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Brogan Cellars: “Good, Better, Brogan”

Margaret (“Margi”) Williams Wierenga was a teenager in the late 1970s when her father, Burt Williams, of Williams Selyem fame, began to make his first wines in a bathtub in a basement below the family’s garage. By 1984, Burt Williams and Ed Selyem had launched the Williams Selyem label (from 1981 to 1983 they produced wine under the Hacienda Del Rio label) and moved into a rented garage on River Road in the small Russian River Valley town of Fulton. Working there under the wings of Burt, Margi developed her early winemaking skills, becoming a full-fledged part of the winemaking team when the winery was relocated to the Allen Vineyard property on Westside Road in Healdsburg. She also honed her talent at the nearby Hop Kiln Winery under the tutelage of winemaker Steven Strobel.

Burt Williams was a burly vintner who favored colorful sport shirts with suspenders, was blessed with a superb palate and an uncanny and self-taught sense of how to vinify Pinot Noir. Margi shared his hearty laugh and winemaking acumen, and when Williams Selyem was sold in 1998, she started her own label, Brogan Cellars, named after her paternal grandmother. The new project had a sense of déjà vu, since the start up reminded of the early days of the Williams Selyem Winery. Margi noted, “It was a bootstrap business run on a lean $75,000 startup budget.” Margi’s father was prohibited from advising her under the non-compete clause included in the sale of his winery so she made her stamp alone is on the Brogan Cellars wines. Margi is pictured below with her mother, Jan, at the 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.



Margi crafted her first Pinot Noirs, a 1998 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and a 1998 Brogan Cellars Lone Redwood Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, working out of a cramped converted garage. Margi’s spouse, Mike, who owns a refrigeration company, used his repairer skills to rig her winemaking equipment. Like her father, she knew that Pinot Noir required delicate handling and constant vigilance in the winery, leading her to employ the same laborious hands-on winemaking techniques that Burt had fostered. She used much of the same rudimentary winemaking equipment that Burt used out of necessity (for many years, Williams Selyem had little money to fund their operation), such as a tiny crusher and old dairy vats for fermentation. Located in Dry Creek Valley, the winery’s barrel-aging room, office and tasting area were housed in a 800-square-foot garage with the winemaking equipment located under the adjacent car port.

In 2006, the winemaking operation was moved to property the Wierengas own in Hopland, 30 miles north of Healdsburg, and the leased garage in the Dry Creek Valley was retained for use as case storage, an office and a tasting room. In 2004, Margi and Mike’s son, James Cobb, joined Brogan, adding a third generation to the family winemaking tradition. Customers too have become family at Brogan Cellars, as many volunteer along with family friends each year to assist with the crush, a tradition that has continued from the winery’s beginning. Perhaps the spirit at Brogan Cellars can best be summed up by a “Brogan Slogan” contest held several years ago. Some of the best suggestions were: “Braggin’ ‘Bout Brogan,” “Good, Better, Brogan,” “Break Out The Brogan,” “How Does Your Brogan Grow?” and “Red, White and Brogan. An All-American Wine.”

Winemaking at Brogan Cellars is straightforward. The percentage of whole cluster used depends on several factors associated with the vintage including, according to Margi, “The look of the clusters when they are picked and my prior experience with the vineyard.” Whole cluster inclusion can be as much as 30% or as little as none. No additives are used. Indigenous yeast fermentations are carried out in used dairy tanks (cut in half) and the juice is pressed off at dryness. The Pinot Noirs are usually aged about 11 months in approximately 50% new Francois Frères oak barrels, and are bottled unfiltered.

During her years at Williams Selyem, Margi was able to develop valued contacts among the premium winegrowers in the region, so when she launched her own winery, she had reputable grape sources in place. Her consistent grape suppliers have included Lingenfelder, Hansen and Buena Tierra vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Summa Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast, and Morning Dew Ranch (Burt Williams’ vineyard) in the Anderson Valley. Pinot Noir is the featured wine at Brogan Cellars, but occasionally Margi has crafted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir bottlings have varied from year to year, with both appellation wines (a Russian River Valley bottling is constant, and a Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir have been produced in the past), and vineyard-designate wines offered through a spring and fall release. The venerable Buena Tierra Vineyard Pinot Noir (“sex in a glass”) is the consistent star in the lineup and I have written about this vineyard in the past (www.princeofpinot.com/article/524/). The annual production of less than 2,000 cases is sold primarily to a faithful mailing list.

