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Tasty Pinots from the Russian River Valley

The following Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs were tasted recently. All of them were commendable, some even more considering their price/value ratio. They are listed in no particular order.

De Loach Vineyards De Loach Vineyards celebrated their 30th vintage with the release of the 2005 vintage. This venerated Russian River winery encountered financial difficulties and entered bankruptcy in 2003, eventually being purchased by the Boisset Family Estates of France. Since the change of hands, the winery has reached new heights. Accomplished winemaker Greg LaFollette (below) has been given the reigns, biodynamic farming of the estate’s 22 acres has been instituted, and the wines have continued to reach improve with every vintage.

2005 DeLoach Vineyards Russian River Valley OFS Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $28. This wine is a reserve level Pinot Noir (OFS stands for “Only Finest Selection”). Open-top oak fermenters are used in the vinification. These fermenters offer the advantages of advantageous temperature maintenance, slow and gentle fermentation, and ideal extraction. · Very nice cherry and raspberry infused wine which is elegant, silky and nicely balanced. There are pleasing wood overtones and the lively acid make it a delicious wine with roast chicken.

De Loach Vineyards is located at 1791 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa. The winery is open for tours and tasting from 10-4:30 daily. OFS Reserve wines may be tasted with food for a small charge. The phone number is 707-526-9111 and the website is The winery also produces a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($20) which is often served in restaurants, and single vineyard Pinot Noirs including Masut Vineyard ($45), Sonoma Stage Vineyard ($85) and an appellation Pinot Noir from the Green Valley ($45). The wines are in widespread retail distribution.

Balletto Vineyards John Balletto started farming in Sonoma County at the age of 17 in 1977. Today he owns 280 acres in western Sebastopol devoted to wine grapes. 60 acres are planted to multiple clones of Pinot Noir. The western edges of his property are shared with the Laguna de Santa Rosa wetland habitat and are preserved lands. 2001 was the first year that wine was made under the Balletto label. The winemaker is Dan Cederquist.

2006 Balletto Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 3,178 cases, $20. Clones 667, 777, 32, 114, Swan, 37, 9 and 23. Aged 9 months in French oak. · Black cherry nose with a forest floor accent. Nicely spiced fruit flavors. A medium-bodied, light and silky wine which finishes clean. Very enjoyable and a great drink for a Jackson.

Balletto Vineyards is at 5700 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa. The tasting room is open daily from 10-4 and is shared with Dutton-Goldfield wines which are made at the Balletto winery. The phone is 707- 568-2455 and the website is The wines are sold on the website.

Moshin Vineyards Moshin Vineyardssits on Russian River Valley’s Rodeo Drive of Pinot Noir - Westside Road. Moshin Vineyards winery is one of the few gravity-flow wineries in Sonoma County. Owner Rick Moshin is a former mathematics professor at San Jose State University who has farmed and sold Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley for several years. His recently built winery was designed to utilize a four-tiered gravity flow system. The costs of building a true gravity flow winery prevent many from accomplishing the task - the retaining walls for the Moshin Winery cost $500,000 alone. The Moshin Winery is built on a hill with the front facing formed from old barn wood to give it an aged look. The crush pad is on the highest or first level. The sorted and destemmed grapes then drop directly into one of the fermenters on the second level. A hose connected to the fermenters directs the juice to the tanks on the third level. Wine then flows by gravity directly into barrels and is stored in the cellar. The bottling room is on the fourth level and receives wine from the cellar into the bottle filler and then the bottle. The winery has all sorts of technological wizardry including custommade, closed-top fermentation tanks, specially made settling tanks, an ozone machine for sterilization, Italian membrane presses and destemmers, a power washer and barrel cleaner, and a pneumatic punch down system. The current permit allows for 30,000 cases. Custom crush is available at the winery and Merry Edwards, Guy Davis (Davis Family Vineyards), and George Levkoff (george wine company) among others have made wine here.

