Etude Sources Far and Wide for Marvelous Pinot Noir
I last wrote about Etude in the PinotFile in 2013: www.princeofpinot.com/article/1363/. Etude is a pioneering
winery in the Napa Carneros region of California started by noted winemaker Tony Soter in 1980. The winery
was initially an underfunded proprietary side project focusing on Carneros Pinot Noir, Napa Valley Pinot Blanc,
Napa Valley Merlot, Carneros Pinot Gris, Vin Gris of Pinot Noir and Brut Rosé sparkling wine. At the time, Soter
was a busy winemaking consultant for high profile wineries including Araujo Estate, Shafer, Spottswood and
Viader. Soter owned no vineyards, but bought grapes by the acre with vineyard blocks farmed to his own
specifications, a unique proposition at the time.
The name Etude is derived from the French word “étude,” meaning “study.” Soter chose this name because he
felt Pinot Noir was the most transparent wine vehicle with which to “study” the craft and pursue the wisdom of
ancestors he never had.
Soter’s wines attracted considerable praise from the wine press and by 1999, he was able to concentrate full
time on Etude and develop estate vineyards. Etude was sold to Fosters Wine Estates in 2001, and Soter
returned to his native Oregon to establish a second Pinot Noir project at Mineral Springs Ranch after making
his last wines at Etude in 2002. Soter has continued as a consulting winemaker at Etude. The new corporate
owners infused new cash into the winery, building a new winemaking facility, refurbishing estate vineyards, and
Jon Priest joined Etude as winemaker in 2005. Until that time, Pinot Noir was primarily sourced from Carneros
sites that drew its character from clay-heavy soils that created more extracted and tannic wines. More recently
the centerpiece of Etude Pinot Noir has been the Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Vineyard located in the
northwestern corner of the Carneros appellation in the Sonoma Carneros region, a site featuring rocky, well-drained,
Jon is a California native who established a reputation for crafting memorable estate red wines while working at
Wild Horse Winery and Adelaida Cellars for more than twelve years, and at TAZ Vineyards in the Central
Coast. Beyond his winemaking expertise, Jon (pictured below) is also an acclaimed equestrian who competes
in racing events over legendary trails once crossed by earlier pioneers.
The wines reviewed here represent a unique tasting that examines six distinct expressions of Pinot Noir from
six different growing regions as part of the winery’s Appellation Series. I found all the wines to be distinctive
and reflective of unique terroirs, but the wines from California were especially glorious examples of domestic
Pinot Noir, all of them exhibiting superior craftsmanship. These were simply some of the best, if not the best,
California Pinot Noirs I have tasted from the 2014 vintage. The wines can be enjoyed now but will age
beautifully because of their impeccable balance.
The Etude Pinot Noirs undergo cold maceration and small lot open-top fermentation with extended time on the
skins, and are then aged for 10-13 months in French oak barrels (25%-33% new). The wines undergo a
rigorous selection process to insure only the best barrels are chosen for the final blend.
Etude Wines welcomes visitors from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1250 Cuttings Wharf Road in Napa, just off
Highway 121. Several special tasting options are available by reservation and are described on the website at
www.etudewines.com (reservations can be booked online). Most of the wines reviewed here are currently
available on the website. Along with the 2014 vintage wines reviewed here, Etude offers a Carneros Pinot Noir
($45), a Heirloom Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir ($95), a Temblor Carneros Pinot Noir ($75), a Carneros
Deer Camp Pinot Noir ($75), and a Forte Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($60) from the 2014 vintage.
2014 Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Carneros Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $45. This is a
blend of the best grapes from individual parcels on the Ranch located in southern Sonoma in the
northwestern corner of the Carneros AVA. 13 different soil types, all variations of volcanic origin. Dijon
667, 777, 113, 114, 459, Pommard, Martini and various heirloom selections.
