Pinots to Covet
This label is one of four brands produced by the Wagner family (including Caymus, Mer Soleil and
Conundrum). Chuck Wagner’s son, Joseph, handles the viticulture and winemaking for this label which honors
Joseph Wagner’s grandmother, Loma Belle Glos. The first release was in 2001. Three vineyard-designated
Pinot Noirs are produced: Taylor Lane Vineyard (Sonoma Coast), Las Alturas Vineyard (Santa Lucia
Highlands) and Clark and Telephone Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley). The bottles are among the most charming
in the business, offering a long neck dipped in generous wax. A strip tab allows removal of the wax on top (this
is not easy to do and should not be attempted by women with long nails). A value-priced bottling, Meiomi, is a
blend from all the vineyards and is a popular restaurant wine. The wines are widely distributed in the retail
market. The website is www.belleglos.com. I did not find the 2009 releases as appealing as the recent two
vintages but there is a good chance they will improve with more time in the bottle. The style of the wines is
masculine and dark fruit-centric.
2009 Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $35. 10 acres, yield 1.1 tons
per acre, Goldridge loam soil, Dijon clones.
Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry
cobbler, cassis, wet stones and crusty bread. Fairly intense and burly featuring black stone fruits and dark
berries with aggressive tannins and a rich mouth feel. Needs time to soften and integrate the tannins. Decent.
2009 Belle Glos Las Alturas Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., $35. This vineyard is
located in the southernmost part of the Santa Lucia Highlands which is warmer and exposed to tamer winds
than the vineyards in the North. 30.2 acres, yield 1.89 tons per acre. Aged 9 months in French oak barrels.
Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Fruity nose featuring black plum and berry jam aromas with hints of oak
and spice. Oak takes over with time in the glass. Intense fruit core offering flavors of dark raspberry pie filling,
plum reduction sauce and oak. Juicy and mouth coating with a soft underbelly and a dry finish. Will benefit
from more time in the cellar. Good (+).
2009 Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $35. 76 acres
including own-rooted Martini clone dating to 1972. Yield 1.73 tons per acre. Aged 9 months in French oak
Dark reddish-purple in the glass. Opens slowly in the glass revealing aromas of black stone fruits,
herbs, spice and oak. A burly, husky wine with a generous core of dark Pinot fruits accented by notes of anise
and vanilla. The texture is silky, the tannins are reserved, and the wine finishes with generous oak-imbued
Bonneau Wines & Vineyard
August and Catherine Bonneau, who were originally from Bordeaux, bought 70 acres of land south of the town
of Sonoma in 1921. The Bonneaus farmed the land, ran a dairy, and operated a small country store and
delicatessen at the corner of Bonneau Rd and Arnold Dr. (Highway 121). In 1988, their daughter, Yvonne,
planted 30 acres of Chardonnay on the property, enlisted the Sangiacomos to farm the vineyard, and began
supplying well-known wineries in the region. In 2002, Yvonne’s son, John Bambury, introduced Bonneau
Wines with the release of a 2002 Estate Los Carneros Chardonnay. Since then the winery has expanded into
other red wines sourced from vineyards in Sonoma, Napa and Amador counties. The Pinot Noir program
began in 2008 with grapes sourced from a Sangiacomo vineyard nearby off Bonneau Road. John is the
Director of Winemaking, working with consultant John Tracy at the old Kosta Browne space at Deerfield Ranch
Winery in Kenwood. I sampled the following wines with John at Bonneau’s corner, a tasting room and family
operated delicatessen (The Carneros Deli, open 10:00 to 6:00 daily). The Bonneau wines are also available
for tasting at Cellars of Sonoma in Santa Rosa. The wines are also sold on the website at
www.bonneauwine.com. All wines are reasonably priced considering the high quality.
2009 Bonneau Sangiacomo Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $36. A combination
of Petaluma Gap and Carneros fruit. 100% de-stemmed, aged in 40% new French oak barrels.
Moderately intense reddish-purple color in the glass. Reserved dark red fruit aromas leading to a
discreetly intense core of dark red berry and black cherry flavors, finishing on a high note with rich red
berries. Elegant in manner with supple tannins and a good vein of acidity. Very good (+).
2008 Bonneau Los Carneros Sangiacomo Vineyards Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.58, 300 cases, $34. Clone 115, and small amount of
Martini and 777. Aged 16 months in 40% new 36 month air-dried, very tightgrain
French oak barrels. Sourced from a Sangiacomo vineyard planted in
An elegant Pinot Noir offering delicate aromas of red berries, cherries
and rose petals. Lighter weighted but charming flavors of red cherries and
cranberries, finishing crisp and clean. Very good.
