
recession-driven reduced prices for premium grapes, they were able to fashion a more economical tier of wines
made with the same commitment to high-quality winemaking that they employ for their single-vineyard Pinot
Noirs. The appellation blend Pinot Noirs, each named for a specific neighborhood in the town of Pacific
Palisades, California (the hometown of the owners) were launched with the 2007 vintage. Current production
of the Cuvée Program is 8,000 cases, with plans to expand to 20,000 cases within the next few years. The
wines are vinified by winemaker Aaron Walker under the guidance of consulting winemaker Kenneth Juhasz
(Donum Estate, Robert Stemmler, Auteur).
The Siduri Sonoma County and appellation bottlings and the Et Fille Willamette Valley Pinot Noir reviewed
elsewhere in this issue fit into this category as well.
I often am asked, “What is a good affordable Pinot Noir?” Wine drinkers don’t ask for a “great” affordable Pinot
Noir, knowing that there is no such thing. Reviewed below are several Pinot Noirs that emphatically answer
the question. I have included a few wines that retail over $30 at the winery, but can be found in the
marketplace for less than $30. In the under $30 category of Pinot Noir, the economy has forced retailers to
lower their prices even further and bargains abound. Check www.vinquire.com, www.winezap.com,
www.wineaccess.com, or www.wine-searcher.com for sources.
What you get with many under $30 Pinot Noirs: attractive pricing, often discounted; some screw cap closures;
light, fruity, food-friendly casual drinking; early drink ability; ease of discovery and purchase due to large
production. What you don’t get with many under $30 Pinot Noirs: aromas and flavors that last over time in the
glass; age ability; nuance and layering of flavor; purity of flavors unencumbered by oak; the sensuality and
sophistication of Pinot Noir. Good and Geek are a few miles apart. You get what you pay for.
2009 Pali “Alphabets” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
1,030 cases, $19. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak barrels.
This wine rises above its humble upbringing. Lovely aromas of
raspberry jam on brioche with a hint of coffee: breakfast in a Pinot.
Very tasty medium weighted flavors of raspberries and cherries with
accents of dark chocolate and coffee. Juicy, crisp and refreshing, this
smooth player has just enough intense flavor and persistence on the finish to
make you sit up and take notice. Very good.
2009 Pali “Bluffs” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 1,229 cases, $19. Aged 10 months in 20%
new French oak barrels.
Starts out with a flamboyant perfume of black cherries, sage and coriander seeds but
fades over time, becoming less interesting with notes of cherry cola and raisins. Candied cherry flavors with a
savory herbal note on the relatively short finish. A smooth operator that seduces more with the flavors than the
2009 Pali “Riviera” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 3,576 cases, $19. Aged 10 months in 20% new
French oak barrels.
Difficult to coax much aromatic interest out of this wine presently, offering subdued aromas
of black cherries, black raspberries and oak. Much more interesting in the mouth, with pleasing red fruit flavors
set off by bright acidity. Fruit-driven and highly drinkable. Good.
2008 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve California Pinot Noir
alc., >50,000 cases, $18. Jackson Estates
Delicate aromas of darker red berries and raisins with a hint of oak. Mildly intense flavors of
strawberries, raspberries and cherries with some persistence on the fruit-driven, dry finish. Smooth in the
mouth and easy to drink. Will work beautifully at the table when Pinot Noir is called for. Good.
2009 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve California Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., >50,000 cases, $18. Jackson Estates grown.
aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries with hints of exotic
woods. Medium-weight flavors of slightly confected red cherries and
berries with the slightest oak vanillin evident. Impressively smooth
like Elvis on velvet. I kept sipping over an extended period and the
wine kept delivering appealing fruit flavor. All you could ask for at
this price: low alcohol, smooth texture, simple but tasty fruit, instant drinkability,
ease of acquisition, all from a renowned producer. Good (+).
2009 Meiomi California Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $18, screw cap. 47% Sonoma County, 19% Monterey
County, 34% Santa Barbara County. “May-OH-mee.” Winemaker Joseph J. Wagner of Belle Glos Wines.
Dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Demure blueberry and plum sauce aromas with distracting oak char.
Teeth-staining core of vivid black raspberry, strawberry, plum and cassis flavors with an underpinning of oak
toast and vanillin. Blessed with pillowy tannins. This fruit-driven wine will find fans but the oak influence
becomes more prominent over time in the glass leading to a jam-on-toast taste. I preferred the 2008 version of
this wine, both of which are widely distributed and found on many restaurant wine lists. Decent (+).
2008 Argyle Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
7,000 cases, $30, screw cap. Winemaker is Rollin Soles.
color intensity. Appealing aromas of cherries, cola, rose petals and
underbrush. Elegant and soft in the mouth, offering discreet flavors
of cherries and berries which carry through on the somewhat lengthy
finish. A refreshing wine that holds the oak in check and shows
some increasing intensity over time in the glass. Good (+).
2009 Brooks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 2,600 cases, $22. 9 vineyard sources. Grapes were
100% de-stemmed and fermented in individual lots. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak with some
Hungarian oak. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Initially the nose
offers demure but satisfying aromas of red cherries and berries, dried rose petals and a hint of baking spice.
The aromatic intensity fades over time in the glass with a touch of alcohol rearing up. Medium-weighted red
fruit flavors with a nice smack of cherry on the finish. Very soft tannins and a smooth mouth feel make for easy
approachability. A fruit-forward wine offering a glimpse of the 2009 vintage in Oregon which offers more
upfront charm than the 2008 vintage and higher alcohols. Good.
