2009 California Praiseworthy Pinots
Anthill Farms Winery
A trio of winemakers who had worked together as cellar hands at Williams Selyem launched their own winery
with three Pinot Noir releases in 2004. Anthony Filiberti grew up in Sonoma County and was lured to wine at
an early age, perfecting his craft at Bergstrom Winery in Oregon, Hafner Vineyards in the Alexander Valley, and
Williams Selyem. David Low grew up in Kansas but became hooked on wine while attending University of
California at Berkeley. A short stint as a computer programmer was followed by a change of heart and he later
worked at both Williams Selyem and Papapietro Perry where he is also an assistant winemaker. Webster
Marquez grew up on the East Coast and attended school in Virginia. He worked as an assistant winemaker at
Jefferson Vineyards before moving to Sonoma County where he joined Williams Selyem. He was the previous
winemaker at C. Donatiello Winery in Healdsburg (now closed). The emphasis at Anthill Farms is on the
vineyards and the name of the winery reflects the multiple small individual vineyards that form the owners’ “link
between place and product.” The trio of winemakers prefer to bring notoriety to their winegrowers at North
Coast vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The annual production of 1.400 cases, which includes
Syrah, is quickly snapped up by an eager mailing list. Tasting is by appointment in Healdsburg. The website is
2009 Anthill Farms Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., $44. This 20-year-old vineyard sits at 1,400 to 1,600 feet
above Boonville and is farmed by Anthony Filiberti and the Knez family
who own the property. Clones are Pommard and Wädenswil.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Deeply aromatic with
scents of dark cherries, pipe smoke, spice and seasoned oak. Crisp and
bright on the palate with vivid flavors of dark red cherries, raspberries and
cranberries with subtle hints of spice and smoke. Pillowy tannins create a very
smooth mouth feel. Terrific the next day from a previously opened and re-corked
2009 Anthill Farms Comptche Ridge Vineyard Mendocino County Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $44. This 3-acre vineyard is situated north of Navarro
above the town of Comptche and just inland from the northern
Mendocino Coast. It is dry-farmed by the Weir family. Planted
exclusively to Swan clone, yields are 1 ton per acre.
purple-red color in the glass. This wine is very upfront after opening.
Deep, dark and mysterious nose offering aromas of blackberries, black plums,
underbrush and subtle oak. Impressive fruit intensity on the attack and on the
finish which persists for what seems like a minute. Rugged and masculine in
character with ripe, firm tannins yet possessed with a modicum of finesse.
Displays an earth and mineral laden undertone that speaks to the terroir of this region. Spectacular the next
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
Drew Family Cellars
This winery has been featured on multiple occasions in the PinotFile because the winemaking is so
consistently superb that I have never had a disappointing wine from owner and winemaker Jason Drew. In
2000, Jason founded the Drew label with his wife Molly while he as an associate winemaker at Babcock
Vineyards & Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. In 2002, he left Babcock to concentrate on his own label, and two
years later purchased a 26-acre ridge top property overlooking the Anderson Valley in the Mendocino Ridge
appellation. A winery and home were built on the property and vineyard planting began in 2010. Drew’s
vineyard will be one of the most westerly vineyards on the North Coast. Grapes are currently sourced from the
Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, Mendocino Ridge, and Yorkville Highlands. Vineyards sources have changed
with vineyard ownership switches over recent years. Drew wines are sold through a mailing list and retail
channels, and at the tasting room in Philo. Interested Pinot lovers should join the mailing list and the Pre-
Release Wine Club to insure access to the limited production wines (1,800 cases annually). Visit the website
2009 Drew Perli Vineyard Murder Ridge Block Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $40. From a steep
ridge top vineyard laden with volcanic rock at 2,000 feet elevation about 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A chameleon of a wine that changes in the glass over time.
Many aromas show up including Herbs de Provence, red berries and cherries, spice, almond paste and a floral
note. Medium weighted vivid flavors of dark red cherries, raspberries and plums with a savory component,
well-mannered tannins and a good cut of acidity on the bright finish. Very good (+).
