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Embarrassment of Riches: California

As I look back on 2011, I have to shake my head in amazement at how far both California and Oregon have come with Pinot Noir. It wasn’t that long ago (2001) that I launched The PinotFile, but in those ten years there has been remarkable progress in taming the finicky Pinot Noir grape, and its moniker, ‘the heartbreak grape,’ is now a shallow reference to the challenges of the past. The days of lifeless, weedy, vegetal, stinky and thin New World Pinot Noir are a distant memory. Finding great Pinot Noir used to be a job, but today it is more an adventure.

Here is what I wrote July 29, 2001, in The PinotFile. “Why does one keep buying disappointing wine in the search for wine’s Shangri-La one more time? Because once in a long, long while, after spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on case after case of mediocre North American Pinot Noir, you discover something so sublime that words such as mind-blowing, sensational, sexy and orgasmic come to mind (see “New Year Winegasm” on the last page of this issue). I confess that I long for my perfect Pinot Noir experience as much as anyone, and more than common sense dictates. I will keep ceding the money and hope for the best. Whip me one more time Mistress Pinot.”

Today, Pinot Noir lovers are experiencing an embarrassment of riches. It took thousands of years for Pinot Noir to emerge as the primary red grape of Burgundy, and many more centuries for Burgundy’s complex wine culture and accomplishments to develop. In California and Oregon, the process has been mirrored in barely half a century, spurred by a dedicated group of winegrowers and vintners who took their cues from the Burgundians, but put their own stamp on Pinot Noir.

The featured wineries and wines reviewed here were sampled as 2011 was coming to a close and 2012 began. Except for three wineries (Joseph Jewell, St. Rose and La Follette), all are established labels that I have touted in past issues. With few exceptions, the wines are from California’s superb 2009 vintage.

J Vineyards & Winery

In 2006, noted veteran winemaker George Bursick left Ferrari-Carano after twenty-two years and joined new-hire viticulturist John Erbe in transforming J Vineyards & Winery from primarily a sparkling wine house to a winery focused on site-specific Pinot Noir and estate grown Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. By the 2008 vintage, Bursick’s stamp on the J Pinot Noir lineup was evident and the wines were on a parr quality wise with other established Russian River Valley Pinot Noir specialists. Bursick emphasized the removal of seeds early in the winemaking process with the aim of reducing tannins, capturing silky textures, and eliminating the green flavors that immature seeds can impart to the wine. He implemented the use of Burgundian yeasts and malolactic strains, specific lot fermenter punch down regimes, the use of Italian “Prospero” stainless steel tanks for fermentation, extended fermentations, gravity flow processing, aging in unique French Burgundian barrels, and thoughtful batonage during aging.

In 2011, as J celebrated its 25th year, Bursick left to develop Bursick Wine Consulting and was replaced by Melissa Stackhouse, the esteemed winemaker at La Crema from 2003 to 2010, and most recently, the Pinot Noir Winemaster for all Jackson Family Wines. 2011 will be her first vintage for J and her stylistic imprint remains to be seen but I don’t expect the wines to miss a beat. Stackhouse is a graduate of University of California Davis with a degree in viticulture and enology and has years of experience with Pinot Noir.

All ten of the J estate vineyards (254 acres) are located in the Russian River Valley appellation. The signature Pinot Noir vineyards are Nicole’s and Robert Thomas. A map of the vineyards is pictured below. In November 2011, J Vineyards achieved “certified sustainable” status through the California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance (CSWA) covering all vineyard and winery operations. All wines have been produced at a modern winery facility on Old Redwood Highway since 1997. Incorporated in the same building is the contemporary J Visitor Center where a number of tasting options are available. Tours are offered daily at 11:00 AM and 2:30 PM. The winery’s single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are sold primarily through the tasting room. Visit for further information.

The reviewed wines below are from the 2009 vintage and were vinified under the direction of George Bursick. All wines are night harvested and gently de-stemmed, fermented after inoculation in open-top fermenters, and aged 12 months in Burgundian oak barrels. The wines really exhibit the smooth, creamy textures that Bursick is known for as well as very soft tannins. The 2009 J California Pinot Gris and J Cooper Vineyard Pinot Gris have been previously reviewed and are among the best examples of this varietal currently produced in California. And don’t forget the excellent sparklers from J, as they continue to be in the upper echelon of California production.

2009 J Vineyards Robert Thomas Vineyard Estate Grown Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.57, 425 cases, $50. From a 47-acre Estate vineyard adjacent Westside Road at the elbow of the Russian River as it rounds a sharp corner and heads west to the Pacific Ocean. Clones are primarily Rochioli, 2A and Dijon 115. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Ripe aromatics featuring dark red fruits, black grapes, black plum and brier. Earthy, slightly rugged and masculine with medium-weighted flavors of dark cherries and berries, plum and anise persisting on the elegantly creamy finish. Very Good.

2009 J Vineyards Freestone Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.57, 100 cases, $60. This vineyard is farmed by the Dutton family and overlooks the community of Freestone. The clones are 113, 115 and 667. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Reserved aromas of plum pudding, sage, spice and rose petals. Soft, creamy and delicate on the palate with shy flavors of purple berries and black cherries, slightly oaked. Picks up intensity and interest over time in the glass. Give this wine a few years in the bottle for maximum enjoyment. Good (+).

2009 J Vineyards Nicole’s Vineyard Estate Grown Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.54, 550 cases, $50. A 45.8-acre Estate vineyard located off Eastside Road just south of the winery. Clones include 2A and Dijon 113 and 115. Aged for 12 months in 40% new Burgundian oak barrels, with an additional three months in barrel for select barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of Bing cherries, baking spices and a hint of toasty oak. Very soft and creamy on the mid palate with gossamer tannins. The theme is cherries with an added cola accent. A feminine wine that is easy to cozy up to and deserving of the winery’s “flagship” designation.