2009 Bonneau Catherine’s Vineyard Los Carneros Chardonnay
$28. Similar to the 2008 vintage
except aged in 33% new French oak barrels.
I prefer this rendition of the vineyard with brighter citrus
and white stone fruit, some minerality, brighter acidity and less oak influence. Very good.
2009 Brogan Cellars Hansen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $65.
reddish-purple hue in the glass. This is a curious wine that will not have universal appeal. The vineyard is
located next to a diary and the wine reflects this. It always shows a smoky character and noticeable barnyard
on the nose. I pick up old wood, tar and earthy aromas and flavors overlying a core of black cherry fruit. Margi
says the barnyard characters get more complex over time and that some customers find this terroir-driven wine
to be one of their favorites in the Brogan Cellars lineup. Very soft and smooth with mild tannins. Decent.
Margi Wierenga initially worked out of a bare-bones, makeshift winery arranged under a carport roof in
Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley. You will find there's a sense of déjà vu at Brogan Cellars, and for a good
reason. Besides sharing father Burt Williams' hearty laugh and passion for Pinot Noir, she has pursued a
similar course in her winemaking career. Margi was a teenager when her father, Burt Williams, started making
the first Williams Selyem wines in a basement beneath their garage in the late 1970s. For several years she
worked as a volunteer at her father's winery housed in a garage in Fulton before taking a paid position in 1993
at the Westside Road Allen Ranch facility. In between, she worked in different capacities at Hop Kiln Winery. In
1998, she decided to follow in her father's footsteps and start her own winery.
Brogan Cellars, named after Margaret's ("Margi's") paternal grandmother, has all the earmarks of a mom and
pop operation. "It was a bootstrap business run on a lean $75,000 start up budget," she says. Her husband,
Mike, who owns a refrigeration company, is a handy man who rigged up her winemaking equipment. They use
small old dairy vats for fermenters and purchased most of the other equipment second hand, including a tiny
crusher. The barrel-aging room, office and tasting area are in a tight, 800 square-foot converted garage that
Wierenga was happy to call home until 2002, when additional space was obtained in Hopland, 30 miles north
of Healdsburg, where the winemaking now takes place. In 2004, Margi and Mike's son James joined Brogan,
adding a third generation to the family business. Customers, too, become family at Brogan. During the
harvest, many still volunteer to help with the crush.
Margi crafts age worthy Pinot Noirs from premium vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and
Anderson Valley (her father's Morning Dew Ranch, referred to on the labels as “My Father’s Vineyard”). At
times she produces other varietals as well. Most of the wine (less than 2,000 cases annually) is sold to an
eager mailing list the old fashioned way: by a mail-in or fax-in order form. Tasting is by appointment.
707-473-0211. The website is www.brogancellars.com.
Margi noted in her release newsletter that the 2009 vintage produced “stunning, very dense wines with deep
fruit and complexity.” Yields were low so production was limited with each bottling totaling 75 cases or less. She
estimates that the wines will age for 10-15 years. I recently tasted the Spring 2011 releases from the 2009
vintage. These are richly fruited and darkly colored wines that make a statement. Despite their full-bodied
character, they retain a welcoming balance and silky presence. Do not be in a rush to open these.
2009 Brogan Cellars Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
$75. A blend of two vineyards to the east of the Russian River including the
Helio Doro Block of Buena Tierra Vineyard. Dark garnet color in the glass.
array of scents including Bing cherries, baking spices and marzipan. Richly
endowed with copious and liquor-like very ripe flavors of framboise, black
cherries and sassafras. Dense and palate-staining, and a bit virile for me now,
yet offering supple tannins, an appealingly smooth mouth feel and stunning
persistence on the fruity finish. Not for wimps. May shed some heft with several
years in the bottle. Very good.
2009 Brogan Cellars My Father’s Vineyard Shula’s Pond Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $70.
color in the glass. Shy but pleasant aromas of black raspberry tart,
dark chocolate and dark red rose petals. Delicious medium-weight
flavors of cherry pie filling, cola and mocha. A stunning wine with
polished tannins and plenty of pizzazz that tasted even better the next
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. This vineyard is really
coming in to its own. Margi’s favorite from My Father’s Vineyard to date and
mine too. She expects this wine to age 10-12 years.
2009 Brogan Cellars My Father’s Vineyard Margi’s Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $65.
Dark reddish-purple color in the glass.
