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There are certain Pinot Noirs that just hit you, leaving you speechless, and groping for appropriate descriptors. When this happens, you know that you have found a great wine. These wines were the best I tasted at Pinot Days.

2006 Benovia Winery Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

$60. I have tasted this wine several times both in barrel and in bottle and I can’t wait until August 19 when this and two other equally superb 2006 Pinot Noirs (Cohn Vineyard and a Proprietary Blend from purchased fruit) are released to the mailing list. · This wine is the whole package. Charmingly dark red fruited with nicely spiced aromatics, a full onslaught of fresh fruit, an appealing elegance, and an ending so refreshing that it makes you reach for more. I had to swallow this one.

Benovia Winery is owned by Jim Anderson (left), who has provided the financial support to create a state-of-the-art winery at the site of the original Mary Edwards winery in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Anderson has resurrected the aging Cohn Vineyard, acquired land adjacent to the winery, and is planting new Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards. A hospitality center is also planned. Talented winemaker Mike Sullivan (who previously starred at Hartford Family Winery, second from left) is in charge and manager Bob Mosby (far right) keeps the operation running smoothly. The wines are sold through a mailing list at www.benoviawinery.com. 707-526-4441.

2005 Bink Wines Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir

$40. The 7-acre Weir Vineyard is farmed meticulously by Bill and Susan Weir. Planted about 15 years ago at 850-1000 feet in a unique cool microclimate, the vineyard is divided into older plantings (DRC suitcase clone and Wadenswil 2A) and newer plantings (Pommard Rochioli Riverblock). Williams Selyem has bottled a superb vineyard designate Pinot Noir from this vineyard for several years and Drew Wines bottles a terrific example. · A Pinot Noir with a Burgundian soul with plenty of earthy and mineral underpinning. The dark red fruits are juicy and pure and the wine is beautifully balanced and composed.

Bink Wines is a partnership between owners and winemakers Deborah Schatzlein (pictured right who was pouring at Pinot Days) and Cindy Paulson. All of the wines come from the Yorkville Highlands appellation, which is located just south and inland of the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. The name, Bink, comes from the Manx cat with a black coat and beguiling eyes. The lineup includes a Syrah and Merlot as well. All of the wines are crafted at Bin to Bottle in Napa. The wines are sold on the website at www.binkwines.com. 707-246-4468.

2006 Black Kite Cellars River Turn Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

$48. Four Pinot Noirs are offered from the Black Kite Estate Vineyard in the cool deep-end of the Anderson Valley. The talented winemaker is Jeff Gaffner (left) and the viticulturalist is Paul Ardzrooni (right). The Kite’s Rest bottling was favorably reviewed in PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 60. Three other bottlings are from special blocks in the vineyard (River Turn, Stony Terrace, and Redwood’s Edge). I found the River Turn the most approachable now of the block-designate Pinot Noirs. · Like the Kite’s Rest, it offers flashy and showy dark red fruits, mouthwatering acidity, and a lingering aromatic finish. I wrote excellent with an exclamation point.

Owned by Donald and Rebecca Green, Black Kite Cellars is named for the beautiful but endangered Black Shouldered Kite that is native to the Anderson Valley. Pinot Noirs from the 2006 vintage are available on the website. A Four Pack containing one bottle of each Pinot Noir is offered as well as a Mixed Case of all four. A rising star in the Anderson Valley. Consult the website at www.blackkitecellars.com. 415-923-0277.

2005 Clary Ranch Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

$50. Paul Clary farms a 15-acre vineyard at the headwaters to Chileno Creek in the hills of Petaluma and produces one Pinot Noir. · The 2004 vintage was quite good and well received in the wine press. The 2005 is even better with more elegance, less heft and ripeness, and softer tannins. It is drinking beautifully now.

