Recently Tasted California Pinot Noir: The Bar Keeps Moving Higher
I am fortunate in that my wine drinking lifetime has coincided with the modern rise of Pinot Noir excellence in
California. When I first developed a serious interest in Pinot Noir in the late 1970s, there were very few notable
Pinot Noir producers. I had to become a Chalone stockholder to get my hands on the Reserve Pinot Noirs of
Chalone, the gold standard for Pinot Noir at the time. If only Dick Graff were alive today (he passed away in
1998) to experience the current state of Pinot Noir renaissance.
Currently, there is an embarrassment of riches and the quality of California Pinot Noir is at an all time high. The
bar has moved to such lofty heights that a disproportionately large number of premium Pinot Noirs now
consistently receive scores of 90 or above. As I tasted the wines reviewed here, I had to shake my head in
amazement at the skilled hands of winegrowers and winemakers who today continue to strive for perfection in
Pinot Noir. Fortunately, perfection will never be achieved, but there are many wines that are damn close.
Brothers Paul and Bryan Vais made wine in various garages for 25 years before launching their commercial
venture with the 2009 vintage. They chose to focus on specially chosen vineyards across multiple appellations
of California and employ artisan winemaking methods on a limited production basis. I was enthralled with their
inaugural wines, and have followed their releases since. The wines are available through the winery’s website
store at www.bailiwickwines.com. All the wines tasted here would benefit from decanting if enjoyed now.
2013 Bailiwick Borderline Marin County Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.75, TA 0.54, 300 cases, $36. Sourced
from Kendric and Chileno Valley vineyards. Clones 667 and 777. Aged 17 months in 100% French oak barrels,
25% new. 23% of Kendric Vineyard fruit fermented whole cluster. 4 to 6-day cold soak, proprietary yeasts,
several day post fermentation maceration. A blend of the best barrels.
Moderately light reddish purple color in
the glass. The nose leads with a mix of cherry, Xmas spice and tobacco. Soft, even slightly creamy in the
mouth, with a modestly concentrated array of oak-kissed cherry, red berry, cola and spice flavors. The fruit is
framed by suave tannins and the persistent aromatic cherry finish brings a smile. This wine is very solid, but
not to my favored taste since there is too much tobacco-charged oak overlay even when tasted the following
2013 Bailiwick Michaud Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.61, 49 cases,
$44. This vineyard sits at 1600 feet elevation at the front door of Pinnacles National Monument. Soils contain
significant amounts of decomposed granite and limestone. Michael Michaud, the former winemaker at Chalone
in its hay day, has farmed this vineyard since the early 1990s. Clones 115, 667, 777 and Swan. The berries
and clusters were particularly small and the grapes more thick-skinned in 2013 due to sparse rainfall, with very
low yields. 100% de-stemmed, followed by a 4-day cold soak after which fermentation was initiated with natural
yeasts. The fermentation was augmented with an additional yeast strain. The wine was macerated on the skins
for several weeks after fermentation. Aged 17 months in 100% French oak barrels, 50% new.
red color in the glass. Pleasing aromas of black cherry, earthy flora and mixed berry jam lead to mid weight
flavors of blackberry and black raspberry with a welcome notes of spice, dark chocolate, Kahlua and oak
creeping in. Firm tannins, yet very polished, with the fruit playing a starring role on the vigorous finish. This
vineyard can produce wines with daunting tannins, but they were corralled in this special wine.
2013 Bailiwick Foray Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.58, 148 cases, $44. Swan
and Pommard clones. Vineyard source is Juui Vineyard located in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley.
Goldridge sandy loam soil. Pommard and Swan clones. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, proprietary yeast
fermentation, 2 week post-fermentation maceration. Aged 17 months in 100% French oak barrels, 33% new.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Rather shy nose offering demure aromas of ripe cherry and
cardamom spice with a hint of aged oak. An easy to like wine with a juicy deeply flavored cherry core accented
with hints of cola and clove spice. The tannins are balanced, the mouthfeel is plush and saucy and the finish is
filled with bombastic cherry goodness. Pommard and Swan makes for a very compatible marriage.
Considerably more enjoyable when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2013 Bailiwick Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH
3.66, TA 0.56, 470 cases, $36. A blend of grapes from
Chileno, Kendric, Juui and Silver Pines vineyards. Clones
are 115, 667, 777, Swan and Pommard. Portions of the
Kendric and Silver Pines grapes went in as whole clusters.
4-day cold soak, two lots were inoculated with two yeast
strains and one lot continued on ambient yeasts. A several
week post-fermentation maceration was followed by aging for
17 months in 100% French oak barrels, 37% new.
cherry red color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, sea breeze, spice and
seasoned oak. A silky core of cherry fruit is quite inviting on the mid
palate. This wine is blessed with modest tannins and a pleasing
elegance, finishing with a candied cherry theme and a slight tug of oak.
