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Arista Winery: Now A Member of the Westside Road Elite

The Westside Road Pinot Noir blue bloods, including Rochioli Vineyards & Winery, Williams Selyem and Gary Farrell Winery, have been joined in recent years by upstarts, Arista Winery, Twomey and Thomas George Estates, who are producing wines that now rival those of the established elite. The 2009 Pinot Noirs crafted at Arista Winery are clearly in the upper echelon of this prestigious group.

Al (an orthodontist) and Janis Copeland McWilliams along with Al’s brother-in-law, John Copeland, purchased a family vineyard estate in 1996 called Pine Mountain Vineyards in Cloverdale. Over time, the McWilliams family developed an interest in producing their own wine. In 2004, Al and Janis acquired 36 acres of prime viticultural land on Westside Road in Healdsburg with the idea of producing their own wine. The Russian River Valley became the home of Arista Winery and its estate Pinot Noir vineyards, as well as a home for the McWilliams family. The property is adjacent the Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard and the Baker Ridge Vineyard of Thomas George Estates.

Arista originally focused on producing Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, but their reach has now extended to sourcing fruit from the Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, Mendocino Ridge and Santa Cruz Mountains appellations. Ten acres of Pinot Noir are planted on the estate and the first wines from here are just now being previewed. Arista’s vineyard manager, Ulises Valdez, assisted in the planting and farming of the estate vineyard and directs the farming of several of Arista’s non-estate sites.

Arista is a family affair with son Mark managing the day to day operations at the winery as well as assisting with the winemaking duties. Another son, Ben oversees the mailing list and works with special events and hospitality. The winery Maltese dog, Lucy, has been published in several winery dog books.

Winemaker Leslie Sisneros brings a wealth of experience to Arista. She received her degree in viticulture from University of California Davis and subsequently worked at Rodney Strong, Chateau St. Jean, Haywood and John Culbertson Wines. She joined Kendall Jackson Winery in 1993 when Vinwood was acquired and rose to Assistant Winemaker in charge of operations and Flavor Winemaker for Pinot Noir. At Kendall Jackson she crafted four tiers of Pinot Noir varying from 48 to 120,000 cases, focusing on cool climate vineyards of the Russian River Valley, Anderson Valley, Monterey County and Santa Maria Valley.

I tasted many of the Arista 2009 fall 2011 releases at the winery with Leslie and Mark and recently had the opportunity to taste the spring and fall release 2009 wines in depth after some bottle age. The style is elegant with soft textures, delicate use of oak with new oak usage matched to the fruit, bright acidity and long finishes. The wines are inoculated at fermentation and include small amounts of whole cluster. The ultimate goal is to bring out the uniqueness and full potential of each vineyard in the many single vineyard bottlings. My tasting indicated that they have clearly accomplished that goal. The appellation wines are not to be ignored, however, for they are superb in their own right. There is impressive consistency over the entire range of 2009 Pinot Noirs offered.

Arista wines are sold primarily through a mailing list with some retail distribution of the larger production wines. Some wines are sold through the website. The best way to acquire the small production wines is to add your name to the “A List.” This allocation list is unfortunately closed at this time, but you can join the waiting list. Alisters can buy wines before the general public and are invited to special winery events. The winery also offers Zinfandel, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The tasting room is surrounded by a serene Japanese garden and is open daily from 11:00 to 5:00. Tours are available by appointment (707-473-0606). Visit the website at for more information.

2009 Arista Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.84, TA .56, 739 cases, $44. Released spring 2011. Aged in 6% new, 15% 1-year-old and 79% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely perfume of black cherries, black raspberries, spice, rose petal and stem leading to a moderately rich core of black cherry fruit with a slight oaky, earthy bent. The tannins are slippery and the wine is soft in the mouth. Doesn’t excite, but grows on you over time in the glass. Good.

2009 Arista Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.73, TA .65, 265 cases, $34. Released spring 2011. Aged in 16% new, 25& 1-year-old and 59% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately light in color in the glass. Fresh aromas of red berries and plums, forest floor and oak cask. Very easy drinking with tasty array of bright red Pinot fruits and a hint of spice and mocha. The tannins are supple, there is a lively grip of acidity, and the seamless texture delivers considerable appeal. Good (+).

2009 Arista Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.75, TA .59, 277 cases, $38. Released spring 2011. Sourced from Perli Vineyard. Aged in 40% new, 17% 1-year-old and 43% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass with a slight cloudy haze. Plenty of dark red stone fruits on the hi-tone nose with hints of summer herbs and spice. In the mouth, the lithe and seductive array of blue and dark red fruit is delicious augmented by a satiny mouth feel, supple tannins and a discreetly fruity and long lasting finish. Similar to the Perli Vineyard bottling (both wines are from this source) but lacks some of its nuance and exoticism. Very Good.

2009 Arista “Longbow” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.75, TA .53, 493 cases, $48. Released spring 2011. Aged in 41% new, 18% 1-year-old and 41% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels. · Darkly colored. A thoroughly enjoyable wine that is distinct among the Arista lineup for its richness of fruit. Aromas of blackberries and cassis, brown spice, anise and old oak cask. Moderately dense and mouth coating flavors of black plums and blackberries with complimentary underpinnings of savory herbs and oak in the background. A fruit-centric wine that retains finesse and agility and is thoroughly enjoyable for its muscular style.

