Pinot Trail Diaries
Small Vines Wines
Paul Sloan’s interest in Pinot Noir arose while he was working as a sommelier at John Ash & Co restaurant in
Santa Rosa in 1995. It was an epiphanic experience with a rare Burgundy that ultimately changed his life. He
went to work for the Dutton Ranch company to pursue more knowledge about winegrowing. In 1998, he
convinced his spouse, Kathryn, that they should pursue winegrowing independently and they launched Small
Vines Viticulture focusing on planting and farming high-density planted vineyards in the Russian River Valley
and Sonoma Coast appellations. The next logical step was to produce their own wines and in 2005 they
released their first Pinot Noir under the Small Vines label.
The core idea behind Small Vines Wines is that Paul’s experience as a sommelier-led him to favor wines with
reasonable alcohol levels and long age ability. He felt that high-density plantings were a way to achieve this
goal. The winery’s tagline became, “The smaller the vine, the better the wine.” The Sloans have been
developing Estate Vineyards since 1999 and have been committed to farming vine-by-vine with closely planted
vines similar to European-styled vineyards. The vineyards are farmed organically and specifically groomed to
produce fewer pounds per vine of superior quality fruit. Note the typical small cluster size compared to a
All Small Vines wines come from obsessively managed estate owned (TBH Vineyard surrounding the Sloan’s
home and winery) or leased estate vineyards (MK Vineyard and Baranoff Vineyard). Typical plantings are
dense at 2722-3630 vines per acre producing 1-2.5 pounds per vine. These physically smaller vines are
considered to be ideally balanced with less fruit naturally than a larger vine. With the vines closer together, the
fruit receives less solar radiation due to the proximity of the neighboring vine row resulting in better acid
retention in the grapes. The goal is farming to obtain grapes that retain more natural acids and achieve
ripeness at lower Brix levels resulting in wines with modest alcohol levels. You will notice that the Pinot Noir
wines reviewed here have alcohol levels in the 13.2.-13.6 range.
After spending time with Paul, it is obvious that he is in love with growing and vinifying Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay. His enthusiasm is boundless, yet he proceeds with a carefully thought out agenda. He works both
on the grower side as the owner of Small Vines Viticulture, Inc., and the producer side as winemaker for Small
Vines wines. A relatively new winemaking facility on the estate property incorporates walls of a historic
building once part of the Barlow family’s homestead and contains the latest winemaking technology. Veteran
winemaker, Byron Kosuge, is the consulting winemaker.
The Small Vines Pinot Noir wines are vinified with natural yeast fermentation after picking in the cold of the night.
Varying amounts of whole cluster are used during fermentation. The wines are aged in 3-year air-dried French
oak barrels (mainly Atelier and Siruge), about 25%-30% new for 14 months on the fine lees and then bottled
unfined and unfiltered. Vineyard-designated bottlings only contain dry-farmed fruit.
The Small Vines Chardonnays are typically harvested at 21.5º-22.0º Brix. Native yeast fermentations are
carried out in mostly neutral French oak barrels. Secondary (malolactic) fermentation is allowed and the wines
are aged 10-11 months in a combination of new and neutral French oak barrels. The wines are bottled unfined
The following wines were reviewed both at the winery with Paul and at home later under my usual controlled
environment. These are superb wines with hallmarks of freshness and vibrancy attributed to uplifting natural
acidity. The judicious use of whole cluster fermentation adds complexity. The wines can be obtained through
the winery’s mailing list or the winery website at www.smallvines.com. 75% of sales are through the mailing list
and wine club. Shipping in the U.S. is always complimentary. Magnums are available. All 2016 vintage wines
have been released.
2016 Small Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.58, 600 cases, $55. 100% estate
grown and bottled with 40% of the grapes from TBH Vineyard.
