Adventures Along the Pinot Trail, Part 3
Pinot Days in San Francisco has become the Big Daddy of all Pinot Noir tastings. Hundreds of pinot geeks
descended on Fort Mason Festival Pavilion on Sunday, July 1st, 2007, for the 3rd Annual Pinot Days. There were
182 producers on hand, each pouring several Pinot Noirs making the total wines presented close to 500! One
had to be well conditioned to swirl, sip and spit even a small portion of the Pinot Noirs over the 5-6 hour time frame
of the Grand Tasting. It was a unique opportunity to sample the wines of very small boutique operations
whose wines have limited distribution.
Walk-around tastings are not the best format for technically and seriously tasting wine, but worthwhile impressions
and glimpses can be obtained for the dedicated taster. Occasionally the ’wow factor’ will pop up and put
a big grin on your face. For me, these events are more about renewing friendships, making new ones, and becoming
better acquainted with the people behind the wines. As Master of Wine Tim Atkin has said, “The character,
ambition and talent of the person who made it is highly relevant to how that wine tastes. I want to know
about these things, just as I want to know about vintage conditions, personal eccentricities, and a winemaker’s
take on the world. All of those things make wine different; all these things make wine special.”
Pinot Days is more than a large walk-around tasting. On Friday night, a special Winemaker Dinner was held
featuring several prominent Pinot Noir producers whose wines were paired with appropriate gourmet cuisine.
On Saturday, there were Focus Tastings, including Best of Anderson Valley, Best of Sonoma Coast and Russian
River Valley, and a Comparison Tasting of Rosella’s and Pisoni Vineyards. It was encouraging to see many
millennials attend the events. So often at Pinot Noir celebrations, the crowd is dominated
by well-healed retirees. We need the newer wine-drinking generation to fawn
over Pinot Noir so that its surge in popularity will continue. This will benefit us all.
Pinot Days has become so popular that events are now held in New York (next event
Spring, 2008) and Chicago (next event Fall, 2007). The organizers are the Bay Area
Wine Project headed by Steve and Lisa Rigisich and Eric and Teri White. To keep
informed of future Pinot Days and Bay Area Pinot Noir tastings and winemaker dinners,
visit the website at www.pinotdays.com
I spent a good part of my time at the event interviewing winemakers and wine personalities
for Grape Radio. However, I did do enough tasting to be able to highlight specific Pinot Noirs that
stood out to me at this Pinot pageant. It is senseless to go into depth with detailed tasting notes as the numerous
distractions (smells, noise, and laughter) make such an effort futile. Sometimes you just need to enjoy Pinot
and not dissect it. The general consensus of many at the event was that the overall quality of Pinot Noir was at
an all-time high. I have omitted many stellar producers and/or wines that I have reviewed in the PinotFile
during the last several months to avoid repetition.
Addamo Estate Vineyards
The Addamo Estate Vineyard is located in the hills of
the Santa Maria Valley in Orcutt, roughly 10 miles east of the Pacific Ocean.
75% of the 30-acre vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir with four different Dijon
clones. Planting commenced in 2000. The grapes are balanced at the soil level
and hand harvested yields are less than one and a half tons per acre. The winemaker
is Justin Mund, the vineyard manager is Bill Kesselring, and the proprietor
is David Addamo.
Website: www.addamovineyards.com. 805-934-9830
Alfaro Family Vineyards and Martin Alfaro Wines Owner Richard Alfaro, a
former baker, and winemaker Joe Martin craft several Pinot Noirs from purchased
and estate fruit. The estate vineyards are located in Corralitos at the southern end
of the Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation. This area has one of the longest growing
seasons in California.
Website: www.alfarowine.com. 831-728-5172.
Anthill Farms Winery A collaboration between Anthony Filiberti, David Low, and
Webster Marquez, who met while working at Williams Selyem. The first two vintages
(2004, 2005) have been outstanding.
2005 Anthill Farms
2005 Anthill Farms Winery Peters Vinyeard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($38).
2005 Anthill Farms Winery
Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. ($38) All good - take your pick.
Website: www.anthillfarms.com. 707-490-5191.
Aubin Cellars A boutique producer of Pinot Noir under the “Verve” label from
the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Dundee Hills of Oregon. Owner
Jerome Aubin is a French barrel importer. The winemakers are Loren Tayerie
(Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley) and Ray Walsh, formerly of King Estate
and now with his own label, Capitello (Oregon).
2005 Verve Sonoma Coast
100 cases, $24.
