Sips of Recently Tasted California Wines
The Balverne name was reintroduced by Windsor Oaks Vineyards & Winery in the 2010 vintage. In the
1970s, Balverne was a leading name in artisan wineries in Sonoma County. The inaugural Balverne Pinot
Noir was vinified by the original winemaker for Windsor Oaks, Julie Lumgair. The current winemaker is
Margaret Davenport, who has refined the style, adding elegance and nuance to Pinot Noir from this site.
Balverne’s first winemaker, Doug Nalle, consults on the wines. Owners Bob and Renee Stein bought the
Balverne property in 1992 and renamed it Windsor Oaks Vineyards. It is located just south of Healdsburg
and spans both the Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill AVAs. Wines have been offered under the Windsor
Oaks label since 2005 and three Windsor Oaks wines are reviewed below.
2012 Balverne Estate Grown Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 300 cases, $30.
Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass. Lovely aromas of ripe cherries, dried stone fruits,
cola and vanilla. The bright cherry core is accented with notes of spice, vanilla and cola, with
supporting dry tannins. Admirable balance with some finishing persistence.
2012 Balverne Estate Grown Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 240 cases, $40.
reddish purple color in the glass. Enticing aromas of Bing cherries and baking spice arrive over time in the
glass. Light to mid weight flavors of cherry, raspberry, spice and cola, finishing with graceful length. Very
polished, elegant and refined with modest tannins. Quite accessible for a reserve wine. Definitely deserving of
the designation “reserve,” although it is not a big, oaky version of the regular Russian River Valley bottling
which is so often the case with reserve wines.
Sometimes a pleasant surprise shows up unannounced in my wine locker. This was the case with
Cosa Obra Pinot Noir, from a producer I was unfamiliar with. The name Cosa (“thing”) Obra (“a
hand-crafted body of work”) refers to the winery’s thing, what they do, their hand-crafted body of
work. Owner Gregory Hayes, with over two decades of experience in the wine industry, has
chosen to produce small amounts of exceptional wines from multiple unique terroirs. The
consulting winemaker is Kent Humphrey (Eric Kent Wines). The winery’s sincle Pinot Noir is
sourced from the best blocks of vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Bennett Valley regions.
2012 Cosa Obra Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH
3.70, TA 0.53, 294 cases, $27. After rigorous hand sorting,
100% de-stemmed with whole berries to tank. A 5 to 7-day
cold soak was followed by fermentation managed with a
combination of delestage and pumpovers. Extended
maceration ranged from 3 to 4 weeks. Aged 12 months in
25% new French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish purple color
in the glass. Lovely aromas of Bing cherries, raspberry coulis and spice. The
nose is literally intoxicating and persistent in volume even when sampled later in
the day from a previously opened bottle. Bright, refreshing and light on its feet,
with a delicious core of light to mid weight Bing cherry fruit accented with notes of tobacco, mocha, sassafras
and sweet oak. The combination of balance and a light touch is hard to resist in Pinot.
2012 Cutruzulla Vineyards Gloria San Louis Obispo County Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.47, TA 0.59, 290 cases, $40. “Koo-troot-ZOL-a.” The Riven
Rock Vineyard responded to the ideal 2012 growing season by producing its
largest crop to date, but still less than 1 ton-per-acre! The vineyard is located in
a coastal valley just outside the town of Cambria on California’s Central Coast.
5 acres are planted to Pinot Noir and 2 acres ro Riesling. Many of vineyard
blocks contain limestone soils. The winemaker is Stephen Dooley of Stephen
Ross Wine Cellars. Pommard 5, 115, 667, “828,” and 23. Aged 10 months in
30% new French oak barrels.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely
perfumed with aromas of black cherry, sarsaparilla, and baking spices including
nutmeg and cola. The medium to full bodied and fully ripened cherry, dark berry and plum fruits fill the mouth
with pleasure. A dash of oak-driven toast and vanilla adds interest. The soft demeanor on the palate is
particularly appealing and the finish is long and pleasurable.
2011 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.47, TA 0.62,
6,062 cases, $45. Released October 2013. A blend of 8 vineyards in the Russian River Valley. 100% destemmed,
5-day cold soak, aged 8 months in 40% new French oak barrels. The wine was racked and returned
just once out of barrel before final blending and bottling.
Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass.
Highly aromatic, with bright scents of Bing cherries, baking spice, sassafras and oak. Mid weight flavors of
dark cherries are framed by oak in a crisp, juicy style with pleasing acidity. Easy to drink, and food friendly,
although showing a little more cloak of oak than I like.
2011 Gary Farrell Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.43, TA 0.62, 143 cases, $60. Release June 2014. Sourced
from one of the newer Bacigalupi vineyards, Frost Ranch bought by the
Bacigalupi family in 1993 and Block 9 is planted entirely to a Wente selection of
Pinot Noir. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, aged 13 months in 40% new
French oak barrels. Racked and returned once out of barrel before final
blending and bottling.
Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Appealing
aromas of black cherry, forest floor, spice and rose petal emerge over time in the
glass. The exuberant black cherry and raspberry core provides good richness
on the mid palate, carrying over to a generous and sleek finish replete with
notes of dried herbs and tea leaves. The fine-grain tannins and forward fruit make for easy drinking now.
2012 Kessler-Haak Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 425 cases, $38. Estate grown fruit. Vineyard
owned by Dan Kessler and his spouse Ellen Haak Kessler. Winemaker is Dan Kessler. Yield 0.96 tons per
acre. Clones 114, 115, 777 and 2A. Aged 9 months in 40% new French oak barrels.
reddish purple color in the glass. Uplifting aromas of dark berry preserves, cardamom spice and briar. Light in
weight but flavorful, with notes of blackberry, cassis and plum infused with bright, juicy acidity. A vein of savory,
dried herbs and oak is in the background. The tannins are well integrated and the wine is quite open now.
2011 Kessler-Haak Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
13.4% alc., , RS 0.96, 50 cases, $29. Estate grown fruit.
Yield 0.46 tons per acre. Clones 95, 76. Barrel fermented and barrel aged 8 months sur lie in 50% new
French oak, 100% MLF.
Pale golden yellow and clear in the glass. The nose exhibits aromas of lemon rind,
ripe apple, buttered brioche and pavement after rain. Bright flavors of lemon, poached pear, blonde caramel
and vanilla infused with a spark of nervy minerality, complimented by nutty oak in the background.
2012 Kessler-Haak Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
14.6% alc., pH 3.41, TA 0.61, dry. 65 cases, $29. Estate
grown fruit. Yield 1.7 tons per acre. Clones 95, 96, 76. Barrel fermented and barrel aged sur lie for 8 months
in 15% new French oak barrels.
Mild golden yellow color and clear in the glass. The pleasing fruit aromas of
lemon and golden apple are somewhat obscured by a toasty, nutty oak topcoat. Discreetly rich on the palate
with flavors of baked apple, poached pear and citrus peel, finishing with a burst of refreshing citrus. Slightly
creamy in texture. Oak is less intrusive on the palate than on the nose. Improves over time in the glass.
2012 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
13.5% alc., $23.
Moderate yellow color and clear in the glass.
Scents of lemon zest, green apple, green herbs and oak lead to a light weight palate of lemon and pear flavors
and well-integrated acidity. Delicate and nicely crafted, but nothing stands out.
Les Voleurs is an urban San Francisco winery founded by Matthew Purdon and Keith Crowell. The name,
“Les Voleurs,” is French for “The Thieves.” The winery originated as an underground wine club in San
Francisco in 2008 called the Wine Thieves. The name was chosen because of the club’s liberal use of the
“wine thief,” a glass siphon made for stealing wine out of the barrel for tastings. Purdon developed an interest
in wine in college, undertook winemaking studies at the University of California at Davis, and started a
winemaking club in San Francisco that evolved into Les Voleurs Wines. Crowell has a background in beer,
wine and sake making. This was my first experience with Les Voleurs wines and I was impressed by the
capable winemaking and high quality of the wines. This is a newer winery worth following. A member of a
small group of Pinot Noir producers vinifying their wines in neutral oak barrels. Visit www.lesvoleurswines.com.
2012 Les Voleurs Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.63, 76 cases, $32. A blend of several
vineyards. 100% de-stemmed, native yeast fermentation, aged in neutral French oak barrels with regular lees
Very fragrant array of aromas including strawberries, cherries, leather and spice. Delicate, but
pleasing flavors of strawberry, red cherry, and cranberry caressed by gossamer tannins and finishing with
palate cleansing acidity. An elegant offering that lacks mid palate and finishing intensity but has some charm.
2012 Les Voleurs Rodgers Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH 3.40, TA 0.71, 37
cases, $45. Dijon 667 and 777 planted in volcanic ash soils. 5-day cold soak, fermented with 30% whole
clusters using native yeasts over 2 weeks. Aged in neutral French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Deeply perfumed with scents of raspberry, strawberry, rose
petal and vanilla. Delicious ripe strawberry, cherry and plum flavors in a mid weight style with modest tannins,
very bright acidity, and a long finish featuring citrus-infused strawberries. Strawberry lovers will cherish this
2012 Les Voleurs Hurst Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH
3.70, TA 0.65, 46 cases, $45. The vineyard is southwest of Sebastopol. Clones
115 and 777 planted in Goldridge soil. 5-day cold soak, fermented with 30%
whole clusters using native yeasts. Aged in neutral French oak barrels with
regular lees stirring.