I am surprised to find so many wine lovers who are unaware of this label and do not realize that this relatively new project is headed by iconic winemaker Gary Farrell in partnership with Bill Hambrecht. Farrell launched his eponymous label in 1982, and until 2006, when he sold Gary Farrell Winery, offered elegantly styled Pinot Noirs with nuanced flavors, relative low alcohol levels and bright acidity which brought notoriety to the Russian River Valley. His new winery, Alysian (ah-liss-ee-uhn), is focused on small lots of hand crafted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. I have tasted Alysian wines from the first two vintages and can highly recommend them. The full story on Alysian wines by Gary Farrell is described in depth in a recent issue of The PinotFile ( Alysian wines are sold exclusively by mailing list and through the winery’s online store at

The following two 2008 Pinot Noirs were recently released. If you prefer a more elegant and acid-driven take on Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, wines that are flavorful without weight and ripeness, Alysian wines are for you. The winemaking process includes de-stemming, fermentation in small open tops after a 4 day cold soak using wild and cultured yeast with manual punch downs. The wines are aged in 50% new Francois Frères and Rousseau French oak barrels. Both 2008 wines will benefit from cellaring but the Floodgate is the most approachable now.

2008 Alysian Rochioli Vineyard Allen-Rochioli Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.44, TA 0.665, 159 cases, $65. Dijon clones 115 and 777 and Pommard 4 from Rochioli Vineyard and Dijon clone 777 from Allen Vineyard. Aged 14 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is a bit awkward, picking up aromatic interest over time in the glass. Scents of dark red cherries and berries with notable oak spice and char. Well-endowed with a sappy core of black cherry, dark red raspberry and dried cranberry fruits brightened with vivid acidity and caressed by soft, dry tannins. The biggest Pinot Noir in the Alysian stable. A Lolita that is still in the awkward stage and only hinting at its potential. Even after 24 hours, an opened bottle is reserved. Very good.

2008 Alysian Floodgate Vineyard West Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.46, TA 0.69, 201 cases, $55. This vineyard is located in the Middle Reach and is one of Alysian’s estate properties. The West Block was planted in 1971 and is one of the oldest known plantings of Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. Yields are less than one ton per acre but Farrell insists that the vineyard be preserved. Martini clone. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Clean and pure aromas of fresh berry tart and plum sauce. Tasty core of black cherry and blackberry flavors with a hint of vanilla. Packed with flavor, yet crisp and light on its feet. Seamless, with a creamy mouth feel and spectacular persistence of perfectly ripe fruit on the refreshing finish. Still solid the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. The whole package.

WesMar Winery

Kirk WESley Hubbard and Denise MARy Selyem are Pinot Noir specialists operating out of a small, garagiste winery in Sebastopol and sourcing fruit from premium Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast vineyards. Denise is the daughter of Ed Selyem and both her and her spouse Kirk worked at Williams Selyem for several years before the winery was sold in 1997. Their winery is a two person operation, with the couple sharing all winemaking and winery management duties, and somehow still living together amicably. They are definitely “old school,” preferring to meet or talk with their customers personally, and have no need for employees, consultants or brokers to sell their wines.

The two distinctive hallmarks of WesMar (pronounced “Wes-Mare”) Pinot Noir are consistency from one vintage to the next regardless of vineyard source (but not sameness), and remarkable aromatics. The winemaking regimen is very similar to that employed by Ed Selyem and Burt Williams at Williams Selyem and the resultant WesMar wines have similarities. All wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

This year, Denise and Kirk plan to plant the first 2000 vines on a 2-acre block of their property in Sebastopol to establish an estate vineyard. A former apple orchard, the vineyard will be planted initially to Martini and Pommard clones.

I spoke to Denise about the 2009 WesMar wines. She is quite fond of them, even preferring them to the magnificent 2007 vintage wines because of their superior balance and lower alcohols. She says they have great cellaring potential. (As a side note, I asked her what she and Kirk were drinking these days and she replied that they were often dipping into their stash of older Williams Selyem Pinot Noirs. Several wines from the early 1990s were “amazing” when drank recently.) I agree with Denise, this may be the best lineup of wines ever from WesMar.

2009 WesMar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 280 cases, $35. From Salzgeber and Balletto vineyards. Denise says this will age as well as the vineyard-designated wines. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely aromatics featuring well-spiced Bing cherries, nutmeg and cardamom. Medium-weight cherry core with added notes of dark raspberries and cranberries and the faintest oak in the background. Refreshingly crisp and silky smooth with a floral aromatic tone on the lively finish. My only nit is that the wine is lacking a bit in fruit intensity needed to balance the zesty acidity. Good.

2009 Wesmar Salzgeber Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 97 cases, $40. Denise feels this is the best wine since 2004 when they began buying fruit from this vineyard and very traditional Russian River Valley in flavor. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. The nose needs time to open, but once it does, it is very appealing for its hi-tone aromas of cherries, strawberries, rose petals and graham. Relatively light in weight with charming redder fruits, firm tannins and lively acidity. Silky and elegant in style. Much better two days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. A shy wine currently that will benefit from decanting or further cellaring for at least 2 to 3 years. Very good (+).

2009 WesMar Hellenthal Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 315 cases, $50. 8 clones. A fickle vineyard that yielded exceptional grapes in this vintage. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A complex, nuanced wine with exotic aromas of dark berry jam, spiced black plum, dark red rose petals, clove and lemongrass curry. Moderately intense black and purple stone bruits with a hint of black cherry cola, sassafras, and nutmeg with a riff of citrus peel on the finish. Velvety in the mouth with well-behaved fine-grain tannins and admirable length on the back end. Even more spicy the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good (+).

2009 WesMar Balletto Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 195 cases, $40. Pommard clone. Eighth vintage from this vineyard. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Beguiling aromas of spiced cherries and berries with an exotic floral and musk element. Veers to the darker fruit side and clearly the most intensely flavored wine in the lineup. Long in the mouth, endowed with plush black cherry and fresh plum flavors, and an underpinning of cola and spice. Very impressive persistence on the flamboyant peacock finish. Even better later in the day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle and still better two days later. An All-American.

2009 WesMar Oehlman Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

195 cases, $37. Martini clone. 12 acres of Martini clone planted in 1989 and farmed by Karl and Elaine Oehlman. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely aromas of fresh strawberries and cherries with hints of rose petals and oak vanillin. Medium-weighted bright flavors of spiced cherries and raspberries wrapped in supple tannins and focused by good acidity. Very soft in the mouth and seamless. Ready to drink now. A dead ringer for a Burt Williams crafted Russian River Valley Williams Selyem Pinot.