2008 Patricia Green Cellars Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $29. Blended from wines in
the cellar that are a cut above the Oregon designation but don’t fit into a vineyard or special bottling.
core of dark berries and dark stone fruits with hints of cola and citrus. Plenty of oak overshadows the fruit.
Soft in the mouth with brisk acidity. Decent.
2009 Poppy Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $15.
Moderately intense color. Appealing immediately
with aromas of black cherries and berries, spice, white pepper and oak and flavors that echo the nose with a
subtle underlying grapefruit and woody note. Easy to drink with a decent structural backbone supporting the
middleweight fruit, but fades in aromatic and flavor intensity in the glass over time and delivers a shallow finish.
2009 Wind Gap Gap’s Crown and Griffin’s Lair Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., 314
cases, $29. From Pax Mahle Wines. Hand-numbered bottles.
Shy scent of black cherries with generous oakdriven
aromas of spice, smoke and mocha java. Dark-fruited with plenty of smoky oak, coffee and tar in the
background. Somewhat better when re-tasted later in the day with some reduced oak influence but the fruit in
this wine still plays second-fiddle to the oak. May show better oak integration with a year or two in the cellar.
2008 The Other Guys Pennywise California Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., pH
3.81, $10-$13. 94% Pinot Noir, 5% Syrah, 1% Merlot. 70% Monterey (Pinot
Noir), 24% Clarksburg (Pinot Noir), 5% River Junction, 1% Paso Robles.
Clones are Pommard, 115, 667 and 777.
Interesting depiction of a stamp on
the label. Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of red
cherries and berries with a hint of smoky oak. Soft and silky in the mouth with
medium-weighted cherry and berry flavors set off by oak-driven brown spices
and cola. Some hearty grape variety influence is evident. Reserved tannins
and a dry finish. Decent (+).
2008 The Other Guys MooBuzz Monterey Pinot Noir
pH 3.78, $14-$15, bright yellow Zork closure. 95% Pinot Noir, 5%
Syrah (for color and richness). 95% Monterey (Pinot Noir), 5% Paso
Robles (Syrah). Back label says, “High on a rugged remote central
California hilltop, now and then a cow moos to the accompaniment of
buzzing bees.” Front label sports a topographical map of Monterey.
Very cool package.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the
glass. This wine offers a generous drinking experience with aromas and flavors
of cherries and strawberries with mild smoky oak overtones. Very mild tannins,
with a refreshing lift of fruit on the finish. Good (+).
2007 Selby Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 579
cases, $27.69, released June 2010. Crafted by Susie Selby. 55%
Love Vineyard, 45% Calegari Vineyard. Aged 15 months in 35% new
Moderately light purple color with a reddish rim. A nicely
composed wine with very attractive perfume of Bing cherries,
strawberries, baking spices and fresh pastry. Red-fruit-driven with a
charming cherry kiss on the lingering finish. Elegant, with enough
fruit, acid and tannin to take on the alcohol. Very typical Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir. One of my favs at last year’s Pigs & Pinot event. Very good.
2008 Willowbrook Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $24,
screw cap. Multiple Gold Medals. This winery is really on its game.
tasty and spirited wine with welcoming aromas of berry pie and black
cherry tart. Juicy fruit flavors highlighted by lively acidity and
gossamer tannins with subtle oak notes playing in the background. I
found this wine for $13 at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa! Be sure to try the
other 2007 and 2008 Willowbrook Pinot Noirs now offered. Good (+).
2009 Enkidu Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 900 cases, $28.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in
the glass. The nose is dominated by oak with very little fruit evident. Heavily oak-imbued melange of cherries
and berries on the palate. Silky and juicy, but doesn’t deliver much fruit flavor now. May improve with more
time the bottle. I have enjoyed other Enkidu Pinots but found this one disappointing. Decent.
2009 Pellegrini Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.93% alc., $28. 49% Occidental
Road, 33% Burnside Road, 14% BCD and 4% Pierres vineyards.
Bright Bing cherry and fresh strawberry
aromas with whiffs of oak and dark chocolate. Discreetly intense red cherry and red berry flavors with a slight
confected (Red Vines), earthy, and dark chocolate undertone. Reserved, fine-grain tannins. Well-crafted, but
only of moderate flavor interest. Decent (+).
2009 Balletto Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., pH 3.59,
4,004, $24. Sourced from four vineyards, 16 different lots, 12 different
clones. Natural yeast fermentation. Aged in 25% new French oak
barrels for 9 months.
Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the
glass. Penetrating aromas of blackberry jam with hints of spice, purple
roses and oak. Moderately intense core of dark berry and stone fruits
with a lasting impression of Hoisin sauce on the finish. Veers to the riper fruit
side. Some silky charm with bright acidity. ($16 at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa).
2008 Trecini Vicini Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., $35. Clones 777 and 828. Frost reduced yields to 3/4
ton per acre. Aged in new and minimally used French Burgundy oak
barrels for 11 months.
Opens slowly in the glass to reveal appealing
aromas of ripe strawberries, grape must, sandalwood and pine pitch.
Discreetly concentrated wave of pretty black cherry and berry fruit
underlain with flavors of cola, baking spice and oak, wrapped in mild
unresolved tannins and offering a soft mouthfeel. There is an appealing
freshness to the fruit here. Typical Russian River Valley offering. I found it at
Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa for $24. Good (+).
2008 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., pH 3.78, $20,
released December 2009. Aged 9 months in 98% French (17% new)
and 2% American (100% new) oak.
