Tasting Pinot with Plenty of Noir
"Come over to the dark side. Together we can rule the universe.”
Alice Feiring, who writes for the Wall Street Journal and other publications, recently posted an article in
Newsweek Magazine that was reported on the internet (http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/06/10/big-jammy-not-anymore-california-s-wine-takes-new-direction.html). The title of the article was “Big? Jammy?
Not Anymore!” Despite her claims (and others) that there is a significant movement away from the “California”
style of Pinot Noir of moderately high to high alcohols and power toward a style of Pinot Noir that emphasizes
restraint and nuance, my recent tastings found that the “California” style is very much alive.
The average alcohol percentage of the 2010 vintage California Pinot Noirs reviewed in this section was 14.5%
with a range of 13.9% (two wines below 14.0%) to 15.7%.**
Many of these wines are incredibly appealing for
their hedonistic fruit flavors. There are a significant group of wine consumers who cherish these wines and
no quarter to the alcohol percentage or heft of the wines. Let me give you an example. I taste Pinot Noir most
days of the week. Obviously I have plenty of left over wine. I gas the wines with argon after I am finished
tasting and distribute them to wine lovers in my neighborhood. I then seek comments about the wines
whenever possible. I often find that the wines that are most favored are those that have rich, bold flavors and
accompanying moderately high alcohols. The American palate has always preferred some sweetness in their
wines; the type of sweetness offered by mature fruit flavors as they merge with sweet oak components. These
are not always wines that I have rated highly but I can appreciate them in the style they are crafted.
The point here is that there are plenty of stylistic choices for the consumer interested in Pinot Noir. No wine
critic can be an arbitrator of personal taste. There is always room for differences in wine. It’s not the label, not
the alcohol, and not the style. If you like it, then it is a good wine.
** Adam Lee, proprietor and winemaker for Siduri Wines in Santa Rosa, California, shared some relevant insight into the 2010 vintage after I published this article. He provided statistics from the California Grape Crush Report that show a surprisingly high average Brix at harvest for the cool growing season of 2010 in California. For Sonoma County the average Brix was 24.5º in 2010, the highest average since 2004. Similarly, for Monterey County, the average Brix was 25.4º, also the highest average since 2004. Adam points out, "The heat spikes in August and September had a profound effect on Brix resulting in higher Brix fruit than many would have expected." Adam also notes that in 2011, which was also a very cool growing season, the average Brix levels at harvest were comparatively low (23.7º for Sonoma County, 23.9º for Monterey County, and 23.6º for Mendocino County.
Profiled previously in this issue, Arista produces both appellation series and single-vineyard and estate wines.
The wines profiled below are part of the spring release lineup and are available through national distribution
and the winery’s mailing list at www.aristawinery.com.
2010 Arista Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.77, TA 0.55, 289 cases, $45. Grapes from
Arista’s estate vineyards and fruit sourced from the Toboni and Mononi vineyards. Aged in 14% new, 21% 1-
year, and 64% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels.
Moderate dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Bright
aromas of Bing cherries, raspberries and baking spices. Discreetly concentrated flavors of cherries,
cranberries and red plums with a touch of oak and cola. Nicely composed and very approachable now. Good.
2010 Arista Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.67, TA 0.57, 850 cases, $35. Aged in 5%
new, 17% 1-year, and 78% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in
the glass. Beguiling and uplifting nose offering scents of cherry pie glaze, vanilla and spice. Hearty
core of black cherry fruit with an earthy, charred, grilled fruit riff. Medium weighted with a firm, wellproportioned
tannic backbone, and lasting flavors on the somewhat gregarious finish. Good.
2010 Arista Longbow Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.77,
TA 0.55, $48. Aged in 46% new, 23% 1-year, and 31% 2-3-year-old French oak
barrels. This bottling is chosen from Arista’s most distinct Russian River Valley
lots and it shows it.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Love the
nose. Hi-tone aromas of darker stone and berry fruits, brimming with freshness.
Delicious essence of black cherries with a hint of sassafras, dark chocolate and
cola, offering impressive mid palate intensity and finishing power, yet easy to
drink. Needs another few years to fully integrate the oak and tannins. The best
Longbow bottling I can remember and recommended. Very good (+).
2011 Arista Ferrington Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer
14.1% alc., pH 3.38, TA 0.58, 225 cases, $28.
I don’t usually review this variety, but Arista’s version is a winner
and I would like to spread the love. One of the best Alsatian styled
Gewürztraminer wines among the very few offered from
California. The Ferrington Vineyard is owned by Kurt and heather
Schoeneman who purchased the vineyard in 1997. It is planted to Chardonnay,
Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, rooted in decomposed
sandstone and clay soils. This wine is 85% tank fermented and 15% barrel
Pale gold color and clear in the glass. Very fragrant with typical
aromas of tropical fruits, lychee and spice. Delicious flavors of mango, crabapple, lychee and pear with a
sense of minerality in the background. Slightly viscous, lively and bone dry.
Try the Arista Gewrüztraminer with the following delicious recipe from Arista’s Executive Chef William Oliver.