Joseph Jewell Wines

Two aspiring self-taught garagiste winemakers, Micah Wirth and Adrain Manspeaker, had few resources but a serious passion for wine. In 2006, they sourced some Russian River Valley grapes, invested in two French oak barrels and a small basket press, and produced 50 cases of Pinot Noir. The wine was a hit with friends, family and local wine industry professionals, spurring the pair to pursue winemaking more seriously. They created a label by combining their middle names (Joseph and Jewell) and labeled their wines with a noble-looking coat of arms. Several varietals are offered including Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, but their focus remains on Pinot Noir.

Micah Joseph Wirth is the fourth generation in a family of wine pioneers who was raised in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County. He developed his early winemaking skills at ElvenGlade and Raptor Ridge Winery in Oregon where his father Christopher Wirth was the winemaker, and later at Gary Farrell where he was mentored by Gary Farrell and Susan Reed.

Adrian Jewell Manspeaker was born and raised on the north coast of California. After an early career in construction, he relocated to Sonoma County and became caught up in the world of wine. He soon studied business management along with winemaking and viticulture at the University of California at Davis extension program, acquiring practical experience working harvest at C. Donatiello and later Peay Vineyards.

Annual production is 1,000 cases. A tasting room is open daily at Cellars of Sonoma at 133 4th Street in Santa Rosa. The wines are also available through the winery’s online store at Follow the winery online at and

The 2009 Pinot Noirs reviewed below were my first introduction to this young winery. I was attracted to the style which is one of balance, finesse, modest alcohols, and welcoming pinotosity. I can see plenty of Gary Farrell influence in these wines. Highly inviting now, the Joseph Jewell Pinot Noirs are easy to drink and sensibly priced.

2009 Joseph Jewell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., pH 3.54, TA 0.57, 125 cases $33. Hallberg, Floodgate and Appian Way vineyards. Clones 115, 667, 777, and Pommard 4 and 5. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 10 months in 20% new Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark cherries and berries, oak, and a little funk. Moderately intense, earth-kissed dark stone fruit and cherry cola juicy flavors wrapped in supple tannins. Well-crafted but flavors don’t excite. Decent.

2009 Joseph Jewell Appian Way Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., pH 3.47, TA 0.65, 125 cases, $45. The 2-acre Appian Way Vineyard is located just outside the town of Forestville and was planted in 2001 on a former organic apple orchard site. The clones are 115, 777 and Pommard, rooted in Goldridge soil. Tom and Kelly Keegan are the owners. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 10 months in 20% new Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. A highly nuanced perfume jumps out of the glass with scents of black cherries, nutmeg, baking spice and leaf. Tasty black cherry core with a modest attack, finishing short with a slight floral undertone. The tannins are dry, firm and reserved, and the wine is easy to drink. Good (+).

2009 Joseph Jewell Floodgate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., pH 3.42, TA 0.62, 250 cases, $42. Floodgate Vineyard is owned by Hambrecht Vineyards and farmed by Warren Burton. The name comes from its location next to Mark West Creek which floods every year and submerges the flat areas of the vineyard. This wine is sourced from three different blocks and includes clones 777, 667 and 115. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 10 months in 30% new Francois Frères and Rousseau French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple hue in the glass. Enticing aromatics featuring scents of dark red cherries and berries, exotic timber, and spice. Discreetly concentrated flavors of red stone fruits and red berries with accents of brown spice, fruit leather and herbs. Silky on the palate with well-mannered and supportive dusty tannins. Very good.

2009 Joseph Jewell Elk Prarie Vineyard Humboldt County Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., pH 3.39, TA 0.63, 100 cases, $39. The vineyard sits at 1,200 feet on Fruitland Ridge. Yields were 1.75 tons per acre. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 10 months in 44% new Francois Frères and Rousseau French oak barrels. · Lightest in color of the 2009 Pinot Noirs. Beguiling aromas of cherry essence with hints of strawberry, rose petal and spice. Delicious core of medium-weighted black cherry and raspberry flavors impressing the mid palate and carrying over with emphasis on the lengthy finish. Mild dusty tannins and well-honed acidity create a beautifully balanced wine that really draws you back to the glass. A perfect marriage of pedigreed vineyard and impeccable winemaking.

La Follette Wines

Greg La Follette has had a remarkable winemaking career, expanded by a deep understanding of the science behind the art of winemaking. He has an unparalleled grasp of yeast, specifically how different yeasts affect mouth feel and flavors in finished wines and this knowledge is a defining aspect of his winemaking talent. A graduate of University of California at Davis, La Follette’s interest and early studies in the Burgundian techniques of aging sur lies and batonage at Beaulieu Vineyards as a research viticulturist and enologist with wine master Andre Tchelistcheff caught the attention of winemaking icons such as Richard Graff and led to his future success. He later had winemaking stints at Yarra Ridge in Australia, and Jarvis in Napa Valley, followed by a viticulture consulting role at Kendall-Jackson. It was his later winemaking at Flowers Vineyard & Winery beginning in 1996 that linked his name to California Pinot Noir. The winery he built at Flowers is still considered one of the very best gravity flow, green wineries in the world. He founded Tandem Wines in 2001 and began a successful career as an international vineyard and winery consultant. He designed or redesigned fourteen wineries worldwide and was a consulting designing winemaker for the new University of California at Davis teaching winery.

La Follette Wines was launched in 2010 after it morphed from Tandem Winery following its purchase by Pete Kight, proprietor of Quivera Vineyards & Winery in Dry Creek Valley. A stated goal of the new eponymous label, owned by Kight and La Follette, is to make wines more affordable than other hand-crafted California wines of similar pedigree. Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are produced from cool climate Sonoma County and Mendocino County vineyards that La Follette has worked with over the years (see map below). The La Follette label depicts an illustration found in a rare first edition French manual on viticulture published in 1847.

La Follette often escapes safe winemaking techniques, preferring uncharted methods that often lead to exciting wines. He tends to favor the use of a significant percentage of whole clusters in his Pinot Noir fermentations which are carried out in open-top fermenters with native yeasts. Malolactic fermentations in barrel are also natural. For the 2009 vintage reviewed below, the wines were aged 10 months in French oak barrels. The assistant winemaker at La Follette Wines is California native Simone Sequeira.