More aromatic and expressive the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2013 Bailiwick Silver Pines Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.56, 100
cases, $44. This vineyard is located at 900 feet elevation overlooking nearby Bennett Valley on the
northwestern flank of Sonoma Mountain. This wine is crafted from clone 115 planted in 2000 in volcanic soils
that limit yields. 30% whole cluster. 4-day cold soak, a different yeast added to each fermenter, and macerated
on the skins for several weeks post-fermentation. A selection of barrels was aged 17 months in 100% French
oak barrels, 34% new.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The most expressive nose in this
lineup upon opening, offering hi-tone scents of cherry, strawberry, rose petal and sous-bois. Seductive
harmony on the palate, offering mid weight flavors of earthy red fruits embellished with a measured touch of
oak. Very elegant and silky, with a modest red fruited finish.
This newer winery founded by winemaker Garry Brooks is based in Forestville and focuses on Pinot Noir. With
a degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis in hand after leaving the technology world, he gained
experience at Acacia in 2007 where he crafted his first Pinot Noir, later working at Kosta Browne and Dutton-
Goldfield. The Brooks Note label was launched in 2011. This is a serious up and coming winery that should be
on your radar. Visit the website and join the mailing list to purchase wine: www.brooks-notewinery.
2013 Brooks Note Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., pH 3.67, TA 0.71, 140 cases, $44. Rochioli selection and
Wädenswil grapes were sourced from the lower, eastern blocks planted
in 1992 and the RC clone from the western blocks planted in 2000. 10%
whole cluster. 3-day cold soak, native yeast fermentation finished in 2
weeks. Wines from the three different selections and clones were vinified
separately and combined just before bottling. Aged 16 months in 100%
French oak barrels, 33% new.
Light reddish purple color in the glass. I
was really drawn into the glass by the aromas of Maraschino cherry,
peach skin and redwood forest. The profound attack of ripe red cherry
and raspberry fruits alerts the palate and persists on the finish for more
than 30 seconds. The raspberry fruit really sticks out and there is an
interesting edible flower petal component to the flavor profile. The
tannins are very supple and comforting. This charming and elegant offering is highly enjoyable now, but has
the balance to prevail through several years.
This winery was profiled in detail previously in the PinotFile: www.princeofpinot.com/article/1669/. Suffice it to
say, that winemaker Ryan Hodgins is rather unassuming but exceptionally talented and I have become a big
fan of FEL wines. The vineyard sources are superb, including Savoy, Donnelly Creek, Ferrington and Wiley in
the Anderson Valley and Hirsch in the Sonoma Coast. The wines, which sell out every year, are available
online at www.felwines.com and through the winery’s wine clubs and mailing list. Large formats are available.
2013 FEL Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 605
cases, $70. A blend of clones including several Dijon and Pommard
clones along with Martini and Calera selections. Harvest Brix averaged
24.2º. 7-day cold soak, a 9-day uninoculated primary fermentation and
a 7 to 14-day extended maceration. The was aged 15 months in 100%
French oak barrels, 59% new.
Moderately light reddish purple color in
the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas of black cherry and black raspberry
fruit with savory notes of herbs and tea leave. More expressive on the
palate with a charge of well-spiced dark red and black fruits that alert
the senses and expand to a mouth coating presence. The intense fruit
soaks up the high percentage of new oak nicely. Still young and tight,
needing time to ameliorate the tannins, but the future looks bright.
2013 FEL Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay
14.2% alc., 138 cases, $48. This wine is made from a
blend of Wente, Prosser and Dijon clones from the winery’s estate vineyard near Philo. Averaged harvest Brix
24.1º. Whole cluster pressed to tank and barrel fermented in 50% new French oak barrels. Aged 15 months sur
Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. The fresh aromas of citrus, blood orange and a hint of
oak leap from the glass. A slight note of reduction resolves quickly. Very lovely and refined with an excellent
spark of somewhat steely acidity, featuring flavors of lemon, apple and spice. Crisp and bright, with the fruit
speaking far more than oak.
Not much needs to be said about this iconic West Sonoma Coast vineyard and winery. Vineyard manager
Everado Robledo has lived on the site since 1988 and planted and cultivated all 90,000 vines on the 72 acres
of Hirsch Vineyard. Noted winemaker Ross Cobb crafts the wines. Biodynamic viticulture is currently practiced.
The wines are sold online through the website and a mailing list at www.hirschvineyards.com. The 2013 East
Ridge and West Ridge Pinot Noirs are already sold out. All of these 2013 Pinot Noirs will benefit from decanting
if opened now and will be better served by cellaring for a few years.