The Pinot Noirs from Belle Glos (“ BELL GLOS”) carry on the tradition of excellence of the Wagner Family of
Wine. The wines are produced by winemaker and viticulturist Joseph Wagner, sourced from cool Region 1
single-vineyard sites. The name Belle Glos pays homage to Joseph Wagner’s 96-year-old grandmother, Lorna
Belle Glos Wagner, who co-founded Caymus Vineyards with Joseph’s grandfather Charlie Wagner and father
Chuck Wagner in 1972. Joseph divides his times between his home in St. Helena and the winery’s three
vineyard sites. The 2010 wines benefited from a cool growing season throughout California, with record hang
time on the vines. All three wines spent 9 months in 60% new French oak. I find the 2010 vintage wines
significantly better than their 2009 counterparts.
The bottles are among the most charming in the wine business, offering a long neck dipped in generous wax.
A strip tab allows removal of the wax on top exposing the cork (removal of the strip takes some muscle and
should not be attempted at home by women with kept nails). The labels are also very classy.
The 2010 Belle Glos Pinot Noirs are very darkly colored and upon approaching the wines, the expectation is
that these are full-bodied, bruiser wines. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The wines are very light on
their feet with admirable finesse. All three wines are surprisingly similar given their disparate origins and clonal
makeup. The wines are widely distributed in the retail marketplace.
2010 Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $44. Released March 2012.
Located less than 6 miles from the Pacific Ocean on Taylor Lane, adjacent Summa Vineyard. 10 acres of Dijon
clones 113, 114, 115 and 777 are paired with an adapted Italian trellis system creating a horizontal canopy,
geared to bringing more dappled sunlight to the vines throughout the day. The vines are at an elevated height,
allowing sheep to graze the vineyard for natural weed control. 2010 was cooler than normal and the vineyard
was battered by early October storms, but the fruit hung in until harvest finished on October 25. Yields 2.38
tons per acre. 100% de-stemmed, inoculation of yeasts tailored to each lot, punchdown and punch-over
Dark purple color in the glass. Aromas of berry jam on brioche and spice draw you into the glass.
Delicious flavors of black cap raspberries and black plums with an earthy, compost undertone. Moderately rich
with restrained tannins and some length on the fruit-filled finish. Approachable now, but the least giving of the
three 2010 wines at this time. Very good.
2010 Belle Glos Las Alturas Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., $44.
Released December 2011. The vineyard is located in one of the highest plantable sites in the Santa
Lucia Highlands AVA (540 to 1200 feet). The southern locale is warmer by day and cooler by night
with less wind than the northern portion of the AVA. Yields 1.76 tons per acre. 100% de-stemmed, cold
soaked, punchdown and punch-over techniques.
Dark purple color in the glass. Scents of black fruits,
tea and wine cave. Striking flavor of perfectly ripe black raspberries which coats the palate and
expands in the mouth, finishing with a long, intense flourish and a bright cut of acidity. Subtle notes of spice
and vanillin add interest. Seductively smooth with supple tannins. Powerful, but light on its feet. Not quite as
big as the Clark & Telephone but equally satisfying.
2010 Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 3,475 cases, $44. Released December 2011. Established in
1972, this vineyard is planted own rooted to the Martini clone. 100%
de-stemmed, inoculation of yeasts to match each lot, punch down and
punch-over techniques. Yields 1.67 tons per acre.
Deep, dark purple
robe in the glass. The nose is remarkably intense and persistent,
pumping out aromas of dark berry jam, black currants, spice and vanillin
over extended time in the glass. Flat-out stunning flavors of fresh black
raspberries and blackberries with a complimentary exotic spice bent. Some
refined tannins lead to a silky mouth feel. Astonishing length on the fruit-laden
finish. I have rarely experienced a California Pinot Noir with such an incredibly long finish.
Brophy Clark Cellars
This is my first meeting with the Pinot Noirs of Brophy Clark. Husband and wife team of John and Kelly Clark
have been crafting small lots of Pinot Noir since 1996 from vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Between her
time as a viticulturist and his as a winemaker, the two have more than fifty years of combined experience
making Central Coast wines. Annual production is about 10,000 cases spread amongst Pinot Noir,
Chardonnay, and a few other varietals. The wines are solid and represent good value. Visit the website at
2009 Brophy Clark Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.62, 300 cases, $24.
Sourced from the Garey Vineyard originally planted by Robert Mondavi Winery in 1998 (Dijon 115,
667 and Pommard clones), and the Goodchild Vineyard (clone 667). Aged 18 months in French oak.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of dark cherries,
brier and spice. Middleweight flavors of dark red cherries and berries with soft tannins and a tart
cherry finish. Good (+).
2009 Brophy Clark Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.61, 1,000 cases, $16.
Sourced from several vineyards (80% from Loma Verde Vineyard in Los Alamos). Clones 667, 115 and 777.
Aged 16 months in oak.
Pleasant aromas of cherry pie, spice and subtle oak. Middleweight black cherry flavor
with complimentary oak in the background. An easy drinker for every day use. Good.
2010 Brophy Clark Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., $29.99.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. This is a wine you
can really get your teeth into. Vibrant aromas of cherry pie glaze and
baking spice. Luscious cherry and berry flavors fan out nicely on the
palate, persisting with aplomb on the generous finish that leaves a hint
of warmth in its wake. Smooth and seductive, this is an evocative
wine. Very good (+).
Carr Vineyards & Winery
Carr is an urban winery located in downtown Santa Barbara first established in 1999 by Ryan and Jessica Carr.
All wines are produced from Santa Barbara County grapes grown by Ryan, with a focus on Pinot Noir from the
Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Carr’s winery and tasting room is housed in a unique 1940s Quonset Hut and is
open daily for wine tasting, wines by the glass, flights of wine and wine on tap. A very reliable source of
premium Pinot Noir.