Includes irrigated vines and vines with smaller shoots. Clones include Calera, Pommard, Swan, 943, 459, 114,
115, 667 and 77. 35% whole cluster. Aged 12 months on fine lees in French oak barrels, 23.5% new. Bottled
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Well appointed nose with aromas of dark cherry, blue berry, spice
and subtle oak toast. Mid weight plus core of dark red fruits framed by subtle oak and peach-skin tannins.
Bright acidity, finishing with hearty fruit and a hint of citrus.
2016 Small Vines Estate Cuvée Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.68, TA 0.53, 383 cases,
$65. The proprietor’s blend from Baranoff, Fassler, MK and TBH vineyards, all organically farmed by Small
Vines Viticulture, Inc. All dry-farmed fruit. Pommard, “828,” 943, 459, and Dijon 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and
943. 100% free run. 50% whole cluster. Aged 17 months on fine lees in French oak barrels, 20% new. Bottled
unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. A melange of red and blue fruits with a note of
nutty nougat and pine show up on the inviting nose and the mid weight plus styled palate. A grand attack of
black cherry goodness continues through a long finish glamorized with a haunting black cherry fragrance. The
wine is well-structured and energized with good acidity predicting age ability.
2016 Small Vines MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
12.8%, pH 3.62, TA 0.56, RS 0.1 g/L, 44 cases,
$82 (sold out). Vineyard planted by Small vines Viticulture, Inc in 1999 on an east-facing ridge above
Occidental at 800 feet elevation, 10.5 miles from the coast. Harvest Brix 22.5º. 5-day cold soak, 45% whole
cluster native yeast fermentation. All free run juice. Aged 15 months on fine lees in French oak barrels, 33%
new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile
including underbrush, cherry, dark rose petal, and gingerbread spices. The dark cherry fruit is accented with a
savory herbal, floral and forestry background theme. Silky in the mouth, with redeeming acidity.
2016 Small Vines Baranoff Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.60, RS 0.2 g/L,
70 cases, $82. Available to mailing list members by allocation only. Grapes grown in lean, iron-rich soil. 3-acre
vineyard planted in 2001 by Small Vines Viticulture, Inc., and organically farmed. Clones include Calera, Swan,
115, 459, 667 and 777. Harvest Brix 21.5º-23.5º 5-day cold soak, 65% whole cluster native yeast fermentation.
Aged 15 months on fine lees in 100% neutral French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
dark garnet color in the glass. Aromas of earthy flora, cherry, raspberry, dark berries, rose petal and subtle oak.
Light to mid weight in style and black cherry driven on the palate, with an underpinning of savory herbs. A bit
rustic, yet charming, with a silken mouthfeel, good energy and tension, deft oak management, and a pleasing
TBH Vineyard wines are only available to mailing list members by allocation. The vineyard was planted in 2009
at the Barlow Homestead in Sebastopol on a cool and windy ridge with heavy coastal influences. 3630 vines
per acre, and typically .98 lbs per vine. Clones include Calera, Swan, Pommard, 943 and 459. Some
distributors still have the 2014 and 2015 vintages and would be available in stores in some states.
2014 Small Vines TBH Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., 109 cases, $82.
color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of dark red cherry, plum, fragrant mulch and fertile earth that
hold up over time in the glass. The lightest and most delicate of the three TBH vintages tasted here, yet has
redeeming mid weight flavors of black cherry and purple berry with a bit of toasty oak in the background.
Comforting in the mouth, with a round mouthfeel, and an invigorating liveliness.
2015 Small Vines TBH Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., 246 cases, $82.
Moderately dark garnet
color in the glass. I was enamored with the nose that offered
deep and expressive aromas of cherry, purple berry and
exotic spices. A robust charge of well-ripened dark red
cherry and berry fruits alerts the senses. The fruit seems to
come in waves, immersing the mid palate and finish bold and
long. A touch of spice and forest adds interest. Nicely composed with a
healthy tannic backbone that blends in for accomplished harmony. This
wine has an impressive arsenal of aromas and flavors.