2009 Drew Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir
$40. Fifth vintage of this wine. This 15-acre vineyard is situated at the
southeastern border of Anderson Valley amongst the redwoods. Planted
by owner Bill Weir to a California heirloom clone purported to be from
DRC, cuttings from Rochioli River Block, Pommard 4 and Wädenswil 2A.
I have had some marvelous wines from this vineyard through the years
and this vintage is no exception.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass.
Complex nose that unfolds slowly revealing many nuances including aromas of
dark berries and black plums, mushrooms, bramble, spice, and rose petal.
Delicious core of fresh plum compote wrapped in firm, but well-honed tannins,
attacking the mid palate with conviction, and persisting on the soft finish that shows a riff of citrus and a
perfume of plum sauce. Deft balance between richness, acidity and tannin. It is wines like this that make Pinot
Joseph Phelps Vineyards farms three distinct vineyard properties in the hamlet of Freestone, a very cool
climate region located in west Sonoma County. The Pastorale Vineyard lies adjacent the hillside Freestone
Vineyards winery and consists of 34 acres of Pinot Noir and 21.7 acres of Chardonnay. Quarter Moon
Vineyard is further west and is planted to 41 acres of Pinot Noir. Ferguson Vineyard, located just north of the
winery, contains 6 acres of Pinot Noir and is farmed under a long-term lease. Director of Winemaking is Phelps
veteran Damien Parker, the Winemaker is Theresa Heredia, and the Consulting Winemaker is noted
Burgundian Pascal Marchand. Fogdog Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the winery’s entry level
offerings, composed of a blend of grapes from the three estate vineyards. The Freestone Sonoma Coast Pinot
Noir and Chardonnay and Ovation Chardonnay are premium bottlings composed of grapes from the estate
vineyards. Vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs are produced from Quarter Moon and Pastorale vineyards and a
single vineyard Chardonnay is offered from Pastorale Vineyard. Tasting is available at the Freestone
Vineyards Guest Center at the corner of Bohemian Highway and Highway 12 Friday through Monday. The
wines are sold through the Freestone Vineyards Private Collection wine club and the winery’s online store at
www.freestonevineyards.com. There is some retail distribution of the Fogdog wines.
2009 Fogdog Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 4,600 cases,
$35. 100% estate grown that is approachable upon release. Aged 14
months in 35% new and 65% two to three-year-old French oak barrels.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Lovely perfume of baking-spiced
pie cherries. Light and crisp red cherry and red berry flavor with a
slight confected tone, complimented by a subtle savory herbal element
in the background, finishing with bright citrus-driven acidity. A lighter, soft and
elegant wine designed for upfront drinkability. The combination of lower alcohol
and refreshing acidity makes this wine a perfect dining companion. Good (+).
2009 Freestone Estate Grown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
4,660 cases, $55. From Pastorale and Quarter Moon Vineyards. Aged
15 months in 55% new and 45% two to three-year-old French oak
Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Subdued
nose initially, picking up intensity over time in the glass offering a fresh
blend of cherries and berries with a floral element in the background.
Very impressive concentration, even sappy on the mid palate, with generous and
expressive flavors of black cherries, black raspberries and Hoison sauce, lifted
by hi-tone acidity, and caressed by gentle, ripe tannins. An impressive
hedonistic style of wine with the right touch of acidity, a creamy mouth feel and
admirable balance. Good approachability now but with excellent aging potential.
2009 Freestone Pastorale Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 270 cases, $75. A special
selection from two special blocks planted to a Calera selection, one undergoing whole berry fermentation with
partial whole clusters and the other 100% whole cluster fermented in an oak open-top tank. Aged 15 months in
70% new and 30% two to three-year-old French oak barrels. Both fermentations were gently macerated.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Complex nose of black pie cherries, spice, earth and
brioche building in intensity over time in the glass. Delicious array of shy red and black fruit flavors that are
layered and polished, accompanied by notable fruit tannins, and a bright cut of acidity on the spiced fruit laden
finish. Leafy notes from stem inclusion add interest. Even better the following day from a previously opened
and re-corked bottle. Warrants cellaring. Very good.