2009 Aristra La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.75, TA .56, 318 cases, $52. Released spring 2011. From Keller Estates La Cruz Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. Aged in 15% new, 39% 1- year-old, and 46% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels. · Dark reddish-purple robe. Shy, but attractive perfume of darker berries, spice and oak picking up interest over time in the glass leading to flavors that reflect the nose. The wine offers a juicy, crisp mouth feel, supple tannins, and impressive persistence on the highly aromatic finish. Beautifully balanced and very charming. Very Good (+).

2009 Arista Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.82, TA .52, 106 cases, $58. Released spring 2011. Plantings date from the early 1960s with cuttings from Carl Wente in the Livermore Valley. 2 tons of old Wente Selection and 2 tons of Pommard clone Pinot Noir. Aged in 17% new, 33% 1-year-old, and 50% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Haunting aromas of cherry pie filling, damp earth and stem. As typical with this vineyard, the cherry fruit has a mild herbal, tar and tobacco riff. Soft and elegant in the mouth with fine-grain powdery tannins. A unique expression of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Good (+).

2009 Arista Woodruff Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.65, TA .57, 60 cases, $55. Released summer 2011. A one-time bottling. This vineyard is located in Corralitos, five miles inland from Monterey Bay and adjacent Windy Oaks Vineyard. Originally known as the Matteson Vineyard, it was planted in 1978 to a now forgotten selection of Pinot Noir. Peter and Barbara Woodruff acquired the vineyard in 2001 and dedicated themselves to preserving this venerable vineyard. Own-rooted. Yields are about .75 tons per acre. Aged in 33% new and 67% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely aromas of black cherries and black raspberries initially, fading a bit to reveal notes of exotic spices, stem and rose petals. The wine features layered darker fruits, particularly black cherries, that are modest in concentration with an oak influence that tends to fade over time in the glass. Nicely balanced with supple tannins and a velvety mouth feel. Doesn’t emote, but grows on you over time in the glass. Needs more time to come together. Good (+).

2009 Arista Mononi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.72, TA .55, 310 cases, $60. Released summer 2011. Located at the intersection of Olivet Lane and River Road, this 10-year-old vineyard was planted to Dijon clones 113 and 115 which perform well at this very cool site. Aged in 38% new, 23% 1-year-old and 38% 2-3-yearold French oak barrels. · Lightly colored in the glass. I couldn’t quit smelling this wine with its gorgeous aromas of black cherry pie filling. Discreetly concentrated and cherry-driven with added flavor nuances of baking spices, savory herbs and oak. Velvety smooth and elegant with welcoming restraint. A complete wine that is beautifully crafted.

2009 Arista Perli Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.75, TA .59, 177 cases, $52. Released summer 2011. This vineyard was planted in 2003 and is owned and farmed by Steve Alden. Located at 2300 feet above the maritime fog line and about 6 miles inland. A narrow diurnal swing means the grapes never fully shut down. Yields are very small. Clones 667 and 777. Aged in 25% new, 25% 1-year-old and 50% 2-3-year-old French oak barrels. · This wine is a perfect example of why there is so much buzz about this relative new appellation for Pinot Noir. Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. A plethora of dark red berry fruit dominates the nose with lesser contributions of baking spices and sandalwood. The judiciously intense blue and dark red fruit has a wild, exotic quality that sneaks up on you and demands your interest as nuances appear over time. It reminds of gazing afar at a beautiful woman in a classy dress. Once you get up close, you notice the beading, embroidery and touch of lace. A very distinctive hi-collared Pinot Noir.

2009 Arista Ferrington Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.56, TA .62, 213 cases, $56. Released summer 2011. Tucked away off of Highway 128 in Boonville, this 25-acre site is planted to multiple clones of Pinot Noir. Originally planted in the late 1960s, additional plantings occurred in 1998 and more recently. This wine is 100% Pommard clone. Aged in 44% new, 22% 1-year-old and 34% 2-3- year-old French oak barrels. · While the Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir seduces you, the Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir overwhelms you. Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely composed aromas of black raspberries and blackberries touched by oak and loam picking up interest over time in the glass. Endowed with rich tasting earthy black plum and blackberry fruit wrapped in supple tannins. The wine grabs hold of the mid palate, surrounds it and refuses to let go, before finally conceding to a Grand Cru ending that is like a three-hour movie you don't want to end. A beautiful representation of this distinguished vineyard.

2009 Arista Hawk’s View Vineyard Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

220 cases. From own-rooted vines planted in the early 1990s owned and farmed by the Kemp family. Clones 115 and 2A. · Crisp and clean with bright berry aromas and flavors, supple tannins and good integration of oak. Finishes with hitone acidity.

2009 Arista Two Birds Vineyard Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

First harvest from the estate vineyard. · Alluring aromas of Bing cherries which pick up intensity with swirling. Intense and fruit-driven with a rich core of cherry fruit, prominent cola flavor, brown spices and notable tannin. Typical of a young vine Pinot.

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