2016 Small Vines TBH Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., pH 3.52, TA 0.59, RS
0.2 g;L, 295 cases, $82. Harvest Brix 20.8º-23.2º. Clones include Calera, Swan, Pommard, 943
and 459. Yields .98 lbs per vine.5-day cold soak, 60% whole cluster, native yeast fermentation.
Aged 15 months on fine lees in French oak barrels, 24% new. 100% free run juice. Bottled unfined
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Lovely aromas of black cherry,
boysenberry, black plum, beef grilling rub and a nip of nutty oak arrive with aplomb over time in the
glass. Mid weight plus in style, with flavors of cherry, blueberry and purple grape and a companion
note of savory herbs. Noticeably juicy, with taut tannins that show up on the slightly astringent, but lip-smacking
finish. Still young, achieving more brilliance and better integration of tannins when tasted several hours after
2016 Small Vines Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.1% alc., pH 3.24, TA 0.64, 625 cases, $55. 100% estate
grown at TBH Vineyard and estate bottled. Hyde Wente and Kistler Mt Eden Wente selections planted in
Goldridge sandy loam. Whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented with native yeast and native ML with
minimal battonage. Aged 11 months on fine lees in French oak barrels, 14% new. Bottled unfined.
golden yellow color in the glass. Refreshing aromas of yellow apple, ripe grapefruit and nut oil. Sleek and
polished in the mouth with flavors of lemon, pineapple, crisp apple and melon. The discreetly assertive acidity
drives the refreshing nature of this wine, but the acidity is not imposing.
2016 Small Vines TBH Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
13.8% alc., pH 3.18, TA 0.72, RS
1.1 g/L, 297 cases, $72. 100% organically grown and estate bottled. The vineyard, planted in 2009,
is exposed to heavy coastal influences. 3630 vines per acre planted in Goldridge sandy loam soil.
Hyde Wente and Kistler Mt Eden Wente selections. Gently whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented
with native yeast and native ML with minimal battonage. Aged 11 months on fine lees in French oak
barrels, 8% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. This
wine is clearly for connoisseurs. Aromas of green apple, citrus, white flower blossom, petrichor and
nut oil. Discretely luscious in the mouth with vibrant flavors of citrus and green apple. With little new oak
overlay, the fruit comes across as unadorned and pristine. The texture is pleasingly viscous and the lemonscented,
saltine finish is unusually long. It is very easy to like this regal wine that possesses laser-like clarity.
Eric Kent Wine Cellars
I have followed the wines of proprietor and winemaker Kent Humphrey since the winery’s early beginnings in
2003 when the winery was launched with 375 cases. I have tasted practically every Pinot Noir Kent has
produced since 2004, enamored by his winemaking skills and the colorful artwork that adorns every label.
The label says “Eric Kent,” but there is no Eric Kent. Eric is Kent Humphrey’s middle name and Kent is his first
name. Being humble, Kent just could not bear to choose a blatantly eponymous name for his winery. He also
felt that people in a nice restaurant might be adverse to ask for a bottle of “Humphrey” Pinot Noir. So, he
inverted his first and middle names and his “nom de vin” came to be.
Kent grew up in California around a family table that enjoyed wine but his college path was in French at Cal
Berkeley. He was awarded a Regent’s Fellow Scholarship in the PhD French program, but soon opted out of
academia and pursued a career in advertising. He started his own agency and the company was highly
successful, employing more than fifty people. However, the experience “sucked the joy out of life.” His only
respite was wine that he collected and delighted in. He finally left the advertising world, encouraged by family
and friends to seek a career in wine.
Because he realized that many of the wines he most admired were made by people who had no formal training
in wine, he decided against attending UC Davis for winemaking education. Instead, he sought hands-on
experience. When he launched Eric Kent Wine Cellars in 2003, he chose to make Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and
Syrah, since these were the varietals that gave him the most pleasure.