Soft aromas of black cherries,
blackberry jam and violets, picking up intensity with swirling.
Lightweight flavors of darker Pinot fruits with supple tannins and a
velvety mouthfeel. Often discounted and a solid daily drinker.
2008 Paradise Ridge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 240 cases,
$29. Sourced from 2 vineyards, 4 clones.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Subdued scent of
strawberries, Bing cherries, and sandalwood. Crisp and elegant in style with understated flavors of red Pinot
fruits wrapped in supple tannins. Decent.
2007 Macrae Family Vineyards Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $30. Winemaker Kerry
Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. Lovely,
complex nose offering aromas of black cherries, mixed berries, rose
petals and newly sawn wood. Lighter weighted, crisp and juicy, with
ripe stone fruit flavors and a hint of grapefruit peel in the background.
Good (+). (Note: check with winery on availability as this was
obtained from Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa and is not offered on the winery’s
2008 Calstar Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
15.05% alc., pH 3.42, $35. Aged in 30%
new oak (80% French, 20% Hungarian). Winemaker Rick Davis (Londer).
Moderately light in color. Appealing
aromas of spiced berry jam on toast which fade some over time in the glass. Tasty essence of red berries with
satisfying flavor intensity. Supple tannins, a refreshing grip of acidity and well-integrated alcohol. Good. (Note:
I found the wine discounted to $28)
2008 Babcock Grand Cuvée Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., $30.
Attractive aromas of black cherries,
red currants and strawberries with a touch of spice box. Shallow dark fruit flavors which have a noticeable
underpinning of oak. The nose trumps the flavors in this linear wine. Does pick up a bit with time in the glass.
Mining for Very Good Over-$30 Pinot:Upping the Ante
2007 Tondré Tondré Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 400 cases, $43. Winemaker Anthony Craig (Sonnet, Muns
Vineyard, Silver Mountain Vineyards), grower Joe Tondre Alarid. 60%
Pommard, 40% 777. 37% Hungarian oak. 100% de-stemmed.
aromas of dark berry tart, plum sauce with notes of spice and vanilla.
Very tasty essence of black raspberries with a complimentary peppery
spice and a hint of mocha java. Very charming with impeccable balance and a
silky mouth feel that makes an impression. Quintessential Santa Lucia
Highlands at a sensible price (Note: retail price is $43 which is not
unreasonable considering the quality, but I found it for $23 at Bottle Barn in
Santa Rosa: apparently a close out on this vintage as it was released December 2009).
2008 Lucia Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 550 cases, $40. From Garys’ and Pisoni
vineyards, about 50% each.
Deep, dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Ripe and raisiny nose with scents of
porto and sassafras. The flavors follow in step in this well-balanced wine that is appealingly soft in the mouth.
2008 Chehalem Stoller Vineyards Dundee Hills Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., $36, screw cap.
Aromas of dark red
cherries and berries, generously oaked. Very demure and reserved red berry flavors which are rather linear.
Soft and smooth with a well-proportioned tannic backbone and oak playing a supporting role. Like many 2008
Pinot Noirs from Oregon, this one needs more time in the cellar. Potentially charming. Good.
2008 Suacci Carciere Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., $33.
From a 6.5-acre vineyard planted in the especially cool Blucher Valley southwest
of Sebastopol. Clones 115 and 777. 100% de-stemmed, indigenous and
resident yeast fermentation, aged 11 months in French oak barrels. Winemaker
is Ryan Zepaltas (Siduri, Zepaltas).
Moderately light, redder-toned color in the
glass. Reduction apparent upon opening and the wine needs some coaxing to
emerge. Appealing red berry and cherry flavors, generously spiced, with soft
tannins and a welcoming, elegant framework. Considerable more aromatic and
flavorful the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. This
wine will reward further cellaring. Very good. (Note: the 2007 Suacci Carciere
Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay is a stunning wine)
2008 August Truth Split Rock Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.46, $38. Dijon clones.
Aged 14 months in oak. Winemaker is Chris Nelson. Deeply colored.
Brooding black fruits which are super
ripe with a kiss of oak. Noticeably intense and big-boned array of black raspberry and black plum flavors with a
slightly stewed tone, underpinned with notes of earth and oak char. Reserved, slightly grainy tannins with a
good acid backbone. Decent.
2007 Valdez Lancel Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Moderately dark ruby color in the glass. Lovely, spirited nose brightly
perfumed with black cherries and boysenberries accented with a floral note.
Ripely flavored and muscular in style with prodigious black current, black plum
and dark berry flavors wrapped in flamboyant tannins. Needs a big steak.
Valdez wines are not bashful or demure, and reflect Ulises Valdez’s gregarious
personality. Good (+).
2008 Sean Thackrey Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Marin County Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $45.
Moderately light in color. Unique array of aromas
including green garden, cut flowers, and Ponzu. The flavors are unusual and
challenging to describe in the manner that I have come to expect from this
quirky, talented producer. The wine does not follow the usual hardline flavor
profile of Pinot Noir but does offer some tasty black cherry and berry fruit. A
leafy, green note runs consistently through the taste profile as well as oakderived
vanilla. Soft in the mouth and nicely balanced, this wine was more
interesting the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Could
be very interesting a few years down the road. For the adventurous. Good (+).
