Sips of Recently Tasted Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Many consider the Russian River Valley to be a homogenous region producing wines that are very similar in
style and character. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are numerous varied microclimates much
like there is in Burgundy, resulting in considerable diversity in the wines of the Russian River Valley as shown in
the wines reviewed in this issue.
Davis Family Vineyards
The wines from Davis Family Vineyards in Healdsburg are in high demand and frequently sell out quickly to the
winery’s wine club members. Guy Davis and his son Cole craft consistently outstanding Pinot Noirs as well as
many other varietals.
The 2012 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir received a Double Gold and the 2013 White Rhone Cuvée Luke won a
Double Gold and Best of Class at the 2014 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition.
The winemaking is the same for all Pinot Noirs reviewed. Following a 5-7 day cold soak, fermentation is
initiated with native yeast, gravity flow is employed in the winery, and winemaking is minimalistic. The wines
are aged for 10 months in 1/3 new, 1/3 1-year-old, and 1/3 2-year-old French oak barrels. The differences in
the wines are attributable to the vineyard location. A map of the vineyard sources is seen here. Campbell
Ranch is in the Sonoma Coast AVA and the Pinot Noir from this vineyard is reviewed in the next section of this
Check out the newly designed website at www.davisfamilyvineyards.com. The winery’s tasting room and
organic garden lounge is located in Healdsburg just steps away from the Russian River. Hours are 11:00 to
5:00 Thursday through Sunday. Box lunches can be ordered in advance to enjoy onsite.
2012 Davis Family Vineyards Starr Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $55. The
warmest of Davis Family Pinot Noir sites.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Plenty to like in this wine
that features aromas of dark cherries, sous-bois, spice and new oak. The mid weight charge of spicy black
cherry and black raspberry fruits has noticeably intensity and carry-over to the long, cherry-driven finish. Soft
and smooth in the mouth, the wine has mouthwatering tension that lifts the experience.
2012 Davis Family Vineyards Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $55. This is an expression of the
Green Valley and is composed of Pommard and Dijon clones.
This is one of the coolest climate sites in the Russian River
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. The
glorious nose is deep and inspired, with vivid aromas of fresh
cherries, spice, Prada leather coat and rose petal. A cherry
bombast on the palate that really made me sit up and take notice.
Discreetly concentrated with added accents of spice, raspberry and plum
with a complimentary note of smoky oak. An absolutely delicious and
harmonious wine that floods the mouth with flavor.
2012 Davis Family Vineyards Horseshoe Bend Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
$55. This vineyard is the coolest and most coastal of the four Russian River Valley vineyard designated Pinot
Noirs. It sits on a ridge above the town of Occidental above the fog at an elevation above 1,000 feet. The
ocean breezes create slightly thicker skins adding structure and earthiness to the wine.
reddish purple hue in the glass. A riper fruit profile with aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currant, plum,
dark chocolate and smoky oak. Very lush on the palate with soft tannins and a fruit-laden finish. An appealing
wine that lacks only a little nervy tension.
2012 Davis Family Vineyards Soul Patch Estate Grown Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $55.
Soul Patch is the winery’s estate hillside vineyard that Guy planted in 1996. It is oriented with an eastern
facing slope to it receives the gentle morning sun as it burns off the Pacific Ocean fog and dodges the
afternoon sun. This bottling is a barrel selection of the favorite barrels in each vintage.
purple color in the glass. The nose is very shy, revealing delicate aromas of cherry and black raspberry. The
fruit core is intense and sappy, offering flavors of black raspberry, boysenberry and spice, framed by firm
tannins. Oak is evident in the background. Rather tight but the finish hints at the goodness to come. This
bottling typically takes time and I would leave it alone for 3 to 5 years while you drink the other 2012 wines in
the Davis lineup.
2013 Davis Family Vineyards Cuvée Luke Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley White Rhone Blend
13.4% alc., $30. 48% Rousanne, 35% Marsanne, 17% Viognier.
Light golden yellow
color and clear in the glass. Nicely perfumed with scents of yellow Babcock peach and various
tropical fruits. Highly enjoyable, with bright flavors of peach, quince, mango and slight nutty oak.
Viognier definitely has put a stamp on this wine through notes of spice and jasmine. Slightly viscous
on the palate with impeccable balance and breeding.
Winemaker Scott Rich is just now releasing his 2011 vintage wines. He crafts his Pinot Noirs for structure,
richness, depth and graceful aging. As a result, they benefit from extra time before release. The wines are
held in bottle for a year or longer. The 2011 wines were bottled in July 2013.
Scott sources fruit from a number of exotic vineyard sites that are often on the edge and challenging to farm.
The remainder of the 2012 Talisman Pinot Noirs will be reviewed in this issue elsewhere.
Visit the website at www.talismanwines.com. A tasting room is located in Glen Ellen in a historic building that is
over 110 years old. Hours are 12:00 to 5:00 Thursday through Monday, but appointments are encouraged.
2011 Talisman Gunsalus Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 172 cases, $50. Released
October 2014. Pamela and Glen Gunsalus carefully farm this Green Valley of Russian River Valley vineyard
planted in Goldridge soil.