2012 Hirsch Vineyards San Andreas Fault Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., $60.
reddish purple color in the glass. Upon pouring, aromas of oak-driven espresso and campfire overwhelm the
black cherry fruit. A little tight on the palate, offering a discreetly concentrated, juicy black cherry core with
noticeable intensity and finishing power. Very suave and silky. When tasted the following day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle, the aromatics were more fruity and the wine was more flavorful with less evident
2012 Hirsch Vineyards Reserve Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., 570 cases, $85. This wine is
made from the best barrels from ten of the oldest and finest blocks in the Hirsch Vineyard.
purple color in the glass. Very shy nose, offering demure aromas of cherry, spice and espresso. Impressive
attack, mouth presence and finish with substantial tannins to match. Delicious blueberry, black cherry and black
raspberry fruit flavors with modest oak seasoning in the background. When tasted the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle, the nose was slightly more inviting, and the palate was more giving
2012 Hirsch Vineyards East Ridge Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 470 cases, $85. This wine
is a selection of the best barrels from the three oldest blocks on the ridge.
Moderate reddish purple color in the
glass. The nose is noticeably unique with a stony minerality evident accenting the fresh cherry fruit aromas. On
entry, the plum, cherry and berry assemblage explodes in the mouth and refuses to leave on the endless finish
which offers a wave of fruit and tannin. Oak is beautifully integrated. A masculine expression of the vineyard
but not in an extreme sense. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the
attack of succulent fruit is still engaging and the tannic backbone is still slightly daunting. Cellar this baby.
2012 Hirsch Vineyards West Ridge Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., 320 cases, $85. A
selection of the oldest and most exceptional sections on the cool western ridge of Hirsch Vineyard.
reddish purple color in the glass. A bit tight on the nose, showing shy aromas of dark cherry and espresso.
More appealing in the mouth with redder-toned fruit, lacy tannins, and juicy acidity. Very smooth and graceful in
a feminine style, with oak intruding a bit on the fruit expression at this young age. When tasted the following
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine still offered noticeable oak overlay on the nose
and palate bringing the delicate fruit core into subjugation.
2012 Hirsch Vineyards Block 8 Sonoma Coast Estate Pinot Noir
13.4% alc., 290 cases, $85. Located on the West Ridge of
the vineyard, this section has iron oxide-laden soils that are
unique within the vineyard.
Moderate reddish purple color in the
glass. Demure aromas of red cherries and red berries and spice
lead to a delicious core of fresh, well-spiced cherry and
strawberry fruits that are framed by sublime tannins. A touch of
earthiness and oak seasoning adds interest. A complete wine that
emotes due to its texture, flavor and roundness. When tasted the
following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, this wine
continued to stand out, reminding me of a great Chambertain. The
vintner made a prudent decision to bottle this wine separately.
2013 Hirsch Vineyards Estate Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
13.5% alc., 720 cases, $60. This wine is
produced from 3.9 acres of Chardonnay vines planted at Hirsch Vineyard.
Moderately light golden yellow color
in the glass. The wine aims to please upon opening, offering hi-tone scents of lemon curd, grilled pineapple
and poached pear. The fruit really speaks in this harmonious wine, with delicious flavors of lemon, pear and
apple accented with a saline note. Slightly creamy on the palate, with juicy acidity and beautiful integration of
oak. Very gracious and classy.
Laetitia Vineyard & Winery
I believe winemaker Dave Hickey is crafting some of the greatest Central Coast Pinot Noirs. I say this, because
I don’t he has received the notoriety he deserves. The winery’s estate Pinot Noir is consistently fine, but the
Reserve, Whole Cluster and single vineyard Pinot Noirs are striking wines that belong in every pinotphile’s
cellar. The wines are available on the winery’s website at www.laetitiawine.com or at the tasting room in Arroyo
Grande which is open daily.
2013 Laetitia Single Vineyard La Colline Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.61, 205 cases,
$60. Sourced from original plantings located in low yielding
blocks in the heart of the Laetitia Estate Vineyard. Only
produced in exceptional vintages. Harvested in late August at
24.9º Brix. Martini clone 13.4-day cold soak, whole berry
fermented in small open top fermenters with the addition of RC
212 yeast. After 6 days of fermentation, the wine was gently pressed and
racked into 100% French oak barrels, 30% new, where it was aged for
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Highly
aromatic, drawing the nose to wondrous aromas of strawberry, cherry,
spice and a hint of smoky oak. Very charming, with a mid weight core of
delicious red fruits framed by suave tannins. Impressive elegance and
class, with the ripe red fruits holding court through a finishes that lingers for what seems like a minute.