Brooding aromas of black stone fruits, cassis and oak. Flavors of dark red and
black fruits flood the mid palate, brightened by lively acidity, and leaving a
lasting impression on the generous finish. Sporting generous grippy tannins
that need time to integrate and soften. A smooth and satiny texture is
appealing. Wait a few years on this one. Very good.
2009 Brogan Cellars Two Brothers Cuveé Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $55. Sourced from
three vineyards by Margi’s two sons, James and Bobby, who helped create the blend.
color in the glass. Aromas of dark red berries, black cherries, cigar and seasoned oak. A feminine, lighterstyled
wine with mildly rich flavors of dark red raspberries, Bing cherries and spice with an oaky, tarry note in
the background that should resolve with aging. Decent.
Carr Vineyards & Winery
This urban Santa Barbara winery has been releasing consistently solid Pinot Noirs from vineyards that Ryan
Carr personally oversees through his vineyard management and development company. He is also the owner
and winemaker for Carr. The winery’s first vintage was produced in Carr’s home garage in 1999. Today, Carr
produces 3,000 cases of several varietals including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet
Franc with a focus on Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills fruit. The Carr tasting room and Wine Bar is open daily
and includes wines by the glass, by flight and on tap. Visit the website, www.carrwinery.com, for online sales of
Carr wines. Ryan’s spouse, Jessica, handles sales and marketing.
I recently sampled the latest 2009 Carr Pinot Noirs. This vintage offered more elegance, charm and refinement
than 2008 with an impressive velvety mouth feel on all the wines. All the wines are fruit-driven, moderately
intense and approachable now, especially the Three Vineyards bottling which should be consumed within a
couple of years. I suspect the vineyard-designated wines will drink their best within 2-3 years and age another
2009 Carr Three Vineyards Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 298 cases, $45. A blend of grapes from
Kessler-Haak, Yard and Turner vineyards. Clones 113, 777, 114, 2A and Pommard. Aged 12 months in French
Attractive aromas of fresh red and black fruits with a hint of vanilla cream and toasted oak
improving in the glass over time. Medium-weight core of earthy plum and mixed berry fruit backed by mild firm
tannins. A solid wine that lacks a little intensity and definition, but is well-made and perfectly fine for daily
2009 Carr Turner Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 249 cases,
$45. Planted in 2000 by Ryan Carr. 15 acres of Pinot Noir. Yields just over 2
tons per acre. Clones 113, 777 and Pommard. Aged 12 months in French oak
Complex nose offering aromas of black raspberry pie filling, black
cherry, leather glove and earth. Light on its feet with a discreetly concentrated
essence of mixed red and black berries, added flavors of brewed tea and
plums, with moderate ripe fruit tannins, well-integrated oak, a velvety texture
and impressive presence on the lingering finish. Very good.
2009 Carr Kessler-Haak Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
172 cases, $50. This vineyard was planted in 2005 and has 26 acres
of Pinot Noir. Yields were 1.5 tons per acre. Clones 114, 2A and
Pommard. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels.
Demure aromas of
black raspberries and dark strawberries with a kiss of spice, forest
floor and oak. A symphony of delicious black raspberry, rhubarb and
plum flavors that really attract your attention. Tannins are well-proportioned
and the mouthfeel is all silk and satin. A tasty, seamless wine that really
attracts your attention.
Wells Guthrie began his wine career working at the Wine Spectator’s San Francisco office as a tasting
coordinator. He fell in love with Syrah and moved to the Northern Rhone, working for Chapoutier for two
seasons and spending time as well with Jean Louis Chave. Wells then returned to work at Turley Wine Cellars.
Today, Wells crafts Pinot Noir, Rhone varietals and Zinfandel at Copain Wine Cellars sourced primarily from
Mendocino County vineyards. Copain Pinot Noirs in the early years were bold and extracted, but since 2007,
Wells has chosen a more elegant, lower alcohol, nuanced style that I find more appealing. The offerings are
Tous Ensemble Blends (early drinking blends from vineyards in Mendocino County: Rosé, Viognier, Pinot Noir
and Syrah), Les Voisons Blends ( more distinctive, unique Pinot Noir and Syrah blends from vineyards in
Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highlands) and single vineyard wines (allocated to mailing list). Tasting is by
appointment. The wines are sold primarily through the website and mailing list with some retail distribution.
Visit www.copainwines.com. The winery’s tasting room in the Russian River Valley is open Thursday through
Sunday and other days by appointment.