2009 Harvest Girl Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
354 cases, $24. Released December 2011. A winery project between
brothers Jonathan and Ryan Carr combining Jonathan’s love for tattoo
art and graphic design and Ryan’s passion for winemaking. Label
says, “She will live in your dreams forever and each year you will
eagerly await her arrival.” Aged 12 months in French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A masculine wine that pushes
ripeness to the edge. Aromas of cherries, porto, toast, fennel, nutmeg and
seasoned oak. Richly endowed with pie-filling black fruits wrapped in firm fruit
tannins. Not a subtle wine by any means, but easy to drink and one that will
appeal to lovers of succulent dark fruit. Suitable for a big ribeye. Good
Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery
Gary Farrell hasn’t been here since 2006, but his namesake winery continues to put out consistently fine
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reminiscent of his style. Farrell personally chose Susan Reed as the winemaker
upon his departure, but she left in early 2012 to be replaced by Theresa Heredia, formerly of Freestone
Vineyards. The winery has access to premium vineyard sites including Rochioli Vineyard and Hallberg
Vineyard. A stylish tasting room on Westside Road is open daily.
2009 Gary Farrell Westside Farms Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.2% alc., pH 3.36, TA 0.68, 916
cases, $38. Released May 1, 2011. Sourced from growers Ron and Pam Kaiser’s 40-acre vineyard that sits
on the banks of the Russian River, just four miles from the Gary Farrell winery. The Chardonnay vines are
clone 4 planted in 1989. Whole-cluster pressed, racked to 100% French oak barrels (43% new, 47% 1-yearold,
and 10% 2-year-old), aged sur lie for 7 months. 100% malolactic fermentation.
Light straw color in the
glass. Aromas of warm baked apple, butter brickle, flint and marzipan. Moderately intense flavors of baked
green apples, lemon curd, hazelnuts and buttered toast with slightly dry tannins and some length on the aciddriven
finish. Very good.
2009 Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc. pH 3.37, TA 0.60, 626 cases, $55. Released September 1, 2011. This 100-
acre vineyard is named for previous owners Don and Marcia Hallberg. Today it
is farmed by partner and Sonoma-Cutrer alumnus Kirk Lokka.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Pleasant aromas of dark red and black fruits,
spice, and wine cask, developing complexity over time in the glass. Tasty core
of earth-kissed black plum and blackberry flavors with the fruit pulled into line
with structured tannins and zippy citric acidity. A complimentary hint of oak
brings up the rear. Drank nicely the following day from a previously opened and
re-corked bottle. Very good.
With the 2010 vintage, partners Trini and Ashley Amador are offering their fifth releases. The winery is named
after the Amador family’s great-great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga, who was known for hosting memorable
celebrations. Trini was “caught” making wine in his garage when he was fifteen. His passion was evident, he
was encouraged to make wine, and obtained a degree in enology and viticulture. As part of the Sonoma
County community for decades, the Amadors are able to source premium fruit including Pinot Noir from the
famed Bacigalupi Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. I have sampled a few vintages to date, and find the
wines extremely appealing and recommended. I love to read the tech sheets on the Gracianna wines, as they
reveal so much connection to family and a heartfelt pride for the family’s wines. A tasting room will be opening
soon on Westside Road, the “Rodeo Drive” of Pinot Noir.
2010 Gracianna Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 371 cases, $48. Released April 2012. After a cold soak, the grapes
were inoculated with proprietary yeast, racked into French oak barrels, and aged
for 11 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark reddish-purple
color in the glass. Lovely mix of fresh, vivid aromas of red cherries, red
strawberries, savory herbs and sandalwood. Delicious essence of ripe red
cherries and berries with a delightful earthy, savory bent. Well-composed with
gossamer tannins and some length on the high-spirited, refreshing finish. Very
I have written at length about this hugely popular winery founded by Dan Kosta and Michael Browne (see latest
article at www.princeofpinot.com/article/1111/). The winery’s new winemaking facility was detailed earlier in this
issue. I tasted the 2010 Kosta Browne releases on July 4 this year, an appropriate time since these wines
always set off fireworks in the mouth. Do not dismiss the appellation wines, for blending is Michael’s strong
suit, and these wines are consistently outstanding and made in enough quantity to be more widely available.
The Santa Lucia Highlands appellation blend is new with the 2010 vintage. The vineyard designates offer more
complexity and finishing length. The key to Kosta Browne’s success, besides Michael’s adept winemaking, is
the impeccable fruit sources. The resulting wines are intense but not too intense, ripe but not overripe or
under ripe. The bad news is that the winery’s mailing list was filled long ago, but the good news is that
production is slowly increasing, making it worthwhile to join the mailing list for possible future offerings. The
appellation wines were released in May 2012 and the vineyard-designates will be released in October 2012.
2010 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 4,742 cases, $58.
Moderately deep rose
color in the glass. Richly perfumed with notes of black cherry bombast, cola and spice. Generously flavored,
with intense dark cherries, cola and the slightest oak. Despite its heft, the wine drinks easily and smoothly in
part due to supple tannins and balance. Very Russian River Valley in character flaunting the plush cherry fruit
the region is known for. Very good.