2009 Freestone Quarter Moon Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 390 cases, $75. Two special fermentations of 100% Calera
selection fruit: one wine was whole cluster fermented in a small oak
open-top tank and punched down by hand, while the other was whole
berry fermented with 50% whole clusters added in a stainless steel tank
without macerations for the first week, followed by one or two
punchdowns per day until the desired texture was achieved.
Darkly colored in
the glass. Enchanting aromas of black plums, dark berry jam, and Moroccan
spice which come at you in waves over time in the glass. Full-bodied and
shapely, with crisp fruit flavors of plum, black cherries and raspberries, framed
by vibrant acidity, and wrapped in firm, ripe tannins. Softly textured and easy
to like now, but not as expressive as it will be a few years down the line. Even
better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with softer tannins and more intense extract.
This wine will get noticed.
2009 Freestone Estate Grown Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.1% alc., 2,250 cases, $55. A mix of the best
selections from the estate Pastorale Vineyard including some heirloom selections. 100% MLF. Aged 15
months in 55% new and 45% two and three-year-old French oak barrels.
Medium straw yellow color in the
glass. Enticing and complex on the nose, showing aromas of spicy baked pears, toasted brioche, caramel,
vanilla creme and toffee. Very tasty core of baked pears and apples with prominent notes of toast and
caramel. Smooth on the palate with hi-strung acidity on the crisp finish. Plenty of oak-driven character in this
2009 Freestone Pastorale Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.1% alc., 210 cases, $75.
From the best block planted at Pastorale Vineyard and contains two heirloom selections. 100% MLF.
Aged 16 months in 65% new and 35% two to three-year-old French oak barrels.
Light straw yellow
color and clear in the glass. More reserved and sophisticated than the Estate Grown Chardonnay with
aromas of white peaches, creme brulee, slate and parchment. Understated but alluring with layers of
interest including flavors of baked apples, lemon meringue pie, and toffee with a special underpinning
of minerals. Seamless, with great balance, finishing with a welcoming riff of citrusy acidity, urging on
the drinker to take another sip.
Bryan Harrington crafts small lots of (never larger than 225 cases) artisan Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo from his
urban winery warehouse located in the Produce District of San Francisco. Harrington wines are available for
purchase from the website at www.harringtonwine.com and retailers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Occasional winery open houses are scheduled.
2009 Harrington Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.59, TA .61,
104 cases, $40. Sourced from the Middle Reach area of northern Russian River
Valley. The vineyard is family owned, 2-acre, and planted to Pommard clone.
Aged 10 months in 25% new French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish-purple
color in the glass. Aromas of ripe Bing cherries, baking spices and smoky
oak. Deeply flavored with very ripe dark cherries and accents of cola and
mocha robed in ripe tannins and framed by a healthy acid spine. Appears to be
from a very warm Russian River Valley site. Good (+).
2009 Harrington Mendocino (Wiley Vineyard Anderson Valley) Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.59, TA 0.61, 48 cases, $40.Sourced from a vineyard planted to the Martini selection in 1968.
A 2-acre block of this old vineyard was sold to developers 15 years ago and farming ceased. In 2008, this
block was cleared of brush, pruned and an organic dry-farming program established. It is located on a stony,
west sloping benchland at an elevation of 1,000 feet. Aged 10 months in 50% new French oak barrels.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Complex perfume of red fruits, wooded forest, mushrooms, spice and
seasoned oak. Soft and smooth on the palate with a light weight array of red berries and cherries with a
savory hint of herbs. A little rustic with mild tannins and vibrant acidity. A gentle wine for current drinking.
2009 Harrington Paso Robles Nebbiolo
14.1% alc., pH 3.14, TA 0.715, 100 cases, $30. From two
Templeton Gap vineyards (Luna Matta and AJB) planted in calcareous soil and sand, much like the hillside
slopes of Italy’s Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Aged 16 months in neutral French oak barrels.
in color in the glass. Aromas of humus, underbrush and resin with delicate red fruits in the background. A
delicate core of red cherries and berries is wrapped in aggressive tannins and lemony acidity which provides a
mouth-puckering finish. Decent.
