William Hunter: Chasseur
Bill Hunter is one of the “Wild Men of West County,” the band of winemakers interested in the Pinot
Noir grown in the true Sonoma Coast region around the towns of western Sebastopol, Freestone, and
Occidental. Hunter developed an early interest in wine working as a wine steward at the Chronicle
Restaurant in Pasadena, California. The Chronicle Restaurant was famous for its wine cellar and some
of its rarest bottles had come from the acquisition of the private collection of Alfred Hitchcock. I went
to this restaurant on a number of occasions and probably ran into Hunter during my formative wineloving
days. He went on to enroll and graduate from University California Davis (1987), and gained his
early winemaking experience at Rombauer, Bonny Doon and Chauffe-Eau Cellars. In 1994 he began
making some wine on the side, starting with two barrels of Dutton Chardonnay and one barrel of
Carneros Pinot Noir. Soon he started his own label, Chasseur, the French term for Hunter. In 2002, he
brought on Alex P. Barhtolomaus, Managing Director of Billington Imports as an investment partner,
and Hunter was able to devote himself fully to winemaking. He now produces 5,000 cases of Pinot Noir
and Chardonnay at his winery in Sebastopol, located inside the old apple processing plant on Gravenstein
The lineup of Pinot Noirs is quite impressive, particularly the single vineyard bottlings which are all
quite distinctive, complex, and blessed with appealing charisma.
2006 Chasseur Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 825 cases, $36-$40. Aged 15 months in
Nice Pinot aromas of Bing cherry, baking spice and barnyard. Light, elegant and demure in the
mouth revealing red berry and red cherry flavors accentuated with savory herbs. Soft in the mouth with a
clean and somewhat persistent finish. Very drinkable, but may lack punch for serious fruit lovers.
2006 Chasseur Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 620 cases, $36-$40. Primarily multiple Dijon
clones with a little Swan selection. Aged 17 months in barrel.
Rich and heady nose showing ripe dark
berries and cherries and a complimentary hint of oak. More fruit and more interest than the Russian River
Valley bottling. This wine speaks more of the soil with more herbs, more sinew, and more grainy tannin
along with mineral-imbibed dark fruits.
2005 Chasseur Sonoma Coast Vin Gris
14.2% alc., 100 cases.
Very pretty light peach color. Interesting
aromas of berries, lemon peel, marzipan, and oak. Stone fruits on the palate with citric zest. Seems to
have lost its fresh edge and now tastes a bit old with a hint of sherry flavor. A wine to enjoy on release.
2005 Chasseur Freestone Station Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 150 cases, $60 (sold out). Clones
115, 777 and 23. Aged 15 months in barrel.
pleasurable, aromatic profile of black cherry jam, gingerbread,
almonds and smoke. An earthy wine featuring dark
stone fruits and cola flavors presented in a softly textured
style. Nicely balanced.
2005 Chasseur Sexton Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 150 cases, $60 (sold out). This
wine is a collaboration between Bill Hunter and grower James Pratt. Dijon clones 113, 114, 115, 777,
and 828. Aged 15 months in oak.
Hi-toned and complex aromas of crushed black cherries, smoke, tobacco,
herbs (sage), grass, and a hint of warmth. This wine shows the burly and primal side of Pinot Noir
with intense and super ripe dark fruits (even tending to raisin and prune flavors), wrapped in a earthy,
mushroom flavored cloak. The finish retains some lively acidity and lingers for a very long time. This one
leans toward the Cab camp and will appeal to lovers of ripe fruit flavors.
2005 Chasseur Sylvia’s Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 100 cases, $60 (sold out). A
collaboration between Bill Hunter and the Dutton Family.
Very appealing wild berry, chocolate, and
char scents leading to a full array of red fruits and attention grabbing baking spice. An elegant wine that
is only marred by a hint of green tomato and stem which tends to dissipate with time in the glass.
2005 Chasseur Twin Hill Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 75 cases, $60 (sold out). Aged 15 months in
barrel. A collaboration between Bill Hunter and Benjamin
Perfumed with cherry candy, violets, cinnamon and
oak. Redder Pinot fruits with savory herbs and spice.
Seamless and all silk and satin. Tangy acidity brings up the finish. The most charming wine of the lineup
to drink now and the one to take to the dance this weekend.
Chasseur wines are highly allocated and sold primarily through a mailing list. The two appellation
Pinot Noirs are produced in larger quantities and are available in the fine wine retail market throughout
the United States. The informative website is www.chasseur.com. Chasseur operates under the
LLC, Hunter Wine Cellars. The phone number is 707-829-1941. Note: After tasting the four vineyard-designate
Pinot Noirs, I blended an equal part of all four together (don’t try this at home). The resulting
wine was quite good, with an intensification of dark fruit and noticeably more full-bodied. Not surprisingly,
however, the blend lost the many subtleties of the individual wines. Obviously, this is why
the winemaker bottles the wines separately.