Light garnet in color in the glass. Enticing aromas of
cherry, baking spices, sandalwood and flinty minerality. Aims to please with a
seamless presence on the palate, featuring flavors of strawberry, cherry,
Moroccan spices and sandalwood. The tannins are very suave and the acidity
elevates the refreshment level. Even better later in the day when tasted from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2012 Les Voleurs Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.5% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.62, 73 cases, $22. From a
vineyard located a few miles southwest of Sebastopol. 15-year-old vines. One lot fermented with native
yeasts in barrel and underwent 100% MLF. The second lot was fermented using native yeasts in
stainless steel without completing MLF. The wine was blended, received a light fining and was
Very pale yellow color and clear in the glass. Shy, clean aromas of lemon zest,
green apple and petrichor. Soft in the mouth with vivid lemony citrus and tropical fruit flavors and a
hint of nutty oak. Demure and polished leaving a pleasing finish of lemon-lime gusto.
2010 Lula Mendocino Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 400 cases, $42 (sold out). Lula is the winemaker’s maternal
grandmother. Grapes are grown near Comptche 16 miles south east of the coastal village of Mendocino.
Vineyard planted in 1998. 60% Pommard, 35% 115, and 5% 777. Aged 12 months in 50% new French oak.
Aged an additional 6 months in barrel after final blending.
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. Oak
dominates the nose with appealing ancillary notes of black cherry, blackberry, cola, earthy flora, and spice.
Tasty black cherry and boysenberry fruit offers dramatic mid palate intensity and finish. Mid to full bodied with
balanced tannins and a long finish.
2011 Lula Mendocino Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 700 cases, $42. 65% Pommard, 30% 115 and 5% 777. Aged
14 months in 40% new French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of old
wood, mushroom, fire pit and peat lead to lighter weight flavors of dark cherry and black raspberry with an
earthy undertone. Generous dry tannins arrive with a rush on the crisp, short finish.
2012 Masterpiece Vineyards Estate Grown Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 2,500 cases,
$13.99. A second label from Windsor Oaks Vineyards. Artwork on the label is In The Woods at Giverny by
Claude Monet, 1887.
Light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of red rose petals, honeysuckle and
green herbs. Lighter weight flavors of red cherries, red berries, dried herbs, and edible flowers. Easy to drink,
with modest tannins and some fruit presence on the brief finish.
2011 Pillow Rd. Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.4% alc., $50. Proprietors are Pat and Anne
Stotesbery, the creators of Ladera Vineyards on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. The winemaker is Jade
Barrett and consulting winemaker is Karen Culler, both of whom have experience in working in notable Napa
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherries, straw and toasty oak
lead to a light to mid weight core of bright cherry, cranberry and pomegranate flavors accented by savory dried
herbs and spice. The fruit is backed by vibrant acidity and supple, dry tannins, and the soprano finish is flush
with citrus-infused cherries. The wine displays a lack of ripeness reflective of this cool vintage.
2012 Ryan Cochrane Wines Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 143 cases,
$43. 50% clone 115, 50% Pommard 5. 30% whole cluster fermentation. Aged 10 months in 1 new and 5
neutral French oak barrels. Ryan Cochrane trained under Roger Nicolas of RN Estate for four years before
launching his own label.
Light reddish purple color in the glass. Upon opening, the shy nose offers aromas of
cherry, raspberry and sandalwood. Over time in the glass, more oak-driven notes emerge including coffee.
Light to mid weight array of red fruit flavors including strawberry and cherry with a shadow of oak in the
background. Charming and elegant with juicy acidity and balanced tannins. Tasted twice.
2012 Ryan Cochrane Wines Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 134 cases, $43.
75% clone 115, 25% Pommard 5. 30% whole cluster fermentation. Aged 10 months in 1 new and 4 neutral
French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish purple color and slight haze (unfiltered) in the glass. Demure aromas of
dark red berries and leafy herbs build in intensity over time in the glass. Mid weight core of dark red berry fruits
with a riff of savory herbs in the background and a touch of citrus on the finish. Bright acidity, managed firm
tannins and a graceful presence. Better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Tasted
2012 The Calling Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
TA 0.65, $37. From the Mill Station Vineyard, one of the coolest sites in the
Russian River Valley. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The nose is highly expressive
with bright aromas of Bing cherry, spice, cinnamon stick, graham, sassafras and
oak. Luxurious cherry core with accents of cola, anise, spice and oak. Nicely
balanced with great verve and grace, finishing with respectable length.
2012 Windsor Oaks Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 280 cases, $30.
Clones 777, 667, 115, 114 and 459.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The
appealing nose leads with aromas of raspberries, cherries and damp forest floor. The middleweight
flavors of black cherry and cola are juicy and vivid. Very well crafted with a seamless presence of
oak, acidity and tannins, finishing with plenty of cherry goodness. The potentially lush Russian River
Valley fruit is held in check, making this wine particularly appealing.
2012 Windsor Oaks Vineyards Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 230 cases, $33.75.
Moderately light reddish
purple color in the glass (slightly deeper in color than the regular
RRV bottling). Shy, but pleasant aromas of dark Bing cherries and
spice. Very polished and refined on the palate, with flavors of dark
cherries, fraise du bois, cola and spice pulled into line with fine
acidity. The complimentary oak is not intrusive, and the tannins are
suave and integrated. A graceful interpretation of Russian River Valley Pinot
Noir that is quite evocative.