2010 Kosta Browne Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 768 cases, $58.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Uplifting aromas of dark red raspberries and cassis. Impressive mid palate
attack of dark red and black raspberry flavors with complimentary oak in the background. Relatively light in
weight for a Kosta Browne wine, but picks up flavor intensity over time in the glass, and taking on an appealing
heft the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. A refreshing riff of acidity on the finish
makes for easy drinking. Very good.
2010 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 4,940 cases, $58.
Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Very complex aromatic profile
with scents dancing in and out over time in the glass including black cherries,
black raspberries, nutmeg, clove and cedar. Mouthfilling essence of dark red
cherries, berries and plums with a hint of oak spice. Mouthwatering acidity, mild,
soft tannins, and appreciable length on the cherry-laden finish. Very good (+).
2010 Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 1,177 cases, $78.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Characteristic Keefer nose of cherries, strawberries, bark
and spice. Delicious earth-kissed dark red cherry and berry flavors with a hint of minerality, oak and tutti-fruiti.
Restrained tannins, bright acidity, and a very long finish that offers an encore of bright fruit. Very good (+).
2010 Kosta Browne Koplen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 780 cases, $78.
Medium deep purple color in the glass. Bright and alive in the glass with aromas of earthy dark
raspberries, sassafras and spice. Intense, but not too intense flavors of dark red and black berries with
an attractive sauvage character. Well-balanced tannins, very soft in the mouth, finishing with echoes of
gorgeous fruit. Plenty of fireworks in the mouth.
2010 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 458 cases, $78.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Demure aromas of perfectly ripe cherries and berries with
hints of malt and granite. Still young and a bit muddled at this early stage, but plenty of dark plum and
blackberry fruit singing. Very appealing soft fruit intensity. The most striking feature is the length of the
finish, like a three hour movie you don’t want to end. Much better the following day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle. Hold onto this one or decant if you must saddle up soon.
2010 Kosta Browne Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 1,615 cases, $78.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass.
The nose is spectacular. Aromas of candied cherries, black raspberries,
tea leaf, and Chinese 5-spice. Full-bodied, but light on its feet with
luscious flavors of dark berries and black currants caressed by supple
tannins and underlain with good acidity. The flavors search out every
nook and cranny in the mouth. Very spicy. Still great the next day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle predicting age ability.
2010 Kosta Browne Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 272 cases, $72.
Moderately deep red rose color in the glass. Intensely fruity on the nose and palate, featuring dark red cherries
and raspberries, finishing strong with a spry tang. Appealing finesse with a pillowy soft mouth feel. Still great
the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good (+).
2010 Kosta Browne Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 404 cases, $78.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of brambly dark red and black berries, forest floor
and spice. Appealing dark berry and spiced plum flavors robed in supple tannins, finishing with very
impressive staying power and a little warmth. Not as expressive as it will be and needs more time in the cellar.
2010 Kosta Browne Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 154 cases, $78.
Moderately dark purple hue in the glass. Shy aromas of black cherries, blackberries, Asian spice and sweet
pipe smoke. Rich flavors of spiced dark stone fruits and berries supported by firm fruit tannins, finishing with
the long scent of sous-bois and ripe berries, and a touch of heat. The most heft of the three Santa Lucia
Highlands bottlings, typical of this vineyard. Nicely outfitted with prominent spice the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.
2010 Kosta Browne 4-Barrel California Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 351
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Demure,
pretty aromas of exotic berries with a complimentary hint of vanilla and
spice. Exceptional fruit flavor and the most polished wine in the KB
lineup. An ephemeral blend of black raspberry and boysenberry flavors
with an underpinning of nutmeg spice. Great purity of fruit. Supple
tannins, a beguiling satiny texture and endless length on the finish. Not the
biggest wine, but a complete and sophisticated wine. Even better the next day
from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. An All-American. Consider
yourself very lucky if you are able to snag a bottle or two of this gem.
2010 Kosta Browne One Sixteen Russian River Valley Chardonnay
512 cases, $58.
Light straw color in
the glass. Aromas of apple and lemon with a hint of diacetyl. Flavorful, crisp and dry, featuring notes of pear,
golden apple and crusty bread, finishing with subtle tannins and moderate fruit intensity. Not imposing and
overtly fruity as many Russian River Valley Chardonnays, offering a pleasing but not extraordinary drinking
experience. Good (+).
The La Crema Pinot Noirs have inched up in price in recent years, but the wines continue to deliver
consistency and impressive quality considering the relatively large case production. Widely distributed in the
retail marketplace and restaurants, you can’t go wrong buying or ordering a La Crema Pinot Noir. The wines
are all appellation blends that call upon the vast Pinot Noir vineyard holdings of Jackson Family Wines.
Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse has departed for J Vineyards & Winery, but the current winemaker, Elizabeth
Grant-Douglas, is equally talented.
2010 La Crema Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.56, 5,800 cases, $40. A majority
of the fruit comes from the estate Laughlin and Piner vineyards, focusing on Pommard, 23, 777,, 115 and 667
clones. The remainder of the fruit comes from long term growers that bring Martini, 828 and 2A clones to the
blend. 100% de-stemmed, 70% whole berries in tank, 5-day cold soak, fermented in open-tops, aged in 30%
new French oak for 9 months, racked only for blending before bottling.
Dark reddish-purple color in the glass.
Well-perfumed with aromas of black cherries, cola, spice, sandalwood and fennel. Moderately intense flavors
of black cherries, cola and toasted oak. Ripe, bold and structured with firm, but giving tannins. A classic
window into Russian River Valley terroir that is very approachable now. Good (+).