Rick Moshin farms a total of 18 acres and produces about 5,000 cases of Pinot Noir each year. Six different bottlings make up the offerings. Moshin has retired from his academic job to pursue winemaking full time. He is a self-taught grape grower and winemaker with over 30 years of experience. The Moshin label dates to 1989 when Moshin traded grapes for crush services with Gary Farrell and Davis Bynum. He remembers way back in the early 1970s when he used to drive along Westside Road dreaming of owning some acreage in the area and now feels blessed to own vineyards here.

2005 Moshin Vineyards Estate Bottled Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 765 cases, $28. · Lovely and fresh cherry and strawberry scents linger in the nose. Straight-forward red fruit flavors are enhanced with a subtle woodsy overtone. Light in body, the wine drinks easy.

Moshin Vineyards The winery is open for tasting from 11-4:30 daily, tours are by appointment. The address is 10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg. The wines are available on the website at and by phone at 707-433-5499.

Davis Family Vineyards Proprietor Guy Davis never set out to make wine but while attending college and majoring in economics, he worked in a French restaurant, developing an interest in the grape. Subsequently he was a cellar rat at a few wineries and gained valuable wine knowledge as a wine broker. It was while working at Sky Vineyards in the Mayacamas Mountains that he found his winemaking calling. In 1996, he bought a property in the heart of the Russian River Valley that had been abandoned for 20 years. He planted 6 acres of Pinot Noir to clones 115, 667, 777 and Pommard and rescued a 2.5 acre parcel of Zinfandel on the property which had been planted in 1896. He farms his vineyard meticulously himself with the assistance of his son. Davis has an attractive small winery and tasting room located on the banks of the Russian River just outside of downtown Healdsburg. Currently 4,000 cases of wine are produced including Chardonnay, Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel, and a Sauvignon Blanc (Gusto) from New Zealand (Guy travels down under during the winter here).

2005 Davis Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 957 cases, $40. Fermented in small temperature controlled fermenters. Each clone was kept separate and blended later according to Davis’s preferences. Aging was carried out for 11 months in 40% new French oak from Allier and Troncais forests, air-dried a minimum of 30 months. · The aromatics need some air to emerge, showing seductive darker fruits The fruit attack is quite pleasing with black cherry, raisin and mushroom leading to a finish with barely perceptible tannins. Nicely crafted and easy to like, it is a very good wine that is still a bit closed and will improve with more time in the bottle. Hold off for another 6 months.

Davis Family Vineyards is located at 52 Front Street, Healdsburg. The tasting room is open from Thursday thru Sunday from 11-4:30. Private tastings by appointment. The wines are largely sold through a mailing list but are available by phone at 707-569-0171 or through the website at Davis also makes and sells an excellent artisan olive oil from the Sierra Foothills. A very consistent and reliable producer.

Dutton-Goldfield This winery is a partnership between winemaker Dan Goldfield and viticulturist Steve Dutton. Steve (left in photo below) is the son of the noted Russian River Valley grape farmer, Warren Dutton, who first planted Pinot Noir in the cool Green Valley region of the Russian River Valley in the early 1970s. The story goes that it was Warren that suggested Steve and Dan form a partnership in 1998. The label was consummated at a Sebastopol pizza parlor with a handshake and the winery has been producing superb Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah and Chardonnay ever since. Dan is an energetic and high-spirited winemaker who intended to enter medical school. In 1983, he was at a tasting with noted winemaker Larry Brooks (Acacia, Campion) when he had an epiphany, and decided to become a winemaker himself. He received a master’s degree in enology from University of California at Davis and honed his skills at Mondavi, Schramsberg, La Crema and Hartford Court.

2006 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13% alc., $38. · Mineral imbibed black cherry scents evolve in the glass to a purely dark fruit compote which is very alluring. Black raspberry flavors are set off by a hint of oak. The texture is soft and the finish pleasantly tangy with some unresolved tannins. Plenty to like here.