La Follette wines are sold primarily through a mailing list with limited retail and restaurant distribution. The winery does not have a tasting room or open visitor access, but once a month from February through August, tasting is available with winemaker Greg La Follette. Private Wine Events are also available. Visit the website at for further information. The winery will be pouring at the 3rd Annual Pinot Days Southern California Grand Festival January 28, 2012.

I found the 2009 Pinot Noirs to be bold expressions of Pinot Noir with dreamy textures, well-mannered tannins, and vineyard-specific character. My only nit would be that the use of oak is a bit heavy-handed, although this will undoubtedly become less prominent in the wines with further bottle aging.

2009 La Follette Dunah Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., pH 3.46, TA 0.72, 207 cases, $49.99. This vineyard is located at the southwestern outpost of the Russian River Valley appellation. The 10- acre vineyard was established in 1998 in Goldridge soil. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard. 100% de-stemmed. · Very darkly colored in the glass. Fruity nose offering appealing scents of black cherries and blackberry jam with a hint of wood spice and smoke. Densely fruited on the palate with a mix of dark red berries accented by oak-driven flavors of tar and tobacco. Soft in the mouth with well-managed firm tannins and tangy acidity on the finish. More sinewy Sonoma Coast than Russian River Valley in character. Needs time to integrate the oak, but will always be an oaky wine as evidenced by the prominent oak features one day after opening. Decent.

2009 La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

15.5% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.61, 480 cases, $39.99. Planted in 1998, this vineyard is located in the Petaluma Gap and is farmed by brothers Mike and Steve Sangiacomo and brother-in-law Mike Pucci. Clones 777, 114 and Swan. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark red berry jam, toasty oak and graham, becoming more fruity over time in the glass. Moderately dense core of ripe, sappy dark red berry fruit with under notes of oak char. The mouth feel is remarkably velvety and the wine is quite suave. Fruit intensity accelerates over time in the glass. Needs time to integrate the imposing oak. Good.

2009 La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.64, 429 cases, $39.99. The Van Der Kamp Vineyard sits at 1,400 feet above sea level overlooking the hamlet of Kenwood. The soil types include loam with volcanic material and decomposed river bed. Six clones are planted, dry-farmed, and cared for with organic treatments. Some whole cluster fermentation. Bottled unfiltered. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Subtle, but pleasing perfume of dark red fruits, spice, musk and oak. Remarkably flavored with an array of dark red stone fruits and berries matched perfectly with a firm backbone of ripe, dusty tannins. Very long in the mouth and juicy. This venerable vineyard delivers a unique old vine mountain experience. Very good (+).

2009 La Follette Manchester Ridge Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., pH 3.74, TA 0.59, 494 cases, $49.99. This vineyard is located at 2,000 foot elevation overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The vines are rooted in decomposed sandstone. The relatively cool summer allows the fruit a long hang time. Clones 777, 115 and 114. 45% whole cluster. Bottled unfiltered. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Exotic perfume of purple rose petals, mushrooms, musk, frambiose and subtle oak. Hard to take your nose away from the glass. Delicious medium-weighted core of black raspberry and black cherry fruit clings to all reaches of the mouth, and persists with a vengeance on the aromatic finish. There are complimentary notes of cola and oak-driven mocha that add interest. Very satiny on the palate. I continue to be impressed by wines from this vineyard. Flat out beautiful.


Owner and winemaker Kenneth Juhasz has achieved rapid success with his Auteur label which includes Pinot Noirs from Shea Vineyard in Oregon, Manchester Ridge Vineyard on the Mendocino Coast, and Sonoma Stage Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast appellation. Small lots of Chardonnay from the esteemed Hyde, Hanzell and Durell vineyards are offered as well.

Juhasz has a varied winemaking background, having worked in wineries throughout California, Oregon and New Zealand. He currently consults for several wineries including The Donum Estate and Robert Stemmler labels, Pali Wine Company and Semper.

Total production is 1,200 cases, with most of the wine sold directly through a mailing list at For the 2009 vintage, the winery’s label has been changed to offer a more mature and sophisticated expression of the brand and I feel the goal has been achieved.

2009 Auteur Sonoma Stage Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 145 cases, $60. This vineyard is heavily influenced by coastal fog and wind steaming through the Petaluma Gap. 50% Calera and 50% Swan clones. 10% whole cluster native fermentations. Aged in 50% new tight grain French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Brooding aromas of black raspberries, blackberries and wood smoke. Oak-inflected (tarry) flavors of black stone fruits and berries with a grilled fruit note. The tannins are firm and supportive and the wine finishes big with fruity persistence. Better later in the day from an opened bottle showing better integration of oak. This wine needs a few years in bottle for assimilation of the oak-driven aromas and flavors. Good.

2009 Auteur Back Block Reserve Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 69 cases, $75. Three favorite barrels in 2009 from Shea Vineyard. 10% whole cluster. 10 day cold soak, 7 day post fermentation maceration. Aged in 2 new French oak barrels and 1 1-year-old French oak barrel. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is closed for business offering demure aromas of nondescript darker fruits and forest floor. The nose takes on a roasted, pruney note over time. Very ripe array of plush dark fruits including black plum and cassis with accents of dark chocolate that are currently buried in prodigious tannins. A muscular wine that has potential, but veers too far to the ripe side for me. Good (+).

Patz & Hall

A well-established winery that has been crafting Chardonnay since 1988 and Pinot Noir since 1995. The wines are a joint effort between winemakers James Hall and Anne Moses and the sales and marketing team of Donald and Heather Patz. The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is a benchmark for that appellation and their other single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are consistently rated highly. They source grapes from regions ranging from Mendocino County to the Santa Lucia Highlands. Production is approximately 10,000 cases of Pinot Noir and 15,000 cases of Chardonnay annually.

The Pinot Noirs reviewed here were fermented with 15% to 20% whole clusters and undergo multi-yeast (wild and cultured) fermentations. Following 100% malolactic fermentation in barrel, the wines were aged in Burgundian French oak barrels and bottled without fining or filtration. The wines tend to be full-bodied and darkly colored with very ripe fruit expression in a muscular style. The Chardonnays are whole-cluster pressed, fermented with 100% indigenous yeast, aged sur lie with weekly stirring, 100% malolactic fermentation in barrel, aged in 40% new Burgundian French oak barrels, and bottled without filtration. The Chardonnays are very classically styled with a modest oak imprint and impeccable balance.

