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Pahlmeyer is among the top echelon of Napa wineries and the label is synonymous with consistently superb Chardonnay, Merlot and Bordeaux-styled wines. Like other luminous Napa wineries such as Joseph Phelps and Del Dotto, Pahlmeyer has ventured to the far western reaches of Sonoma County to farm Pinot Noir on the edge. In 1998, Pahlmeyer found Wayfarer Farm, a small organic fruit and vegetable farming operation owned by Dorothy and David Davis who sold organic produce to San Francisco Bay Area restaurants such as Chez Panisse and Greens. The ranch extended over 70 acres and according to Pahlmeyer President Ed Hogan, was a “fairytale landscape of slopes, with not a single flat stretch in sight.” Like other notable vineyards in this region such as Flowers and Hirsch (Hirsch can be seen looking south from Wayfarer Farm), the property is situated two ridges in from the Pacific Ocean. The elevation is 1,125 feet. The vineyard is a 45 minute drive along twisting narrow two lane roads from Jenner, where the Russian River Valley empties into the Pacific Ocean. I can vouch for its isolated but scenic location as I visited Wayfarer Farm in 2009 with then Pahlmeyer winemaker Erin Green.
After purchasing Wayfarer Farm from the Davises, Jayson Pahlmeyer set out to re-create ”La Tache” in California’s Sonoma Coast. It was immediately apparent that the daily fog which rolls in each evening and burns off each morning cools the area and recharges the vines each evening. The vineyard planting began in 2000. Winemaker Erin Green chose 12 different clones of Pinot Noir, (including 115, 667, 777, 828, Wente, Mt Eden, Swan and Calera selections, and Pommard) which were field grafted onto four different types of rootstock. Close spacing at 3 x 6 feet was employed, and the vineyard was laid out to mesh seamlessly with the topography. The vineyard is homogenous from a soil standpoint with sand, loam and deeper maritime fossils. Planting has been done in stages, and a total of 30 acres is now under vine. The first harvest was in 2005, but production is still very low, with some parts of the vineyard not yet established. The first two harvests produced very small berries with intense flavors.
Farming in an isolated region like this is no picnic. Fortunately there are enough vineyards in the area now that vineyard management companies have crews in the area. Ulises Valdez is the vineyard manager. Pahlmeyer’s viticulturalists (headed by Amy Warnock) check on the vineyard weekly .
In 2012, Pahlmeyer announced that Kale Anderson (formerly Cliff Lede Vineyards) would direct winemaking for its Napa Valley vineyard and operations, and Bibiana Gonzalez Rave (formerly Lynmar Winery) would become the consulting winemaker to oversee the Sonoma Coast operations.
Pahlmeyer released its first two Pinot Noirs in 2007. The 2005 Jayson Pinot Noir and the 2005 Pahlmeyer Pinot Noir. The wines as yet are not truly estate in that other vineyards supplied some of the fruit. As the vineyard matures, other sources will gradually be phased out. The wines are sold through a mailing list and well-distributed to fine wine stores.
2007 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Chardonnay
14.9% alc., $40. Pahlmeyer has run into a bit of a financial pinch of late and you can find their wines heavily discounted. · Golden yellow color in the glass. Appealing aromas of lemon curd, light caramel, butter and toast. Soft and strikingly creamy on the palate with flavors of white grapes, white peaches, brioche and toasty oak. Plenty of tannin and acidity to balance the prodigious fruit. A consistent favorite among fans of California full-on Chardonnay. Very good (+). Reviewed May 24, 2010 ARTICLE »
2005 Pahlmeyer Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 14.9% alc., 1,400 cases. The grapes were sourced from Goldridge, Pellegrini and Dutton vineyards as well as Wayfarer. Winemaking is the same as for the Jayson except barrel aging was 15 months. · The color is deeper than the Jayson. This wine has a massive concentration of dark wild berry and plummy fruit. The nose is shy but hints of earth, meat and crushed blackberries. This Pinot is brooding at this stage and the oak tannins are noticeable on the finish. This will need some cellar time to fully emerge (drink the Jayson now while the Pahlmeyer ages). A muscular heavyweight that is built for the long haul and will thoroughly please fans of the hedonistic style of Pinot Noir. Reviewed July 9, 2007 ARTICLE »