Red Car Wine Co.

Owner(s) Carroll Kemp
Web site
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Red Car Wine Co.

Mark Estrin and Carroll Kemp (Estrin is pictured on the left) of Red Car Wine Company released their first wine in 2000. In their earliest newsletter offering, they talked about their beginnings. “Smart people tell you that whenever you start a business it’s a good idea to have a theme that runs like a clear, cool stream through everything the business does. We knew that before we got Red Car rolling and we certainly tried to come up with a compelling one liner. But no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t quite get it right. This was particularly frustrating since one of us was a screenwriter for a number of years and the other produced films. Then, we were driving down a gravel road near Santa Ynez. We stopped and got out to look at a small vineyard on the other side of a wire fence. The dirt was light tan, studded with white rocks and stones. The air was pure and sweet. The sky was blue and powdered with high clouds. We just stood there. It was so quiet you could hear birds chirping a mile away And then one of us said, We tell stories. That’s what we’ve always done. That’s whatwe’re doing now, only with wine. Winemaking is storytelling. The weather, soil and vine are woven together to tell the story of a particular vintage and a particular place. We relate that story when we’re fortunate enough to meet you in person or when we communicate by newsletter or phone or email. We try to make our labels entertain and delight you. And finally, when you drink one of our wines, you are actually participating in that story.”

The two partners had the right idea and their labels on their upper tier wines offered a prose written by Estrin, each vintage offering a new chapter in an ongoing 1940s-era melodrama. The name Red Car was chosen as it evoked memories of the now defunct Los Angeles Red Car Trolley line. For Pinot Noir (they also produced Syrah from the start), they chose the name, Amour Fou, which is a French expression for a mad, obsessive love. The labels offered a tragic love affair that takes place in 1940s Los Angeles. The first release in 2002 featured a married man named Jack recollecting how his mad passion for another woman has lead him to a very dark place. The subsequent vintages carried on the novella.

Unfortunately, Mark Estrin died in May, 2005 at the age of 57 from a brain tumor. He had a successful career in screen writing beginning in 1979, but left that field in 1994 to pursue his passion for wine. Estrin worked at both Wally’s Liquor in Westwood and the Wine House in West Los Angeles. The unique Red Car approach to wine was fostered by his years selling wine to the public. He was beloved for his quiet sense of humor and a sophisticated taste for fine food, wine and cigars.. And although the distinctive Red Car labels and marketing drew much attention because of his efforts, the quality of the wines quickly caught the publics' admiration. Robert Parker wrote, “Red Car has the “Midas Touch” when it comes to producing wines of character and richness.”

After Estrin’s passing, Carroll Kemp continued to lead a team to improve the quality and character of the Red Car wines in his honor. The initial winemaker was Tim Spear who left to concentrate on his Clos Mimi label. In 2004, Sashi Moorman (Stolpman) and Chris King (Lewis Cellars) came on board the Red Car as consulting and assistant winemaker respectively.

The Amour Fou Pinot Noirs are blends. The initial partners, Carroll and Mark, were not “terroir-istes” at the start. They believed in making the best wines they could from more than one vineyard source. In 2004, Red Car Wine Company raised enough investment capital to buy 128 acres along the Sonoma Coast and vineyards developed here may change Red Car’s commitment to “single vineyard-istes.” Carroll says “we now prefer Pinot sites that are on the cool climatic edge. This allows us to obtain boldly ripe fruit that is still balanced with the zing of acidity. In California, this happens in Western Sonoma County or ‘West County’ in local-speak. Our new sites in the ‘true’ Sonoma Coast will give us another step forward when our ‘05s are released.” Their first vineyard-designate Pinot Noir, The Aphorist, was released with the 2005 vintage (see below).

The style of winemaking has evolved over the six vintages to date. Mark and Carroll produced their first two barrels of Syrah essentially in Carroll’s Beverly Hill’s garage. The initial vintage of Pinot Noir in 2002 was made like their Syrah and was quite popular with the press and Parker who preferred big, extracted Pinot Noirs. The focus now has reversed and the Syrahs are made more like their Pinot Noirs (the Syrah program was eventually discontinued). The Pinot Noirs gradually became crafted with more subtlety and complexity in mind. The single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the true Sonoma Coast in 2008 and 2009 have taken the transition further and show more nuance, balance and character.

Red Car Wine Company wines are sold primarily through a mailing list. There is limited restaurant and retail (mainly Los Angeles) distribution. Red Car has a new winery and tasting room in Graton on Gravenstein Highway which opened in2011. The website is very impressive and the newsletter as well as the labels are the best in the business.