A shy and reduced nose leads to a core of dark fruits
and barnyard notes. Very nice soft on the palate.
The wines are sensibly
priced. The website, www.aubincellars.com, is very informative and wines may
be ordered here. 510-339-0170.
Auteur This small producer is the personal label of winemaker Kenneth
Juhasz who is also the winemaker at Donum Estate in Carneros. His years of
work in Oregon have allowed him to develop superb sources for his Oregon
Pinot Noirs - Shea Vineyard and Hyland Vineyard. He also crafts Pinot Noir
from the Sonoma Stage Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino Ridge
Vineyard in the Mendocino Ridge region.
Nowadays, the words “Shea Vineyard” on the bottle pretty much guarantees money well
spent. Website: www.auteurwines.com. 707-938-9211.
Benovia Winery This new producer in Santa Rosa is a superstar in the making. Owner Jim Anderson
has provided the financial support to create a state-of-the-art winery and to resurrect the aging Cohn
Vineyard. Talented winemaker Mike Sullivan (who made many brilliant Pinot Noirs at Hartford Family
Winery and was named Wine Personality of the Year 2002 by Robert Parker) is at the top of his game.
Manager Bob Mosby is the face of Benovia and holds the show together.
Sullivan crafts terrific Chardonnay and Zinfandel as well. Website:
. 707-526-4441. Get on the mailing list NOW!
Buena Vista Carneros In a previous issue I wrote about the new Buena Vista. Winemaker Jeff Stewart
has led the renaissance and return to excellence here. If you haven’t checked out Buena Vista recently,
you are in for a pleasant surprise.
Carneros Della Notte Owners David Harmon, Darin Applebury and Sal Godinez
craft two Pinot Noirs from Carneros. David Harmon is also an author and recently
released an excellent novel set in the winemaking world of Napa Valley - The
Good Life. Highly recommended reading.
2004 Carneros Della Notte Carneros Pinot Noir
$48. This wine was the women’s favorite of the more than 230 Pinot
Noirs submitted to the 2007 Pinot Noir Shootout.
The nose of wild strawberries
and raspberries carries through to the flavors and the finish ends with a raspberry
kiss. There is plenty of juicy fruit, gossamer tannins and superb balance.
Churchill Cellars A newer label on Olivet Road in Santa Rosa owned by Ken
and Susan Churchill. The winemaker is noted veteran Anthony Austin.
Website: www.churchill-cellars.com. 707-578-5393.
Clary Ranch Wines Paul Clary farms a 15-acre vineyard at the headwaters to Chileno Creek in the
hills of Petaluma (see photo below).
Website: www.claryranch.com. 707-773-
Clos Saron Gideon Bienstock crafts distinctive and interesting wines from vineyards in the Sierra
Foothills. His own estate vineyard is located in a special cool microclimate (Oregon House, California)
and is the source for a terroir-driven and well-endowed Pinot Noir that is produced in tiny quantities.
Good Pinot is where you find it.
Website: www.clossaron.com. 530-692-
The recently widowed owner of the Pfendler Vineyard from which winemaker Don
Baumhefner made a wonderful series of Pinot Noirs has moved in another direction and hired Greg
Bjornstad as winemaker. Don is now the winemaker at Ridgeway Vineyard (Petaluma - Sonoma
Dain Wines David Dain Smith produces small amounts of vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs at Crushpad
in San Francisco. David still lives in Missouri and commutes to make wine in California. His wines have
improved each year and are as bright as his ever-present smile.
Website: www.DainWines.com. 417-860-2715.
Three generations of the D’Argenzio family are involved in
this winery that specializes in Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet. The family
can trace their roots back to Napoli, Italy. The Italians have a long history with
Pinot Noir in Sonoma (think Rochioli, Bacigalupi, Forchini, Martinelli and so
forth). Raymond D’Argenzio has carried on the tradition and was pouring two
delicious Pinot Noirs at the event.
Website: www.dargenziowine.com. 707-546-
Eric Kent Wine Cellars
Kent Humphrey (below) has burst on
the Sonoma wine scene with two vintages of exceptional Pinot
Noirs, Syrahs and Chardonnays. He had run out of his 2006
barrel samples when I reached his booth.. I will be reporting
on the 2005 Pinot Noirs in a future issue (his 2005 Stiling Vineyard
Pinot Noir is sold out). His wife chooses the artwork for
the beautiful labels and I am sure these will become collectables
in the future (drink the wine, keep the labels). Website:
Owner Milla Handley is one of Anderson Valley’s originals and a
highly respected winemaker.