Hop Kiln Winery
Hop Kiln Winery dates to 1976, having spawned many well-known winemakers. The current owner is Vero
Westside Joint Venture. Proprietary blends, bottled under the Hop Kiln label (Thousand Flowers and Big Red)
make up a large part of Hop Kiln’s current production, but in 2004 a line of premium estate grown wines were
introduced under the HKG (Hop Kiln Grown) label including a Pinot Noir. Most of the 248-acre property was
replanted with Pinot Noir (44 acres), Chardonnay (16 acres) and Pinot Grigio (6 acres) beginning in 2009. The
winemaker is Chuck Mansfield who has a degree in enology and viticulture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and
studied advanced viticulture in Australia. The wines are sold through the winery website. The tasting room at
6050 Westside Road in Healdsburg is open daily and a second tasting in Glen Ellen is open Thursday through
Sunday. The website is www.hopkilnwinery.com.
2009 HKG Estate Bridge Selection Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.541, 450 cases, $38. Multiple clones including 114, 777, 828,
Jackson 29, Pommard 4 & 5, and Comar 538. Aged ten months in 40% new
French oak barrels. Inaugural bottling with un-racked barrels chosen for
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Bright aromas of Bing
cherries, baking spices, red licorice and oak vanillin. Medium weight flavors of
slightly confected, fresh pie cherries with hints of cola and mocha. Soft and silky
on the palate with supple tannins and welcome finesse. A harmonious wine that
is comely in character and easy to drink. Very good (+).
Stewart Johnson farms the Kendric Johnson Vineyard on leased land at the boundary of the Marin County and
Sonoma Coast appellations 8 miles west of the Pacific Coast. This 8.5-acre vineyard was planted in 2002 to
clones 37, 115, 667, 777, 828, Pommard and Martini. Yields are extremely low at this very cool site. Stewart
could well be the most educated winemaker in California. He graduated from University of California at
Berkeley, obtained a doctorate in political science from Yale, and graduated with a law degree from Hastings.
While interning at the Environmental Protection Agency, he was drawn to winegrowing and winemaking rather
than being confined to an office practicing law. With his wife, who is a Marin native, he discovered the pastoral
beauty of Marin County and ended up growing grapes there. I have tasted every vintage of Kendric Vineyards
Pinot Noir since the inaugural 2004 release and found the wines to be consistently stellar and sensibly priced.
The 2008 vintage is probably the best to date. Both vintages reviewed below are available on the winery’s
website at www.kendricvineyards.com. Some fruit from the Kendric Johnson Vineyard is sent to other premium
producers including Miller Wine Works and Sheldon (reviews below).
2007 Kendric Vineyards Marin County Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 368 cases, $34.
Moderate red color
in the glass. Scents of cherries, strawberries, spice and wine cave emerge slowly over time in the
glass. Light to medium weight core of cherries with hints of sandalwood and black olive. Smooth in
the mouth with an uplifting, mildly oak-tinged finish. Pleasant but not extraordinary. Good (+).
2008 Kendric Vineyards Marin County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH
3.41, TA 0.59, 365 cases, $35. Yield 1.75 tons per acre.
dark red color in the glass. Subdued aromas of black cherries, vanillin
and rose petals. Attention getting presence on the mid palate of dark
red berries, blueberries, herbs and sassafras. A polished, engaging
wine with supple tannins and bright acidity on the finish. Easy to drink
now, but impeccable balance portends many years of good drinking ahead.