Reviewed Wines

2014 Red Car Sonoma Coast Rosé of Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $28. Backbone is from the biodynamically farmed Bybee Vineyard in Sebastopol Hills. Pinot Noir was harvested at 21º Brix, whole cluster pressed off skins immediately, and fermented with wild yeast in a mix of stainless steel and French oak. · Delicate orange color in the glass. An exceptional rosé with a fragrant perfume of strawberries and blood orange juice and flavors of Rainier cherry, strawberry, and yellow peach. Bright, crisp and bone dry, with a lip-smacking finish that begs another sip. Chill, serve, chill. Score: 91. Reviewed May 14, 2015 ARTICLE »

2013 Red Car Estate Vineyard Fort Ross-Seaview Chardonnay

13.8% alc., pH 3.31, TA 0.73, 280 cases, $58 (sold out). Inaugural release. Old Hyde Wente selection. Wild yeast fermentation. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 17% new and 83% neutral. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. The nose leads with steely aromas of citrus oil and green apple. Refined and smooth on the palate, with good richness of flavors that include lemon curd, baked pear, spice and vanilla. The wine is vibrant, with a good underlying cut of lemon-infused acidity, and some intensity and persistence on the slightly tart, peach-infused finish. Score: 91. Reviewed June 14, 2015 ARTICLE »

2013 Red Car Heaven & Earth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.55, 570 cases, $68 (sold out). Sourced from Bohemian Station Vineyard located on a south-facing hillside in a valley, just east of Occidental. The site is notable for its “cool sunshine.” Calera and Dijon “828.” 15% whole cluster, wild yeast fermentation. Aged in French oak barrels for 12 months, 25% new and 75% neutral. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of black cherry, plum, spice and rose. Delightful flavors of purple berries, plum and spice are accented with a hint of oak and forest floor. The velvety texture is very seductive, the tannins are firm but not hard, and the finish offers plenty of length. Score: 92. Reviewed June 14, 2015 ARTICLE »

2011 Red Car Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.79, TA 0.522. 900-1000 feet elevation, southeast aspect, 3-10% slope, Calera, 828 and 777 clones on 420A rootstock, Ohlson Ranch sandstone soils. Average Brix 22.7º, 10% whole cluster, aged 14 months in 29% new French oak. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very shy nose but very appealing core of vivid dark fruits, a silky texture, admirable balance, and very good finishing fruit intensity. Should be marvelous in another year. Reviewed August 14, 2013 ARTICLE »

2010 Red Car Heaven & Earth Bohemian Station Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., $60. A 4.5 acre vineyard formerly known as La Boheme in Occidental supplies the fruit. Planted in 2004 to Calera, Pommard and 828. Average yields are less than 2.5 tons per acre. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Exotic nose of wild purple berries, Middle Eastern spices, with a little stem and floral bent. Deep, dark moderately dense dark berry and Hoisin flavor with a savory note of herbs in the background. Definitely earth bound with typical sinewy Sonoma Coast tannins. Good (+). Reviewed October 26, 2012 ARTICLE »

2009 Red Car Dreamland Platt Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.573, 90 cases, $60. Released April 2011. An extreme site that struggles to set fruit. Calera, 777 and 828 clones. Densely planted and farmed intensively. 5% whole cluster. Native fermentation. Aged 15 months in 25% new French oak barrels. · Moderate purple color in the glass. The most intense aromatics in the lineup with charming aromas of black cherries, black raspberries, plums, exotic spices including cardamom and even dried rose petals and a hint of fecundity. Intensely fruited on the palate with a panoply of cherry and berry flavors that play off each other and dance on the palate. Notable tannins at this young age, but silky and light on its feet. My only nit is a very slight green note which I attribute to a slight under ripeness or oak. Very good. Reviewed May 15, 2011 ARTICLE »

2009 Red Car The Aphorist Bartolomei Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alcohol, pH 3.76, TA 0.58, 360 cases, $60. Released April 2011. Fourth release from this vineyard located northwest of Forestville. Clones 113, 777 and Jackson 16. Very low vigor, less than 2 tons per acre. 6% whole cluster. Native fermentation. Aged 11 months in 27% new French oak barrels. · Dark purple in color in the glass. The aromas really come at you with vivid notes of spiced stone fruits, dark berries and complimentary oak. Delicious, moderately intense dark fruit core, featuring appealing plum and spice flavors with a subtle oak note. Bright and juicy, with the tannin and acid backbone for long term enjoyment. Seamless with notable persistence on the finish. Still solid the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good. Reviewed May 15, 2011 ARTICLE »

2009 Red Car Heaven & Earth Bohemian Station Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.74, TA 0.58, 340 cases, $65. Released April 2011. From the 4.5-acre La Boheme Vineyard located less than one mile from the town of Occidental. Planted in 2004 to Calera, Pommard and Dijon 828. A sheltered cool site. Native fermentation. Aged 15 months in 41% new French oak barrels. · Moderate purple color in the glass. Takes some coaxing to bring out aromas of black raspberries and forest floor. Flavors of earth-kissed black fruits build in intensity over time in the glass. The lightest in weight of the Red Car reserve Pinots, but the most charming fruit profile. A killer the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Still simple and relatively backward, so patience is advised. Open this beauty in three years and you will wish you had bought more of it. Wines like this fuel my passion for Pinot Noir. Reviewed May 15, 2011 ARTICLE »

2008 Red Car Trolley Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc.. · Muted aromas of berry fruit. Linear and simple flavors of mixed berries and underbrush. Just can find anything interesting in this wine. Decent. Reviewed April 8, 2010 ARTICLE »