2005 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
A perfect expression of Anderson Valley. Perfumed with spiced cherries, anchored
by a solid core of red and blue fruits, and ending with brisk acidity and pleasing persistence.
This wine offers really easy drinking. Gold Medal, Orange County Fair Wine Competition.
Website: www.handleycellars.com. 800-773-3151,
Harmonique Partners Bruce Conzelman and winemaker Robert Klindt
(Claudia Springs) produce two Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley Vineyards.
One vineyard has 29-year-old vines and the other, the Klindt Vineyard, has
8-year-old vines. Conzelman has purchased the Christine Woods Vineyard
across from Handley Cellars and production and offerings will be expanded in
the future. The Noble One I have raved about in previous issues.
The wines are sold primarily
to a mailing list. Website: www.harmoniquewine.com. 707-937-1899.
Hartford Family Winery Winemaker Jeff Mangahas has taken the reins
from Mike Sullivan (now at Benovia) and has continued the string of fine
Pinot Noirs sourced from prime vineyards in Sonoma County, Carneros and
the Anderson Valley. Hartford Family currently offers 7 different vineyarddesignate
Pinot Noirs under the Hartford Court label. The Hartford Family
Winery has a deserved reputation for high quality and consistency.
The wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and at the winery’s tasting room in Forestville.
Website: www.hartfordwines.com. 800-588-0234.
Heintz Heintz is perhaps better known for the fine Chardonnays (Derbes, DuMol,
Freeman, Flowers, L’Angevin, La Crema, Landmark, Liocco, Littorai, Salinia,
Suacci/Carciere, Williams Selyem, and Vyenielo) produced from the Heintz Ranch
Vineyard in the hills above Occidental in the Sonoma Coast. 25 acres of Chardonnay
were planted in 1982, 22 acres of Pinot Noir in 1996, and 3 acres of Syrah in
2002. There are two labels: Dutch Bill Creek Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and
Heintz Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay. The Heintz wines are ultra-premium and
produced in quantities of 50-80 cases. The wines are highly-sought-after (2004 and
2005 vintages of the Heintz wines are sold out) and available only through a mailing
Inman Family Wines Kathleen and Simon Inman
farm a vineyard planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris
on Olivet Road in the Russian River Valley (Olivet
Grange Vineyard). Kathleen is also the winemaker
and shows a gentle touch with Pinot Noir.
The 2006 rosé (Endless Crush) is quite good as
well. The wines are sold primarily to an eager mailing list but there is some retail distribution. Website:
J Vineyards & Winery Winemaker George Bursick, formerly at Ferrari-Carano
Winery, has been brought in to position J as a world-class producer of Russian
River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Since joining J in 2006, he has cut back
on yields, upgraded viticulture programs in the estate vineyards, and even acquired
six very rare yeast strains from Burgundy that have not been used since the
1930s. Currently J has 8 vineyards totaling over 274 planted acres in the Russian
River Valley with great diversity including 9 rootstocks and 15 clones of Pinot Noir.
J has always produced superb sparkling wine and Pinot Gris, but the Pinot Noirs
have not reached the upper echelon of producers in California.
Look for future releases made by Bursick including vineyarddesignate
Pinot Noirs from Robert Thomas Vineyard and Nicole’s Vineyard. Website: www.jwine.com.
Kanzler Vineyards Stephen and Lynda Kanzler planted this vineyard in 1996.
Located near Sebastopol in Sonoma County, the 20 acres sits on the site of an old
apple orchard. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard are planted on Goldridge soils. In
2004, winemaker Greg Stach was signed on to produce an estate bottled Pinot
Noir. The Kanzler name should be familiar with pinoaficionados, since one of the
highest scoring California Pinot Noirs ever was a Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard
2005 Kanzler Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Very deep ruby color. Bright
plum, black berries and herbs in the nose. Soft dark fruit flavors are enhanced by a plush mouth feel A
big tiger with a pussycat sensibility. Alcohol is 14.9% but it never peaks out.