2005 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Freestone Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 361 cases, $58. The vineyard was planted in 1997 on the far southwest edge of the Russian River appellation. Clones 667, 115 and 2A. Aged 17 months in 55% new French oak. · Deep and haunting aromatics featuring black cherries and wild blackberries. A plush mouthful of dark Pinot extract with a hint of herbs, spice and earth. Succulent and robust with a long, scented aftertaste. Beautifully balanced, clean and pure. Power without flab. This one makes you want to clap your hands.

2005 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Sanchietti Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.8%, $58. alc., 343 cases, Goldfield has worked with fruit from this vineyard at La Crema and Hartford Court before bottling it under the Dutton-Goldfield label beginning in 2002. · A fruit driven beauty with demure dark red Pinot fruits that are elegant and juicy. More subdued and sensuous than the Freestone Hill with well-concealed tannins, it will be even better with more time in the bottle.

2005 Dutton-Goldfield McDougall Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 250 cases, $58. From the true Sonoma Coast, close to Hirsch Vineyard at 1,100 feet. Yields were about 1 ton per acre. · Enticing nose of blue fruits, plum, ocean air and earth. Supple in the mouth with delicate wild berry fruits, suave tannins and a snappy, clean finish.

Dutton-Goldfield wines are made at Balletto where they share a tasting room (see page 10-11 for details). All of the Pinot Noirs clearly stand out and are extremely well crafted. As they should, each wine reflects a different terroir and it is to Dan’s credit that he lets the wines show off their distinctive terroir- driven traits. The wines are largely sold through a mailing list but are available on the website at The phone is 707-829-6766. Wine club discount is 15%. Magnums are available. Annual production is 9,000 cases.

Williams Selyem I must admit that I have been a bit reticent about Williams Selyem Pinot Noirs since the winery was sold. The prices have seemed to escalate noticeably and my allocations have shrank. Recently, however, what I have tasted has been drawing me back and I think Bob Cabral (pictured below) is really hitting his stride.

2004 Williams Selyem Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $72. · Voluptuous Bing cherry perfume which draws you in and won’t let go. Pure and precise dark cherry flavors with a sidecar of sassafras and oak. Full-bodied, rich and full on the mid palate, clean and refreshing at the end. The texture is silky and sensuous. A very classy wine and one to buy for sure.

2004 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $42. Sourced from several vineyards, mainly the winery’s Drake Estate Vineyard in Guerneville. · Cherries, herbs, oak and port aromas lead to a mouthful of bright Bing cherry fruit and a sidecar of clove and other spices. A pleasurable drink that would be better enjoyed at the dinner table then sipped for contemplation.

Williams Selyem built a new winery at 6575 Westside Road in Healdsburg. The wines are highly allocated and are sold through a mailing list at 707-433- 6425. Tours and tastings are by appointment.

Merry Edwards Merry Edwards, often called the “Queen of Pinot,” has been a spokesperson for Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and her wines have been best sellers on restaurant wine lists in this country for many years. She has been making wine for 35 years including stints at Mt Eden (where she worked from 1974 to 1977 and developed the Mt Eden clone of Pinot Noir - UCD 37), Liparita, Matanzas Creek, and Pellegrini Family. In 1997, she started her own winery and released a Russian River Pinot Noir and an Olivet Lane Pinot Noir. Unlike many women who craft Pinot Noir, her wines are bold expressions of the grape and typically show flavors of black cherry, dark chocolate, mushroom and lavender. She noted in Wine & Spirits (Fall, 2004), “We work with a grape deficient in phenolics and tannins. I’m going to do what I have to do to maintain them.” She currently crafts Pinot Noirs from several Russian River Valley sources including Flax Vineyard, Olivet Lane Vineyard (my favorite), Tobias Glen Vineyard, Klopp Ranch Vineyard and her own ( with husband and business partner Ken Coopersmith) 24-acre Meredith Estate Vineyard and 9-acreCoopersmith Vineyard. She made some lovely Pinot Noirs from Windsor Gardens Vineyard but this vineyard was a victim of housing development a few years ago. She was chosen Winemaker of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004.