2013 Laetitia Single Vineyard La Coupelle Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.59,
209 cases, $60. Harvest Brix 27.6º. 80% Dijon 667 and 20% Dijon 459. 5-day cold soak, whole berry
fermented in small open top fermenters. Aged 12 months in 100% French oak barrels, 30% new.
dark reddish purple color in the glass. The aromas of plum, blackberry, spice and vanilla leap from the glass
initially. Soft in the mouth with a touch of smoky oak and dark chocolate accenting the mid weight plus core of
ripe dark fruits. The tannins are harmonious, and the finish is generously endowed with fruit. Still young, and a
bit monotone, but very promising.
2013 Laetitia Single Vineyard Les Galets Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.563, 209 cases,
$60. Composed of grapes from low yielding blocks. The name
means “stones” in French. Only produced in the most promising
vintages. Multiple picks from late September to early October.
Harvest Brix 25.5º. Dijon clone 115. 4-day cold soak, whole
berry fermented in small open top fermenters with an addition of
RC212 yeast. After 6 days of fermentation, the must was gently pressed
and racked to 100% French oak barrels, 30% new.
reddish purple color in the glass. Enticing aromas of boysenberry,
blackberry, rose petal and vanilla soar from the glass. Brightly fruited
with layers of dark fruits and exotic spices. Highly distinctive, with a firm,
but complimentary tannic backbone, a hint of oak seasoning, juicy acidity
and a silky mouthfeel. An exceptional wine of unusual breeding that will bring you to your knees.
La Pitchoune Winery
Tracy Nielsen and Peter Joachim Nielsen were inspired by a small family property in the south of France
named "la pitchoune," or "the little one." The name speaks to small production, small lots and the idea that the
winery's small size is its greatest asset. Tracy was a Registered Nurse who accepted a job managing sales for
a medical equipment company and moved to California. Not long after, the idea of La Pitchoune was born, and
she became the assistant winemaker. Peter is a successful entrepreneur.
The winemaker is Andrew Berge, a UC Davis graduate, who also crafts wines for SPELL Estate.
Vineyard sources include Chenoweth Vineyards, Devoto Vineyard, English Hill Vineyard, Holder Vineyard, Van
der Kamp Vineyard and Pratt Vineyards, all in Sonoma County.
Visit the website for more information at www.lapitchounewinery.com.
2012 La Pitchoune Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 279 cases, $56.
Moderately light reddish purple
hue in the glass. Nicely ripened black cherry fruit is featured in this mid weight wine which is dominated on the
nose and palate with heavy-handed smoky, tarry oak. The tannins are nicely balanced, and the juicy finish
appeals although lacks a bit of intensity. This wine will appeal to fans of lavishly oaked Pinot Noir.
2013 La Pitchoune English Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.57, 99 cases, $58. Released November
2015. Harvest Brix 24º-25º. Dijon 115, 667 and a Vosne Romanee
selection. Aged 11 months in 100% French oak barrels, 25%
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Very appealing scent
of black cherry and sous-bois. The light to mid weight flavors of black
cherry and blackberry are vibrant and classy and embellished with the
right touch of oak and spice. Impressive harmony with noticeable
length on the aromatic finish.
2013 La Pitchoune Holder Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc.,pH 3.63, TA 0.57, 120 cases, $68. Released
November 2015. This 1.25-acre site, a neglected former apple orchard looking down on the town of Occidental, was planted in 2000 by Bruce Holder and Mary Ann Wheeler. Harvest Brix 22.7º and 24º. Dijon 115 and 667. Aged
11 months in 100% French oak barrels, 25% new.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. An enchanting
wine with soaring aromas of fresh Bing cherries, forest floor, brioche and a kiss of oak. Striking entry and mid
palate presence of Bing cherry and blueberry fruits framed by refined tannins and integrated acidity. The finish
is remarkably long, lasting well over 30 seconds.
This is a winery within a winery launched in the 2005 vintage under the Hahn Estates umbrella of wines.
Owned by Nicholas Lucien Hahn, the winery is a separate facility devoted to three single vineyard, estate,
premium Pinot Noir. Winemaker Paul Clifton joined Hahn Estates in 2003, worked his way up to become head
winemaker, and has brought the winery’s Pinot Noir program into prominence. The wines are available through
the winery’s website at www.luciennevineyards.com. The Hahn Estate’s tasting room is nestled in the heart of
the Smith Vineyard in Soledad. A map showing the location of Hahn Estate’s estate vineyards is below.
2013 Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.73, TA 0.57, 602
cases, $50. This vineyard is near the center of the Santa Lucia Highlands, 520 feet above sea level. Afternoon
sun exposure leads to riper and more robust flavors than are found in vineyards farther north. Harvest Brix
25.5º-27º. Clones are 667, 777, 115, 113, Pommard and Jardini. Aged 14 months in 100% French oak barrels,
Dark reddish purple color in the glass. This wine is infused with blackest cherry and blackberry
aromas and flavors accented with oak-driven highlights of tar, anise and black tea. Nicely balanced, with
modest tannins and a vigorous finish with good length.