Sheldon Wines is a partnership between Dylan Sheldon and Tobe Weatherly. The two met at the Cepage Wine
Bar in Carmel, California, which Sheldon started in 2000 after working harvest in Western Australia. Weatherly
was a geologist who frequented the wine bar. They were engaged five weeks after their first kiss, sold all their
belongings, and traveled the world together making wine. When they returned to the United States, they
leased an empty winery in Sebastopol and vinified their first 420 cases of Sheldon wine in 2003. The wines
reviewed here are very uneven in quality. The Sheldon Wines tasting room is located in Santa Rosa’s Urban
Winery Village (open Friday 4:00 to 7:00 and Saturday and Sunday 2:00 to 6:00 and by appointment). The
portfolio includes a Rhone white blend, Petite Sirah, and Graciano. The wines are sold on the website
(www.sheldonwines.com) with limited retail distribution.
2006 Sheldon Kendric Vineyard Marin County Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH 3.67, TA 0.70, 180 cases, $42,
sold out. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard. About 20% whole clusters, cool fermentation, gently pressed to
barrel, bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Secondary characters
dominant the bouquet showing aromas of humus, moss, cigar box and old wood. Flavors of black cherries,
plum, spice and stem are framed by vivid acidity and prominent dry tannins. Tastes like a 10-year-old Pinot.
2007 Sheldon Marin County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.59,
TA 0.52, 145 cases, $28. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard. 20%
whole clusters, cool fermentation to retain aromatics, pressed
to 20% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Glorious nose with
engaging aromas of dusty cherries and berries, candied apple,
earth and subtle oak. Delicious flavors of black cherries, black raspberries and
spice finishing with a boatload of cherry flavor. Well-mannered fine grain
tannins and refined acidity make for a cozy wine that is drinking perfectly now.
Delivers plenty of pleasure while still remaining light on its feet.
2010 Sheldon Roma’s Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.4% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.60, 125 cases, $45.
From a vineyard situated at 1,800 feet elevation at the deep end of the Anderson Valley. Pommard clone. One
lot cold soaked, crushed and fermented in small, open-top fermenters without sulfur addition and the second lot
was fermented whole cluster. Aged in two and three-year-old French oak barrels.
color in the glass. Very floral nose featuring violets and dried rose petals. Floral-tinged redder fruits with a mild
confected tone in a relatively light weight style. The delicate fruit is overwhelmed by aggressive dry tannins
and hi-pitched lemony acidity on the finish. Bland and out of balance. Unsatisfactory.
Pali Wine Co.
Founded in 2005 by Tim Perr, Scott Knight and a group of investors, the winery is named for the Los Angeles
suburb of Pacific Palisades where the principals live and work. Pali produces several single-vineyard Pinot
Noirs from top notch vineyards in California and Oregon, a line of value-priced appellation blends of Pinot Noir
and Chardonnay named for different neighborhoods in the Pacific Palisades, and a group of very inexpensive
wines bottled under the Tower 15 label. At one point, the winery produced as many as ten single-vineyard
Pinot Noirs, but this has been reduced in 2009 to two (and a Chardonnay from Shea Vineyard in Oregon) as
the winery has shifted its emphasis to more affordable, earlier drinking wines. A modern winery was complete
in Lompoc in 2007 and tasting is available there Fridays and Saturdays and other days by appointment
(www.paliwineco.com. The wines are all bottled under screw top. The 2005 to 2007 vintages were vinified by
Brian Loring. Aaron Walker is the current winemaker with Kenneth Juhasz (Auteur, Donum Estate, Dunstan) acting as
the consulting winemaker.
2009 Pali Wine Co. Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
alc., 110 cases, $48, screw cap. Dijon 667, 777, 115 and Pommard 4 clones.
Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak barrels.
robe. Deep aromas of very ripe, dark fruits with hints of oak-driven spice and
vanillin. Intensely flavored with a big-boned core of very ripe blackberry, black
raspberry and black current fruit framed by well-proportioned tannins which are
unusually well-mannered for this vineyard. Soft and plush in the mouth with
well-integrated oak and admirable persistence on the back end. Generous and
fruity rather than classy or complex. Good (+).
2009 Pali Wine Co. Cargasacchi Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., $48, screw cap. Dijon 115
clone. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak barrels.