Moderately light ruby color in the glass. Intensely perfumed with aromas of Bing
cherry, sandalwood and spice. Charming and elegant in style, with middleweight flavors of cherry and baking
spice rounded out with supple tannins. Very juicy on the finish with some persistence. A typical cherry-driven
wine from this vineyard, showing a slightly more demure character in this cool vintage.
Ram’s Gate Winery
This is a relatively new winery located at the gateway to the Carneros wine region. The portfolio of wines are
from marquee vineyards in Sonoma County and Carneros whose growers share over 278 years of experience.
Winemaker Jeff Gaffner has over 30 years of experience and directs the fastidious vinfication process. The
three wines reviewed here are very luscious, bursting with sappy fruit.
Visit the website at www.ramsgatewinery.com. The winery and tasting room is housed in a modern
interpretation of weathered farmsteads of old Carneros just past Sonoma Raceway on the right. Hours are
10:00-6:00 Thursdays through Mondays by appointment.
2012 Ram’s Gate Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.54, 734 cases, $70. A medium to early ripening site
with well-drained, stony loam soil. Aged 11 months in 75% new French oak.
Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Fragrant with aromas of Bing
cherries, cola, pie spice and subtle smoky oak. Soft and smooth on the palate
with a tenacious middleweight core of black cherry and purple berry fruit
framed by oak-driven notes of toast and spice which adds a layer of flavor.
This wine displays the luscious, opulent fruit that the Russian River Valley is
known for but still has verve and brightness. The tannins are well integrated
and the finish is long and satisfying.
2012 Ram’s Gate Ulises Valdez Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.48, 344 cases, $70. Vineyard planted in
2006 on steep slopes. Soils are gravelly, rocky clay over sandy loam. Aged 11 months in 40% new French
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Awesome aromas of Bing cherry pie glaze, blueberrypomegranate,
and rose petal. The aromas carry remarkable intensity over an extended time in the glass. The
dark cherry, boysenberry and pomegranate fruit is on the ripe side but is stunning in intensity of flavor, and
augmented by a touch of cardamom spice and toast in the background. The oak is much more complimentary
in this wine. The sappy core is clothed in a soft, seductive cloak of tannins. This wine still had plenty of
swagger the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2012 Ram’s Gate Ulises Valdez Silver Eagle Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH
3.60, TA 0.54, 344 cases, $70. This vineyard is located in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley and is
owned and farmed by noted viticulturist Ulises Valdez. The vines were planted in 2007 on a hillside near the
town of Occidental just 6 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. This wine really pushes the ripeness envelope. The aromas
of purple grape syrup, blackberry, anise and oak tend to be muted over time. The full-bodied core of mixed
black and purple berries and the blackest cherries is sweet, syrupy and concentrated. Soft and velvety in the
mouth, this wine has a firm, but not imposing tannic backbone. The finish is noticeably long and intense. A bit
tiring when tasted over time with a super ripe, cooked fruit quality on display. Succulent rather than complex.
Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery
Winemaker Theresa Heredia has honored the Gary Farrell style of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir which
typically displays a racy energy due to bright acidity. She has, however, added some subtle nuances
of her own choice, including small amounts of whole cluster fermentation and extended post-fermentation
maceration when appropriate. The wines are always well-crafted.
Both of the wines reviewed here were 100% de-stemmed. After a 5 to 7-day cold soak, fermentation was
initiated with proprietary yeast. Both punch downs and an occasional gentle pump-over were used. After a 10
to 15-day extended maceration, the wine was pressed off the skins and seeds, inoculated for malolactic
fermentation, and racked into French oak barrels from several cooperages. The wines were racked off the lees
once prior to bottling.
The timeless and classy tasting room on Westside Road is a required stop for all Pinot Noir aficionados. Gary
Farrell has retired from winemaking, but his legacy lives on. Visit www.garyfarrellwinery.com.
2012 Gary Farrell Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.645, 444
cases, $60. Release date February 2015. Sourced from the vines at the Bacigalupi’s Frost Ranch. Wente
selection of Pinot Noir. Aged 14 months in 40% new French oak.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas
of cherry, strawberry, cranberry and nutty oak lead to an elegant mid weight palate of red fruits with strawberry
the most prominent. A layer of complimentary oak in the background adds interest. An enjoyable, understated,
forward drinking wine, with supple tannins and a lip-smacking finish driven by a good cut of acidity.
2012 Gary Farrell Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH 3.46, TA 0.702, 433
cases, $55. Vineyard owners Don and Barbara Stiling converted a 48-acre apple ranch to vineyards in 1988.
The site has well-drained Goldridge soils and is exposed to lingering coastal fog intrusions. Swan selection.
Aged 14 months in 40% new French oak.
Moderate ruby color in the glass. The aromas of Bing cherry,
raspberry and spice are vibrant upon opening, fading a bit in the glass as the cherry fades and dried herb
scents emerge. Relatively light with silky tannins and juicy acidity, featuring oak-kissed cherry and raspberry
fruits with a savory herbal undertone. The finish is driven by a burst of racy cherry fruit.