(Note: Sean Thackrey:Wine Maker website is a highly recommended visit if you have any interest in the history
2008 Bedrock Rebecca’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., 189 cases, $34 (sold out). From a tiny winery owned by winemaker Morgan
Twain-Peterson. Sourced from a 12-year-old vineyard owned by the
Hermsmeyer family across the street from Joe Swan Winery and adjacent
Kistler’s Vine Hill Vineyard. Native yeast fermentation. Aged in 55% new supertight-
grained French oak barrels. Racked once before blending and bottling.
Brooding nose initially, opening slowly to reveal delicate aromas of spiced black
cherries and subtle oak notes. Delicious middle to heavy weight core of black
cherry and black raspberry fruit with a pouty kiss of cherries that sails smoothly
through the long finish. The seductive fruit has a mineral component and is
robed in young, healthy tannins. Oak contributes flavors of spice and mocha java. Still young, and deserving
of a few years in the cellar to soften the tannins and fully integrate the oak. Great potential here. Very good.
2007 Bien Nacido Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $52.
The inaugural bottling under the Bien Nacido Vineyards label.
color in the glass. Ripe black cherry and black raspberry aromas with
plenty of smoky, toasted oak. Abundance of very ripe-flavored dark berry, black
currant and black plum fruit dragged down by too much smoky oak. Softly
textured and easy to approach, with the structure to age. Disappointing at this
price especially considering the venerated vineyard source. Decent.
2009 Ledson Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.95, 693
cases, $60. Aged 10 months in65% new French oak barrels.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely aromas of fresh ripe, crushed
strawberries, dried cherries and spice box. Attacks the palate with a load of
Pinot extract, offering a plush drinking experience with subtle oak highlights, but
lacking in acid backbone. Plenty of velvety flesh on the bones and fruit-lovers
will adore this Caliesque wine, but I don’t think it has enough tannin and acid to
go the distance and is best consumed young. Good (+).
2009 Byron Nielson Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
alc., 1,028 cases, $34. From Santa Barbara’s first commercial vineyard,
planted in 1964. Clones are 2A, Swan, 667, 828, 114, 115, 777. Small
yields and tiny berries from a windy, arid site producing low-vigor. Aged
16 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
Highly aromatic with scents
of plum reduction sauce, dark roses, lavender and Santa Maria spice.
The flavors of dark plums, purple grapes and dark berries are quite distinctive
and zesty, with an impressive aromatic lift of black cherries on the finish. A little
earthy, a little spicy, with well-proportioned fine-grain tannins and a pleasingly
smooth mouth feel. Drank beautifully the next day from a previously opened
and re-corked bottle. Immensely satisfying. (Note: the 2009 Byron Santa Maria
Valley bottling at $25 is quite good as well and was reviewed previously)
2008 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $60.
Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Dark
cherry and berry perfume with striking Moroccan spice and an underlying
green, stemmy note. A medium-bodied mix of cherries and berries taking on
more intensity over time in the glass and assuming a savory herbal tone. I
suspect the whole cluster fermentation contributes the attractive spice
elements to this wine as well as the unattractive green component. Tasted
later in the day with dinner, the wine really sang with the food. Tasted the
following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the green edge to
the aromas and flavors was still evident. Time will tell whether this will change.
2009 Simple Math Cellars Integer II Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
pH 3.93, 70 cases, $35. Sourced from Keller, Rodgers Creek and Sangiacomo
vineyards. Aged 19 months in 70% 1-year-old Francois Fréres and Demptos
French oak barrels. Pommard, Dijon 115, 667, 777 and 828.
sporting aromas of dark cherries, earth and peat, later becoming smoky and
tarry. Dark red cherry essence with toasted oak and spice in the background.
Nicely balanced and very Russian River Valley in character. Good.
2009 Tessier Trenton Station Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH 3.50, 182 cases, $35. Clone 37 (Mt. Eden). Aged in 35% new
French oak. Winemaker Kristie Tacey.
Some reduction upon opening, quickly
resolving to reveal aromas of red fruits, fading over time becoming muted and
nondescript. Red-fruit driven with flavors of cranberries, cherries and
raspberries with some earth and savory herbs in the background. Bright acidity
with a cherry-toned tangy finish. Light and elegant, offering more flavor interest
over time in the glass. A Burgundian-styled Pinot that grows on you. Good.
One of the joys of what I do is discovering small boutique producers of Pinot Noir. I receive inquiries weekly
from new producers and some of them pan out, others have not reached the gold ring yet. In January 2010 I
received an e-mail from Macario Montoyo asking to submit his Campesino Cellars Pinot Noir for review. I had
no clue who he was but his name piqued my interest. I have had a long-standing attraction to stories of the
Mexican immigrant fieldworkers and their success in the California wine business. I wrote about their triumphs
previously in the PinotFile (www.princeofpinot.com/article/707/).
Macario grew up in the small town of Elmira, near Napa Valley. At the University of Notre Dame, his interest in
wine was piqued and after working six years in the corporate world as a financial adviser, he gave up his suit
and tie for purple hands and pruning shears, returning to his longings to craft wine. Griselda Montoya grew up
in the Carneros region of Napa, always surrounded by vineyards and wine. Her brothers and their spouses
founded Ceja Vineyards. She is currently a vice president client manager for Bank of America and as a lover of
wine, founded Campensino Cellars with Macario.
The Campesino label is quite intriguing, featuring the hands of Griselda’s father, Pablo Ceja. They represent
the gnarled hands of a man who labored in the vineyards for forty years after immigrating from Mexico in 1967.
Macario commissioned his younger brother, Maceo, an accomplished writer and artist, to draw Pablo’s hands
for the label.