Clary Ranch Wines are sold through the website by e-mailing Paul Clary. Visit the website at www.claryranch.com. 707-773-3884. The history of Clary Ranch is quite interesting and has been previously detailed in the PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 12 devoted to the Petaluma Gap producers of the Sonoma Coast.

2006 Derbès Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., 428 cases, $47. Derbès Wines produces Russian River Valley Pinot Noir purchased from the Moore and Sweeney vineyards. Dijon clones 115 and 777. Barrel aged for 15 months in 50% new French oak. · I have been a fan of Cècile’s wines for a few years, but this is her best effort to date. A prototypical Russian River Pinot Noir showing Bing cherry, red berries, baking spice, and cola in the aromas and flavors. Slippery tannins and a seamless texture. Extremely user-friendly now. One of the top three I tasted at Pinot Days.

Derbès Wines was founded in 2001 by a husband and wife team from diverse backgrounds. Billy Derbès is an aerospace engineer from New Orleans, and Cécile Lemerle-Derbès is a French-born winemaker who has worked at Champagne Bollinger, Schug, and Opus One. Wines are available on the website at www.derbeswines.com. A high-density, hillside, spring-fed vineyard has been planted at the Derbès estate, and plans are afoot to build a winery. The Chardonnays from Double T Ranch in Carneros and Heintz Vineyards in the Russian River Valley are very French styled and quite good. Les Pinots is also offered, an unusual 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

2007 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Cleary Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

(barrel sample). Kent Humphrey has been crafting beautiful Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the Russian River Valley for three years now. His vineyard sources have been the Stiling Vineyard and the Windsor Oaks Vineyard. The Cleary Vineyard is his first foray into the Sonoma Coast. · Like so many 2007 Pinot Noirs from the North Coast that I have sampled, this one jumps out of the glass with enchanting aromatics and perfectly ripe fruit that hits all of the high notes. Kent seems quite pleased with this one and he should be.

Eric Kent vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from the Stiling Vineyard and the Windsor Oaks Vineyard from the 2006 and 2007 (barrel samples) vintage were being poured as well. The 2006 wines have good structure and plenty of sweet, ripe fruit, but are higher in alcohol and not as expressive as the 2005 and 2007 vintages. Eric Kent wines are sold primarily through a mailing list with generous discounts to wine club members. Visit the website at www.erickentwines.com. 707-527-9700. The original artwork on the labels compliments the excellent wines inside. Kent’s sister, Renee Humphrey, (pictured on page 6), is Director of Wholesale & Distribution.

2005 Ft. Ross Vineyard & Winery Ft. Ross Vineyard Reserve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 531 cases, $49. Well-known winemaker Ed Kurtzman (Freeman, August West) crafts superb Pinot Noirs from this vineyard, one of the closest (less than one mile) to the Pacific Ocean in the Sonoma Coast appellation. This bottling is from the most distinctive barrels, many of which are very shy-yielding old clone blocks. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. · Still a youngster and will need a good year or two to come in to its own, but it is showing huge promise at this time. Silky entry, richly layered dark fruits, and mouth-coating fine-grain tannins. Immensely satisfying.

Ft. Ross Vineyard & Winery is owned by Lester and Linda Schwartz who came to the true Sonoma Coast from South Africa. Linda has studied viticulture and has an affinity for working the soil and operating farm equipment. Along with Lester, the two of them developed their 44-acre vineyard beginning in 1994. The vineyard has nice mixture of clonal variety with field selections of Calera, Pommard, and Swan and Dijon clones 115 and 777. The Schwartz’s also planted Pinotage, a varietal unique to South Africa and their Ft. Ross Pinotage is the best made in this country. The sales office is 550 Indiana St, San Francisco, CA. In addition to limited retail distribution, the wines are sold through the website at www.fortrossvineyard.com. . Vintages dating back to 2002 can be purchased from the winery’s library.

