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Pinot Freak Brian Loring

I first wrote about self-admitted “pinot freak” and owner of Loring Wine Company, Brain Loring, in 2002 when his wines were receiving considerable press and interest. While in college, he worked at a wine store in Southern California where one of the owners was a Burgundy fanatic. Brian’s first experiences with Burgundy were from producers he quickly admired like Domaine Dujac, Henri Jayer and Domaine Romanee-Conti (who wouldn’t?). Early safaris into the domestic Pinot Noir jungle of the 1980s were unsatisfying until he tried some Calera. Eventually he came to understand and enjoy other California Pinot Noirs like Williams Selyem, Chalone and Sanford. But it was the friendship he developed with winemaker Norm Beko of Cottonwood Canyon Winery that got him started in the wine business. While participating in the 1997 crush, he made two barrels of his own Pinot Noir and the Loring Wine Company was hatched. The name was a homage to Josh Jensen and the Calera Wine Company . Brian was to be one of the first boutique Pinot Noir producers to enter the field cold so to speak (he was a software engineer). Unimpressed by his own good fortune and success, he has shared his enthusiasm and knowledge freely, and inspired a number of other pinot freaks such as Greg Piatigorski (Alcina Cellars), Jamie Kutch (Kutch Wines), and Andrew Vingiello (A.P. Vin).

His success has been predicated in part on his insistence of acquiring first-rate Pinot Noir grapes from prestigious vineyards. Anyone in the business can tell you that you can’t make great Pinot Noir from inferior grapes (although many try). He never professed to be an experienced winegrower, so he allowed vineyard owners to farm his blocks as they farmed the ones they used for their own label. He began humbly, with 150 cases of Pinot Noir in 1999, increased this to 950 cases by 2002, and expects to craft 5,000 cases in 2006. This plateau will allow him to devote his energies full-time to make wine for Loring Wine Company as well as consulting on other projects. An investment group who were fans of Loring’s wines started Pali Wine Company and built a large winemaking facility in Lompoc. Brian crafts the Pinot Noirs for Pali in exchange for the use of the new winery for producing his own Loring Wine Company Pinot Noirs.

The Brian Loring style is representative of the New World or “Caliesque” Pinot Noirs in that the wines are dark-hued, bursting with showy and sappy fruit, full-bodied in structure, possessing a toasted oak character from the use of plentiful medium toast new French oak, and in some cases, firm tannins. The normally significant alcohol levels in Loring Wine Company wines have been moderated in the latest 2005 vintage releases (13.2% - 14.9%).

Recently I had the opportunity to taste through several of Brian’s 2005 releases. The wines are bottled under screw tops and are not intended for long-term cellaring. However, some of the wines benefit greatly from decanting or exposure to air for a few hours ( which results in less noticeable tannins and smoother finishes), and some have the cohunes to last several years.

2005 Loring Wine Company Russell Family Vineyard Paso Robles Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 175 cases, $40. The grapes come from a cool and westerly vineyard. · This wine has an arsenal of red cherry and earthy aromas and flavors with noticeable oak in the background throughout. The texture is soft and sexy. There are moderate tannins on the long finish which smooth out with a couple hours of air time.

2005 Loring Wine Company Cargasacchi Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., 400 cases, $45. · The complex nose features wet leaf, mushroom, tea and toast. There is plenty of stuffing but the wine comes off as quite demure and feminine. The mid palate erupts with red fruit, spice (cardamom) and tea notes leading to a finish of oak-tinged cherries and coating tannins. Still a little closed but with great potential.

2005 Loring Wine Company Clos Pepe Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 800 cases, $45. · This wine has the darkest color of the lineup. The nose is terrific with notes of crushed red cherries, cocoa, and vanillin. After two hours, the nose was more cherry vanilla cola with a hint of alcohol. This Pinot is packed and stacked with fruit with plush black raspberries in the middle and oaked tart cherries at the end. The tannins are under wraps and the texture is downy. Prodigious wine.

2005 Loring Wine Company Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., 400 cases, $45. · This is the most elegant wine in the lineup. Terrific aromatics bring plenty of hi-tone cherry to the front. Both red and black fruits are evident in the structured core. The fruit is embraced by toasty oak on a finish featuring fine-grained tannins.

Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir 2005 lineup also included the 2005 Loring Wine Company Brosseau Vineyard Chalone AVA Pinot Noir ($45), 2005 Loring Wine Company Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir ($45), 2005 Loring Wine Company Keefer Ranch Green Valley Pinot Noir ($54), 2005 Loring Wine Company Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($45), 2005 Loring Wine Company Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($45), 2005 Loring Wine Company Naylor Dry Hole Chalone AVA Pinot Noir ($57, 75 cases), and the 2005 Loring Wine Company “Hungry Like the Llama” Pinot Noir ($60, a blend of 3 to 4 barrels from multiple appellations). In 2006 (the 2006 Pinot Noirs will be released in October, 2007), Brian has added Graham Vineyard (Green Valley) and Tank Mesa Vineyard (Santa Rita Hills). The wines are sold through a mailing list at www.loringwinecompany.com. The prices above are lowest retail prices for wines currently in the market. Shipping is free when ordered through the mailing list. There is also widespread retail distribution and placement in many prominent restaurants countrywide. The winery is located at 1601 W Central Ave, Unit F, Lompoc, CA 93436. Tasting by appointment.

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