Israeli-born, surfer dude, winegrower and winemaker Oded Shakked joined Longboard Vineyards in
Healdsburg in 2005 and soon became the sole owner. He built surfboards in his early twenties and his love of
surfing and wine brought him to California. He studied winemaking at University of California at Davis and
worked harvests in Napa and Bordeaux, but was most attracted the Sonoma County. He currently produces
multiple red and white varietals including Pinot Noir from purchased grapes. The tasting room in Healdsburg
features a redwood surfboard bar and a plasma television showing surf videos.
2008 Longboard Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 1,450 cases, $33. Sourced from
O’Neel, Ledbetter, Rochioli and Webber vineyards. Aged in 35% new French oak.
Moderately light reddish-
purple color in the glass. Deeply fragrant initially with aromas of Bing cherries and baking spice, developing
scents of sous-bois and stem over time in the glass. Medium weight core of black cherry flavor with hints of
cola and tar robed in soft, supple tannins. Decent.
2010 Longboard Vineyards Flying Rooster Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $42. From a vineyard located in the Petaluma Gap region of
the Sonoma Coast. 100% de-stemmed, 3-day cold soak, aged in French oak.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely aromas of fresh cherry pie
glaze, red berries and forest floor, becoming more intense and pleasing over
time in the glass. Middleweight flavors of perfectly ripe cherries and raspberries
with complimentary notes of spice and tea, finishing long with a good cut of
acidity. Very supple tannins make for easy drinking. Read to go now. Very
MacPhail Family Wines
MacPhail is a Pinot Noir specialist producing a broad palette of wines since 2002. Owner/winemaker James
MacPhail works out of a modern winery in Healdsburg. MacPhail trained with Merry Edwards and his wines
reflect her style. Production is just under 5,000 cases, with bottlings from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma
Coast, Anderson Valley, Santa Barbara County and the Willamette Valley of Oregon. MacPhail is also the
winemaker for Sequanna. The wine label and marketing program are very eye-catching and the wines usually
do not disappoint. I find the oak treatment on the wines, especially in 2010, to be too obvious, but it is a
personal bias and may be welcomed by others. The winery is not open to the public but offers tours and tasting
by invitation and appointment on weekdays (707-433-4780).
2010 MacPhail The Flyer Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.62, 180 cases, $59.
Released spring 2012. From Olivet Grange Vineyard. Clones 667, 777 and 828. 100% de-stemmed. 5-day
cold soak, native fermentations, aged 11 months sur lies in 50% new French oak. Bottled unfined and
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of herbal and coffee-scented oak.
Middleweight flavors of black cherries and cola with noticeable oak in the background. Mild tannins and
relatively soft in the mouth. A superb vineyard source, but the fruit doesn’t shine at this early stage.
Undistinguished now, but should improve over time aided by more integration of oak. Decent.
2010 MacPhail Pratt Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.71, TA 0.60, 223 cases, $49.
Released spring 2012. Clones 23, 828, 777 and Pommard. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, native
fermentations, aged 11 months sur lies in 50% new French oak from multiple coopers. Bottled unfined and
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Rather shy, with delicate aromas of fresh berries
and cut grass. Full-bodied core of dark red and black fruits with hints of cola and dark chocolate, supported by
oak-driven accents in the background. Supple tannins and notable dark fruit-driven aromatic persistence on
the finish. Good now, but still very young and in need of cellaring for another two to three years.
2010 MacPhail Wightman House Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.80, TA 0.56, 132
cases, $55. Released spring 2012. 100% Martini clone. MacPhail is the sole producer from this tiny 2-acre
vineyard. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, native fermentations, aged 11 months sur lies in 50% new
French oak from multiple coopers. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Light reddish-purple color in the glass.
Perfume of black cherries, dark red raspberries, spice and rose petals. Moderately rich flavors echo the nose
with very supple tannins. Pleasant and fruity, but the layers of toast and caramel secondary to aging in French
oak are too much for my taste. More time in bottle should allow better integration of oak. Good.
2010 MacPhail Ferrington Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
pH 3.70, TA 0.59, 155 cases, $49. Released spring 2012. 100% de-stemmed,
5-day cold maceration, indigenous fermentations, aged 11 months in 50% new
French oak from multiple coopers. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. The fifth
vintage from this iconic vineyard and always my favorite MacPhail bottling.
Dijon 115 and 777 and Pommard clones.
Medium reddish-purple hue in the
glass. The nose is closed for business, offering subtle aromas of tobacco and
oak with little dark fruit. Very soft and smooth in the mouth, with full-bodied
flavors of black plum, black raspberry and blackberry with a hint of dark
chocolate and cola. Very charming fruit that only offers a glimpse of its true
potential. Much better integration of oak and a seductive fruit-filled finish. Don’t
even think about opening this one for two to three years. Significantly more demonstrative aromatic and flavor
presence the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good (+).
2010 MacPhail Toulouse Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.83, TA 0.61, 350 cases,
$49. Released spring 2012. Clones 2A, 667, 115 and 777. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, native
fermentations, aged 11 months sur lie in 50% new French oak from several coopers. Bottled unfined and
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. New oak scents dominate the nose, entry and
finish. Herb-tinged dark red cherry and berry fruit flavors with plenty of oak driven toffee and coffee accents.
Good structural integrity with fine-grain tannins, but lacks vigor and finishes with a little heat. Decent.