2005 george Vintage IV Nuptial Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

$50. George Levkoff is a Williams Selyem offshoot who crafts his Pinot Noirs in the image of those that Burt Williams produced in the early 1990s. He uses 100% new Francois Freres French oak but the oak is never intrusive. His Pinot Noirs are quintessential Russian River Pinot Noir and every year make my All American list. · Balance and finesse with power is the hallmark of george Pinots and this one is right in step. The aromatics feature crushed strawberries, dusty cherries, and spice. The flavors are long in the mouth and echo the aromas. A fine, velveteen texture is complimented byperfectly integrated tannins. A wine that caresses. Had to swallow this one.

George Levkoff tells me that he will be offering five different Pinot Noirs in the next vintage. The Nuptial Vineyard has had a name change to Ceremonial Vineyard (I was kidding him that this sounded like a mortuary plot). The wines are sold in many of the top restaurants in San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York - often at $250 a pop. Somehow this just doesn’t seem fair, as george’s profit is about $20 a bottle when he sells a bottle wholesale to a restaurant. You have to be on the mailing list to get your allocation: visit www.georgewine.com. 707-495-7783. A picture of george (he prefers all lower case) is on the following page (right) with his buddy, Joey Manfre, a graphic designer of wine labels.

2004 Hallcrest Vineyards Barrel Select Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

437 cases, $35. Veteran winemaker John Schumacher crafts multiple exquisite Pinot Noirs from purchased grapes. This wine is a vintner’s reserve from special barrels. · I have tasted this wine previously on several occasions and it has always showed well. A bold wine with plenty of showy ripe fruit, but with defining acidity and a smooth texture. A complete wine.

Hallcrest Vineyards dates to the 1880s when the Hall family named the property in Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains. John Schumacher, a University California Davis trained winemaker, took over and resurrected the property beginning in 1987. He has been a pioneer in organic viticulture and winemaking. John is a lot better at making wine than maintaining his website and I have urged him to update it (he plans to do so in the near future). In the meantime, you can visit the Hallcrest Vineyards tasting room to obtain the excellent lineup of Pinot Noirs or call 831-335-4441. His prices are very sensible. If you visit, try to get an appointment with John for the full experience.

2006 Kenneth Volk Garey Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

$48. This vineyard was planted in the late 1990s to be the premier vineyard of the Robert Mondavi Corporation’s Santa Maria Valley holdings. It is named for the tiny township of Garey on Foxen Canyon Road adjacent to the vineyard. Sourced from a vineyard block planted to clone 777. · This wine has been big and intense in the past, but this vintage is toned down. Discreet spicy cherry nose with a serenade of juicy and ever-expanding red and blue fruit flavors. This one has the full arsenal. Check for future release date.

Kenneth Volk is a Central California winemaker legend who is best known as the founder of Wild Horse Winery where he crafted superb Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for year. He has now scaled down with his own label sourcing fruit from premium vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley. His years of experience serve him well and he continues to retain an energetic enthusiasm for his craft. His winery, located at 5230 Tepusquet Rd in Santa Maria, was the old Byron Winery. A tasting room here is open daily. The wines may be ordered online at www.volkwines.com. 805-938-7896.

2006 Paul Mathew Vineyards Ruxton Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., 275 cases, $35. The Ruxton Vineyard is located on the western edge of the Green Valley appellation. A two-acre block planted on Goldridge soils with Dijon clones 115, 667, and 777 was sourced for this wine. · This sturdy beauty is marked by lush black cherry fruit from start to finish. Earth and truffle notes add interest. Integrated tannins and a long, opulent finish.

Paul Mathew proprietor and winemaker Mat Gustafson (his great smile is pictured below) is an accomplished winemaker who developed an interest in Russian River Pinot Noir while working as the Wine Buyer and Sommelier at John Ash & Co. Restaurant (see PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 58). Subsequently, he became the winemaker at Sebastopol-Dutton Estate Winery (2001). He believes in slow, indigenous fermentations with minimal use of sulfur dioxide. His involvement with the Duttons allows him special access to top vineyard sources for his own label. Mat’s other Pinot Noir offerings include a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and a vineyard-designate TnT Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. All are worth trying as well. The wines are offered on the informative website at www.paulmathewvineyards.com.