2013 Lucienne Smith Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.60, 1,224 cases, $50. This vineyard sits at the
highest elevation of Hahn’s vineyards. Harvest Brix 25.5º-27º. Clones are
Calera and Jardini. Aged 14 months in 100% French oak barrels, 40%
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The nose offers bright
aromas of darker cherries and berries with the right touch of oak.
Beautiful dark fruits including black cherry and blackberry engulf the
palate with richness. Saucy, fat, ripe and lush, with a balanced fine-grain
tannin backbone. A riff of spice, anise and vanilla add interest. Ideal
2013 Lucienne Lone Oak Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.83, TA 0.56, 598
cases, $50. This 20-acre vineyard is located at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands, and experiences
the strongest maritime influence of all of Hahn’s vineyards and the coolest growing season. Harvest Brix
25.5º-27º. Pommard clone. Aged 14 months in 100% French oak barrels, 40% new.
Moderately dark reddish
purple color in the glass. The nose evolves in the glass over time to offer inviting aromas of black cherry, sousbois
and toasty oak. Very suave on the palate with a mid weight core of well ripened darker stone and berry
fruits framed by creamy tannins. This wine shows the most oak imprint of the three 2013 Lucienne Pinot Noirs,
with anise and smoke augmenting the fruit.
Regular readers of the PinotFile will know that I have a soft spot for the Pinot Noirs from Maggy Hawk Vineyard
in the Anderson Valley, particularly the Jolie bottling. The Hawkster bottling was only recently released, and this
wine, along with the 2012 Maggy Hawk Jolie are the two top Pinot Noirs I have drank this year. Hawkster is a
winning, record-holding thoroughbred sired by Maggy Hawk. Hawkster is only produced in the best vintages
from clone 2A and is considered the “crown jewel” of the Maggy Hawk collection.Get some while they still might
be available through the allocated mailing list at www.maggyhawk.com.
2012 Maggy Hawk Hawkster Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.75, TA 0.54, 268 cases. Aged 16 months in
100% French oak barrels, 63% new.
Moderately light reddish
purple color in the glass. Aromas of wild berries, mushroom and
earthy humus draw you into the glass. A striking array of rich
black cherry and dark berry fruits saturate the palate with joy, fanning out on the
finish in glorious fashion. Robust, yet refined, with the balance to
last and improve over further time in the bottle. This is a complete wine
with every component singing in unanimity. A wine that brings emotion.
This winery was founded in 2011 by winemaker Byron Mignanelli. His sole focus is creating site-driven coastal
California Pinot Noir. The winery started in a garage and has now moved into a professional facility where
modern equipment is available.
The wines undergo native fermentation with 40% or more whole cluster. There are minimal additions if any
(only Santa Lucia Highlands wines received acid additions in 2013). The wines are aged on fine lees and
racked before bottling.
The wines are very modestly priced considering the quality. The wines are sold through a mailing list. Visit
2013 Mignanelli Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.61, 140 cases, $36.
The grapes were sourced from the dry farmed Nelson Family Vineyard, occupying 9 acres at 1700
feet elevation. Sparse topsoil with marine sediment below. Harvest Brix 21.1º (clone 115) and 22.3º
(clone “828”). The two clones were fermented and aged separately, and combined after 11 months
in barrel. 75% whole cluster. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The
nose opens slowly to reveal very appealing aromas of dark red cherry and raspberry with notes of
exotic spice and wilted rose petal. Lighter in weight, but flavorful, featuring a core of red cherry,
Damsel plum, raspberry and cranberry fruits accented nicely with whole cluster spice. This rather delicate wine
has balanced tannins and bright acidity with oak playing a seasoning role in the background. The finish is a bit
short, but otherwise the wine is solid and will particularly attract whole cluster fans.
2013 Mignanelli Romas Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.61, 75 cases, $42.
This small family owned and dry farmed vineyard was planted exclusively to Pinot Noir in 1992. Located on a
ridge 1800 feet above the town of Boonville, it is exposed to cold Pacific Ocean breezes. The site struggled to
ripen in 2013. Pommard clone. 25% whole cluster fermentation. Aged in French oak barrels. Unfined and
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. There is a nice compliment of whole cluster goodness in
this mid weight wine featuring aromas of charred plum, black cherry and exotic spice, and flavors of black
raspberry, blueberry, spice and a thread of oak. Texturally appealing with fine grain tannins and a bit of citrus
blessed acidity in the background.