2005 Merry Edwards Tobias Glen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $51. · The wine starts off with aromas of red cherry, forest floor and oak. The oak continues throughout ending in a dry and woodsy finish. The wild berry fruit is stacked and packed.

2005 Merry Edwards Meredith Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $54. · The aromatics display oak-dusted black cherries and blackberries.. The ripe dark fruits are cloaked in oak on the palate and the wine finishes with plentiful herbal notes, a slight bitterness and healthy tannins.

Merry Edwards Wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and to restaurants. A new winery was completed in time for the 2007 vintage and is located at the site of the Coopersmith Vineyard, 2959 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol. Tours and tastings are available by appointment at 707-823- 7466. The wines will appeal to those who prefer their Pinot Noir with deep fruit, heft and oak. For me, the Olivet Lane bottling (reviewed in a previous issue) is clearly the best wine in the lineup. Edwards also crafts an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc. The website is

Radio-Coteau A very small boutique producer of Pinot Noir from cool vineyards on the Sonoma Coast, in the Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley that proprietor Eric Sussman manages organically. Sussman began his training in France at Domaine Armand in Pommard and Domaine Jacques Prieur in Meursault. Upon returning to Northern California, he worked at Bonny Doon and Dehlinger. After crossing paths with Bill and Joan Smith, the owners of W.H. Smith, Sussman became partners with them in Radio-Coteau Wine Cellars. Production is only 2,600 cases annually of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. He employs a hands-off style of winemaking which starts with a 7-10 day cold soak, fermentation with natural yeasts, and nothing is added or removed. He doesn’t fine or filter and allows his wines to sit on the lees for 16 months with no racking. Sussman is fanatical about quality.

2005 Radio-Coteau Alberigi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 436 cases. This vineyard is exclusively sourced by Radio-Coteau and lies in the Vine Hill road area. · The nose offers confected and oak-spiced darker Pinot fruits. Richly layered blackberry and black raspberry extract with noticeable but not intrusive tannins. Well-rounded and immensely satisfying now, it is still a touch awkward and will benefit from more time in the bottle. A great expression of Pinot Noir.

Radio-Coteau is only sold through a highly allocated mailing list at The phone number is 707-887-6041. Spectacular wines but a challenge to obtain.

Papapietro Perry Ben Papapietro grew up in a family of home winemakers and wine lovers. He developed a passion for Pinot Noir early on after tasting a number of Burgundies from the mid-1950s. He struck up a friendship with Burt Williams of Williams Selyem fame while both were working at the San Francisco Newspaper Agency. In the 1970s, Ben was helping Burt make his homemade garage wine and he continued to work each harvest at Williams Selyem after the winery was started in the early 1980s. Ben began making his own homemade wine in 1980 and a few years later was joined by Bruce Perry, another fellow worker at the San Francisco Newspaper Agency. Upon the urgings of family and friends, they started Papapietro Perry in 1998 with an initial release of 75 cases of Pinot Noir. Today they produce well-regarded small lots of Pinot Noir from prime vineyards on the Sonoma Coast and in the Russian River and Anderson Valleys.

2005 Papapietro Perry Leras Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 950 cases, $46. This vineyard is located off Woolsey Road and is planted to Pommard, 115, 667 and 777 clones of Pinot Noir. The wine was aged for 11 months in 50% new Francois Freres oak. Lovely hi-tone cherry aromas. · Flavors are cherry driven with attractive side notes of herbs, cocoa, cola, spice and a pinch of oak. Modest in weight and light on its feet, this wine oozes finesse and charm. Well crafted and recommended.