2009 Copain “Tous Ensemble” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
12.9% alc., $28.
color in the glass. Brooding nose offering hints of ripe dark fruits, brioche and oak. Generous core of tasty
black stone fruits and dark berries wrapped in fine tannins and offering a satiny mouthfeel. A solid fruit-driven
2009 Copain “Les Voisons” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., $40.
color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile featuring scents of dark red berries, black cherries, and
warm chocolate croissant. The black raspberry and black cherry fruit has impressive vim and vigor,
making a statement on the mid palate and sustaining through the remarkably long finish. An
underpinning of dark chocolate and a hint of grapefruit add interest. Easy to be seduced by the
perfectly ripe fruit and tender silkiness of this wine.
The Donum Estate
Donum translates from the Latin to “gift or donation” and refers to grapes as a gift of the land. The Estate is
devoted solely to Carneros Estate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir (from
the 11-acre Nugent Vineyard Racke planted in the mid 1990s). Winegrower and President, Anne Moller-
Racke, was the Vineyard Manager for Buena Vista Carneros for many years. With the sale of Buena Vista in
2001, Anne split off 200 acres of the Buena Vista Estate to form The Donum Estate as well as to grow grapes
and produce wine under the rejuvenated Robert Stemmler Winery label. The Donum Vineyard consists of 70
acres and contains several clonal selections including Calera, Hanzell, Swan and a Roederer selection known
as the Donum “clone.” Donum also farms the nearby 20-acre Ferguson Vineyard, planted to Martini clone in
1974 by Thomas Ferguson. Special bottlings from the Donum Vineyard have included West Slope, East Slope
and Thomas (Ferguson Vineyard). The winemaker is talented Kenneth Juhasz (YOU haas) who mentored
under Ken Bernards (Ancien). He became the winemaker for both The Donum Estate and Robert Stemmler
Winery in 2005. The Donum Estate wines are sold through a mailing list and an online store at
www.thedonumestate.com. 2005-2007 vintages of Donum Estate Grown Carneros Pinot Noir are still available
in limited quantities. The winery is not open to the public, but occasional Open Houses are offered.
The 2008 vintage was marked by two major frosts that caused major damage in Donum’s vineyards. The
Russian River Valley vineyard lost two-thirds of its crop to frost, and in Carneros about 20% was lost. The vines
weathered some heat spikes and cool temperatures in mid and late September allowed good hang time.
Donum Estate is now producing remarkably beautiful examples of Carneros Pinot Noir. The 2008 lineup of
Pinot Noirs show more elegance and refinement than previous vintages and all are impeccably crafted. The
wines are bold in style due to extended maceration and relatively high new oak elevage and will benefit from
decanting. If you want to taste what Carneros is all about now, these connoisseurs’ wines are a perfect place to
2008 Donum Estate Grown Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $65.
Moderately dark reddishpurple
in the glass. Initially offers pleasing scents of Bing cherries, sassafras, spice and oak, losing some
charm over time in the glass and showing a hint of alcoholic heat. Moderately rich core of tasty cherries with
accents of cola, spice and smoke. Silky with restrained tannins and a bright ping of acidity on the finish.
Ready to drink now. Good.
2008 Donum Estate Grown Carneros Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $65.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose really draws you
into the glass. Enticing aromas of ripe berry preserves, black cherries,
brewed tea, forest floor, and oak cask. Medium-weight flavors of black
raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries with an appealing earthy and cola
accent. The fruit has a bright and refreshing character, lingering on the crisp
finish. This wine is definitely more elegant and lighter weighted than previous
vintages but I find it equally appealing and interesting because of its strong
portrayal of the vintage. Very good.
2008 Donum Estate Grown West Slope Carneros Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.51, TA 0.69, 170 cases, $85. From a special 5.5-
acre site at the Donum Ranch planted to the Roederer selection that
as been the mainstay of the Donum Carneros Pinot Noir. In some
vintages, it becomes more complex when blended with a small
amount of old Martini selection but in 2007 and 2008 it is a stand-alone
wine from the West Slope. 100% de-stemmed, 10% saignee immediately
after crushing, 6-day cold soak, inoculated primary fermentation, three week
extended maceration. Aged 16 months in 75% new French oak barrels
including Francois Freres.
Moderate garnet in color in the glass. Lovely
aromatic profile of fresh berry tart, wood spice, and redwood bark. Ambrosial
flavors of dark red cherries and berries with a hint of sandalwood and Asian spice. Very classy, elegant juice,
with amazing aromatic persistence on the lavish finish. Perfectly integrated tannins and bright acidity make for
satisfying drinkability now. Still great two days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating
this wine will age beautifully.