2013 Mignanelli KW Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.59,
135 cases, $32. This 6-acre vineyard is the home ranch of Kirk Williams, a Santa Lucia Highlands
farmer who owns or manages 150 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The vineyard sits
between Rosella’s and Garys’ vineyard but lower in elevation and in closer proximity to the old
Salinas River. The gravelly loam soils consist of decomposed granite and significant amounts of
quartz. Harvest Brix 23.3º. 50% whole cluster. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish purple color
in the glass. The nose is filled with delightful cherry and spice perfume. Well-composed, with the mid
weight essence of black cherry and blackberry fruits working in harmony with a light touch of oak. Whole
cluster adds a spice and floral accent that I find very appealing. The wine is well structured with ripe fruit
tannins and finishes with a generous fruit presence.
2013 Magnanelli Highlands Ranch Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.57, 145 cases, $26. This 18-acre vineyard is
planted to a variety of Pinot Noir clones. Gravelly sandy loam soils.
Harvest Brix 23.8º. Clones 115, 777 and Pommard. 40% whole cluster.
Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass.
Very pleasant scent of cherry pie glaze, baking spices and dark red rose
petal. Plush and velvety on the palate, with a generous charge of well
ripened black cherry and black raspberry fruits with a wink of dark
chocolate accent. Whole cluster plays only a subtle role in this wine
which has beautifully integrated tannins and acidity. The seductive
mouthfeel and seamless character speaks loudly of Pinot Noir.
Ron Rubin Family of Wines
There is 40 years of interesting history behind the Ron Rubin label. Rubin studied viticulture and enology at
UC Davis in 1971, and then dedicated his life to the wholesale beverage business, all the time dreaming of
producing exceptional wines that offer great value. In 1968, Rubin worked for his family’s Central Wholesale
Liquor Co., in Mount Vernon, Illinois. He stayed with his family’s company for the next 22 years. In 1994, Rubin
read the book, The Republic of Tea, and offered to buy the Novato, California business. Rubin sold his family’s
liquor distributorship in Illinois and began a speciality tea revolution. He introduced nearly 200 different teas
and offered tea-inspired unsweetened varietal glass bottled teas for fine restaurants. In 2015, Ron Rubin
retired from the company’s leadership role and his son, Todd, stepped into the position as president of The
Republic of Tea.
In 2011, Ron bought River Road Family Vineyards and Winery in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA
which included a 10-acre estate vineyard. Since retiring from The Republic of Tea, he is devoting his energies
to developing The Rubin Family of Wines. He is actively involved in many Sonoma County philanthropic
2013 Ron Rubin Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.7% alc.,pH 3.60, TA 0.57, $25, screwcap.
Sourced from multiple vineyards in addition to estate fruit. Clones 115, 667, 777, 887, 113 and
Pommard. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, aged 8 months in 15% new French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with scents of cherry, spice and nutty
oak. The bright core of fresh Bing cherry and cranberry fruits is appealing as is the crisp finish.
Accents of cola and oak play in the background, with oak showing more overlay than I prefer. A
touch shallow on the mid palate attack, but otherwise a solid wine.
Three childhood friends reunited after many years to produce small lots of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay from vineyards near their hometown of Occidental. The winery is named Senses, the logo is
SENS3S. Vineyard sources are superb. The 2013 vintage marks the third for these young, talented
winemakers who rely on noted winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown as a consultant. These two wines were
previously reviewed after tasting at World of Pinot Noir in March 2015, so they now have another 6 months of
bottle age. The wines are sold through a mailing list at their black and white website: www.senseswines.com.
2013 Sense Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.63, $40 (sold out). Released spring 2015.
Sourced from Hillcrest Estate Vineyard (less than 2 acres) and Tanuda Ridge Vineyard (less than 3 acres)
which are close together. Aged 10 months in 100% French oak barrels, 25% new.
Moderate reddish purple
color in the glass. An array of aromas present, including red cherry, cranberry, earthy flora and toasty oak.
Very suave and silky on the palate, with a middleweight charge of well-spiced cherry and black raspberry fruits
with a compliment of dried herbs and anise-laced oak in the background. Well composed with balanced tannins
and easy drink ability.
2013 Senses Hillcrest Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.82, TA 0.62, $55 (sold out). Released spring 2015.
Aged in 100% French oak barrels, 35% new. Vineyard is owned by one
of the Senses winemakers. It sits on top of a hill and is rooted in shallow,
rocky soil, a mere 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
purple color in the glass. Similar to the Sonoma Coast bottling but more
expression and sappy goodness. The nose leads with aromas of black
cherry, black raspberry and spice, all of which show up on the palate in a
mid weight style with impressive polish and vibrancy. There is a slight
earthbound quality that I find appealing. The tannins are soft and
integrated, and the oak sings backup. Thoroughly like able, with an
aromatic finish that hangs on with tenacity.