Kent and his spouse, Colleen, an accomplished artist and DJ, decided one day over a dinner of burgers and
Zinfandel to showcase artists on their bottles. The result has been striking works of unique art on the front label
of every Eric Kent wine. Each artist brings a unique vision that compliments the spirit behind the wines. As one
wine retailer put it, “The wines speak for themselves and the labels add another dimension to the wine by
creating a built-in discussion with every cork pulled.” Currently, the recurring annual wines display labels from
the permanent collection of art, while limited bottles sport special one-of-a-kind art.
Kent took on Hanna Hollingsworth as his co-winemaker beginning in 2011 and she works diligently in the
background. Like Kent, she did not have intentions to be a winemaker and was trained at an early age as a
classical pianist. She worked in the world of fine dining for years before spending her first harvest at Carlton
Winemakers Studio in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
The two winemakers work together at the newly opened Grand Cru Custom Crush facility in Windsor. This is a
state-of-the-art facility with the latest winemaking equipment, hosting eighteen wineries and providing individual
rooms for smaller wineries to conduct tastings for consumers. You can schedule a tasting with Kent or Hanna
through the website at www.erickentwines.com. Eric Kent wines are sold through an allocated mailing list.
(Note: you can also taste the Pinot Noir wines of several producers prominently reviewed in the PinotFile
including Black Kite Cellars, Bucher, Ernest Vineyards, and Sangiacomo. You can taste with a specific winery
or experience a varied “Vintners’ Selection” that includes wines from select winemakers at the facility). Visit
The following wines represent 2018 spring releases (Small Town and Sascha Maria) and 2018 fall releases
2016 Eric Kent Small Town Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., pH 3.52, TA 0.65, 207 cases, $52. Three
Amigos label by Kelly Puissegur. Sourced from western Petaluma Gap fruit including Grand Vent Vineyard
(94%) and Cleary Ranch (6%). Clones are Pommard, 667, 113, 115 and 943.
Moderate garnet color in the
glass. Engaging perfume of black cherry, spice and dried herbs. Succulent blueberry and purple grape flavors
with a subtle savory note of herbs and tobacco. Elegant in style, with felty tannins and bright acidity, finishing
with some persistence.
2016 Eric Kent Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.62, 400 cases,
$52. Artist Eliza Frye. Kent has worked with this vineyard, now owned and farmed by the Dehlinger family, for
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Intensely fruity nose offering aromas of purple and black
berry fruits with a compliment of spice. Hearty, in a mid weight plus, fruit-driven style, with flavors of
boysenberry and blackberry with an undertone of dark chocolate and toast. The wine finishes with a blissful
basket of dark and fragrant fruit.
2016 Eric Kent Sascha Maria Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.63, 247 cases, $52. Art
by Valerie Savarie. This bottling is named after Kent’s daughter and is sourced from Sangiacomo Roberts
Road Vineyard (95%) and Grand Vent Vineyard (5%). Primary clones are 777 and Swan with a small amount
of Pommard and 667.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Rapturous nose offering scents of black cherry, black
raspberry and exotic spices. Vivid, fresh purple and black fruit flavors filled out with a compliment of oak. The
burliest and fruitiest wine of the three tasted here, but not jammy. Excellent harmony with pleasing length on
The Amador family pays tribute in naming their winery to the family’s great-great-grandmother, Gracianna
Lasaga, a French Basque who emigrated to the United States after World War II and with her husband raised
large herds of sheep in Santa Barbara County.
The entire concept behind the name and label is being grateful for what the Amador family has. The picture of
the gift on the bottle was painted by Trini Amador IV’s paternal grandfather. The painting symbolizes having a
gift every day, being grateful for what they have, and putting it into a bottle. A sculpture of the gift is on the
The winery, located in the Middle Reach of the Russian River Valley situated on Westside Road, the “Rodeo
Drive of Pinot Noir,” was founded in 2005 by Trini Amador III and Lisi Amador, along with their son, Jose
Trinidad (Trini) Amador IV. Trini IV is a Sonoma County native who became interested in winemaking as a
teenager, crafting wine at the home garage at age 15, interned at Williams Selyem with winemaker Bob Cabral,
and returned to the Russian River Valley after college at Oregon State University. He later became a vineyard
manager for a large ranch in the Napa Valley.