2008 Donum Estate Estate Grown Thomas Carneros Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.34, TA 0.75, 101 cases, $100. This special release is
named for Thomas Ferguson, the owner of Ferguson Block, a 1974
planting of Martini selection Pinot Noir. In 2008, Mr. Ferguson
celebrated his 100th birthday. 100% de-stemmed, 4-day cold soak,
native primary fermentation, 3 manipulations daily including punch
downs and pump overs. A selection of best barrels. Aged 16 months in 100%
1-year-old Billon French oak barrels.
The lightest in color of the 2008 Donum
wines reviewed here. This wine is currently rustic and rugged, but what
potential. Aromas of black cherry, wood smoke, old leather and oak. Intense
and mouth coating fruit that really grabs your attention upon entry. Dark
berries and cherries are featured that are fresh, vivid, soil-infused, tarry and smoky. The bright acidity leads
you to take another sip and the big finish has Grand Cru persistence. A unique expression of terroir and clonal
selection that needs a few years to find its footing, but will last many years beyond this.
Gros Ventre Cellars
A new producer of small lot Pinot Noir from cool climate vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The
inaugural releases were from the 2009 vintage totaling 300 cases. The winery is off to a smart beginning.
Chris and Sarah Pittenger launched the idea of a winery on the banks of Gros Ventre River near Jackson Hole
where they met in 2003. Gros Ventre (grd;’ vänt’)translates in French to “Big Belly,” and the name for the new
winery not only refers to this romantic meeting, but to Sarah’s pregnant belly during the 2009 vintage and their
son, John Henry, who was born the same year. Chris Pittenger worked at noted wine retailer, Wally’s in Los
Angeles, later becoming a sommelier, and finally developing his winemaking skills at Biale, Torbreck, Williams
Selyem and Marcassin. The six vintages spent at these wineries gave him a solid background for working with
Pinot Noir. Gros Ventre wines are available through a mailing list and the winery’s online store at
2009 Gros Ventre Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 50 cases, $44. From a 3-acre vineyard in the heart of
Sebastopol. This wine is a blend of the 7 Pinot Noir clones on the site:
Calera, Swan, 113, 115, 459, 667 and 777. The clones were co-fermented
and aged together on their lees. Unfined and unfiltered.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark red berries and black
cherries with a hint of baking spices, oak and lavender. Even with decanting
the wine is a bit closed, but opens some in the glass over time. Crisp and
vivid core of Bing cherry and strawberry fruit with a swirl of cola and oak.
Medium weighted with nice balance and finesse, and offering a lengthy finish.
Drank beautifully two days later from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle. No hurry on this one. Very good.
2009 Gros Ventre Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 151 cases, $44. A combination of Pommard 5 (one-third)
and 2A (two-thirds) clones from this steeply sloped vineyard
overlooking the Anderson Valley. Unfined and unfiltered.
dark garnet color in the glass. Brooding black fruits with a hint of
sweet oak on the nose which opens slowly in the glass. Delicious core
of perfectly ripe and well-bred black and purple Pinot fruits. A little savory,
spicy and earthy. Ideal weight, balance and flavor intensity with a generous
finish marked by brisk acidity. A complete wine that shows breeding. Decant
if you open a bottle now, but patience will bring further rewards.
2009 Gros Ventre First Born Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 101
cases, $50. A flagship cuveé representing the best lots of a vintage. This
bottling is dominated by fruit sourced from an unnamed vineyard along the true
Dark and densely colored in the glass. The nose leaps out
from the glass with of scents of spiced black cherries, raspberries, plums and
faint herbal oak. Rich and intense, saturating the palate with plush sweet fruits
that find every nook and cranny in the mouth. Lively natural acidity maintains
the wine’s vitality and supple tannins make for smooth, seductive drinking. This
wine is a little too busty for me but it will find many fans. Decanting is
obligatory. Very good.