The wine reviewed here, the Soliste 2012 Forêt Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and the Soliste 2011 Sonatera
Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir represent the 10th anniversary releases for this winery. The force behind
Soliste, noted chef and now winemaker Claude Koeberle, has always been fascinated with the great red
Burgundies and their singular aromatics and complexities that are born in unique vineyards but a few
kilometers apart. This led him, along with partner Don Plumley, to undertake the challenge and risk to focus on
each specific clone of Pinot Noir that is best in harmony with each vineyard site - the Soliste Single Vineyard,
Single Clone, and Single Cooperage wines known as MonoClone®.
Forêt comes from a secluded vineyard near Occidental. Located in the middle of a redwood forest, the
vineyard is just six miles from the Pacific Ocean and is perhaps the most visually stunning vineyard that Soliste
is entrusted with.
Soliste wines are sold exclusively through an allocated mailing list at www.soliste.com.
2012 Soliste Forêt Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 241
cases, $85. Clone 23 (Mariafeld) from Guidicci Vineyard in
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The
nose opens slowly to reveal glorious aromas of black cherry,
black plum, sous-bois and spice. Quite bold for a Soliste Pinot
Noir in this vintage, but still offering the Soliste style of elegance
and intensity. Well-spiced black cherry, blackberry and black
plum fruits flood the palate with goodness and hold on through a velvety,
vibrant finish. Oak lends a gentle touch and the tannins are infused with
maturity. Even better the following day from a previously opened and recorked
bottle, this virile wine will age beautifully.
Winemaker Scott Rich looks for unique, extreme vineyards that can display character and terroir. He has been
crafting Pinot Noir under the Talisman label for more than 20 years. His experience shows in wines that are
consistently top notch and age well. A quaint tasting room in a 100-year-old building is open daily in Glen Ellen. Visit www.talismanwine.com.
2012 Talisman Gunsalus Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 267 cases, $50. Release
October 1, 2015. Vineyard planted in 2001 in Goldridge sandy loam soil. Clones 114, 115 and 777. Aged 20
months in 100% French oak barrels, 64% new.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. This wine
reminds one of cherry pie day at baking school with aromas and flavors of Bing cherries, baking spices and a
touch of sandalwood. The fine-grain tannins are well balanced, the fruit is forward and juicy, and the wine
finishes with a surge of cherry goodness.
2012 Talisman Rancho Estrella Vineyard Napa Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.75, TA 0.58, 72 cases,
$48. Release August 8, 2015. The vineyard, planted in 2006, is located at 600 feet elevation at the southern
end of the Napa Valley. Pommard and Dijon clones 115 and “828.” 25% whole cluster in the bottom of the
fermenters. Native yeast primary fermentation and native bacteria malolactic fermentation. Extended
maceration followed by racking into new (33%) and once-used French oak barrels and aged for 21 months.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Saucy aromas of black cherry and peppery spices lead to a
delectable core of earthy black cherry and black raspberry fruits accented by a spicy tang and framed by
supportive fine-grain tannins. The fruit really sings in this wine which finishes with uncommon persistence and
a hint of alcoholic warmth.
2012 Talisman Red Dog Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 218 cases, $52. Released October 1, 2015.
Vineyard is located high above Bennett Valley on the
northwestern side of Sonoma Mountain. Clones 115, 777 and
Pommard 5 were planted in 2000 in loamy clay soil. Aged 20
months in 100% French oak barrels, 46% new.
reddish purple color in the glass. A stunning wine from the get go,
offering soaring aromas of dark berries, earthy flora, spice and rose
petal. My notes say, “WOW,” about the entry and follow through,
featuring juicy dark red and purple berries, spice, slight floral input, and
engaging oak presence. Impeccably balanced. When tasted the following
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was still
great indicating a long life ahead.
2012 Talisman Adastra Vineyard Los Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 416 cases, $56.
Release October 1, 2015. This organically farmed and certified vineyard is a shy-bearing site planted in clay
loam soil in 1994. Clones are 113, 115, 777, Swan, Pommard, Wädenswil and two unnamed suitcase
selections. Aged 20 months in 100% French oak barrels, 59% new.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass.
Highly perfumed with aromas of black cherry, spice, cola and dark chocolate. A rich dark cherry core of fruit is
clothed in modest tannins and complimented by a gentle oak touch. A wine of impressive integrity and balance
that is somewhat Russian River Valley in character in this vintage. When tasted the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine still had generous power and length.
Waxwing Wine Cellars
Winemaker Scott Sisemore told me that as he tasted and rated his barrels, he had 6 of the original 8 in the
2014 vintage that really stood out. He decided to declassify the 2 under performing barrels and blend them with
Syrah. He called it the Bohemian Blend because one of the two North American Waxwing bird species are
known as Bohemian Waxwings. It is also an unconventional blend. The Lester Family Vineyard bottling, now in
its third year, has been a standout. This small producer is located in Belmont, south of San Francisco. The
website is www.waxwingwines.com.