Papapietro Perry wines are available through retail channels and on the website at www.papaietroperry. com. A tasting room is open daily from 11-4:30 at 4791 Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg. The phone is 707-433-0422. The wine above is sold out at the winery but may be available at fine retail stores.

Aubin Cellars Verve Jerome Aubin is a Frenchman who grew up in Burgundy near Beaune. He resides in Northern California where he imports French and Hungarian oak wine barrels. Along with winemaker Laren Tayerie, he crafts small lots of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley from a small winery in Novato. Aubin also produces a Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills at Carlton Winemaker’s Studio. The name “Verve” translates to “creative enthusiasm.”

2005 Verve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 375 cases, $33. The grapes come from an unnamed well known vineyard located between Sebastopol and Forestville. The clones are an unusual mix of 115, Beringer, Jackson 9 and Swan. The wine was fermented in a Rousseau 2 ton French oak open-top fermenter and aged for 17 months in 40% new French oak followed by 6 months in bottle. · This wine smelled great with rich black cherry, plum, spice and pleasant oak aromas. Black cherry infused with sidecars of anise, herbs and spice, this medium to full bodied Pinot was soft and smooth in the mouth and left a refreshing impression on the finish. Plenty of Pinot love here.

Aubin Cellars address is 6050 Colton Blvd, Oakland. The phone is 510-339- 0170. The wines are available on the website at and through fine retail shops. There is a mailing list. No tasting or tours.

Lynmar Winery The Fritz family purchased the Quail hill Vineyard in 1980 and founded Lynmar Winery in 1990. In 2004, the winery launched a five-year investment plan to complete a phased replanting of Quail Hill. An impressive new winery and hospitality center was added. Winemaker Hugh Chapelle (and consultant Paul Hobbs) have brought Lynmar to a world-class level. Lynn Fritz is pictured below.

2005 Lynmar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 3,064 cases, $36. A blend of fruit from the estate Quail Hill Vineyard and other vineyards in the Russian River Valley locale. · Restrained scents of cherry, herbs and forest floor. Lovely red cherry fruit imbibed with spice. Soft and gentle, it floats across the tongue.

2005 Lynmar Quail Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 1,459 cases, $60. Primarily Swan selection from the estate Quail Hill Vineyard. Aged 16 months in 45% new French oak. · Deep, dark ruby in color. A penetrating, rich nose with dark Pinot fruits, forest floor and restrained oak. Gamy and earthy with plenty of black fruit front and center. Very smooth in texture, seamless throughout with a healthy tannic structure. More body, more flavor, more of everything compared to the Russian River Valley bottling

Lynmar Winery has a beautiful hospitality center and tasting salon overlooking the estate vineyards. The center, located at 3909 Frei Road in Sebastopol, is open daily from 10-5. The Lynmar Food and Wine Experience pairs small appetizer-sized foods with each of the Lynmar wines. Tours are by appointment. The wines are available on the website at The phone number is 707-829-3344. Lynmar has released its first vineyard-designate Pinot Noir from outside the Estate, the Jenkins Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. There is also a reserve bottling, the Five Sisters Pinot Noir which is spectacular. The Chardonnays and Vin Gris of Pinot Noir are first rate as well. A very classy operation with noteworthy wines.

Dain Wines David Dain Smith produces small amounts of several vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs that are vinified at CrushPad in San Francisco. He still resides in Missouri and commutes to craft his wines. Each of the wines are named for a prominent now-deceased family member (David’s maternal grandmother, Cora Whitley Duffer, is pictured on the label of American Beauty reviewed below. Look him up at any of the Pinot Festivals in California - he has an infectious smile and is a great guy to talk Pinot with.

2006 Dain American Beauty Amber Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $48. Dijon clones 115, 667. Aged in 50% new French oak. · Attractive aromatics featuring Bing cherry and wood spice. Red fruits and cola compose the taste track. Very soft and elegant with ample acidity. The aftertaste lingers with a woodsy bent. The fruits are a little shy at this point and more bottle age should change this.

