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Sonoma Coast Vineyards: West County Pinot Noirs

John and Barbara Drady founded this label in 2002. John is a reserve-duty Gold Ridge Sonoma firefighter who assists with winemaking and directs the marketing of the Sonoma Coast Vineyards portfolio of wines. Barbara is well known in wine circles for her company, Affairs of the Vine, which conducts educational wine tastings for corporations and other groups, offers several weekend “Wine Boot Camps” where wine enthusiasts can obtain hands-on grape farming and winemaking experience, and directs the yearly “Pinot Noir Shootout and Summit.” The pair have used their experienced palates to develop a label that focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from the extreme or “true” Sonoma Coast. The extreme Sonoma Coast is referred to as “West County,” and is roughly from Jenner in the South where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean, to Annapolis in the North, and from the beaches to 5 to 6 miles inland including the first two ridges of the Coastal Range of mountains and the western slope of the third ridge. Ft. Ross, Occidental and western Sebastopol and Freestone are included, although all are south of Jenner. The Dradys are committed to producing ultra-premium wines that have age ability.

The vineyards selected for Sonoma Coast Vineyards wines are situated within a 4 mile radius of Freestone and are complemented by vineyards in the far southwestern reaches of the Sonoma Coast. According to Barbara Drady, the following distinctions typify the true or extreme Sonoma Coast: (1) Long growing seasons, (2) Cool temperatures which are marginal for ripening, (3) Production limited by temperatures, (4) Vines that produce grapes with mature fruit at lower sugar levels, (5) Crop loads that are very small, and (6) Thin, rocky and shallow soils that have not been farmed previously.

In 2008, Sonoma Coast Vineyards was sold to Leslie Rudd, who along with business partner Pat Roney, owns interests in a number of specialty food stores in Northern California including the Oakville Grocery and Dean & Deluca, a restaurant in Napa, and six wineries. He transformed Girard Winery into Rudd Winery, together with Roney bought Windsor Vineyards in 2007, acquired Grove Street Winery in Healdsburg in 2008, started a new label, Windsor Sonoma Winery, with a planned future production of 50,000 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and has now entered the super-premium Pinot race. John and Barbara Drady remain intimately involved with Sonoma Coast Vineyards but the infusion of capital has allowed the label to expand production from 4,000 to 20,000 cases.

The winemaker is Anthony Austin (pictured below), who this year enters his 35th vintage. A University California Davis graduate in enology, Austin studied under the great Andre Tchelistcheff. He directed the first crush at Firestone Winery in 1976. Firestone was the first modern day commercial winery in Santa Barbara County. In 1981, Austin left to establish his own label, Austin Cellars, in Los Olivos. He made two legendary Pinot Noirs in 1982 from the Sierra Madre Vineyard and the Bien Nacido Vineyard.

The Sonoma Coast Vineyards Pinot Noirs are Burgundian at heart in that they are made for food and are not a meal in themselves. None of them have aggressive tannins but do have the lively acidity that predicts age ability. The prices below are roughly what you can expect on the current secondary market.

2006 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Petersen Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 380 cases, $63. Clones 115, 667. 10% whole clusters, 8-day cold soak, hand punch downs, wild and Assmanhausen yeast fermentation, aged 10 months in 50% new 3-year-old air-dried tight grain French oak barrels. Lightly filtered. · Enticing aromas of cherries and strawberries with hints of forest floor and oak char. Brimming with juicy flavors of cherries, cranberries and pomegranate with a vein of earthiness, oak and herbs running through to the finish. Silky with gossamer tannins. The most precocious wine in the Sonoma Coast Vineyards lineup that is ready for drinking now.

2005 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 487 cases, $60. Clones 115, 667 and 777. 50% Koos Family Vineyard, 50% Zephyr Ranch Vineyard. 30% whole clusters, cold soaked 8-10 days, hand punch downs, spontaneous wild yeast fermentation supplemented with Assmanhausen yeast. Aged 20-22 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Lightly fined and filtered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple robe. On the nuanced nose there are aromas of black raspberry, forest floor, sage and oak toast. Darkly fruited with prominent plum jam flavors framed by seasoned oak. Admirable elegance and silkiness with brisk acidity showing a bit of citrus peel on the finish. Improves when tasted later in the day suggesting age ability. Wants, needs and should have food if drunk now.

2005 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Freestone Hills Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 270 cases, $62. Balistreri (4%) and Zephyr (96%) vineyards. Yields one-half to one ton per acre. 75% de-stemmed, 25% whole clusters, 8-10 day cold soak, hand punch downs, fermentation initiated with wild yeast and finished with Assmanhausen yeast. Aged 21 months in 50% new 3-year-old air-dried tight grain French oak barrels. Lightly fined and filtered. · Ripe berries and cherries create a glass-filling presence on the nose. High-collared ripe dark fruit with a riff of herbs and loam and a healthy acidic spine leaving an impression of grapefruit peel on an amazingly long finish. This wine has more cajones, the ripest fruit and the most comforting mouthfeel of any of the other 2005 vintage Pinot Noirs from Sonoma Coast Vineyards. Tasted again the next day from a previously opened re-corked bottle, it was even better portending a long life ahead.

2005 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Balistreri Family Vineyard Freestone View Block Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 72 cases, $67. Clones 114, 115, 667 and 828. 30% whole cluster, 11 day cold soak, hand punch downs two to three times a day, wild and proprietary yeast fermentation. Aged 21 months in 50% new 3-year-old air-dried, tight grain French oak barrels. Lightly fined and filtered. · Aromas of a fresh dark cherry pie entice. Demure dark stone fruits with plentiful oak and a vein of citrus that lingers on the finish. A bit austere and tight now but showing respectable finesse and soft tannins. This wine will perform beautifully at the dinner table.

2003 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.16% alc., 783 cases, $60. Clones 113, 114,115, 667, 777, Pommard 3, Swan from six vineyards. Aged 19 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · On the aged nose there are aromas of dark fruits with a hint of porto, forest floor and crusty bread. Very ripe fruit accented by cigar box, root beer and raisin. Very smooth and silky with a pleasing dry finish.

2002 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.28% alc., 715 cases, $60. Clones 113, 114, 115, 667, 777, Beringer from four vineyards. Aged 19 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Strange fruitless aromatics resembling ranch dressing. Grape flavors, a touch of raisin, leather and oak. Moderately light with a very silky texture and moderate fine-grained tannins.

The back labels are quite unique and informative:

Sonoma Coast Vineyards Pinot Noirs are widely distributed through Wilson Daniels Ltd (St. Helena, CA, 707-963-9661) and are available from the website at www.sonomacoastvineyards.com. I have seen some of the wines significantly discounted from internet retailers. An excellent Chablis-styled Chardonnay is quite age able and a Sauvignon Blanc is among the best made in California. 707-836-5617. Contact me through my website and I can arrange a private tasting of Sonoma Coast Vineyard wines and a tour of their vineyards with John Drady.

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