The first release of Pinot Noir (60 cases) and Zinfandel (50 cases) was in 2007. Since then, the winery has
won medals at every notable wine competition they have entered. Winemaking is a family affair at Vinifi, a
custom crush facility in Santa Rosa. The Pinot Noir wines since 2015, in particular, have shown considerable
refinement and balance.
The winery’s Healdsburg tasting room, opened in 2012, is located on Westside Road among many prestigious
neighbors such as Arista, MacRostie, Rochioli and Williams Selyem, and is open daily by appointment except
Wednesday from April through December (but wine is sold year-round). A Private Estate Tour and Tasting with
the owners is available on weekends. Gracianna is recognized by the American hospitality industry as a top
performer and a recipient of the Trip/Advisor Certificate of Excellence. The tasting room receives over 5,000
visitors a year. The Amadors want to bring everyday gratitudes to life through an intimate experience in their
tasting room. The tasting room is pictured below. Adjacent to the tasting room is a magnificent home, a John
Pfleugar design inspired by the architecture of the Renaissance and the Tuscany region of Italy.
The winery’s estate vineyard, Mercedes Riverblock, named after a family matriarch, grandmother Mercedes
Sordia, is 1.17 acres planted to Dijon clone 115 in 2009. The vineyard borders the Russian River Valley in the
space between the riverbank and Westside Road. The first Gracianna Mercedes Riverblock Estate Pinot Noir
was released from the 2013 vintage.
Production is about 2,000 cases annually of primarily Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. All wine is sold
direct to consumer. Visit the website at www.gracianna.com. The following wines were reviewed in the home of
Trini Amador III. The 2016 Estate and 2017 Reserve were re-tasted under controlled circumstances at my
The Pinot Noir wines are vinified with primarily 2-3-year-old French oak barrels with little to no new oak. The
wines show good balance, even those with higher ABV.
2015 Gracianna Westside Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 144 cases,
$76. Released July 2017. 10th Anniversary bottling. Gold medal at the Sonoma County Harvest
Fair. A blend of clones 667, 777 and Pommard from Bacigalupi Vineyard.
Beautifully composed in a
middleweight style with luscious red fruit that is nicely spiced. The fine-grain tannins make for easy
consumption and this stellar wine is beautifully balanced. Note: this wine was previously reviewed
in 2017 with a consistent score.
2017 Gracianna Westside Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 74 cases, $76. Release
TBD in 2019.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of dark cherry and ripe strawberry fill the glass.
Surprisingly forward for a 2017 release, displaying a deep spiced cherry flavored core filled out with a bit of
toasty oak in the background. Soothing in texture and easy to like, yet needs more time to fully integrate the
2015 Gracianna Mercedes Riverblock Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 154 cases, $68.
Released April 2017. clone 115. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
wine with attacking red cherry fruit, expansive in the mouth with inviting accents of spice, savory herbs and a
deft hint of oak. Nicely composed.
2016 Gracianna Mercedes Riverblock Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 232 cases, $54.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Perfumed
with aromas of black cherry, cola, pomegranate, toast and a
subtle peppery note. Welcome juiciness and silky in texture,
with buried tannins, offering lavish black cherry fruit flavor
and an accent of baking spice and the slightest toasty oak.
The wine gathered interest and expression when tasted several hours
after opening and the following day from an open and re-corked bottle.
This winery was featured in the November 2, 2018 issue of the PinotFile: www.princeofpinot.com/article/2112/.
The excellent 2016 vintage Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays were reviewed.