2010 MacPhail Sonoma Coast Rosé of Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 290 cases, $20. Released spring 2011. Selection from
all Sonoma Coast vineyard sources. Clones 667, 777, 828, 115 and Pommard. 100% de-stemmed with whole
berries to fermenter. Saignéd after a 1-2-day cold soak, inoculated with champagne yeast, native malolactic
fermentation. Bottled February 23, 2011.
Blood orange color in the glass. Aromas of strawberries, leather and
dried herbs (marjoram, sage and fennel seed). Flavors of strawberries, pomegranate, peach and melon with
an herbal undertone. Decent acidity and vibrancy. Has respectable body and drinks more like a still Pinot.
Pali Wine Co.
Founded in 2005 by partners Tim Perr and Scott Knight from Pacific Palisades, California, Pali produces
vineyard-designated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from multiple vineyard sources in California and Oregon. A
second group of value-priced offerings, the Cuvée Program, explores appellation-specific Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay. The winemakers are Aaron Walker, who previously assisted Brian Loring at Loring Wine Co., and
consultant Kenneth Juhasz (Auteur, Robert Stemmler, The Donum Estate). The tasting room is located at the
winery at 1036 W Aviation Drive in Lompoc and is open Friday and Saturday 11-4 and Monday-Thursday by
appointment. A new tasting room is planned in Santa Barbara’s “Funk Zone.”
2010 Pali Wine Co. Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., 140 cases, $50, screw cap.
Clones 114, 777 and Pommard. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak.
Moderately light reddish-purple
color in the glass. Very nicely perfumed with bright aromas of red cherries and raspberries with a hint of
sandalwood. On the lighter side, even a bit shallow on the attack, with red cherry and berry flavors lifted by
bright acidity. The tannins tend to outweigh the fruit at present. Good.
2010 Pali Wine Co. Windsor Oaks Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.3% alc., 310 cases, $50,
screw cap. From a 250-acre vineyard in the warmer eastern reaches of the Russian River Valley. Aged 10
months in 50% new French oak.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Brooding initially, emerging slowly
with swirling, offering very ripe aromas of dark red berries and black cherries, citrusy cranberries and peach.
Moderately intense red berry and black cherry core with a hint of fennel and sage, soft and sweet on the mid
palate, offering flamboyant dry tannins and a touch of heat on the finish. Decent.
2010 Pali Wine Co. Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
100 cases, $54, screw cap. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard 5. Aged 15 months
in 50% new French oak.
Medium reddish-purple hue in the glass. Pleasing
aromas of strawberries and raspberries with a hint of sassafras and rose petals.
Tasty essence of red berries with a subtle herbal bent, offering some length on
the generous and dry finish. Supple tannins and very approachable now. Still
appealing the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very
2010 Pali Wine Co. Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
15.8% alc., 100 cases, $54, screw cap.
Clones 667, 777, 115 and Pommard 4. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak.
Moderately dark purple color
in the glass. Earthy nose perfumed with scents of compost, dark stone and berry fruits and dark chocolate.
Mid-weight flavors of black plums, blackberries and currants with a hint of oak-driven graham and dark
chocolate notes. The pedigree of the fruit really shows through. Firmly structured, but pleasing to drink,
leaving a bit of heat in its wake on the finish, especially as it warms in the glass. Still appealing the following
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Made well in its style, and has the tannins and fruit to
stand up to the high alcohol, but still a little too boozy for me. Good (+).
2010 Pali Wine Co. Cargasacchi Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 100 cases, $54, screw cap.
From a 16-acre vineyard located at the far western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Clone 115. Aged 15
months in 50% new French oak.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas
of spicy red berries and confected plum. Earth-kissed dark red berries and black plum flavors with underlying
oak accents, offering a smooth mouth feel and finishing with good aromatic intensity, albeit a touch hot.
2010 Pali Wine Co. Rancho La Viña Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
15.7% alc., 100 cases, $54, screw
Dark and inky purple in color. Brooding and dull on the nose with demure aromas of black fruits. Fullbodied
array of black Pinot fruits include black currants and raisin wrapped in muscular, dry tannins, finishing
short and hollow. Powerful, fruit-driven and Syrah-like, lacking in seductive pinotosity. Decent.
Seagrape Wine Company
Karen Steinwachs is a refugee from the high-tech world who learned her winemaking under Kathy Joseph at
Fiddlehead and is now the winemaker for Buttonwood Farm Winery. Her spouse, Dave, is a techie with
expertise in computers and logistics, who offers wineries warehousing, marketing, website and e-commerce
solutions, and logistics through Vintegrated Solutions. Together they launched their own label, Seagrape Wine
Company, specializing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County grape sources. The name,
Seagrape, comes from their island backgrounds. Dave came from the British Isles and Karen lived part of her
life in St. Croix. They manage to maintain their islands connection by always vacationing somewhere in the
The Seagrape tree () that is displayed on the label is found near seaside beaches and is a
visual reminder of both their winemaking roots and their love of the islands. If you have attended the World of
Pinot Noir, you probably have seen their smiling faces, working tirelessly to make this event a success.
Karen is a fan of whole cluster, but the percentage, which varies from zero to 100% is decided at the time of
harvest and field grape sort. New French oak percentages are very modest (5%-25% each year). Time in
barrel depends on maturation of tannins and bottling aging of at least six months before release is standard.