Moderate reddish purple
color in the glass. Intoxicating aromas of black raspberry, spice, and earthy potpourri. A terrific wine
that instantly perks up your attention with ingratiating mid weight flavors of black raspberry, blackberry,
spice, white pepper and mushroom with a deft touch of oak seasoning. Sensual on the palate, with
sinewy tannins and enough power to seduce. Still terrific the following day from a previously opened and recorked
bottle indicating long-term age ability. Quintessential Carneros and one of the best Pinots I have tasted
from this region in my recent memory.
2014 Etude Ellenbach Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., $60. Vineyard is 4 miles
from Pacific Ocean in Annapolis in the northernmost West Sonoma Coast. It is positioned just above
the fog line at 800 feet elevation on a steep hillside. A variety of clones are planted in Goldridge soil,
unique among the region’s volcanic soils. Dijon “828,” and 115.
Moderate reddish purple color in the
glass. A mysterious nose that releases its charms slowly over time in the glass, climaxing with a
gorgeous array of dark purple fruit, cardamom spice and sous-bois aromas that overwhelm. A delicious
core of dark fruits is perfectly accented with spice and a schmear of oak. This wine has a polished
demeanor, with refined tannins and a very impressive and high-spirited finish that is both juicy and persistent.
You need this beauty in your cellar.
2014 Etude North Canyon Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $45. This vineyard sits along
the Santa Maria River bench in a secluded canyon. A variety of clones and rootstocks are planted in
calcareous clay sandstone, differing from the valley’s defining marine mixture of ancient sea bed, clay loam
and sand. This wine is made from a select block located on a bluff in the southern, cooler end of the canyon.
Dijon 115, 667, 777 and 113.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Love the nose that brings an
array of aromas including dark fruits, brier, baking spices, tobacco and turned earth. Beautifully composed and
easy going, with very tasty purple and black fruits and an earthen underbelly. The tannins are well integrated
and there is recognizable length on the pleasing finish. Primarily a fruit-driven wine, but so harmonious that it
will grab your attention.
North Canyon Vineyard
2014 Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
$45. Vineyard is located about 10 miles
inland from the Pacific Ocean alongside the Santa Ynez River bench at the western end of the Santa
Ynez Valley. 35 small blocks with a variety of rootstocks and clones planted in well-draining clay loam
and calcareous marine shale.Clones 667, 777, 113, Pommard 4 and 5.
Light cherry red color in the
glass. Engaging perfume of fresh crushed cherries, savory spices and rose petal. Very silky and
elegant, with sportive mid weight flavors of ripe strawberry and black cherry fruits with a welcome
touch of spice. The tannins are noticeably refined, something of note since the tannins can be
aggressive in wines from this vineyard. Just a touch of oak seasoning is complimentary. A brilliant offering, with
a finish that goes on and on. The winemaker’s extensive experience with the fruit from this vineyard shows in
the excellence of this wine. A superb value to boot.
Fiddlestix Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
2014 Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $60.
Vineyard is located at 600 feet elevation and is planted in sedimentary soil. Dijon 113 and Pommard clones.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Shy but pleasant aromas of black cherry pie and rose petal.
Not as concentrated as many 2014 vintage Oregon Pinot Noirs, but this wine still has plenty of ripe fruit to
satisfy, including flavors of black cherry and marionberry, along with an interesting iron and earthy undertone
typical of sedimentary Willakenzie soils. Juicy and harmonious, with impressive grip and hold on the rocking
2014 Etude Bannockburn Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $60. Bannockburn is slightly
warmer and drier than the rest of the region. The climate is continental with low rainfall, low humidity and daily
extremes of temperatures. The soils are schist gravel with varying amounts of silty loam, clay and sand. Dijon
777 and 117. Winemaker Jon Priest collaborated with colleagues in Central Otago on this wine and it was then
sent to Etude Wines.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. This wine is a departure in style from the
other Pinot Noirs in the 2014 Etude lineup. The nose offers aromas of very ripe dark fruits, prune and
molasses. Full-bodied, with a plethora of dark purple and black fruit encased in soothing, cashmere tannins.
Somewhat simple and fruit-driven, with an herbal thread in the background and a good cut of acidity on the