The winemaker since 2017 has been Pete Soergel. He has an agricultural background since he grew up on an
apple farm and studied horticulture in college. Pete has worked at Lynmar Estate as both an assistant and
associate winemaker since 2011 so he is very familiar with the estate vineyards and other sources of grapes
for Lynmar Wines. Prior to his time at Lynmar Estate, he spent three years working at Kosta Browne alongside
winemaker Shane Finley who continues on at Lynmar Estate as a consultant.
I met Pete on a rainy day to taste a number of 2017 Pinot Noirs from barrel in the winery’s caves. This was the
first vintage that Pete vinified at Lynmar Estate as the head winemaker.
Uneven weather during the 2017 growing season included heavy winter rains, flooding of a number of Russian
River Valley vineyards in low-lying sites, a heat spike in September around harvest and rain during the harvest
period. Bud break was early in the spring and the late summer heat led to a very early harvest. In addition,
vintners in the Russian River Valley had to deal with early October firestorms that made access to some
wineries challenging if not impossible while wines were undergoing processing or in barrel. Most regional Pinot
Noir was picked before the fires which were some consolation. Fortunately, Lynmar Estate’s winery and estate
vineyards were in locations not involved in the fires.
Pete and I tasted from multiple barrels in conjunction with a geeky discussion of the wines that I won’t bore you
with here. Pete has a variety of heritage selections including Swan, Mt Eden and Calera to work with, as well
as all the commonly grown Dijon clones. The variety of clones and selections are planted in multiple blocks and
consist of both young and old vines in the estate Quail Hill Vineyard that is adjacent to the winery. The complexity
of the Quail Hill Vineyard can be appreciated by viewing the block mapping of the vineyard below.
One of Pete’s challenges is matching cooperage to the myriad sites, blocks, and variable vine ages of lots of
wine in the Lynmar cellar from the three estate vineyards. How he manages this complex puzzle is a tribute to
his skill and experience. I found both new and older plantings of Swan selections to be the most glorious barrel
samples in the cellar.
The vineyard team, led by Jason Saling, manages 70 individual vineyard blocks and 19 clones that Pete
transforms into over 90 separate lots of wine in the cellar. Because of the symbiotic relationship between Pete
and Jason, Pete is able to understand intimate details of the estate vineyards and has the luxury to dictate
specific pick times at harvest.
The Lynmar Estate is made up of three currently producing sites: Quail Hill Vineyard surrounding the winery
and hospitality center (45 acres, 17 distinct blocks with 14 Pinot Noir and 4 Chardonnay clones/selections,
originally planted in 1974 with replanting beginning in 1996), Susanna’s Vineyard located in the Green Valley of
Russian River Valley AVA about two miles from Quail Hill (10 acres of Pinot Noir and 10 acres of Chardonnay)
planted in 2006, and Adam’s Vineyard situated above the fog line on a hillside in Forestville (9 acres planted in
2013 to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). A fourth estate vineyard is being developed in the South Sebastopol Hills
off Hwy 116 just north of Cotati. Still to be named, this will be the coolest estate vineyard. A variety of clones
will be planted there in the Cotati sandy loam soil (similar to Goldridge soil). Grapes are also sourced from local
vineyards such as Kanzler and Sweeney.
Pete has a state-of-the-art gravity flow winery and a 9000-square-foot cave for barrel ageing at his disposal. His
vinification regimen includes the use of moderate amounts of whole cluster during primary fermentation. The
Pinot Noirs are aged between 11 and 15 months in 100% French oak barrels, commonly between 46% and
64% new. He produces at least twenty different Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines including Pinnacle Tier
blends, Block Designates, Vineyard Designates and Proprietary Blends. The winemaking team (Pete is in the
As I said in my recent article about Lynmar Estate wines, the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are standard
bearers for the region.
Wine tasting in the bucolic hospitality center at Lynmar Estate is available by appointment. Several tasting
options are offered as well as wine and food experiences. The wines are available on the website. Members of
the mailing list and Advocates Club enjoying special pricing and privileges. Visit www.lynmarestate.com.