The wines are sold through a mailing list, on the website ( and through the fine wine retail marketplace. A wine tasting salon is located in Napa which is available for private, seated tasting by reservation (707-265-7700).

2009 Patz & Hall Jenkins Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

15.8% alc., 437 cases, $55. This 18-acre vineyard was planted in 2001 by renowned viticulturist Charlie Chenoweth and is located on a set of hillsides sheltered from the coastal influences of the Petaluma Gap. Clones 667, 115 and 777. · Inky dark color in the glass. Appealing aromas of dark red rose petals, darker fruits, berry glaze and oak spice. Ripe and sappy core of blackberry and black plum fruit with a slight beet root, woodsy and savory bent. Full-bodied with well proportioned tannins and nicely integrated alcohol with a cut of citrusy acid on the back end. Still fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Good.

2009 Patz & Hall Chenowith Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 635 cases, $55. This 7-acre vineyard was planted by Charlie Chenoweth on a knoll above his family’s homestead in Green Valley on the site of a former apple orchard. The vineyard was planted exclusively for Patz & Hall to an assortment of Dijon clones. Sixth vintage as a vineyard-designate for Patz & Hall. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A beautifully composed wine with great character. Aromas of black cherries, herbs, spice, oak and jam on biscuit picking up intensity over time in the glass. Dense and earthy, deep and darkly fruited with accents of anise. The wine displays well-mannered tannins and a good spark of acidity on the very long finish. Continues to draw you in over time in the glass and is even better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.

2009 Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 858 cases, $65. Patz & Hall has worked with Larry Hyde since 1990 and crafted a Pinot Noir from the Hyde Vineyard since 1996. The wine contains an array of clones but primarily Hyde-Calera selection and Swan clone. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy perfume of dark strawberry jam on toast, rose hips tea and spice. Dense, dark fruit flavors which really impress the mid palate. A bit linear and fruit-driven at this stage with noticeable oak in the background and frisky tannins. I sense plenty of potential in this wine but it will require patience. About the same the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.

2009 Patz & Hall Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 526 cases, $85. 13th vintaqe for Patz & Hall from this vineyard. Fruit is sourced from original plantings dating to the early 1980s. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy and nondescript with delicate aromas of spiced dark berries, underbrush and hickory. Big-boned core of dark berry, black stone, and Hoison sauce flavors buried by aggressive tannins. Fruit-driven and primary at this stage, needing several years in the cellar to soften the tannins. Even then, will need protein (a steak for example) to ameliorate the tannins. Good (+).

2009 Patz & Hall Zio Tony Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.2% alc., 592 cases, $60. This vineyard, planted in 1990, is owned and farmed by the Martinelli family and is planted to Dijon clones 76 and 95 on well-drained, low-vigor, Goldridge sandy loam soils. · Light straw color in the glass. Aromas of citrus, almond paste, fig, soy and polished wood. Moderately intense flavors of yellow stone fruits, and citrus with roasted nuts and spice in the background. Soft on the palate with a very good cut of acidity and impressive persistence on the dry finish. Very good.

2009 Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

14.2% alc., 896 cases, $55. Hyde Vineyard is an iconic source of Chardonnay in Carneros. The Hyde-Wente selection in this wine is planted on sandy, clay loam, offering very low vigor and excellent drainage. · Light straw color in the glass. Interesting aromatics featuring scents of orange peel, walnuts, vitamins, shoe box and petrichor. Reserved and suave on the palate with citrus flavors accented by notes of baked apple, pear and baking spices. Slightly creamy with bright mineral-driven acidity on the refreshingly crisp finish.

Peay Vineyards

Peay Vineyards is a first generation family winery. Husband and wife, Nick Peay and Vanessa Wong, grow and make the wine, and brother Andy Peay and his spouse Ami sell the wine and run the business. All wines are made from grapes grown on the Peay Vineyards’ 53-acre estate vineyard located in the far northwestern corner of the Sonoma Coast, 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean at Sea Ranch. The estate consists of 35 acres of Pinot Noir, 8 acres of Syrah, 7 acres of Chardonnay, 1.8 acres of Viognier, 0.4 acres of Rousanne and 0.2 acres of Marsanne. Winemaker Vanessa Wong left her position as winemaker at Peter Michael Winery in 2001 to help launch Peay Vineyards. She formerly worked at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Domaine Jean Gros and Hirsch Winery. Nick Peay is a University of California at Davis trained veteran winemaker and works side-by-side with the full-time vineyard crew of 8 workers. Farming is organic and only bio-diesel is used at the vineyard. Solar power is employed at both the vineyard and winery. Some grapes are sold to Williams Selyem and Failla wineries for their Peay vineyard-designate wines.

The 2009 growing season at Peay Vineyards was ideal featuring a sunny and warm but not hot summer that allowed steady growth and an evenly paced maturation of the vines. Vanessa Wong noted in the Peay newsletter, “Everything fell into place for a perfect vintage.” Andy Peay told Josh Raynolds, “On the coast, 2009, as a vintage, doesn’t have a peer.” The wines are very attractive now but are built for the long haul.

The annual production of 3,900 cases is sold through a mailing list (, an online wine store, and through limited retail and restaurant distribution. Declassified juice is sold under the value-priced Cep label. Peay Vineyards was given the prestigious Winery of the Year 2009 award by the San Francisco Chronicle. The winery publishes one of the best newsletters in the Pinot Noir universe. Besides the Pinot Noirs reviewed here, there is a Pomarium Estate bottling composed primarily of Dijon clones. Vineyard tours are available by advanced appointment.

2009 Peay Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $40. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The wine offers a complex array of aromas including dark red cherries and berries, underbrush, leaf, violets and a hint of oak. Unusually complex and layered for an appellation bottling offering flavors of black cherries, black raspberries, cola, dark chocolate and spice. Nicely composed and very user friendly with well-mannered dry tannins. Reminds of a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. A solid, even special wine for current every day drinking. Good (+).

2009 Peay Vineyards Scallop Shelf Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 850 cases, $54. This wine takes its name from the fossils found in the soil at this site. It is a blend of six clones, including Pommard. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Brooding aromas of red and black fruits with toasty oak and spice. Delicious core of red plums and assorted berries accented with mineral qualities. Juicy and bright with lively acidity and an appealing softness in the mouth. A sophisticated wine of great promise that will require a few years more in bottle for full enjoyment. Very good.