2014 Waxwing “Bohemian Blend” California Red Table Wine
13.9% alc., 98 cases, $28. Released
October 2015. 50% Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir from the Lester Family Vineyard and 50% Bennett Valley
Syrah from Three Creeks Vineyard in Sonoma County. 100% of the fruit was crushed by foot whole cluster and
fermented with indigenous yeast in open-top fermenters. Aged 11 months in once-used French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Engaging aromas of blackberry, black cherry, tobacco and
oak spice. This mid weight plus wine is enjoyable and silky in the mouth, but it drinks more like a Syrah and the
Pinot Noir fruit is swallowed up by the Syrah fruit and tannins. The core flavors are black cherry, blackberry,
spice and vanilla, maintaining some intensity on the finish that displays a noticeable rush of tannins. A
marvelous foil for a steak.
2014 Waxwing Lester Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., 138 cases, $45. Released October 2015. Vines planted in
1998 on a sandy loam hillside bordered by redwoods. Nearly dry farmed.
Two-thirds clone 115 and one-third 667. Harvest Brix 24º. Crushed by foot
whole cluster and fermented in open-top fermenters with indigenous yeast.
Aged 11 months in once-used French oak barrels and bottled with a light
Moderately light cherry red color in the glass. Lovely aromas of
red cherry, baking spice, rose petal and sandalwood lead to an elegantly
composed and delicious wine offering vivid red cherry and raspberry flavors
and an appealing whole cluster spiciness. The dreamy texture adds to the
pleasure as does the lip-smacking, cherry fueled finish. A seamless wine
that offers loads of Pinot character. Still terrific the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
Owner and winemaker Stephanie Cook pursued careers as a fashion model and caterer before pursuing her
dream of becoming a winemaker. In 2011, she crafted her first Pinot Noir and Zinfandel wines and
subsequently honed her skills at Spottswoode, Anomaly Vineyards and Spy Valley Wines in Marlborough, New
Zealand. Her back label says, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance.” Both wines reviewed
here are true to their origins and terroir-driven. Tasting is by appointment. Visit www.wondermentwines.com.
2013 Wonderment Dutton-Campbell Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., 261 cases, $40. Released October 15, 2015.
Light cherry red color in the glass. The nose really
resonates over time in the glass with hi-tone aromas of cherry and spice. Lighter weighted and quite elegant,
with a charming core of lacy cherry fruit and a touch of oak spice. Very supple tannins make for forward
drinking. A wine that aims to please, becoming more aromatic and flavorful over time in the glass.
2013 Wonderment Dr. Stan’s Vineyard Carneros Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 94 cases, $50. Released October 15, 2015.
100% Dijon clone 115.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. This
offering is more earthy, with aromas of cherry, cranberry and mulch, and
mid weight flavors of darker cherries and berries complimented with
notes of spice, earth and mushroom. The attack is substantial and
carries over to a generous finish. A superb wine of impeccable balance
that reflects Carneros terroir.
2013 Deux Punx Elk Prarie Vineyard Humboldt County Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., $36.
reddish purple color in the glass. Enchanting aromas of cherry, herbs and resin. Red fruits are featured with
the cherry taking on a Starburst flavor. The fruit is backed by hi-pitched acidity and accented with a riff of dried
herb flavors in the background.
2013 La Crema Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.56, 17,916 cases, $30. 3-
day cold soak, open-tank fermentations with hand punch downs three times a day. Aged 9 months in
100% French oak barrels, 25% new.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. An
integrated marriage of cherry and oak aromas arrive on the nose. Impressive entry and mid palate
attack of fresh, spiced red cherry and red raspberry fruits with complimentary oak in the background.
Soft tannins, balanced acidity, and a pleasing, intensely fruit citrus-fueled finish complete the picture.
2013 Mayhall Tibbs Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
$9.99-$10.99. A Trader Vic’s valuepriced wine. The winery
(name withheld but vinified in Buellton) had to move inventory
and this translated into a great price. Aged 10 months in
French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish purple color in the
glass. This wine is true to its varietal character with plenty of
lip-smacking sweet darker cherry and berry fruits in a ripe, full-bodied
and smoothly textured style that is forward drinking. You won’t find a
better California Pinot Noir for this price in the marketplace. Even the
label looks like there is a $40 wine inside.
2011 R Sisters Vineyard Napa Carneros Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $22. A relative gave me this bottle to taste.
Produced and bottled by Jeff Runquist of JR Wines.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The nose
offers cooked fruit, BBQ grill and smoky oak aromas. Better on the palate with commendable balance, but the
well-ripened fruit has a prune and root beer theme. Because of the relatively low ABV, I wouldn’t expect over
ripe fruit so this probably is a prematurely oxidized bottle.