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Hirsch Vineyards: Redemption after a Nightmarish Vintage

I last wrote about the seismic Pinots from Hirsch Vineyards in February 2012 when I reviewed the marvelous 2009 vintage wines. The 2010 vintage was an unprecedented challenge. David Hirsch notes on his website,”2010 was a creature unto itself, not comparable to other years in our experience.”

The winter was rainy with moderate temperatures, beginning with heavy rains and winds from January 17 to 23. Total rainfall for the year was over 100 inches. This sounds like a lot, but heavy rainfall is customary for this outpost in Cazadero in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA on the far west Sonoma Coast. What distinguished 2010 were the long periods of cool weather during the spring and summer, with overcast skies, fog and biting winds. The result was an uneven crop set and extensive millerandage (“hens and chicks”) making farming for balance a challenge.

Two inches of rain preceded harvest. The pick began September 21, with sugars at 21.5º Brix and lower. After the first five days of harvest, the weather shot up into the 90 degree range and the remaining fruit became ripe all at once requiring a rush to pick the remaining 82 tons of fruit. The heat spike was followed by cooling and the balance of the harvest dragged on until October 12 when the last of the Chardonnay was picked. Hirsch described the final pick: “Tiny to large berries, green to plum colored skins, bunches with four berries to fruits with 400, tiny and tight packed bunches and large, gangly open bunches. You name it, 2010 produced it.”

Surprisingly, the wines turned out to have balance, depth and expression of site with plenty of credit going to winemaker Ross Cobb and his crew. Most likely the maturity, soils, and topography were able to handle mother nature. I believe you will find plenty to like in the 2010 vintage wines reviewed below. 2011 turned out to be a much more welcome vintage with moderate weather throughout the growing season and verasion and Hirsch believes it produced some of the finest wines from this site to date.

Hirsch Vineyards wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and direct purchase on the website at Because of limited production in 2010, the special bottlings are allocated to mailing list members. The entry-level wine, “The Bohan-Dillon,” and occasionally other releases, are available through retail distribution. East Ridge section of Hirsch Vineyards is shown in the photos below.

Visitors (up to six) are welcome by advance appointment for private tours with priority given to active members of the Hirsch mailing list. The vineyards are quite remote, about two to three hours from San Francisco and ninety minutes from Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. Private tastings are occasionally held in the Healdsburg area.

2011 Hirsch Vineyards The Bohan-Dillon Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., pH 3.48, 1,012, cases, $34. About one-third Hirsch fruit, with the balance from neighbors including Hellenthal, McDougall and Nobles vineyards. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Highly scented with aromas of black cherries, Hoison sauce, spicy oak and rosebud. A lighter but tasty wine with straight forward flavors of black cherries and blue and black berries complimented by cedary oak. The tannins are nicely balanced, the wine is silky on the palate, and the cherry really sings on the finish. Good.

2011 Hirsch Vineyards Estate Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.5% alc., pH 3.35, 506 cases, $55. · Golden straw color and clear in the glass. Very appealing aromas of crème brûlée, white peach, lemon drop and brioche. Very clean and polished, with flavors of white stone fruits, apple and citrus, sporting a pleasing touch of oak, and showing some aromatic intensity on the somewhat lengthy finish. Very good.

2010 Hirsch Vineyards San Andreas Fault Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $60. Release fall 2013. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Oak-dominated nose of coffee and dark caramel scents. Elegant, with light weight cherry and cranberry flavors backed by toasty oak and noticeable tannins. The delicate fruit is buried in oak at present but this should resolve to some degree with more time in bottle. Good (+).

2010 Hirsch Vineyards West Ridge Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

12.8% alc., 165 cases, $N/A. Release fall 2013. From a series of hilltop blocks covering 28 acres. A selection of the most exceptional barrels from three of the very best blocks on West Ridge planted to Mt. Eden, Swan and Pommard clones. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is shy, offering scents of red cherries and berries with a hint of toasty oak. This wine has a spring in its step due to vibrant acidity. While the East Ridge shows off darker fruits, the West Ridge features redder fruits and less tannin. It is a more giving and vibrant wine now than the East Ridge. Very good.

2010 Hirsch Vineyards East Ridge Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 240 cases, $N/A. Release fall 2013. From an 18-acre unique microclimate planted to Mt. Eden, Swan and Pommard clones. A selection of the best barrels from the three oldest blocks on the East Ridge. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Exotic aromas of wild berries, wooded forest and a hint of oak. Delicious core of sappy, dark red berry and black cherry fruit. Elegant, polished and smoothly textured, sporting some prominent tannins and oak that will integrate over time. Definitely lighter and less concentrated in this vintage, but a thoroughly pleasing wine. Very good.

2010 Hirsch Vineyards Reserve Estate Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., 295 cases, $N/A. Release spring 2014. A selection of the best barrels from eleven of the oldest and finest vineyard blocks at Hirsch. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. A great expression of Pinot Noir with marvelous aromas of black cherries, molasses, spice and oak. Mid weight flavors of black cherries, black raspberries and Dr. Pepper that are the most generous and concentrated of all the Hirsch wines in this vintage. Silky on entry, with striking Pinot sweetness on the mid palate, showing a firm, balanced tannic backbone, and finishing with a flourish of spicy black cherry fruit. Will benefit from more bottle age. A wine truly deserving of the reserve designation.

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