Ketcham Estate Partners in Pinot Mark Ketcham and Steve Rigisich have given winemaker Michael
Browne (Kosta Browne) another outlet for his love of punching down. Ketcham is an ex-computer guy
turned Ferrari racer turned Bordeaux geek turned Pinotphile. Rigisich is an ex-engineer and the mind
behind Pinot Days. Plenty of toasty oak and hints of dark chocolate in the nose. Dark cherries tinged with
oak in the lengthy finish. In the Michael Browne style with a tad more restraint. Website:
Lane Tanner Winery The “Pinot Czarina” crafts Pinot Noirs from the Central
Coast and has one of the oldest blocks in the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard. She
picks earlier than many and produces Pinot Noir in a restrained and elegant
style that is very food-friendly.
The wines are sold primarily through a
mailing list. Website: www.lanetanner.com. 805-929-1826.
Le Cadeau Vineyard Tom and Deb Mortimer purchased 26 acres in the Dundee Hills in 1996 and
planted a vineyard to Pinot Noir. The approach here is unique: three different blocks of the vineyard
are vinified by three different prominent Oregon winemakers. Cote Est is made by Josh Bergstrom,
Rocheux by Harry Peterson-Nedry and Mike Eyres of Chehalem, and Diversite by Cheryl and Sam
Francis-Tannahill. Each wine has the winemaker’s stamp and represents a different
expression of the vineyard.
limited and the 2005 wines should be available soon. Website:
Native9 Wine James Ontiveros farms the 8-acre Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard
in the Santa Maria Valley, and together with winemaker Paul Wilkins,
produces small amounts of Native9 Pinot Noir.
2005 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
I have tasted
the 2004 and 2005 vintages several times and the wines always leave a smile
on my face. Like a boysenberry cobbler just out of the oven, this wine alerts
your taste buds. A ripe style with fruit to spare, it is long and plush with coating
tannins. The addition of stems, which varies with the vintage, gives the
wine structure and interest.
The wine is sold through a mailing list. Website: www.native9wine.com.
Pellegrini Family Vineyards Bob Pellegrini owns one of the Russian
River Valley’s heritage vineyards, Olivet Lane Vineyard. He now keeps
most of the fruit for himself and with winemaker Kevin Hamel produces a
consistently excellent Olivet Lane Pinot Noir.
2005 Olivet Lane Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
This is a fine go-to Pinot
Noir that is often priced several dollars less than suggested retail. The wine
is not over-bearing or tiresome to drink and compliments food nicely. The
cherry fruit is of great breeding and the ethereal style is appealing.
in sizeable quantities through retail channels. Website:
www.pellegrinisonoma.com. 650-761-2811. Bob produces a number of
other very good wines including a old vine zinfandel from a vineyard
next door to Olivet Lane Vineyard (photo - huge Zin clusters in October).
For nearly 20 years, Fred Scherrer has been vinifying Pinot Noir from the Russian
River Valley and Sonoma Coast. He was the winemaker at Dehlinger Winery for several years before
striking out on his own. His winemaking guidelines for Pinot Noir are: “Be patient. Let the fruit speak.
Listen. Touch lightly. Watch closely. Listen.” This formula has worked well for him and his wines are
sold to an enthusiastic mailing list. Fred is not big on publicity or marketing. His fans have been
trying to talk him into updating his label to something more hip and flashy. If you meet Fred, you will
understand his passion for winemaking supercedes any need for notoriety. He finally succumbed to the pressure and had a new modern label created. The old label (left) emphasized the varietal within,
the new label puts Fred’s name front and center. Be assured, Fred will not let it go to his head.
Talisman Cellars Owner and winemaker Scott Rich loves to seek out
vineyards that are climatically and geographically on the edge of viticulture
sensibility. He honed his skills making wine at Etude for several
years. His wines are built to age and are unique expressions of their
Vinfolio Vinfolio is owned by Steve Bachmann and is located in San Francisco. They provide wine
enthusiasts with a source of ultra-premium wines and also offer assistance in managing cellars and
selling wines for collectors who have accumulated far too many bottles (sound
familiar?) I include them here because they were pouring several excellent wines
2006 Robert Sinskey Vin Gris de Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $19. Rosé has become quite popular and highly touted in the recent wine press. I think
it is a superb aperitif in the summer as well as an excellent barbecue wine.
Served chilled, it is refreshing and uplifting while higher alcohol Pinot Noir wines,
in contrast, often taste alcoholic and overbearing in the summer heat. I felt the
Sinskey wine was the best Pinot Noir-based rosé that I tasted this year (I have tried
over 30 from California alone).
The wine is whole cluster pressed. It is presented in
a nice Alsatian-styled bottle. Light persimmon in color. Very charming nose of
strawberry, watermelon, and rhubarb. The strawberry and citrus flavors are complimented by refreshing