Kent Rasmussen Winery
Kent Rasmussen is not a highly visible Pinot Noir winemaker but he is highly respected among those in the
know when it comes to Carneros Pinot Noir. A University of California Davis graduate, he developed his
winemaking skills at Robert Mondavi Winery, Domaine Chandon, Stellenbosch in South Africa, and Saltram’s
Wine Estate in Australia. In 1979, he planted 6 acres of Pinot Noir in Carneros, at a time when there were few
vineyards in the region. He gradually increased his plantings and gained early recognition with Pinot Noir from
his estate vineyard beginning in 1986. Winemaking, which began modestly in a tractor shed barrel room on
Cuttings Wharf Road in Napa Carneros, is currently performed in St. Helena. Kent Rasmussen Winery may be
the only continuous producer of Napa Carneros Pinot Noir from a single vineyard and by a single vintner for
over 25 years. Rasmussen also has a Pinot Noir clone named after him. Rasmussen produces several
varietals along with Pinot Noir and a sister label, Ramsey, started in 1989 using his wife’s maiden name, offers
value priced wines aimed for the restaurant and retail market. A third label, Esoterica, is built around Petite
Sirah. Grapes are either estate grown or under long-term contract with established growers. Tours and tasting
are available by appointment at the winery on the Silverado Trail in St. Helena (707-963-5667). I am
embarrassed that I have not sampled more of Rasmussen’s “Purely Poetic” Pinot Noirs as the one reviewed
below was outstanding.
2007 Kent Rasmussen Winery Carneros Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., pH
3.60, TA 0.55, $40. Grapes for this vintage were picked at night for the
first time and at a much lower sugar level than recent vintages. Kent
feels that the 2007 “is one of the most complex and long lived Pinot
Noirs that I have ever made.” Aged in 40% new and 6-% once-used
Hungarian oak barrels.
Moderate light in color with a reddish tone in
the glass. Aromas of cherry cobbler and sassafras. Delicious and elegant
with a bright core of black cherry fruit accented with a kiss of toasty oak and
mocha. Ephemeral in style with supple tannins, impeccable balance, and
oozing pinotosity. This is a wine that impresses with style and doesn’t knock
you over with fruit. Even better the next day from a previously opened and recorked
bottle. A wine winemakers dream of making.
La Rochelle Winery
Livermore, California, would not be high on any one’s Pinot Noir list, but La Rochelle Winery is Livermore’s
best kept Pinot secret, specializing in 4,000 cases of small lots of Pinot Noir from leased vineyards. Founder
Steven Kent Mirassou acquired the label from the Mirassou family in 2005 and moved the base of operations
to Livermore. The winemaker, Tom Stutz, who has more than 25 years of Pinot Noir winemaking experience,
crafts several Pinot Noirs sourced from multiple appellations in California and Oregon. The portfolio of wines
include whites, sparkling wines, rosés, appellation wines (Pinot Noirs from Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa
Cruz Mountains), single-vineyard wines (Pinot Noir from San Vicente Vineyard in Monterey, Sleepy Hollow
Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and a Pinot Meunier from Four Sisters Vineyards on the Sonoma
Coast) and Pinot Noir Program exclusives available to wine club members only. A tasting room is open each
afternoon in the Livermore Valley and the wines are also sold through the winery’s online store at
2010 La Rochelle Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir Rosé
13.2% alc., 157 cases, $22, screw cap. Released April 16,
2011. Pommard and Mariafeld clones.
Pretty pinkish coral
color in the glass. Very pleasing aromas of blood oranges,
bananas, strawberries and pink lemonade. Crisp and tangy
on the palate with a tasty array of red berry, guava, melon
and orange flavors. I really liked this wine, put the partially emptied bottle in
the refrigerator, and polished it off over the next two days. I don’t often get
excited by a rosé, but this one caught my eye. I am buying some of this
perfect summer afternoon drink for myself.
2009 La Rochelle Four Sisters Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Meunier
14.0% alc., 70 cases, $38. Released May 1, 2011.
Winemaker Tom Stutz.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass.
Really attractive nose offering an array of aromas including black
cherries, wild dark berries and a hint of vanilla, holding up nicely over
time in the glass. Very tasty core of dark red cherries and berries with
accents of spice, oak and vanillin. Medium-weighted with plenty of finesse,
restrained tannins and good acidity, finishing light, clean and smooth. A bit off
the beaten track and for that reason very enticing.
2008 La Rochelle La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
15.3% alc., 171 cases, $48.
January 22, 2011. Clones 115, 667 and 828. Moderately deep reddish-purple hue in the glass. Brooding
aromas of black cherries, black tea, oak and Asian 5-spice. Rich and intense core of darker stone fruits and
berries with slight underlying oak flavor. Plenty of fruit but lacks nuance and character. Decent.