2008 Red Car Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $36. · Deep reddish purple color in the glass. Nicely aromatic profile of dark fruits, cut flowers, toffee and herbs. The core of sweet dark stone fruits packs a wallop. Very tasty, smooth in the mouth, with soft tannins. Needs a big lamb chop. Currently, the most drinkable Pinot Noir in the 2008 Red Car lineup. Not as refined as the other 2008 Red Car wines but more giving. Very good (-). Reviewed June 8, 2010 ARTICLE »

2008 Red Car Dreamland Platt Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $60. · Moderately deep color in the glass. Very shy initially, opening slowly to reveal lovely scents of plums, berries, sandalwood and spice. Very soft, even ephemeral, dark berry and plum fruit which lightly coats the mouth building to a generous and lengthy finish. This wine seduces you slowly, finishing you off with a big and memorable climax. Reviewed June 8, 2010 ARTICLE »

2008 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Boheme Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $60. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy but very enticing perfume of wild strawberries, black cherries and exotic woods. Delicious attack of full-bodied and ripe strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit glides to the finish. The most tannic of the Red Car wines in this vintage, but the tannins are slippery. Impressive juice that will benefit from another year or two in the cellar. Reviewed June 8, 2010 ARTICLE »

2008 Red Car The Aphorist Bartolomei Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $60. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Opens reluctantly in the glass but with coaxing reveals pleasing aromas of black raspberries, black cherries, Jolly Rancher reds and pine pitch. Pretty core of dark red berry, blueberry and pomegranate fruit with a sidecar of citrus. Zippered up like a tight corset. The tannins are restrained and there is respectable persistence on the fruit-filled finish. Very good. Reviewed June 8, 2010 ARTICLE »

2007 Red Car Trolley Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 733 cases, $45. Sourced from three Sonoma Coast vineyards: Zio Tony (60%), La Boheme (25%) in Occidental and Bartolomei (15%) in Forestville. Aged in 57% new French oak barrels. · A darkly fruited wine with aromas of black grapes and berries with a touch of smoke, and deep flavors of black raspberries with an underpinning of oak. Silky mouth feel, complimentary lift of acidity, and a pleasing finish. Reviewed July 9, 2009 ARTICLE »

2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Boheme Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 350 cases, $54. Second single vineyard designated Pinot Noir and first from the La Boheme Vineyard which lies just outside Occidental. It is a Red Car monopole that is farmed with Ulises Valdez. The Calera clone dominates the blend. · Weighty scents of blackberries, plums, anise, barnyard and a whiff of alcohol. Slightly confected black raspberry fruit flavor with a wisp of earth, black tea and oak. Luxurious and comforting in the mouth, wrapping the tongue in fruit, and ending in a bright and lingering finish that leaves a touch of heat in its wake. A bear of a wine that is a hedonist’s delight. Reviewed July 9, 2009 ARTICLE »

2007 Red Car The Aphorist Bartolomei Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 300 cases, $54. The 7-acre Bartolomei Vineyard is planted to 3 clones including Jackson 16, 113 and 777. It is a Red Car monopole farmed with Ulises Valdez. · Lovely demure nose composed of berries and cherries with pleasing hints of hay, chalk, mocha and spice. Packed with earth-kissed dark red raspberry cola with a floral underpinning. Flat-out delicious. The tannins are well-managed, and there is a good grip on the lively and persistent finish which leaves a hint of alcohol behind. Very smoothly textured and a wine that demands contemplation. Reviewed July 9, 2009 ARTICLE »

2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Bohéme Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $60. · On the nose there is initially plenty of earth and smoke with scents of ripe strawberries and cherries and a slight green note emerging over time in the glass. A seductive wine on the palate that doesn’t attack as much as it seduces with discreetly concentrated plum fruit. An accent of cola and tea adds interest. Nicely composed and balanced with a sensual satiny texture. Lacks the aromatic appeal for a higher score. POP 92, WS 97. Reviewed January 22, 2010 ARTICLE »

2006 Red Car Zio Tony Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Barrel sample. Red Car is expanding its offerings to three vineyard designates from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley. · Where once they were known for a California Neuvo style (that is, heavily extracted and endowed), the wines have taken on more elegance and complexity. Barrel samples are always tricky, but the Zio Tony was very showy with luscious black cherry fruit. Reviewed March 23, 2008 ARTICLE »

2005 Red Car Amour Fou Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 273 cases $55. · Deep violet color. Black fruits, cigar box and toast in the nose and a little heat peaks out as well. Heady, concentrated and sweet black cherry fruit with forest floor and earthy accents. Very powerful wine of intriguing nuances with a charming cherry fruit note on the finish. Reviewed April 7, 2008 ARTICLE »

2005 Red Car Wine Company Amour Fou Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 273 cases, $55. · This wine is royal in appearance with a deep violet robe. Intriguing aromatics of dark Pinot fruits, toast and cigar box. Heady black cherry and forest floor flavors are embraced by well-concealed tannins. Sleek and seductive in the mouth, this beauty ends with a long, chewy aftertaste that has a haunting cherry aroma. Very tasty. Reviewed October 29, 2007 ARTICLE »