Campesino (“Camp-pe-si-no”) translates in English as fieldworker. The Campesino Cellars wines are a
homage to all campesinos. “A mis carnales y mis carnala gracias por su trabajo”: To my brothers and sisters
thank you for your work.
Campesino Cellars offers a Sonoma Coast Syrah from Sangiacomo Vineyard and a Napa Carneros Pinot Noir
from Papi y Chula Vineyard. The Papi y Chula Vineyard is owned and farmed by the Ceja family, The vineyard
is the site where Griselda spent her childhood and where she and Macario were married in 2007. The 5-acre
vineyard, which is located but a mile from San Pablo Bay, is farmed by Griselda’s brother, Armando Ceja.
2008 Campesino Cellars Papi y Chula Vineyard Los Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 50 cases, $38. Aged 18 months in
seasoned French oak barrels.
Moderate violet color in the glass. Highly
perfumed with deep aromas of earth-kissed plums, black raspberries,
underbrush, oak and cardamom spice. The dark berry and stone fruit
flavors are perfectly ripe, delicious and persistent, with appealing accents
of grilled mushrooms and faint oak. I thought I could taste the soil in this wine.
Beautifully balanced with supple, well-tamed tannins. Hard to imagine how
something so grand can come from something as simple as a grape.
Campesino Cellars wines are available through the winery’s online store at www.campesinocellars.com. Join
the mailing list for future releases.
Note about Ceja Vineyards. “Vinum Cantus Amore,” loosely translates to “Wine, Song and Love,” the motto of
Ceja Winery. In 1967, Pablo Ceja, his wife Juanita, and their six children said goodbye to friends and family in
Mexico and immigrated to the United States as part of the guest worker Brasero Program established after
World War II. The entire family worked in the vineyards after their arrival. After many years in that program,
Pablo moved to St. Helena and toiled in local wineries. Later, he moved his family to the Carneros region. In
1983, the now extended family pooled their resources and invested in 15 acres of Carneros land. In 1986, 13
acres were planted to Pinot Noir. Ceja Vineyards eventually acquired other land and now farm four large
vineyards comprising 113 producing acres. In 1998, Ceja Vineyards, Inc., was founded to produce premium
Carneros wines. Today, Ceja produces both a Carneros and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and a sparkling Blanc
de Noir and sparkling Brut. A glass of Ceja Pinot Noir is like a drink of history. You can see the land, smell the
passion and dedication, and taste the journey. A true American immigrant success story. Visit the website at
www.cejavineyards for more information.
Tantara: Thoroughbred Pinots
Jeff Fink and Bill Cates both hale from Virginia, but met in California and founded Tantara Winery as partner
winemakers in 1997. The label prominently features a horse once owned by Bill Cates named Tantara. Ask
Jeff to tell you the humorous story behind the horse. After being retired to pasture, the mare defied those who
predicted an imminent demise and lived a long life. The horse symbolizes grace and power as well as long life,
all qualities that Tantara wines embrace.
Tantara produces a broad range of vineyard-designated Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay from
multiple very high-end Central Coast sources and also farms 14 acres at Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa
Maria Valley (2 acres of Bien Nacido G Block Pinot Noir, 10 acres of other Pinot Noir, and 2 acres of Syrah).
Vineyard sources include Bien Nacido, Dierberg, Solomon Hills, Sanford & Benedict, Rio Vista, Lindsay’s,
Talley Rincon, La Colline, Silacci, Pisoni, Garys’ and Brousseau. In 2008, Tantara produced a dozen Pinot
Noirs and five Chardonnays.
The 2008 vintage began with an April frost in some Tantara vineyards, but the growing season was moderate
and even. Unlike the 2007 vintage wines that had high levels of tannin and took a lengthy time to show
themselves, the 2008 vintage wines have more precocious aromatics and flavors. I recently sampled three of
the 2008 Tantara Pinot Noirs. I have tasted a number of Tantara Pinots through the years at dinners and
festivals, but never had the opportunity to sit down and seriously taste. I found the wines to be a revelation. All
were deeply colored with bold flavors with plenty of Santa Maria Valley soul. The tannins and oak were well managed,
the silky textures were very appealing, and the wines were impeccably balanced. These are
extremely well-crafted wines that represent the best that Santa Maria Valley has to offer.
The winemaking regimen for Pinot Noir at Tantara is as follows. The grapes are de-stemmed with some whole
cluster included depending on the vineyard and vintage, and fermented with both native and proprietary yeast
in open top vats. Punch down is by traditional methods. Aging is carried out in modest new French oak. The
wine is racked after undergoing MLF in barrel and left undisturbed until it is blended and bottled, unfined and
Tantara wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and online at www.tantarawinery.com. Tasting at the
winery, located at Bien Nacido Vineyards, is available by appointment (805-938-5051). Jeff is a very laid back
guy (despite his serious demeanor below) who will charm you with his personality and his wines. Saddle up.
2008 Tantara Bien Nacido Vineyard Old Vine Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., pH 3.50, 167 cases, $48. Own-rooted Pommard
4 clone planted in 1973 (G Block). Average yields 1.9 tons per acre.
80% de-stemmed. Aged 16 months in 30% new French oak.
nose offers flamboyant aromas of black cherries and spice box including
star anise. The wine pumps out the aromas consistently over time in the
glass. Tasty core of plum, black cherry and dark berry flavors with an appealing
spice and earthy undertone. This wine literally tastes like the earth in which it is
grown. Veers slightly to the ripe side but does not cross the line. Moderately
rich with a smooth mouth feel, supple tannins, and a clean finish. Bien Nacido
Vineyard at its best.