Rick Longoria is a veteran winemaker in Santa Barbara County who first appeared in the region in 1976 after
spending two years at Buena Vista Winery in Carneros where he developed a friendship with Andre
Tchelistcheff. Currently, he crafts 3,500 cases of several varietals from his winery in Lompoc under the
Longoria label which dates to 1982. He sources grapes from his 8-acre estate Fe Ciega Vineyard, Rancho
Santa Rosa Vineyard, Bien Nacido Vineyard and the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. A tasting room is open
daily in Los Olivos. Wines are available for purchase online at www.longoria.com.
I recently sampled the first of the 2009 Longoria Pinot Noirs. The vintage offered ideal weather and balanced
crop levels. The wines are nicely crafted in a sweetly fruited style with the Rancho Santa Rosa bottling
showing the most restraint and charm.
2009 Longoria Lovely Rita Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.52,
TA 0.55, 355 cases, $32. A blend of clones 115, 667 and Pommard from the
Fe Ciega Vineyard. Since 667 is the most intense and tannic clone, it was
fermented in a Ganimedes tank from Italy that uses carbon dioxide created by
the fermentation to gently pump over the juice without any breaking of the
skins or seeds resulting in softer tannins. The tank also allows peak
temperature to be controlled enhancing the aromatics. Aged 11 months in
25% new French oak barrels and aged 6 months in bottle before release.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Appealing perfume of dark berries
and plums with a hint of pine, vanillin and spice. Moderately rich in intensity
with pleasing array of sweet dark fruits and flavors of mushu plum sauce and slight red licorice and pine pitch.
Smooth on the palate with reserved tannins. Highly drinkable now. Good (+).
2009 Longoria Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., pH 3.58, TA 0.58, 150
cases, $45. 100% de-stemmed, 4-day cold soak, inoculated fermentation, 18 days on skins, aged 10 months
in 30% new French oak barrels. Lightly fine and filtered.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass.
Aromas of brier, sage, coffee and mocha. Long in the mouth with tasteful darker berries and cherries that are
dominated by oak-driven flavors including coffee and mocha. Smoothly textured with moderate ripe fruit
tannins. A little fruitier the following day but still sporting prominent coffee flavor from a previously opened and
re-corked bottle. Oak should integrate with cellaring, but at this time I can only rate the wine as Decent.
2009 Longoria Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard Pinot Noir
13.4% alc., pH
3.55, TA 0.58, 110 cases, $45. Clone 667. 3-day cold soak, inoculated
fermentation, 12% whole clusters in one bin, aged in 30% new French oak
barrels. Fined and filtered.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Fruity
nose featuring dark red berries and cherries and a hint of oak. Delicious core
of discreetly rich strawberry, black raspberry and black cherry fruits with a
subtle hint of citrus peel in the background. The most seamless, feminine and
satiny wine of the 2009s tasted. Even better the next day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle. Ready for current drinking. Very good.
Sonoma Coast Vineyards
John and Barbara Drady founded this label with the 2002 vintage concentrating on wines sourced from the
extreme or true Sonoma Coast. The winemaker is veteran Anthony Austin who has experienced 35 vintages in
California. A University of California Davis graduate, Austin studied under the great Andre Tchelistcheff. He
help found and directed the first crush at Firestone Winery in 1976, the first modern-day commercial winery in
the Santa Barbara region. After leaving Firestone in 1981 to establish his own label, Austin Cellars, he crafted
two legendary Pinot Noirs in 1982 from Sierra Madre Vineyard and Bien Nacido Vineyard.
Sonoma Coast Vineyards was sold in 2007 to Vintage Wine Estates, with John Drady staying on as a
managing partner and Austin continuing as winemaker. The label was changed, but extreme Sonoma Coast
vineyard sources remained intact. The emphasis is on vineyard-designated wines with several single vineyard
Pinot Noirs, a Blanc de Noir, two single vineyard Chardonnays, a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, a single
vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, and a single vineyard Syrah. The wines are available through the website store at
www.sonomacoastvineyards.com. Tasting is offered at Vintage Wine Estates Tasting Room in downtown
The Sonoma Coast Vineyards Pinot Noirs are vinified in an extracted style using long cold soaks and generous
new oak treatment.
2007 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Balistreri Family Vineyard Freestone View Block Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., pH 3.50, 342 cases,
$75. Released June 2010. Clones 114, 115, 667, 777 and 828. 20% whole
cluster, extended 10-day cold soak, hand punch downs, inoculated to finish
fermentation, aged 18 months in 70% new 36 month air-dried Sirugue French
oak barrels. Lightly fined and filtered.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the
glass. With coaxing, red and black fruit aromas emerge set off by scents of
forest floor and oak. Nicely composed with well-mannered tannins embracing
a tasty medium-weight core of black cherries and black raspberries with an
earthy undertone and a kiss of mocha, finishing with a slight grip of citrus on
the big finish. A smooth mouth feel completes the experience. An interesting
wine that changes in the glass over time. Decanting suggested if you open a bottle now. Very good.