I recently dove into my cellar and sampled multiple Brogan Cellars Pinot Noirs from the 2003 to 2008 vintages. Unfortunately, I have drank up most of my 2003 and prior vintage wines except for a few magnums. The wide palate of individual offerings have commendable distinctiveness, reflecting their terroir and the vagaries of each vintage. Margi obviously lets the grapes do the talking. After tasting several vintages, I can easily tell Pinot Noir from Buena Tierra Vineyard from that of Lingenfelder Vineyard from that of Morning Dew Ranch, and can detect subtle vintage differences among wines from the same vineyard. Alcohols run the gamut from a low of 13.0% to a high of 15.3% and the offerings range from big-boned to elegant in style. The 2004 and 2005 vintage Pinot Noirs have aged beautifully and there is no hurry to drink them now. The 2006 vintage wines were derided by the press but were my favorites. Margi told me, “The yields were larger than normal and not all wines got whole cluster due to space limitations. I knew the vintage would turn out to be one of my favorites when the grapes were in the tank. My customers who had faith got some beautiful wines.” The 2007 and 2008 vintages need a few more years of bottle age. Margi advises her customers to bottle age her wines and decant if they choose to open them within a few years after release. Margi held prices between 2001 and 2005, succumbing to a small increase beginning in 2006 due to rising grape prices and costs of production. Some wines have been offered periodically as futures at a significant reduction in price.

The 2008 vintage was challenging as has been widely publicized. Margi notes that her Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs were smoke affected but finds the effect is subtle. She used no new oak and left the wines in barrel longer to minimize the smoke effect. Margi said, “The wines from Anderson Valley reflect the vintage year and the smoke added to the terroir. Drink the wines with salmon and enjoy what each vintage has to offer even if it is not heralded as a great year. The 2006 vintage proved that.” Winemakers and wine writers tend to be more critical in evaluating the 2008 Anderson Valley wines because they are looking for smoke. Margi’s experience has been that 80% to 90% of consumers don’t notice any smoke affectation in her Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs. Recently, a European wine writer and some German importers tasted the 2008 Brogan Cellars Jan’s Reserve My Father’s Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and deemed it a favorite.

I highly recommend you arrange a tasting of Brogan Cellars wines with Margi when you are in the Russian River Valley region. Tasting is offered by appointment at 3232B Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg. (707-473-0211). Join the mailing list at www.brogancellars.com. Margi offers magnum formats for nearly all the Pinot Noir offerings from recent vintages. Older vintages are available for sale.

In 2008, production was 75 cases or less except for the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, the Hansen Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Sonoma County Pinot Noir (not reviewed) bottling.

2008 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $50. · Moderate garnet hue in the glass. Very intense perfume of cherries with a hint of sandalwood and oak. Delicious cherry pie core with a touch of tar and herbs. Discreetly rich with restrained tannins and a refreshing finish. The most forward wine in the 2008 lineup. Very good.

2008 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $75. A blend of all Russian River Valley vineyard designates. · Aromas of black cherries, spice, sandalwood and prominent toasted oak. Plenty of fruit at the core, but dominated by flavors of oak and ash. Silky soft on the palate with fine tannins. Will surely improve over time in the bottle with more integration of the oak, although an opened and re-corked bottle was not any better the next day. Decent.

2008 Brogan Cellars Hansen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $65. · This wine is not ready for prime time yet. The fruit is simply too shy and oak steals the limelight. Like all Margi’s wines, the silky soft texture is very appealing. I would revisit this wine in a few years. Decent.

2008 Brogan Cellars Buena Tierra Vineyard Helio Doro Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., $90. May be the last designated Helio Doro Block as Margi is using fruit from other parts of the Buena Tierra Vineyard and may be doing a vineyard blend in the future. · Bright aromas of Bing cherries, strawberries and baking spices. Strikingly intense and flavorful red cherry and berry fruits with hints of brown spices, cherry cola and Red Vines that linger on the pleasing finish for over 30 seconds. Soft in the mouth with impressive finesse and sensuality. This wine has the whole package and is deserving of the title, “Sex in the glass.” Buena Tierra is one of California’s greatest Pinot Noir vineyards, consistently offering a Grand Cru drinking experience. A certain All-American this year.

2008 Brogan Cellars Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $50. · Deeply colored in the glass. Appealing aromas of black cherries and dark berry jam with a hint of tobacco smoke. Tasty core of dark stone fruits with a faint accent of tar in the background. Nicely composed with a silky mouth feel and gossamer tannins. Good.