2008 Tantara La Colline Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.40, 383 cases, $48.
La Colline is part of Laetitia Vineyard, located four miles inland from the Pacific Ocean at the base of Picacho
Peak, an extinct volcano. Own-rooted Martini clone planted in 1981. Average yields 2.1 tons per acre. 80%
de-stemmed, 20% whole cluster fermented with native yeast. Aged 16 months in 40% new French oak barrels.
The nose is primary with subdued fruit and aromas of wet leaf, earth and subtle oak. Dark red fruits are
discreetly composed with an earthy, grilled mushroom underpinning. Beautifully balanced with supple tannins
and juicy acidity. Plenty of charming fruit waiting to get out in this backward wine. Patience will be rewarded.
2008 Tantara Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.40, 387 cases, $48. From a 97-acre vineyard located
14 miles from the Pacific Ocean with a strong maritime influence. Clones
are Dijon 777, 667, 115, 2A, and Pommard 5 planted in 1999. 80% destemmed
with 20% whole cluster. Aged 16 months in 30% new French
Opens slowly in the glass, seducing you gradually. Enticing
aromas of dark cherries with a hint of dark chocolate and spice. Amazingly
persistent on the palate and through the lengthy finish. The flavors of plum and
black cherry are intense and vivid, yet the wine retains a charming, silky
finesse. Even better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle. Angelina Jolie in dark red velvet.
Solomon Hills Vineyard
West Sonoma Coast Vintners
A group of wineries and vineyards on the western, coastal part of the Sonoma Coast have joined to form the
West Sonoma Coast Vintners (WSCV) association. These West County Pinot Noir producers have longed to
distinguish themselves from the more inland Sonoma Coast wineries who are in a distinctly different environ.
The WSCV vintners are located on the “true” Sonoma Coast, a strip of ridge top vineyards that demonstrate a
specific expression of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The region includes the growing areas of Annapolis, Fort
Ross/Seaview, Occidental, Freestone, Green Valley and Sebastopol Hills. The work of this group may lead to
a separate appellation one day, but for now they are content to educate consumers on why wines from West
Sonoma Coast are distinctive.
Winery members of WSCV include: Boehme Wines, Chasseur, Failla Wines, Flowers Vineyard & Winery,
Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery, Freestone Vineyards, Hawk Hill Vineyard, Hirsch
Winery, Littorai Wines, Patz & Hall Wine Company, Peay Wines, Ramey Wine Cellars, Red Car Wine
Company, and Small Vines Wines.
The West Sonoma Coast Vintners will launch a new wine festival in 2011 on
August 5-7 called “West of West Wine Festival or W.O.W.” The weekend-long
event will be held in Occidental and will feature some of the most highly regarded
Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Syrahs from West Sonoma County. Welcome
dinners will be hosted by member wineries on August 5, Saturday will begin with
morning seminars and will be followed by a Grand Tasting, culminating that
evening with a Whole Hog Feast at the 130-year-old Union Hotel. Sunday,
August 7 will feature barrel tastings and open houses at all participating wineries. Tickets are available now at
www.westsonomacoast.com or 1-888-878-9645. Be sure to get tickets for the Ted Lemon/Burt Williams
Winemakers Studio on Saturday morning, August 6. I already have my tickets for this extraordinary inaugural
My Purple Tongue Days with PET
Petite Sirah is celebrating 50 years since Concannon Vineyard’s James Concannon bottled the first varietally
labeled Petite Sirah in California in 1961. This brought back memories of my early dalliances with Petite Sirah.
My formative years with wine involved many bottles of Mateus, Lancers, Blue Nun and Spanada. After my
medical training and stint in the U.S. Air Force, I had enough spendable income to dabble in real wine. I was
drawn to Petite Sirah because of its bold, sweet blackberry jam flavors and black pepper spice. It seemed to
me the perfect wine to pair with grilled steak and in those days, my cooking repertoire was largely limited to
barbecuing steaks. There was one Petite Sirah in particular that caught my attention: Concannon Vineyard.
Maybe it was the fact that Concannon was the first California winery to label a wine Petite Sirah, or maybe it
was because the winery had some familiar kinship (founder James Concannon was born on St. Patrick’s Day
in Ireland). Most likely it was because I liked the taste of the masculine wine and as a young bachelor,
identified with its machismo style.
The Petite Sirah grape was developed in 1880 by Francois Durif in Montpellier, France by crossing Syrah and
Peloursin. Syrah is the noble variety that originated in France’s Northern Rhome and is the basis of the great
wines of Hermitage. Peloursin is from a more humble background originating in Southern France. Since
cross breeding of grapes is frowned upon in France, Petite Sirah was not accepted there and found a new
home in the United States, where along with Zinfandel became America’s own variety. Petite Sirah and Durif
are interchangeable synonyms for the same grape.
Petite Sirah is sometimes mistakenly spelled Petite Syrah, which historically was the spelling used by Rhone
growers to refer to the small berries of some of their Syrah grapevines. Immigrant winegrowers used the
phrase Petite Syrah to refer to the lower yields that the Syrah vines were producing in California, and old timers
called Petite Sirah “Petty Sarah.” Today, Petite Sirah has taken on the shortened name, “PET.”
Current DNA research at the University of Calfornia at Davis indicates that there are at least three diffrerent
varieties that go by the name of Petite Sirah but only one is apparently Durif.
