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Pinots to Covet

Belle Glos

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 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 barrels. · 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 fruit. Good.

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 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

13.6% 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 1986. · 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.

2008 Bonneau Catherine’s Vineyard Los Carneros Chardonnay

14.5% alc., 900 cases, $30. Clone 4. Aged 10 months in 55% new French oak barrels, 100% MLF. · Rich and spicy with aromas of citrus and hay and flavors of lemon curd and Asian pear with notable caramel from oak. 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. · Very dark 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.

Brogan Cellars

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

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

14.3% alc., $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. · Nice 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. · Dark reddish-purple 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. · Moderate reddish-purple 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,, 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 4-5 years.

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 oak barrels. · 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 drinking. Good.

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 barrels. · 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

14.5%, 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.

Copain Wines

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 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. · Moderate reddish-purple 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 wine. Good.

2009 Copain “Les Voisons” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., $40. · Moderate reddish-purple 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 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 start.

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

14.4% 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. · Moderately dark 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. · Moderately 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 Sonoma Coast. · 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. · Released 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

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 Tasting is offered at Vintage Wine Estates Tasting Room in downtown Healdsburg.

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. · Moderate 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 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: .

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 impressive debut.

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 (+).

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