Medium red-purple color in the glass. The nose is
primarily savory with aromas of humus, underbrush, oak spice and flowers. Rustic and earthy, with a mediumbodied
core of dark raspberry and plum fruit that lingers on the relatively long finish which displays slightly
cooked fruit and a floral tone. Still sporting notable ripe tannins that need time to fully integrate. Good (+).
Proprietor Andrew Mariani acquired 256 acres in 2007 three miles east of the Sonoma Town Square in
Carneros. The property has a long and colorful history dating to 1858 when Emil Dresel and his brother Julius
established vineyards on the site. They may have planted the first Riesling and Silvaner vines in the United
States. There are reports of clandestine Prohibition era activities on the property and most recently, the land
was home to turkeys. With partners Kristof Anderson and Andrew Avellar, the trio is revitalizing the property
and growing 35 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sylvaner. The first vines were established in
2008. Part of the large property is being designated as a “Forever Wild” Conservation Easement, which is
protected for perpetuity under the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District of Sonoma County. The
current wines are crafted from purchased grapes from Carneros and a leased vineyard property in Napa. A
winery is planned to preserve the turkey shed imprint and honor the history of the property. Membership in the
Scribe Viticultural Society is worth considering not only for the wine but to gain VIP access to events at the
Scribe Estate. Mariani has a group of San Francisco Bay area chefs as pals and they often show up at the
estate holding forth at an outdoor kitchen and wood-fired oven. Tasting is by appointment (707-939-1858).
Visit the informative website to sign up to receive the winery’s newsletter and to join the Scribe Viticultural
2010 Scribe Carneros Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., 350 cases, $42. Indigenous
fermentation, aged 5 months in neutral French oak and bottled unfiltered.
Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Effusive nose offering scents of Bing
cherries, ripe raspberries, musk, cola and vanillin. A festival of cherry and dark
red berry flavors with a slight exotic and confected bent. Plush on the palate
with supple tannins and a hint of smoky oak in the background. A cozy wine that
is nicely balanced and user friendly. Very good.
Winemaker Scott Rich crafts age worthy Pinot Noir from challenging and expressive sites. Along with his
spouse, Marta, who is also the National Sales Manager for Calera Wine Company, Scott started his small label
in 1993. Trained under Tone Soter at Etude in Carneros, Rich crafts small lots (typically 200 to 300 cases) of
terroir-driven Pinot Noir at his small warehouse winery in the town of Sonoma. Although I admire the wines,
you do not have to trust me: check out the many testimonials on the website at www.talismanwine.com. The
wines are sold primarily through a mailing list. Tasting is by appointment (707-258-5722).
2008 Talisman Sonoma County Cuvée Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.62, 161 cases, $32. A multi-vineyard
blend selected from single-vineyard lots. Barrels of both 2007 and 2008 vintages went into this blend.
Dijon 115, 777, Pommard and Swan. Aged 20 months in French oak barrels.
Medium reddish-purple color in
the glass. Very reserved aromatics offering hints of dark cherry compote and herbs. Earth-kissed flavors of
black cherries and black raspberries clothed in mild ripe grape tannins and offering a refreshing cut of acidity
on the finish. Still seems tight and I would decant if you open now. Soft in the mouth and easy to drink. Good.
2008 Talisman Gunsalus Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.52, 296 cases, $40. Pamela and Glen
Gunsalus farm their vineyard located in the Green Valley of Russian
River Valley. Dijon 114, 115, 667 and 777. 25% whole clusters, native
fermentation. Aged 20 months in 75% new French oak barrels.
Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely perfume of
fresh pie cherries, spice and herbs. Amazing depth of cherry and red
raspberry flavor, accented with notes of sassafras and baking spices. Long
and creamy on the palate, finishing with a burst of sweet cherry fruit flavor that
sails along. The flavors trump the aromas now, but further bottle aging should
remedy that. Flat out beautiful and a worthy followup to the spectacular 2007
bottling from this vineyard.