2006 Pleasant Valley Vineyards Dylan David Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., pH 3.65, 75 cases, $85, released February 2009. From a small estate vineyard planted to Dijon clones in the Corralitos region of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Dijon clones 113, 114, 115. Whole berry and whole cluster fruit. Aged 19 months in 100% new French oak barrels. · This is an outstanding example of the tremendous potential for Pinot Noir from this small growing region at the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Rich, sumptuous crushed wild berries in the nose. Bursting with fresh raspberry flavor enhanced by subtle oak overtones. Endless echo of aromas and fruit on the finish. The alcohol is well-integrated from start to finish.

Pleasant Valley Vineyards was founded by Craig and Cathy Handley (next page) in 1996. By 2010, they will be expanding their Pinot Noir production with fruit from nearby Deer Park (Lester) Vineyard. The 2005 vintage Estate Pinot Noir is currently offered on the website at www.pvvines.com. The Corralitos Wine Trail Open House Event will be held again in September this year. 831-728-2826.

2005 Raye’s Hill Vineyard & Winery Henneberg Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 280 cases, $26. This is the first vineyard-designate from the Henneberg Vineyard for Raye’s Hill. This 14-acre vineyard is farmed by Matt and Jeannie Henneberg and is in close proximity to the Raye’s Hill estate. Clones are 115 and Pommard. · This is a very charming wine with plenty of spice and vim. On the demure side, with impeccable balance. Very high quality for this modest price.

Raye’s Hill was founded by Raye and Dan Sokolow, Chicago refugees who planted their estate vineyard in 1997. They currently produce about 1,000 cases of wine, primarily Pinot Noir, from their estate vineyard and several other vineyards in the Anderson Valley. The wines, including vintages back to 2003, are available on the website at www.rayeshill.com. Tasting is by appointment. 707-895-3439.

2006 Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Comptche Mendocino County Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 400 cases, $40. The Oppenlander Vineyard is located 8 miles from the Mendocino Coast as the crow flies and is just north of Anderson Valley. Pommard and Dijon clones 114 and 115 are planted in Oppenlander (510) heavy clay loam which is unique to Comptche. Several wineries are producing superb vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from this vineyard including Adrian Fog, Baxter, and Phillips Hill Estate (see PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 60). Fruit is also sourced and blended by Handley, Navarro and Harmonique. · I am fascinated by the Pinot Noirs I have sampled from this special vineyard. The wines have an exotic reach to them and really show off the unique terroir. This is a beguiling Pinot Noir with scents of fresh berry fruit, oak vanillin, and violets. The sweet-fruited palate of red berries coats the mouth and earth notes add interest. Robust and virile, but discreet.

Oppenlander Vineyard is owned and farmed by Bill and Norm Shandel (below). The winemaker is

John Pepe (below). This is the best wine you probably have never heard of but if you look closely in the picture below, you will see a long list of awards the wine has accumulated in major wine competitions. The Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noirs have been produced since 2002. There is currently no website or online sales. This is one of those rare finds that you have to work to locate. This is not a beautifully-landscaped and highly-profiled vineyard and the Shandel’s label is plain and simple. What is important here is what is in the bottle and that is great down-to-earth Pinot Noir. The Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir is distributed locally in Mendocino, but your best bet is to call to order: 707-937-5400. John tells me the wines age extremely well and become “pure silk” in five years. John also told me that the Shandels produce a Wild Himalayan Blackberry Jam from fruit harvested on the ranch. John notes, “Harvesting is a bitch, but WOW! Is that stuff good.