2009 Peay Vineyards Ama Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 650 cases, $46. Inaugural vintage from a section of the Peay Vineyard planted to a suitcase clone and Dijon clone 828. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Inviting aromas of black raspberries, black cherries and potpourri with a hint of oak cask. Very charming on the palate with dancing flavors of dark red and black berries and cherries with a complimentary hint of spice and cola. Maybe some pheromones are lurking as well. A bit daunting, brooding and linear now and sporting plenty of ripe tannins, but this wine has sensational upside potential. More expressive and interesting the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards

Many years ago before the widespread interest in California Pinot Noir, the Ferrer family planted three-quarters of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards’ 335-acre Carneros estate vines exclusively to Pinot Noir. (the remaining vines were planted to Chardonnay). As the winery celebrates its 25th anniversary, Gloria Ferrer has a renewed commitment to still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Executive winemaker Bob Iantosca and winemaker Steven Urberg are crafting Pinot Noirs of balance and elegance from several clones including Comar 538 (an Alsatian clone), Martini, Wente, Wädenswil, Pommard 4 and Dijon 115. The wines have uncommon aromas and flavors because of this unique clonal mix, setting them apart from many California Pinot Noirs that are powered solely by Dijon clones.

The grapes are 100% de-stemmed and generally the wines are aged for 9 months in barrel. Some wines are filtered. Iantosca crafts about 20,000 cases of five Pinot Noirs that fill out the winery’s lineup of eight sparkling wines, one Merlot and one Chardonnay. The last vintages of Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir I reviewed was 2004 and 2005 and the wines were excellent.

The Gloria Ferrer still Pinot Noirs are sold at the winery and are available on the website at There are sensibly priced considering the high quality. The charming Spanish mission style visitor center on Highway 121 in Sonoma Carneros is open daily for tasting from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM and guided tours are offered as well. Bring a hat, it’s nearly always breezy here.

2008 Gloria Ferrer Estate Grown Carneros Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.59, 14,420 cases, $22. 17th Carneros Pinot Noir produced here. Made exclusively from free-run juice. Barrel aged for 9 months in 33% new French oak barrels and bottled unfined. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of spiced dark red berries, seasoned oak, and graham. Tasty core of dark berries and fresh plums with hints of smoky oak, earth and savory herbs. Medium-weighted with well proportioned tannins and a welcoming crispness on the dry finish. Good.

2006 Gloria Ferrer José S. Ferrer Selection Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.54, 1,000 cases, $35. A selection of the most exceptional blocks from the estate vineyard. Meticulous cluster and shoot thinning are employed. The winemaker chose the 43 best barrels among these special lots to compose the blend. Clones include 115, Comar 538, 2A and Martini. All lots were de-stemmed and cold soaked for 3 days before fermentation. Only free-run juice was used to create the final blend. The wine was aged for 9 months in 36% new French oak barrels and bottled unfined. · Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. Aromas of dark berry reduction sauce, underbrush, forest floor and oak. Soft and seductive on the palate with earthbound flavors of black raspberries and black cherries with a hint of anise and spice. Very polished with gossamer tannins and a smooth, velvety finish of some length. This wine has benefited from the extra time in bottle and is drinking beautifully now. Very good.

St. Rose Winery

Frederic Nunes grew up farming row crops with his father in Salinas, California and by age 12 had a small vineyard adjacent his house. When it came time to retire from his career as a firefighting helicopter pilot, he took a path back to farming. With a degree in systematic biology and ecology and his childhood background, he was equipped to take over his grandfather’s ranch in the Russian River Valley. In 1997, Frederic and his spouse Wendy Fowler Nunes sold everything they owned and remodeled a caretaker’s house on the family ranch. In the spring of 2000 they planted ten different blocks of Pinot Noir and the first vintages were sold to well-known wineries. Spurred on by the desire to make their own wine, the couple licensed the pig barn on the property as a winery, named it St. Rose, and began holding back grapes in 2004 to make their own wine.

St. Rose Pinot Noir is made with grapes selected from favorite blocks in the Nunes Vineyard. The 2009 Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noirs are their sixth vintage. Two wines were produced in 2009 and are reviewed here. The St. Rose Pinot Noirs may be obtained by phone (707-837-1927) or email (

2009 St. Rose Nunes Vineyard Ten Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., ph 3.60, TA 0.61, 91 cases, $38. Clones 115, 777, 667 and 114. Aged 14 months in 50% new Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of blackberries, black raspberries with notes of underbrush and barrel spice, drifting over time in the glass to very ripe aromas of prune and black currant. Fairly opulent with plenty of sweet, sappy dark red and black fruit, particularly black cherry. Sidecar of cola, clove and raisin. Very smooth mouth feel with bright acidity on the short finish. The appeal is weighed down by the fruit ripeness. Good.

2009 St. Rose Nunes Vineyard 777 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.61, 94 cases, $40. Special barrels of clone 777 were unique and it was decided not to blend them. Aged 14 months in 50% new Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Demure aromas of black cherry and raspberry fruits with subtle hints of underbrush, sage and sandalwood. Tasty core of raspberry, cherry and cranberry fruit leaving an impression on the mid palate and clinging to the long flowery finish with a vengeance. Medium weighted with admirable elegance, well-concealed tannins, and a welcoming spark of acidity adding crispness to the fruit. I am usually not a fan of single clone Pinot Noir but this wine is special. Very good (+).

Kokomo Winery

It was two years ago when I reviewed the 2008 vintage of Kokomo Pinot Noirs. Proprietor and winemaker Eric Miller is a native of Kokomo, Indiana, who studied at University of California at Davis and learned his trade at Belvedere Winery and Amphora Winery. Along with his best friend and college roommate, Josh Bartels, and winegrower partner Randy Peters, he launched Kokomo Winery in Dry Creek Valley in 2004. The winery is located in a small warehouse complex with other noted producers including Amphora Winery, Papapietro Perry Winery and Peterson Winery.

Multiple varietal wines are produced, both whites and reds. Three Pinot Noirs are offered from the 2009 vintage. Kokomo wines are sold online at The winery’s tasting room is incorporated into the winery’s cellar and is open daily.