First planted in California in 1884, Petite Sirah was the blending backbone of many home made Prohibition-era
wines. According to the Petite Sirah advocacy group, P.S. I Love You, there were approximately 4,440 acres of
Petite Sirah planted in the United States when James Concannon bottled America’s first varietally labelled
Petite Sirah. The grape, like James Concannon, has shown plenty of pluck. It survived phylloxera in the
1890s, both World Wars, the Depression and Prohibition. Fifty years later, acreage has nearly doubled, to
7,592 acres, and there are now 723 producers that feature a Petite Sirah in their lineup of wines. Recent
Nielsen data shows that Petite Sirah was a popular varietal with consumers in 2010, the second fastest
growing red varietal in the industry, narrowly behind Pinot Noir.
Concannon Vineyard, located in the East Bay in Livermore, California, was the first
winery I visited. It was around 1974 when I bought my first case of wine at
Concannon, one of life’s rites of passage. Concannon Vineyard is now a member of
California’s 100-year-old club and its history is fascinating. Founder James
Concannon left Ireland in 1964 at the age of 17. He was an adventurous type who
would need all his intelligence, character, grit, and luck to succeed. He landed in
Boston, and eventually found a job as a bell boy at a hotel in Augusta, Maine. It was
there he met and married an Irish lass, Ellen Rowe. In 1874, Concannon,
accompanied by his wife and new baby, traveled in a covered wagon across the
country to Oregon.
After initially managing a sheep ranch, Concannon moved to San Francisco and made
considerable money selling rubber stamps throughout the West Coast. He became a
respected businessperson at age 32. His success allowed him to pursue his interest
in viticulture. He enrolled in college to learn about grape growing and traveled to France to find good rootstock.
In 1883, he planted his first 40 acres in the Livermore Valley, east of San Francisco. The cuttings were from
Chateau Y’Quem. A few years later, Concannon became the first Irish immigrant to make wine in America.
When Prohibition came into effect, Concannon was one of the few wineries that legally stayed in business
because Petite Sirah was a main ingredient in sacramental wines.
The Concannon Vineyard has passed through a few hands (first Wente, most recently The Wine Group), but
direct descendant and fourth generation vintner John Concannon is active at the winery. Petite Sirah has
remained the flagship wine for Concannon Winery. A public two-day celebration of Concannon’s historic
Livermore Valley winery is planned for August 13-14, 2011, and will include vertical tastings from Concannon’s
library. John Concannon will host retrospective tastings of Petite Sirah in over 50 markets across the nation in
John Concannon is a founding member of P.S. I Love You and hosts the wine industry’s annual national
symposium for growers and wine producers to share vineyard and production practices. This year’s event will
be held July 26, and will feature live-streaming online to allow consumers to ask questions directly to some of
the most notable vintners and growers in the Petite Sirah community.
The flavor profile of Petite Sirah is similar to Syrah but the wine is not as elegant. Typically, Petite Sirah is
darkly colored, inky and tannic, with a peppery note, and can very extremely long-lived.
I have a soft spot for Petite Sirah and occasionally pop the cork on a bottle from Concannon or Foppiano or
any one of the other many producers of Petite Sirah in California. Of course, the barbecue is always lit at the
Domaine Serene Rosé Domaine Serene has released a serious, dry Provence style rosé that is
barrel-aged. Labeled “r” but introduced as “R,” in an alluring bottle design, this rosé is sourced from the
Williamette Valley (50%), Walla Walla (10%) and Rogue Valley (40%). It is bottle-aged (55%, 10% new)
in French oak in the same manner as a Rosé de Provence. M. Eleni Papadakis is the winemaker.
$35/btl. Order at 866-864-6555 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Irish Wines are Smiling 2011 Sunday, March 13, 2:00-5:00, Rutherford Grange Hall, 8550
St. Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA. Second annual celebration of Irish involvement in wine and food. Wineries
participating include Flora Springs, Harrington Wines, Murphy Vineyards, Dillon Vineyards, Twomey Cellars,
and Waits-Mast Family Cellars. Hurley’s Restaurant will provide the food. Live traditional Iris music and
dancing. Tickets are $35 in advance: www.whenirishwinesaresmiling2011.eventbrite.com/.
St. Mark’s 2nd Annual Cellar Classic: Auction of Rare & Fine Wines St. Mark’s-in-the-
Valley Episcopal Church is hosting this event on Saturday, July 30, 2011, in the Church’s garden courtyard in
Los Olivos. The Cellar Classic is coordinated by a group of dedicated wine industry volunteers led by Brooks
Firestone (owner of Curtis Winery), Richard Harris (owner of Calzada Ridge), and Steve Pepe (owner of Clos
Pepe Vineyards). Both a live and silent auction will benefit the many community programs of the Church. Wine
journalist Gabe Saglie named St. Mark’s Cellar Classic one of the top ten not-to-miss wine events in 2011 and
noted that the 2010 event “gave the fancy Napa Auction a real run for its money.” Donated wines include a
1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc, a 1949 Leroy Musigny, and a double magnum of 1989 Diamond Creek Volcanic
Hill. Tickets are $100 per person in advance only. Contact Steve Pepe at email@example.com or call
IPNC Video Debuts Jay Selman of Grape Radio, videographers Andrea Johnson
and Robert Holmes, and myself, created a short video on the International Pinot Noir
Celebration. We are very proud of it. Check it out at www.ipnc.org/multimedia.php. This
summer (July 29-31, 2011), the 25th International Pinot Noir Celebration will be held in
McMinnville, Oregon. Many of the winemakers chefs, and media who attended the
inaugural event 25 years ago will be reunited including some of Oregon’s Pinot Noir
pioneers. This will be a memorable event and I would encourage you to attend, especially
if you have never been to this oldest North American Pinot Noir Festival. For tickets:
Peter Michael Debuts New Pinot Noirs In the fall of 2011, Peter Michael will release their first
Estate Pinot Noirs from the Seaview Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast: 2009 Le Caprice Estate Pinot Noir, 2009
Ma Danseuse Estate Pinot Noir, and 2009 Clos Du Ciel Estate Pinot Noir. The 400-acre site, bought in 1998,
is located at 1,000 to 1,500 feet above sea level in the Fort Ross-Seaview region of the true Sonoma Coast.