Tasting of Seagrape wines is available at Avant Tapas & Wine in Buellton, D’Vine Wine Bar and Taste of Sta.
Rita Hills, both in Lompoc.
2010 Seagrape Wine Co. “Jump Up” Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 200 cases, $32. This blend is named after a kind of street
party that occurs throughout the Caribbean.
Moderately light reddish-purple
color in the glass. Enticing aromas of dark red berries, spice
and leaf, picking up intensity over time in the glass. Elegant on the
palate, with a zip of acidity and supple tannins. The flavors of black
cherries and red raspberries are complimented by very subtle oak. A spirited
drink that exudes finesse, and is highly enjoyable now. Very good.
2010 Seagrape Wine Co. Rancho La Viña Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 25 cases $34.
From a vineyard located at the southern edge of the Sta. Rita Hills. Medium reddish-purple color in the glass.
The nose offers a mash of darker berries with a hint of oak and spice. Moderately light and elegant in style,
with flavors of deep red strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Very smooth on the palate. Nicely crafted
and nothing to detract, but lacks a bit of flavor intensity and finishing strength. Could pick up heft with more
time in the bottle. Good.
Ulises Valdez (Valdez Family Winery)
Ulises Valdez is an American success story. A native of Michoacan, Mexico, Ulises crossed the border in 1985
at the age of 16, and traveled to Sonoma County to join his older brother who was working in the vineyards.
Although underage and unable to speak English, he was able to obtain a job pruning vines based on his skills
and soon realized that vineyard work was his calling. Like many migrant workers, he lived in humble
conditions and rode a bicycle to work in the vineyards. He received amnesty in 1986, and achieved citizenship
in 1996. Ulises became a partner in Florence Vineyard Management Company, and in 2003, bought Jack
Florence Jr’s stake in the company, changing the name to Valdez & Sons Vineyard Management, Inc.. Based
in Cloverdale, his grape clients now include many all-stars in the wine business including Paul Hobbs, Mark
Aubert, Kent Rosenblum and Jayson Pahlmeyer.
Ulises now farms 1,000 acres of vineyards in Sonoma County and has a reputation as one of the county’s
hardest working vineyard managers and growers. Ulises also has 120 acres that he leases or owns including
the Ulises Valdez (“UV”) Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, the UV El Diablo Vineyard in the Russian River
Valley, and Lancel Creek Vineyard and Silver Eagle Ranch, both near Occidental.
In 2006, he launched Valdez Family Wines, marking 20 years in the wine business. His friends, Paul Hobbs
and Mark Aubert helped initially as consulting winemakers for the new label. In 2010, the 2008 Valdez Silver
Eagle Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay was served at a White House State dinner honoring
President Felipe Calderón of Mexico.
In 2010, Ulises leased a winery facility in Cloverdale. Zinfandel (currently five different bottlings) and other
hearty reds (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon) as well as Chardonnay have always been identified with Ulises
Valdez Wines, and the Pinot Noirs, which have been bold, extracted and machismo in style (showing the
influence of consultant winemaker Mark Aubert), are undergoing a downsizing under the direction of young
winemaker Mauricio Soto, beginning with the 2009 vintage, offering less muscle and more nuance and
complexity. The Pinot Noir program is quite small and currently being scaled back (only four barrels of the
2011 vintage when I visited Mauricio at the winery in May 2012), but Mauricio is a Pinot Noir fancier, and he
hopes to expand the program. Certainly, Ulises has access to a number of highly regarded Pinot Noir
vineyards in Sonoma County. I barrel tasted the 2011 UV Vineyard Pinot Noir (Calera clone - exotic nose and
flavors - terrific), the 2011 Lancel Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir (Pommard 5 and 777 - darker fruit, more acidity,
more length on the finish), and the 2011 Manzanita Vineyard Pinot Noir (Calera clone - dark plum, hardy
tannins, huge finish). The three vineyards are to be blended into a single Pinot Noir for the 2011 vintage, a
total of 100 cases. This should be a special, even spectacular Pinot Noir.
Every Saturday from 11-5, Ulises can be found with his wife at his Cloverdale tasting room, sharing his wines
and many stories with visitors. Having spent a little time with him and his larger than life personality, I can only
imagine what a unique experience this must be. Visit www.valdezfamilywinery.com. The 2009 vintage red
wines and the 2010 vintage Chardonnays will be released by July 2012.
2008 Ulises Valdez Silver Eagle Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., $60. Calera clone.
Deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black plum, dark berries, spice and oak with a hint of heat.
Rough hewn with slightly astringent tannins, offering full-bodied, sappy flavors of blackberries and plum
reduction sauce framed by noticeable oak, finishing with some alcohol-driven warmth. Decent.
2009 Ulises Valdez Lancel Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $60. Pommard
and 777 clones. Aged in 40% new French oak.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Primarily
oak-driven aromas with subtle notes of dark fruits. Intensely fruity featuring blackberries and black plum flavors
with an underpinning of dark chocolate, offering an appealing plush velvet mouth feel. A little softer and more
gentle than the 2008 Silver Eagle Pinot Noir. Still a bit rugged and tannic and needs more time in bottle to
mellow. Well-crafted in its style. Good (+).
2010 Ulises Valdez U.V. El Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.7% alc., $50.Barrel fermented, 100% MLF.
color with slight haze (unfiltered) in the glass. Aromatically pleasing with
notes of yeast, buttered popcorn, white peach and citrus peel. Very tasty
core of baked pear, apple, pie crust and tropical fruit flavors with
complimentary oak. Crisp and lively with a hint of tannin and a dry finish.