I considered the wines reviewed below well-mannered but lacked aromatic intensity and interest, and in the case of the Windsor Oaks bottling, veered to the overripe side. The Reserve was very enjoyable and is an excellent cellar candidate.

2009 Kokomo Winery Windsor Oaks Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 199 cases, $36. This 250-acre vineyard is on the warmer eastern edge of the Russian River Valley. A blend of clones 114, 777 and 667. 25% whole cluster, native Burgundian yeast fermentation. Aged in 30% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is very shy offering demure aromas of dark cherries, rose petal and stem. Ripe and sweet black cherry and red plum flavors with a slight roasted character. Soft tannins, juicy acidity on the finish and well-managed oak. Plain and seemingly watered down. Even more roasted character the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Decent.

2009 Kokomo Winery Gopher Hill Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 200 cases, $38. This vineyard is located where a former Gravenstein apple orchard stood, 10 miles from the Pacific Coast as the crow flies. Soils are Goldridge sandy loam. Clone 2A. Aged in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of very ripe dark red berries, spice, brier and oak caramel. Medium weight flavors of sweet dark red cherries and berries with mushroom, green bean and citrus in the background. Soft and elegant on the palate with supple tannins, but doesn’t deliver a lot of flavor interest. Good.

2009 Kokomo Winery Peters Vineyard Winemaker’s Reserve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 300 cases, $48. Pommard clone. 25% whole cluster, aged in French oak barrels. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is rather nondescript, offering subtle scents of black plum and oak. Sweet, sappy and ripe dark red cherry and berry flavors with a hint of spice and raisin. More flavor interest, nuance and persistence than the Gopher Hill bottling. Unfolds slowly in the glass displaying admirable finesse. Even better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Good (+).


This label is a small side project from Chad and Mary Melville of Melville Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills. The couple produce small lots of Pinot Noir and Syrah from carefully selected vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills. Whole cluster fermentation is the signature. All grapes are purchased by the acre and the Melvilles have a strong voice in how the vines in their vineyard sources are managed.

I reviewed the 2008 vintage Samsara Pinot Noirs in March of 2011 and found them to be modern, intensely flavored, fruit-driven Pinot Noirs with a twist and interest created by the significant whole cluster inclusion. I recently sampled three of the 2009 Samsara Pinot Noirs from three vineyards different from those in 2008 and was much less enamored by the wines. All three wines were very similar in flavor profile and the aromatics were lacking (perhaps because they had spent less time in bottle compared to the 2008s I sampled previously). Rather monotone in character, these wines could be from anywhere. All wines are unfined and unfiltered. I would recommend cellaring these wines for at least a year or two before opening, but these wines will still disappoint those looking for elegance and complexity.

Samsara wines are sold primarily through a priority release list at

2009 Samsara Rancho La Viña Vineyards Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., 120 cases, $46. · Darkly colored in the glass. Some reduction on the nose with aromas of black berries, earth, charred oak and campfire. Full-bodied core of purple fruit in a burly, husky style finishing with black grape fruit and astringent tannins. A little softer in the mouth the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with less oak on the nose indicating the wine will benefit from more time in bottle. Decent.

2009 Samsara Kesslar-Haak Vineyards Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 162 cases, $38. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very reserved nose offering hints of dark berries, spice, stem and oak. The fruit-powered attack of plum and black raspberry is flanked by mildly aggressive tannins, with the fruit flavors falling off quickly on the finish. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the aromatics were still lacking, but the fruit was more vibrant and appealing. Good (+).

2009 Samsara Melville Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 120 cases, $48. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very non-descriptive and reserved nose offering hints of forest floor and oak. Richly fruited and dense with flavors of black raspberries and Hoison sauce lingering on the fruit-filled finish. Big, slightly harsh tannins make this a fatiguing wine. Still tannic the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Needs protein (read steak) to neutralize the tannins. Decent.

Hahn SLH Estate

When it comes to excellent value-priced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, nobody in California does it better than Hahn Estates. Owned by the Nicolaus Hahn Family, the Hahn Family now owns 650 vineyard acres in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. Nicolaus (“Nicky”) Hahn’s pioneering effort led to the creation of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in 1991. Hahn SLH Estate Winery produces a broad portfolio of California wines ranging from the ultra-premium Lucienne and Hahn SLH Estate wine brands from the Santa Lucia Highlands to the distinctive premium Hahn Winery and Smith & Hook Winery brands primarily from the Central Coast and Monterey County. The winemaker is Paul Clifton.

Hahn SLH Estate Culinary Center, a wine trade education facility, was recently approved for construction. Upon completion, the Center will be a 2,500 square foot educational venue in Soledad, California sharing the panoramic views of the Hahn Estate Vineyard and overlooking the Santa Lucia Highlands. The Center will include a comfortable space for seminars and wine tastings as well as a professional demonstration kitchen so that small groups can share in the preparation and enjoyment of gourmet and local foods with Hahn Estate Chef Brian Overhauser. What Hahn SLH Estate is doing is nothing new to other wine regions, but it is the first of its kind in Monterey County.

Hahn wines are widely distributed in the retail marketplace and are sold on the website at The winery’s tasting room at the winery in Soledad is open daily.

Note: the 2010 Hahn Winery Monterey Pinot Noir was recently reviewed in The PinotFile. At $12 (often discounted to $7.99), this is an amazing value and has been the go-to Pinot Noir for many of my friends for daily drinking and Holiday parties. Hahn impresses with their entire line of reasonably priced superb wines.

2010 Hahn Estate SLH Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.81, TA 0.62, $35. 65% Doctor’s Vineyard, 22% Smith Vineyard and 13% Lone Oak Vineyard. Clones are Pommard 5, 667, 777, 115 and 2A. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Very enticing nose offering bright aromas of black cherry liquor, sassafras, toasted brioche and oak spice. Delicious essence of fresh black cherries with impressive mid palate presence. Relatively full-bodied with mild dusty tannins. Accents of red velvet cake and cola add interest. Drinking nicely now. Very good.

