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Tasting the 08s at C. Donatiello Winery

I first reported on this relatively new winery along the Westside Road Middle Reach corridor shortly after it opened in June 2008. Focusing on small lot Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the estate vineyard and specially chose vineyards in the Russian River Valley, C. Donatiello made an auspicious debut and the quality of the wines has continued to elevate.

Christopher Donatiello (photo below at Pinot Days), a former New York-based wine and spirits distributor, teamed with investment banker Bill Hambrecht to renovate and revitalize the site of the former Belvedere Winery in Healdsburg. The new spectacular 14.5-acre estate has an organically farmed Pinot Noir vineyard (Maddie’s), a contemporary wood and glass hospitality center and tasted room designed by noted winery architect and landscaper, Ken Munson, and an organic garden that introduces visitors to flora that have a natural affinity with the aromas found in the two Burgundian varieties. The winery facility onsite has been upgraded and outfitted with the latest in winemaking technology.



Winemaker Webster Marquez, who honed his skills at Williams Selyem and makes wine in partnership at Anthill Farms Winery, has brought the label to prominence. The focus at C. Donatiello is producing wines of stylish grace and classic elegance that perform well with food.

I recently stopped in at C. Donatiello and sat down with both Chris and Webster to sample the lineup of C. Donatiello wines. Webster told me that the 2008 vintage was extremely challenging with the quality of the wines varying greatly from vineyard to vineyard. He laughed, “It was a vintage that separated the men from the boys.” There were 35 nights of frost in the Trenton area of the Russian River Valley and even vines that survived the extended frost had very uneven fruit set. A warm summer was highlighted by a ten day heat wave in August. Those that waited out the heat were fortunate as daily fog set in and picking was less hurried, the wines more successful. C. Donatiello’s Maddie’s Vineyard (photo above) suffered considerable frost damage and the entire crop from Hervey Vineyard was lost from frost. The 2009 vintage, in contrast, was “dreamy,” with a long, cool, perfect summer allowing harvest to evolve as expected.

Despite the challenges, there were some very good, even special wines produced at C. Donatiello in 2008. These are not Caliesque blockbusters, but wines of restraint and nuance.

2008 Donatiello Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc

14.1% alc., 220 cases, $20. · A fine casual drink featuring tropical and tart lemon flavors accented with a very subtle grassy note. Crisp and bright. Good.

2008 C. Donatiello Middle Reach Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 86 cases, $28. To be offered to the winery’s wine club in the fall of 2010. Primarily sourced from Maddie’s Vineyard. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Very shy aromas of crushed red strawberries and raspberries, leading to a medium weighted cherry and berry core which has some persistence on the fruity finish. Needs more time in the bottle. Good

2008 C. Donatiello Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 1,825 cases, $38. Sourced from four vineyards. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light in color in the glass. The aromas pick up interest over time offering scents of red fruits, red candy, herbs, graham and cut flowers. Light on the palate, with bright acidity and a pleasing oak-kissed cherry lift on the finish. Good.

2008 C. Donatiello Floodgate Vineyard Block 15 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 400 cases, $48. Clone 667 from 12 year old vines. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak barrels. · The most flamboyant aromatics in the lineup offering a melange of bright red cherries and berries with a hint of spice, sawdust and fragrant flowers. Moderately intense and pleasingly soft in the mouth with red fruit flavors, enhanced by notes of red licorice and sweet oak. Like all the 2008 C. Donatiello Pinot Noirs, this wine has lively acidity. Very good.

2008 C. Donatiello Floodgate Vineyard Old Vines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., 115 cases, about $55 when released in October 2010. Martini clone. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple robe in the glass. The nose really draws your attention with intensely perfumed dark stone fruits and dark chocolate. Impressively harmonious in the mouth with dynamic dark red and black fruits, kissed by toasty oak, and wrapped in fine-grain tannins. A wine to contemplate for its uniqueness and striking flavor that only old vines can offer.

2008 C. Donatiello Maddie’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 150 cases, $62. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak barrels. · Light in color but nicely endowed with lovely delicate aromas of slightly confected red cherries, strawberries and cranberries. A discreetly rich and tasty Bing cherry essence is wrapped in gossamer tannins and focused by brisk acidity. A wine of elegant charm that typifies the C. Donatiello style. Very good.

2008 C. Donatiello Wind Horse Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 45 cases, $72. This vineyard is located southwest of Sebastopol. Aged 10 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · A little more depth of color than the preceding wines. A riper fruit profile on the nose which is very expressive. Smoothly textured and moderately rich on the palate, this wine has a delicious array of dark red fruits including raspberries ending with a big flourish of fruit. There is a well-structured tannic backbone with a good grip of balancing acidity. This one can go the distance and will pick up charisma with more time in the bottle. Very good (+).

The C. Donatiello Winery tasting room is open daily from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM at 4035 Westside Rd, Healdsburg. Private tours of the winery and the adjacent aroma garden and Wine and Cheese pairings are available by appointment (800-433-8296). The wines are available online at www.cdonatiello.com. C. Donatiello is now releasing a value-priced ($19) appellation series of wines labeled Healdsburg Ranches as well.

For the third year, C. Donatiello Winery is hosting a summer season of “Live From the Middle Reach,” a series of Sunday afternoon concerts where bands perform at the winery overlooking the estate’s picturesque organic aroma garden and vineyard. A total of sixteen bands will be featured this summer between June 27 and October 10. Admission is free for all patrons of C. Donatiello Winery. Visit the winery’s website for a schedule and more details.

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