A dead wringer for one of Aubert’s top Chardonnays.
A single wine lovingly sourced from a 1-acre vineyard in the Carneros region of Sonoma County. Forget small,
we are talking less than 100 cases. This vineyard is a group-managed affair, the result of a partnership
between long time Sonoma County PR person Michael Coats, his wife Valerie, her parents and sister, and
Chuck Hanson, a noted wine buyer for Hi-Time Cellars in Costa Mesa, California, and Jerry Hanson. Each of
the partners share equally in the work of the vineyard which is organically farmed and overseen by noted
viticulturist Phil Cotourri. The wine is crafted by B.R. Cohn Winery winemaker, Tom Montgomery.
The wine may be acquired by e-mailing email@example.com or visiting the Hi-Time Cellars website at
www.hittimewine.net. The wine can sometimes be found at fine restaurants in Sonoma Valley and New York.
The wine sells out quickly every year.
2010 Valerie’s Vineyard “One Acre” Carneros Pinot Noir
alc., 58 cases, $40. 8th vintage. Aged 18 months in new and 2-year-old
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Intriguing nose
offering scents of dark red berries, earth, black pepper and coffee. Hits
the mid palate with a vengeance, empowered with attention grabbing
flavors of blackberries, plum, cola, mushroom, tobacco and spice. Very
well-crafted with a seamless character, plush on the palate, with wellproportioned
tannins, and a long, long finish. A very unique and interesting wine
that you will want to spend considerable time with. Great the following the day
as well from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
The husband and wife team of Stephané and Dana Vivier bring a Burgundian sensibility to wines made from
California and Willamette Valley grapes. Winemaker Stephané grew up in Meloisey, Burgundy in the Hautes-
Côtes de Beaune. He obtained advanced degrees in viticulture and enology from Université de Bourgogne in
Dijon, and subsequently worked in Switzerland, New Zealand and Sonoma. He was attracted to American
vineyards where winemakers are not bound by tradition or AOC restrictions. Stephané became the winemaker
at HdV (Hyde de Villaine) in Carneros in 2002, and remains at that position. His spouse, Dana, brings the
business acumen and viticulture skills to their partnership.
2011 Vivier Sonoma Coast Rosé of Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., $18.
Light orange-coral color in the glass. Delicate, but very attractive
aromas of red berries and orange flower water. Tasteful core of
strawberries, cranberries and blood oranges, offering moderate body,
minor fine-grain tannins, and admirable persistence on the very dry
finish. A superb Rosé. Very good.
2010 Vivier Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.9% alc., sold out.
dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of red stone fruits, spice green
leaf and cut flowers. Slightly confected flavors of red raspberries and red cherries with a savory herbal thread
running through. Medium weight with some tannic backbone and mild length on the finish which has a hint of
aromatic oak. A solid, well-crafted wine, that has a slightly under ripe fruit character. Good.
2010 Vivier Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., sold out.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass.
Lovely aromas of black plum, black cherry, grape and spice. Middleweight flavors of darker fruits including
black raspberries, with an accent of spice, oak and sauvage. A pretty, seamless wine. Very good.
2010 Vivier Sun Chase Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc. $54. From a vineyard in the Petaluma Gap region at 1200 feet
elevation above the fog. Clone 777.
Moderately dark reddish-purple
color in the glass. Complex nose offering a panoply of aromas including
dark plums, blackberry jam, sassafras, and cardamom spice. Delicious
essence of fresh dark berries, nicely spiced, with a hint of sous-bois,
dried rose petal and oak. Moderately rich and nicely balanced, with a velvety
texture. Ready for current drinking, but will age. Still terrific the next day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle when my wife and I polished the bottle
Watkins Family Winery
A small, family owned winery in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, that has been producing boutique wines since
1979. Winemaker Randall Watkins holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Davis and
has worked at Buena Vista Winery, Hartford Family Winery, S. Anderson Vineyards, and Carmen Vineyards in
Chile. In 1999, he obtained a master’s degree in enology from University of California at Davis, and became
the winemaker at Carmenet Winery and Moon Mountain Vineyard. Currently, he is a consulting winemaker for
new wine brands while crafting the wines for Watkins Family Winery.
The Crinella Vineyard is located in Green Valley, planted in Goldridge soil known for its low vigor and excellent
drainage. Through the years, fruit from this vineyard has been supplied to DuMOL, Merry Edwards, Siduri and
The Watkins Family wines are available at www.watkinsfamilywinery.com. The label features a painting of the
well-known Sonoma Valley artist Michael Holland depicting the Watkins Family Estate Vineyard on Taylor
2009 Watkins Family Winery Crinella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 198 cases,
$40. Clones are Mt. Eden, 115, 777 and Pommard. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, aged 18 months in
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely fruited nose, offering aromas of black
cherries and black raspberries. Juicy and crisp on the palate, with a tasty core of black cherries augmented by
oak, wrapped in supple tannins, finishing with moderate depth on the finish. Good (+).
2010 Watkins Family Winery Crinella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black
cherries, dark red berries, bramble and pine needle. Middleweight flavors of
black cherry liquor, with notes of strawberries and spice, offering an easy
drinking experience driven by soft tannins, refreshing acidity and admirable
intensity and length on the cherry-driven finish. Very good.