2008 Brogan Cellars My Father’s Vineyard Margi’s Block Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $65. · Shy fruit aromas with noticeable scents of cigar and ash. On the palate, the sweet and smoky black cherries plums and blackberries are framed by bright acidity and pillowy tannins. Think grilled fruit from the barbecue. Hard for me to get by the smoke affect. Decent.

2008 Brogan Cellars My Father’s Vineyard Jan’s Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $65. A blend of clones from Morning Dew Ranch, named in honor of Margi’s mother. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy, but pleasing aromas of darker stone and berry fruits. Nicely crafted and very harmonious with discreet flavors of darker red fruits including pomegranate, with lively acidity, mild tannins and a soft, finesse-laden texture. There is a faint tarry, smoke taste in the background. Good.

Production of Pinot Noir in 2007 was half of the that made in 2006.

2007 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $50. · Panoply of aromas including dark berries, dates, underbrush, cut flowers and a touch of barnyard. Tasty essence of dark red cherries and berries with a savory bent. Still noticeably oak infused with firm tannins and lively acidity on the finish. Needs more time to come together. Decent.

2007 Brogan Cellars Lingenfelder Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $65. · Moderately dark reddish purple color. Reticent aromas of dark fruits and oak. A full-on palate of mixed berry fruits with plenty of tannin and a cola and citrus note in the background. A husky wine with an impressive core of fruit that needs time for integration of the tannin. Good.

2007 Brogan Cellars Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., $50. · Like the name of the vineyard implies, this wine smells of fresh morning air with shy red berry fruits in the background. Rather austere and crisp in style with tart cherry, cranberry and pomegranate flavors. Good.

2006 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., $45. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · A cherry bombast in the glass. Mildly syrupy and thick on the palate with flavor bites of spice and anise adding interest. The tannins have melded and lively acidity lifts the finish. Prototypical Russian River Valley Pinot. Can drink now. Good.

2006 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

15.1% alc., $65. · Moderately light reddishpurple in color with a slight orange tinge to the rim in the glass. The wine shows unappealing scents of cooked fruit, herbal oak and leather sole. The ripe black cherry, cassis, and sassafras flavors are flat. The loss of color, aroma and flavor indicate a prematurely oxidized wine. An unsatisfactory bad bottle.

2006 Brogan Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $45. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely nuanced aromatic profile featuring earthkissed berries, bay leaf, spice and oak. Soft and elegant on the palate, with flavors of dark red cherries and berries, gossamer tannins, and a refreshingly bright finish. Good.

2006 Brogan Cellars Michaela’s Reserve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $110. The last Brogan Cellars Pinot Noir from Summa Vineyard. Named for Margi’s granddaughter born in 2006. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak. Margi notes, “I am counting on aging a few cases at least 21 years for my granddaughter.” · Moderately intense reddish-purple color in the glass. A marvelously fruity nose brings you to attention. Delicious layers of intense red and black fruits fan out in the mouth, caressed by mild, firm tannins and framed by a bright citric note. The texture wraps you in silk pajamas as the dreamy finish sails along. A classy wine that lets you know it is a Reserve.

2006 Brogan Cellars Lingenfelder Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

15.3% alc., $60. From a Pommard clone block. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Opens slowly in the glass, revealing intense crushed berry, black cherry and dark chocolate aromas. Rich and toasty ripe dark fruits fill the mouth with pleasure. The tannins have melded and the wine is all silk and satin. The intense fruit, prominent oak and high alcohol all come together in harmony. Very good.

2006 Brogan Cellars Hansen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

$60. A new vineyard source in 2006. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light in color with an orange cast to the rim of the glass. Appealing aromas of strawberries and cherries which are slightly roasted. Light on its feet and easy to drink, the red fruit flavors are set off by a subtle note of Madera. This wine is showing slight premature oxidation. Good.

2006 Brogan Cellars Buena Tierra Vineyard Helio Doro Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $80. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · The aromas of fresh black cherries, Herbs de Provence and warm brioche draw you into the glass. Delicious flavor of berry jam on toast with amazing intensity and staying power on the long, long finish. Very smooth in the mouth and drinking beautifully now. This wine never disappoints. Very good (+).

2006 Brogan Cellars Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $45. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. The aromas of hard cherry and berry candy remind me of my childhood. Scents of pine pitch and sage add interest. Delicious and intense core of red fruits with a confected note, hints of red licorice and root beer, all framed in mild firm, dry tannins. Very harmonious with a notable persistence of fruit flavors on the pleasing finish. Very good.

Other bottlings in 2006 not reviewed: My Father’s Vineyard Margi’s Block Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and My Father’s Vineyard Shula’s Pond Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.

