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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 Highway.

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 oak. · 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. · Unusual, but 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 Hurst. · 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.

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