2008 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Petersen Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.60, 185
cases, $50. Released Ocrtober 2010. This vineyard was planted in 1999 and is located in the far southwestern
corner of Sebastopol. Soil type is Goldridge sandy loam. 20-25% whole cluster. Clones 115, 667 and 777. 10-
day cold soak, hand punch downs, inoculated to complete fermentation. Aged 17 months in 65% new 36
month air-dried Sirugue French oak barrels. Lightly fined and filtered.
Lovely aromas of red and black berries,
spice, rose petals and moss. Flavors of plum, blueberry and blackberry offered in an elegant style with supple
tannins and admirable persistence on the stylish finish. Impeccable balance suggests age ability. Very good.
2008 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Balistreri Vineyard Bodega Ridge Block Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.62, 117 cases, $50. Inaugural release of this wine. Sourced from the western parcel of the
Balistreri Vineyard located in Freestone overlooking the town of Bodega. Soil type is Goldridge. Clones 114,
777 and 828. 20%-25% whole cluster. 10-day cold soak, hand punch downs, inoculated to finish fermentation.
Aged 18 months in 65% 36 months air-dried Sirugue French oak barrels. Lightly fined and filtered.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of plum sauce, exotic spices, black currants, dark chocolate and
seasoned oak. Intense core of sweet black cherry cola flavor persisting on the fruit-driven finish which leaves a
subtle hint of tar in its wake. Smooth in texture, with good tannic support. A fruit lovers wine that is similar to
the 2007 Balistreri Family Vineyard bottling but veers to riper flavors. Good.
2007 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sea Fog Cuveé Sonoma Coast Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Wine
12.8% alc., pH 3.08, Residual sugar 1.8 g/L, 480
cases, $25. Sourced from several vineyards adjacent the coast enveloped in
fog daily resulting in a high acid profile ideal for producing méthode
champenoise sparkling wine. 92% Pinot Noir, 8% Chardonnay. Aged sur lees
in bottle for 32 months. Disgorged June 2010.
Delicate light apricot color.
Fine bead, pleasing aromas of blood oranges, red berries and yeast.
Moderately rich flavored featuring layered notes of citrus, red berries, pear,
cherry skins and yeast with a mineral underpinning. Bright, crisp and
refreshing. Very good.
Wren Hop Vineyards
A new family winery owned by partners James McDonough and his father James McDonough, Sr., who are
both wine geeks. James notes, “Some families play Monopoly, this family would rather debate rootstock and
French barrel selection.” The winemaker is former syndicated wine columnist Russell Bevan (Bevan Cellars,
Showket Vineyards, Drystack Cellars, Harbison Wines), the viticulturist is Greg Bjornstad, and the estate
vineyard management is under the direction of Glenn Alexander of Bacchus Vineyard Management.
McDonough has assembled an impressive team and his website and wine labels are very professional and
provocative. As the website points out, the wren, not the eagle was the King of birds in ancient times. Each of
the wines tells of a mythic tale of the wren. The inaugural wines come from the 2009 vintage. The wines are
sold through a mailing list and an online store at www.wrenhop.com. Besides the wines reviewed below, there
is a 2009 Estate Omens & Prophecy Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($60). A winery to watch. Listen to Russell
Bevan on Grape Radio:http://www.graperadio.com/archives/2008/07/14/talking-wine-with-russell-bevans/ .
2009 Wren Hop Vineyards Siren’s Lure Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 212 cases, $54.
Moderate reddish-purple color and slight
haze in the glass. Complex aromatic profile offering bright scents of
dark red berries and cherries, dusty road, seasoned oak, spice and cut
flowers. Moderately rich core of dark red cherries and raspberries with
a hint of mocha, vanillin, spice and savory dried herbs. Interesting,
layered and seamless. Holds up beautifully in the glass over an hour’s time.
Still great the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very
2009 Wren Hop Vineyards Shipwreck Sailor Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.5% alc., 202 cases, $42.
Straw color with slight haze in the glass. Shy white stone fruits and buttered brioche on the nose. Fairly
intense flavors of white peaches, melon, citrus and oak, all combined in a creamy, rich style that lingers on the
flamboyant finish. Good (+).