2008 Talisman Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Los Carneros Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.75, TA 0.59, 184
cases, $45. Highest elevation vineyard in Los Carneros . An extreme, cool site exposed to the wind from San
Pablo Bay. Red pebbly clay loam soils. Swan, Pommard, Dijon 115 and 777. Aged 20 months in 86% new
French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. A very divisive wine because of its feral and
savory components. Aromas of wild strawberries, black cherries, spice and subtle ash. Silky on the palate
with discreetly concentrated flavors of red cherries and berries with a hint of spice and truffle. Oak-driven
smoke and tar are evident. Considerably better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle with brighter and fruitier aromatics and less oak-driven attributes. Good (+) but may warrant a higher
recommendation in a few years as the high percentage of new oak becomes better integrated into the wine.
Thomas George Estates
This winery has made remarkable strides in the past four years. The former Davis Bynum Winery and estate
vineyards were acquired by the Baker family of Toronto, Canada in 2007. Jeremy Baker has directed the
renovation of the winery, the construction of a crush pad, a new tasting room, replanting of estate vineyards
including the estate Baker Ridge Vineyard adjacent the winery, and the construction of 8,000 square feet of
barrel aging caves (the only caves on Westside Road). The Bakers purchased the Starr Ridge Vineyard on
Windsor Road and the Cresta Ridge Vineyard in the Green Valley appellation, both originally planted and
farmed by Gary Farrell and both premium sources of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, expanding their Russian
River Valley estate program to 63.5 acres. The vineyard manager is noted Sonoma County viticulturist, Ulises
Valdez, who works closely with renowned vineyard consultant Bob Gallagher of Crop Care Associates.
Winemaker Chris Russi, like Jeremy, is young and energetic and the wines he has crafted have made huge
strides since the new winery was completed in time for the 2008 vintage. Multiple varietals are offered from top
vineyard sources in Sonoma County to compliment the winery’s focus on site-specific Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay estate wines. The house style emphasizes lower alcohols, excellent acidity and the modest use of
new oak. I am impressed by the progress made with each recent vintage and the consistent high quality across
the winery’s whole range of Pinot Noirs, white wines and sparkling wine in 2009. The winery’s beautiful setting
off Westside Road is the site of many events including weddings. The tasting room is well appointed and open
daily. The wines are made available on the informative website at www.thomasgeorgeestates.com.
Guesthouses on the property are available for rent to complete the full visitor experience.
2009 Thomas George Estates Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.6% alc., pH 3.41, TA 0.60, 740 cases,
$34. A blend from Cresta Ridge and Starr Ridge vineyards (78%) and Floodgate Vineyard (22%). Whole
cluster pressed and racked to 90% French oak barrels (20% new) and 10% to stainless steel drums. MLF was
inhibited at 30%. The lees were stirred for the first four months, then allowed to settle.
Light straw color and
clear in the glass. Aromas of lemon curd, biscuit, cut grass, and lees. Bright flavors of baked pear, lemon peel,
and marzipan. A solid wine that will work nicely as an aperitif or a companion at the dinner table. Good (+).
2009 Thomas George Estates Starr Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.6% alc., pH 3.38, TA 0.62, 345 cases, $38. A blend of clones
95 and 96. Fermented in 100% French oak barrels (20% new) with lees stirring
for four months. MLF inhibited at 20%.
Light straw yellow color in the glass.
The nose is clean and pure, with a perfume of baked apple pie, crushed wet
stones and a hint of caramelized oak. Refined and smooth on the palate, with a
flavor core of pears, baking spice, cocoa powder, roasted almonds and a touch
of grapefruit peel on the finish. A refined, sophisticated offering. Very good.
2009 Thomas George Estates Windsor Oaks Vineyard Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc
13.8% alc., pH 3.30, TA 0.68, 465 cases, $25. A warm site in the eastern portion of the Russian River
Valley. Whole cluster pressed, fermented cold for three weeks, racked off the lees and aged in
stainless steel until bottled. No MLF.