2005 Talisman Thorn Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 339 cases, $50. This vineyard is located on the northern edge of the Petaluma Gap, a very cold and foggy site. It is essentially dry-farmed. The clones are 115, Swan selection, and Pommard. 25% whole cluster. Aged 18 months in 60% new French oak. · This is currently the most showy of the 2005 Talisman Pinot Noir lineup, but even this wine will benefit from decanting if drunk now. Plenty of showy ripe black cherry and wild berry fruit, hints of oak, earth and tar. Mouth filling richness with excellent balance and length and a defining acidity which portends a long life ahead.

Talisman is a family affair with Scott Rich (below) handling the winemaking and Marta Rich the sales and distribution. Scott was the winemaker at Etude for a number of years. I call Scott a “terroir-ist” because he purposely seeks out unique vineyard sites where farming is challenging and on the edge. He feels these sites provide the most interesting wines. His wines need a couple years in the bottle to full blossom. I also sampled the 2005 Adestra Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir, the 2005 Hawk Hill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and the 2005 Red Dog Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir. All were beautifully crafted. The wines are offered on the Talisman website at www.talismanwine.com. Tasting by appointment. Like most winemakers, he is a very affable guy to hang with. 707-258-5722.

2006 Tantara Evelyn Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

150 cases, $90. This wine was first produced in 1998 and honors Evelyn Waldron, co-owner Bill Cates’ mother who passed away in 1998. This wine is a cuvee, meant to represent the pinnacle of the vintage. It is not always the biggest wine in scale, but with great balance and finesse. It contains a bit more whole cluster than the other Tantara single vineyard wines. The wine is built around Pinot Noir from Block 1 at Bien Nacido Vineyard, planted to Mt. Eden and 115 clones. The particular block the grapes are sourced from is extremely stressed and low yielding, producing intense fruit. Some fruit is also blended from Dierberg Vineyard and/or Solomon Hills Vineyard, and some from Santa Rita Hills, depending on what best harmonizes. Release date is July 26, 2008. · This wine almost brought me to my knees. Seamless in every way, it was brimming with pinotosity. An extroverted nose, tannin so fine as to be imperceptible, and a long, chewy finish. The velvety mouth feel was remarkable. Worth every penny.

Jeff Fink (next page with Michele Bassett) and Bill Cates are co-proprietors and co-winemakers at Tantara Winery which is located at Bien Nacido Vineyards. They are both from Virginia who met up in California and founded Tantara in 1997. The two produce a broad range of Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, and Chardonnays from multiple sources primarily within Santa Barbara County. They farm 14 acres in Bien Nacido Vineyards. The label prominently features a horse once owned by Bill Cates named Tantara. The wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and online at www.tantarawinery.com. Tasting is by appointment. 805-938-5051.

2005 Donum Estate Carneros Pinot Noir

850 cases, $65. This is the fourth release of this superb wine which is among the best Carneros has to offer. Average bloom to harvest time for The Donum Estate Vineyard is 115 days, but in 2005 it was 130 days. The extended hang time has produced a special wine. 100% de-stemmed, aged in 75% new French oak. · Attractive and vigorous red cherry and red current fruits filled out with herbal overtones and lavish oak. Powerful, but yet silky and elegant. Beautifully balanced. I have tasted this wine on several separate occasions and it has always grabbed me.

The Donum Estate is meticulously farmed by winegrower Anne Muller-Racke who is passionate about precision viticulture. Kenneth Juhasz (also Auteur) is the talented young winemaker. For 2006, a new offering will be released: 2006 The Donum Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This was also tasted at Pinot Days and is sourced from a special block at the Nugent Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. This is a showy and lavish wine that is big and virile. Robert Stemmler wines are also produced in conjunction with The Donum Estate, also crafted by Kenneth Juhasz. The 2005 Robert Stemmler Nugent Vineyard Pinot Noir was sampled as well and definitely worth your interest. The Donum Estate wines are sold on the website at www.thedonumestate.com.

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