Planting of 30 acres of selected Burgundian field selection Pinot Noir started in 2006. The winemaker is Nicolas
Mortet. Peter Michael has produced Le Moulin Rouge for several years, a Pinot Noir from the famed Pisoni
Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Peter Michael wines are sold exclusively through a currently full
mailing list (6 to 18 months waiting period to be offered wine) at www.petermichael.com.
Cochon 555 So you couldn’t get tickets to this year’s Pigs & Pinot event in Healdsburg? Check out the
third US tour of Cochon 555 featuring five chefs, five pigs, and five wines. Events to come in Napa,
Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Francisco. A unique culinary
competition and wine tasting event to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs. Each city stop offers
local farmers the opportunity to connect with renowned chefs and the pork-loving public. Cochon 555 is the
only heritage breed pig culinary competition in the country. View trailer at www.cochon555.com/2011/
trailPop.html. Tickets and more information at www.cochon555.com.
PNizzle: A Pinot Noir Tasting Soirée Green Jug Fine Wine & Spirits is hosting
its inaugural Pinot Noir extravaganza featuring 36 wines from 22 boutique wineries
specializing in Pinot Noir from California and Oregon. The event will be held March 5 at
Morton’s Steakhouse in Woodland Hills, CA. Wineries include Bergström, Capiaux,
Dierberg, Erath, Flowers, Goldeneye, Ken Brown La Follette, LIOCO, Martinelli, Moshin,
Patz & Hall, Penner Ash, Sojourn and Woodenhead. Tickets are $60 including gourmet
food bites. Visit www.greenjug.com/shopexd.asp?id=20294.
Check out Byron Vineyard & Winery Sure, this large producer has been around a long time,
maybe it has been overlooked by those looking for the next great cult producer of Pinot Noir. Quality at this
Santa Maria Valley producer has never been greater. Winemaker Jonathan Nagy has been receiving well-deserved
press of late for his wines. I recently reviewed the 2009 Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
($17) and the 2009 Byron Nielsen Vineyard Pinot Noir ($34). These are exceptional wines priced right. A new
tasting room is open daily from 11:00 to 5:00 at 2367 Alamo Pintado Avenue in Los Olivos. 888-938-7310.
Dutton-Goldfield Pruning Tutorial Dutton-Goldfield sends out a frequent internet newsletter that is
very informative. Recently the newsletter spoke of the Dutton Ranch crew making progress with pruning. The
pictures below were provided that show how the various styles of vineyards and trellising are pruned. Below
left is a Cordon pruned vine, before and after pruning, and below right a Cane prune vine, before and after. For
the Unilateral Cordon pruned vine, two buds are left on each of about 12 spurs, and each spur is about 4-5
inches apart on the cordon (arm). The Cane pruned vine is pruned back to two new canes that will provide the
fruiting wood for this year. Visit www.duttongoldfield.com to sign up for the newsletter. The Pinots are great
Aging Pinot Noir: Not An Exact Science
One of my wine buddies used to say about any wine that was less than five years old, “It’s not ready to drink.
It’s a baby, a Lolita.” Sometimes I wondered if he ever enjoyed a bottle of wine, since he felt that any opened
wine would have been better with more age.
Judgments about when wine will reach it’s peak are very subjective. For me, I don’t want to worry about how
long to cellar a wine. I just pop the cork when I feel like drinking it. I happen to like wine when it is fresh and
flush with plenty of fruit, but I can appreciate an older wine at its zenith.
Winemaking techniques in North American today favor fruitiness, freshness and approachability upon release,
not extraction of tannins needed for a wine to age. That said, a quality wine crafted with balance has a good
chance of improving in the bottle and aging admirably. For domestic Pinot Noir, probably less than 20% of
wines produced will benefit from more than three years of cellaring. Only quality wines will become more
interesting over time in the bottle. Cellaring a bad bottle of wine for five years will not turn it into a better wine.
It has been suggested that persistence can predict age ability. Count the number of seconds a wine’s aroma
lasts on your palate once you spit or swallow the wine. If it lasts longer than 6 seconds, the aging potential is
good. More than 8 seconds, and the wine will likely last a number of years in the cellar. Another gauge of age
ability is the taste of a wine that has been opened and re-corked one, two, three days after opening. A wine
that improves after opening will often benefit and even shine with further time in the bottle.
Cellaring wine undisturbed at the correct temperature (about 55ºF) is essential for longevity. Magnums offer a
significantly increased chance of preservation and improvement in the cellar.
The golden rule of aging wine is to never let it slip past its prime. When a wine is dead, it will never come back
to life. Decrepitude is fatal. When you discover a wine that is at it’s peak, pull the cork on every bottle you
own, invite me over, and let’s party.