2010 Hahn Winery SLH Chardonnay

14.0% alc., pH 3.43, TA 0.76, $12. Aged in 18% new French oak. · Light straw color in the glass. Delicate but pleasing aromas of pears, white peaches, cream soda, honey, caramel and pineapple. Very lightly weighted but tasty, with clean and bright baked pear, fig and banana flavors leaving behind an impression of lemon meringue. You won’t find a better Chardonnay at this price in the marketplace. Good.

2010 Hahn Estate SLH Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.47, TA 0.60, $25. 65% Lone Oak Vineyard and 35% Hook Ranch Vineyard. A blend of clones 76 and 96. 100% barrel fermented. Aged in 33% new French oak. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Aromas of melon, lemon curd, honey and petrichor fading a bit over time in the glass. Reserved, medium-bodied and a bit thin in the middle, but offering tasty baked pear and white peach flavors with a hint of baking spice that linger awhile on the finish. Seamless and easy to drink. Good (+).

Still More

2009 Sequana Sundawg Ridge Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., pH 3.46, TA 0.64, 523 cases, $50. 6.9-acre sustainably-farmed vineyard planted by the Kensler family in 1999. Goldridge soils. Sequana is the sole producer of wine from this vineyard. Winemaker is James MacPhail. Clones are Pommard, 115 and Calera. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose offers little more than oak-driven aromas. Full-bodied and fruity, but not complex, featuring darker cherries and berries and mild fine-grain tannins. A little more enticing the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, but still dominated by mocha java aromas and flavors from oak. Cellaring may allow for more oak integration over time, but this will always be an oaky wine. Decent.

2009 Benovia Cohn Vineyard Sonoma County Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $62. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is enticing with bright aromas of exotic dark berries, spice and mild toasty oak. Moderately dense with a delicious core of dark plum and dark berry fruit which really impresses. A slight accent of cola and coffee is in the background. Silky in the mouth with supple tannins and impeccable balance. Much better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with luscious sweet fruit, less oak notes, and pleasing persistence on the back end. An old vine treasure. Very good.

2008 Clary Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 187 cases, $39.50. From an estate vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. Clones are Pommard 4, 667. Yields 1.4 tons per acre. Aged 30 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black fruits, leaf, eucalyptus, leather and oak. Big-boned flavors of black plum, blackberry, black currants and sassafras with an evident oak presence contributing a tarry note. The oak influence tends to recede over time in the glass and is less noticeable the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, but the significant time in a high percentage of new oak has left its imprint. Good.

2010 The Forager Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $17, screw cap. From Jonathan and Susan Pey (Pey-Marin). · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Fruity nose featuring black cherries and roasted plum with an undertone of dark caramel. Full ripe flavors of black cherries and dark berries with a sidecar of cola and sassafras. Medium-weight with well-behaved fine-grain tannins and a silky mouth feel. Very user friendly but less interesting over time in the glass. Decent.

2009 Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $30. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Complex nose offering scents of dark berries, brier, redwood, oak cask, bacon and rose petals. Fairly intense array of dark red raspberry and red plum flavors with a savory oak and floral undertone. Straightforward with a pleasingly rich mouth feel. Good (+).

2008 Mount Eden Vineyards Domaine Eden Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

15.0% alc., $32. This wine can easily be confused with Mount Eden Estate which is a horse of a different color. This is a newer brand from Mount Eden Vineyards that resulted from the purchase of the Cinnabar Winery and Vineyard (but not the brand or inventory) in late 2007. The main reason for the purchase was to acquire the winery because Mount Eden had outgrown its limited production facility. Most of the Domaine Eden Vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir. Since the soils are different, the Pinot Noir from Domaine Eden is completely different from the Mount Eden Pinot Noir even though it is vinified by the long time Mount Eden winemaker, Jeffrey Patterson. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose features aromas of slightly roasted darker fruits with oak-driven scents of tobacco, black tea and old cask. Fruity and linear offering black plum, blackberry jam, Concord grape and raisin flavors. An awkward overripe fruited wine that disappoints. Decent at best.

2010 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.75, TA 0.54, $20. Sourced from certified sustainable vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA (Panorama, Clark, Porter, Sainz and Mission Peak). Clones 667, 777, 115, 2A, 828, and 23. Aged 8 months in 97% French oak barrels (20% new), 2% in American oak barrels (1% new), and 1% stainless steel tanks. · Dark, deep purple color in the glass. Complex perfume of dark cherries and berries, grapes, spice, wood smoke, coffee bean and dried rose petals. Earthbound flavors of blackberries and boysenberries and cassis with a hint of spice and edible flowers. Medium-weighted with mild tannins and a welcoming silkiness in the mouth. Consistently one of the best value-priced Pinot Noirs in the marketplace. Good (+).

2010 Redtree California Pinot Noir

12.5% alc., $5.99, screw cap. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with vivid aromas of cherries, red berries and complimentary oak. Lighter weight flavors of black cherries with a touch of herbs and spice. Clean and balanced with supple tannins, and although elegant in style, has enough structure for interest. A great daily drinker and a perfect picnic wine. Good.

Note: Redtree wines has been very successful in the marketplace and gained recognition with a number of beverage industry awards. Redtree received three consecutive Impact Hot Prospect Awards from 2008-2010, as well as being named a Best Buy and top five wine bargains from Consumer Reports. The brand was also named a Rising Star Growth Brand by Beverage Information Group three years running (2009-2011). The label is owned by Cecchetti Wine Company which was launched by wine industry veteran Roy Cecchetti in 2006. The company aims for consistent and fruit-forward wines of excellent value from throughout California with its Redtree, Line 39 and Backhouse wine brands.

2009 Cherry Pie Stanly Ranch Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $50. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The wine is cherry centric which, given the name, is no surprise. Flavors of crushed cherries, spice, sassafras and sandalwood in a medium to full-bodied style with complimentary oak and good staying power on the finish. Structurally firm but proportional to the fruit extract creating an overall impression of balance. Packs a little heat on the finish as it warms in the glass. Good.

2009 Aubert Ritchie Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

15.1% alc., $80. · Light straw color and slightly cloudy (unfiltered) in the glass. Considerable oak and malolactic driven aromatics showing scents of butter on toast, baked apple, baking spice, cookie dough, toast and graham. Big and bountiful on the palate with flavors of very ripe white peaches, Asian pears, apple, roasted nuts and spice. Hard to resist if you like a decadent, full-blown style of Chardonnay. A meal by itself. Very good.

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