2005 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $45. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Attractive perfume of Bing cherries, baking spices and fennel. Red-fruited featuring cherries and pomegranates with a side car of cola, graham, bacon and citrus. On the lighter side with soft tannins. Tends to fade over time in the glass. Drink up. Good.

2005 Brogan Cellars Lingenfelder Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $55. · An earthy, savory wine with plenty of tasty black raspberry and black plum fruit and a dash of allspice and oak reflecting its Pommard and Martini clonal origins. The mouthfeel is rich and pleasing with well defined tannins holding the fruit in check. A seamless wine that has staying power for over an hour in the glass. Very good (+).

2005 Brogan Cellars Sonoma Coast Reserve Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $60. Sourced from Summa Vineyard. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Terrific aromas of cherry pie and baking spices. The wine attacks the palate with a big burst of luscious black cherry fruit augmented with subtle earth and oak notes. A solid wine that picks up intensity and interest in the glass. Smooth and charming, this Pinot is refined and balanced. Very good.

2005 Brogan Cellars My Father’s Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 150 cases, $60. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak barrels. This vineyard has grafts from Rochioli Vineyard. · Dark reddishpurple hue in the glass. Alluring scents of wild berries, brown spice, brioche and sawn wood. Very subtle possibility of cork taint (second bottle not available). Intense and persistent cherry and berry fruits tasting like jam on toast. Plenty of acidity on the refreshing finish. Good.

Other bottlings in 2005 not reviewed: Buena Tierra Vineyard Helio Doro Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

2004 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

15.1% alc., 235 cases, $45. Aged in 45% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Darkly colored. Aromas of black cherries, wild berries and mocha java draw you in. Rich and vivid flavors of cassis and black plums with a touch of anise, spice and dark chocolate. The tannins are soft and well integrated. A hedonist’s delight with a slight syrupy texture but not cloying or jammy. Impressive persistence on the finish. Very good.

2004 Brogan Cellars Benovia Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 50 cases, $50. Sourced from the Cohn Vineyard used by Williams Selyem for many years. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · On the nose there are pleasing aromas of mixed red berries with a subtle green note. The tasty core of red cherries and berries linger on the pleasing finish. Soft and elegant, veering to the light side but quite enjoyable. Good. Note: this was a second bottle - the first bottle sampled was corked.

2004 Brogan Cellars Lingenfelder Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 75 cases, $48. Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Blend of Pommard and Martini blocks. · Moderate reddishpurple color in the glass. The nose is highlighted by purple fruits with a dash of soy, tea and purple roses. Very tasty big-boned core of cassis and black plum flavors with oak playing a supporting role. Nicely composed with a smooth texture, flannel tannins and a big fruit-driven finish. Drinking perfectly now. Very good.

2004 Brogan Cellars Buena Tierra Vineyard Helio Doro Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 220 cases, $75. Aged in 75% new French oak barrels. · Lightest in color of the 2004 wines sampled. Lovely perfume of Bing cherries with a dash of oak and leather. Flat-out delicious with vibrant flavors of cherries, baking spices and sandalwood. Sleek, silky and showing all the style and grace one could ask for.

2004 Brogan Cellars Summa Vineyard Young Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 150 cases, $60. · Deep, dark reddish purple color in the glass. Earthy and savory with scents of grilled plums and mushrooms with notes of old cask and smoke. Exotically flavored dark fruit with accents of anise and black olive. Still has notable tannins and considerable life ahead. A distinctive wine that holds your interest. Good.

Other bottlings in 2004 not reviewed: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, My Father’s Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

2003 Brogan Cellars Lone Redwood Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $50. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color with a slight orange hue to the rim. Bright black cherry aroma with hints of red licorice and exotic woods. Very tasty black cherry essence with tobacco and cola in the background. The tannins are very soft and the bright acidity frames the fruit beautifully. A great older Pinot that has held up nicely. Very good (+).

Other bottlings in 2003 not reviewed: Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, Buena Tierra Helio Doro Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Summa Vineyard Young Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Lingenfelder Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. A note on the Summa Vineyard: the Brogan Cellars Summa Vineyard bottling is from vines planted in the 1970s, the same block that Burt Williams used at Williams Selyem. There were subsequent plantings at Summa Vineyard which are included in the “Young Vines” designated Brogan Cellars Pinot Noir.

Older Vintages

2002: California Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Lone Redwood Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Summa Vineyard Young Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Buena Tierra Helio Doro Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

2001: Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Lone Redwood Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Buena Tierra Helio Doro Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

2000 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Lone Redwood Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

1999: Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, Lone Redwood Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

1998: Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Lone Redwood Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

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