Light yellow color in the glass. Aromas of grilled peaches, lemon
custard, and new mowed hay. Very engaging on the palate with flavors of apple, white peach, citrus,
gooseberry and vanillin. Slightly creamy with faint tannins and a dry finish sporting a lively cut of
acidity. Very good.
2009 Thomas George Estates Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Blanc
pH 3.2, TA 0.63, 190 cases, $27. Hand harvested and whole cluster presserd to tank, fermented cold
for 17 days. Racked off the lees and aged in stainless steel until bottled. No MLF.
Straw yellow color
in the glass. I enjoyed this wine for its restraint and charm. It offers an array of aromas and flavors
including baked apple, pear, honey, and hazelnuts. A tiny bit of tannin gives the wine traction and the
finish is crisp and refreshing. Good (+).
2009 Thomas George Estates Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.84, TA
0.587, 1,280 cases, $40. A blend from the three estate vineyards featuring clones 777, Pommard, 114
and 115. 100% de-stemmed, 16 day fermentation with daily punch downs, tanks drained and skins
pressed via a basket press, aged on the lees for 11 months in 31% new French oak barrels.
deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Glorious aromas of Bing cherries, black raspberries, spice and
complimentary toasty oak make you want to hug the glass. Medium weight flavors of black cherry and
cola with a touch of clove offer plenty of intensity, yet the wine remains light on its feet. Nicely balanced with
impressive length on the finish. The epitome of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
2009 Thomas George Estates Baker Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.60, 186 cases, $60. From 8
acres of older block planted over 20 years ago. Four clones on three
different exposure and soil sites. 100% de-stemmed, monthly batonage
for first six months. Aged 11 months in 37% new French oak barrels.
Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Subdued but pleasing
aromas and flavors of dark red cherries and berries, nicely spiced and
highlighted with subtle toasty oak. Not as extracted as the Russian River Valley
blend, but more seductive with subtle layers of flavor slowly revealing
themselves over time in the glass. Impressive finishing strength and length.
Much better later in the day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle and still great two days later.
Decant if you pull the cork now. A feast.
Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards
Many consumers associate Wild Horse with the ubiquitous, entry level and reasonable priced Central Coast
Pinot Noir seen on practically every supermarket wine department shelf. There is, however, more Wild Horse
wines to explore that are worthy of a serious pinotphile’s interest. Wild Horse Winery has been part of the
Central Coast wine landscape for over 30 years, having been originally founded by Central Coast winemaker
icon, Kenneth Volk, in 1981. In 2003, the winery was sold to Peak Wines International and then sold to
Constellation Brands. Currently, Wild Horse sources grapes from over fifty vineyards throughout California’s
Central Coast. There are three levels of Wild Horse Pinot Noir: Wild Horse Wines (inexpensive, early drinking,
widely distributed), Unbridled Wines (limited production releases, often only available at the winery), and
Cheval Sauvage (a reserve wine selected from special barrels). Cheval Sauvage (French for “Wild Horse”) is
sourced from several coveted vineyards on the Central Coast and represents a premium blend of Pinot Noir
clones that varies with each new vintage. The current 2008 vintage includes fruit from Garey, Bien Nacido,
Addamo and Sierra Madre Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley, and Rancho Los Hermanas Vineyard in the
Santa Rita Hills. The winery and tasting room are located south of Paso Robles in Templeton. Visit the
website at www.wildhorsewinery.com to purchase wines.
2008 Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.49, TA 0.572, $60. A finest barrel selection. Small lot,
whole berry fermentation in open-top fermentation bins with manual daily
punch downs. Only the finest barrels are selected for this bottling. Aged
14 months in French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the
glass. Nicely perfumed with vivid aromas of black cherries, spice and
Italian herbs picking up intensity over time in the glass. The medium weighted
flavors of dark stone fruits and berries combined with savory herbs and the
slightest oak are framed by svelte, satiny tannins and good acidity to produce a
wine of considerable charm. I particularly enjoy this wine for its savory bent,
elegance, balance, and unmistakable sense of Santa Maria Valley terroir. Definitely worth seeking out.