Dain Wines are sold primarily through a mailing list at The phone is 417-860- 2715.

Olson Ogden Wines John Ogden and winemaker Tim Olson started a boutique winery in Sonoma County in 2002, making about 1,000 cases a year of Rhone varietals and Pinot Noir. Tim Olson began crafting wine in his home garage over 20 years ago. A film major in college, he developed enough of a passion for wine that to gain experience, he began working for free at Caymus for Charlie Wagner. Before long, he was rewarded with a paycheck for his hard work and he has never looked back. He made some excellent wines for Tarius before starting Olsen Ogden Wines. Olsen Ogden has gained some national press recognition for their Unti Vineyard Syrah.

2005 Olson Ogden Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 190 cases, $35. · Appealing Pinot perfume accented with floral and cherry scents. Delicate red fruit flavors with a touch of dust and spice. Quite decent.

Olson Ogden Wines are sold through a mailing list at There is some retail distribution. The phone is 707-823-6127.

Barnett Vineyards At 2,000 at elevation on Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley, Fiona and Hal Barnett created a vineyard and winery specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon. They make limited amounts of Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Total production is 6,000 cases. The current winemaker is David Tate who comes to Barnett from Ridge where he as an assistant winemaker.

2006 Barnett Vineyards Tina Marie Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 1180 cases, $40. Tina Maria Vineyard is in Green Valley, a sub AVA of the Russian River Valley, planted entirely to Dijon clones. · Complex aromatics dominated by blackberries and black raspberries complimented by herbs, hay, oak and barnyard. Juicy and succulent dark fruits with an oak sidecar running throughout. Rich and smooth in texture with integrated tannins. Well-crafted, easy to like and very approachable.

Barnett Vineyards wines are sold on the website at There is some retail distribution. The winery and vineyards are located at 4070 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena. The phone is 707-963-7075.

Rutz Cellars Owner Keith Rutz crafts Pinot Noir in the style and flavor of the great Burgundies of Vosne-Romanee and Chambolle-Musigny. His unique winery in Sebastopol is housed in a 5,000 square foot extending 300 feet into a hillside.

2005 Rutz Cellars Maison Grand Cru Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $35. · Very light in color. The nose is quite charming exhibiting crushed strawberries, exotic woods, spice and a floral lift. A very elegant wine with delicate red Pinot fruits with oak accents. This is a wine for those who prefer the feminine side of Pinot Noir.

Rutz Cellars produces several other Pinot Noirs including two blends - French Cuvee and Sonoma Cuvee - as well as vineyard-designates including Windsor Gardens, Dutton Ranch and Burnside. The wines are sold on the website at The caves and winery are located at 3637 Frei Road, Sebastopol. 415-482-6565. Tours and tastings by appointment.

J Vineyards & Winery Judy Jordan founded J in 1986 to produce sparkling wines of distinction as well as still Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The winery’s vineyard holdings encompass 274 acres of diverse hillside, bench land and valley floor plantings. The J sparkling wines have been exceptional through the years, but the still Pinot Noirs have failed to distinguish. Last year, George Bursick, the former winemaker at Ferrari-Carano, was brought in along with viticulturalist John Erbe to transform J with an emphasis on site-specific Pinot Noir. The 2006 vintage will be the first to fully show the fruits of their efforts.

2005 J Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 22,000 cases, $32. A blend from all of the estate vineyards. Aged 11 months in 30% new French oak. · Rich scents of wild berries and cherries. Subdued red and blue fruits with a leafy and toasty edge. Decent but lacks energy and excitement.

J Vineyards & Winery has a beautiful tasting and hospitality center at 11447 Old Redwood Highway in Healdsburg, and offers special tasting experiences with wine-food pairings. The wines are in wide retail distribution and offered on the website at 707-431-3646.

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