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Adventures on the Pinot Trail: World of Pinot Noir: The Tastings

The walk-around Grand Tastings at the World of Pinot Noir, like similar tastings at other events, are not a venue for serious, extensive wine tasting. Admittedly, the best way to critically evaluate or even thoroughly enjoy Pinot Noir is to taste it over time. As wine writer Eric Asimov said several years ago, “Part of what makes Pinot Noir so exciting is it’s elusive nature. From one moment to the next, the aromas and flavors of a good Pinot Noir change in the glass, making it difficult to pin down.” Not infrequently at these tastings, the host pops the cork on a bottle in front of you and pours you an ounce or so without giving any time for the wine to open up. That said, evaluating wines in this setting is an acquired skill that enables the experienced taster to develop lasting impressions gained by brief flings with a wine. It has been said that Pinot Noir is like love, when the right one comes along, you know it.

The photos below will give you a feel for the Grand Tastings held in the large ballroom at the Bacara Resort. You can sense the buzz in the room.

Some of the wines were available in a quiet setting in a room for members of the media to taste and I took advantage of this as well. This is not as fun as tasting in the presence of winemakers that you can get to know. As Tim Atkin MW has said, “The character, ambition and talent of the person who made it is highly relevant to how that wine tastes. I want to know about these things, just as I want to know about vintage conditions, personal eccentricities, and a winemaker’s take on the world. All those things make wine different; all these things make wine special.”

Clearly, I could not taste every wine or even all the offerings of every producer. There were, however, select wines that grabbed my attention and I have listed them here and in some cases provided brief comments. These are wines that are worth further exploration. Do not stress if you cannot find a particular wine, and do not feel that my choices are sacred cows. I have learned at these events by asking others what their favorite wines were, that more often than not their choices do not match all the wines that I preferred. In spite of the potential differences in palate preference, I do recommend paying attention to the producer’s name.

Many of the wines tasted are from the glorious 2012 vintage and not released yet. I did not taste wines from wineries that I review regularly in the PinotFile.

Exceptional (90-94)

2012 Alma Rosa La Encantada Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir Dependable Richard Sanford tirelessly promotes his wines and region, and never seems to lack for enthusiasm at the many events at which he pours his wines. He has put his financial setbacks behind him, and continues to eagerly offer a range of top flight wines at sensible prices. He knows this vineyard intimately as he originally planted it. Still very young, but offering an appealing floral nose and a luscious core of earth-kissed red fruits backed by bright acidity. A quintessential Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.

2012 Babcock Winery Slice of Heaven Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir From Block 14 at Rita’s Crown Vineyard. The lengthy story of “Slice of Heaven” is detailed by Brian Babcock on the winery’s website. A cherry bombast with plenty of likable cherry aroma and flavor with a substantial finish of uncommon length.

2012 BARDEN Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 14.3% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.60, 178 cases, $82. My first experience with this wine from Margerum Wine Company vinified by winemakers Jason Barrette and Doug Margerum. 30% whole cluster, natural fermentation, aged in 50% new French oak barrels for 9 months, bottled unfined and unfiltered. Beautifully balanced with a tasty core of middleweight cherry fruit.

2011 Bernardus Pinot Noirs This excellent wines are detailed in a feature elsewhere in this issue.

2011 Brittan Vineyards Basalt Block McMinnville Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Sourced from parts of vineyard that have the heaviest concentration of sub-marine basalt resulting in low yielding vines that produce intense flavors. Impressive fruit intensity and vividness with a balanced, firm tannic backbone, and a long, pleasing finish with a spark of citrus.

2011 Brittan Vineyards Gestalt Block McMinnville Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Sourced from the west-facing and most exposed blocks in the vineyard, resulting in a wine that is transparent to its vintage. A little darker in color than the Basalt, offering luscious plum and blackberry fruits, substantial tannins, and a lip smacking, acid-driven finish.

Charlie Heintz produces less than 1,000 cases of Pinot Noir Rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah from Heintz Ranch under the Heintz and Dutch Bill Creek labels. The winemaker is veteran Hugh Chapelle. I spent quite a while talking with Charlie who is extremely passionate about his vineyard and wines. I have always relished Chardonnays from Heintz Vineyard but the Pinot Noir was a surprise and the Syrah was one of the most memorable wines I tasted at World of Pinot Noir. Most of Charlie’s fruit is sold to name California producers including Ceritas Wines, DuMOL, DeLoach Vineyards, Flowers Winery, Freeman Vineyards & Winery, Littorai, Moone Tsai, Peay Vineyards, Peirson Meyer Wines, Williams Selyem, and Zepaltas Wines.

2012 Charles Heintz Vineyards Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 143 cases, $45. Aromas of lemon curd, roasted nuts, and citrus lead to a full-flavored core of rich citrus fruits and chalky minerality.

2012 Charles Heintz Vineyards Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Syrah 200 cases, $46. I wasn’t going to taste this wine as I rarely drink Syrah, but Charlie insisted and was I glad. This is cool-climate Syrah at its best. 2 acres of Syrah grown with very low yields. Drinks like a Pinot Noir, with a silky texture and impeccable balance. Enticing flavors of red stone and berry fruits with hints of spice and oak. A flat-out gorgeous wine.

2012 Cirq Estate Treehouse Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Winemaker Michael Browne’s own label made from his own vineyard farmed by partner Charlie Chenoweth. California’s next cult Pinot Noir. Despite being bottled only two weeks prior, this wine was very forward and giving. Velvety soft tannins caressed the intense core of plum, blackberry and black raspberry fruits. My notes say, “Drinking great.” Allocated.

2012 Couloir Wines Sebastiano Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 33% whole cluster fermentation. The bright acidity of the Sta. Rita Hills is on full display bringing the layers of red and black fruits to life. Beautifully crafted with impeccable balance and a finish that is reluctant to go away.

2012 Couloir Wines Chileno Valley Vineyard Marin County Pinot Noir 13.8% alc., TA 0.68, 193 cases, $44. 25% whole cluster. Aged in about 15% new French oak barrels, unfined and unfiltered. Relatively light in color, but packs a wallop of well-spiced red fruits. A very generous wine that ranks among the best I have ever tasted from this small appellation. Love this!

2012 Couloir Wines Monument Tree Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 14.2% alc., TA 0.50, 197 cases, $46. Clones 777, 667 and 115, 50% whole cluster, aged 11 months in 35% new French oak barrels. A lovely, but powerfully flavored wine with plenty of well-ripened red cherries and berries with a hint of spice and oak.

2012 Couloir Wines Campbell Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir This wine has the typical whole cluster floral display on the nose which I find extremely enticing. Modest in weight, but tasty, with an array of berry fruits backed by sinewy tannins. Still young, but provocative.

2011 Domaine Carneros La Terre Promise Carneros Pinot Noir 14.5% alc., pH 3.57, TA 0.68. Translated as “The Promised Land,” this bottling features Dijon 667 from La Terre Promise Vineyard. Some of the grapes from this vineyard go into Domaine Carneros sparkling wines as well. Very soft and smooth on the palate with a hardy core of sappy fruit, backed by complimentary oak. The tannins are quite suave and the wine is thoroughly satisfying.

2012 FEL Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 14.6% alc., $50. A new label established in March 2014 by Lede Family Wines in Napa Valley who purchased the Savoy Vineyard. FEL represents Florence Elsie Lede. The winemaker is Ryan Hodgins. The winery also offers a special selection of four barrels of Savoy Vineyard labeled Breggo Spiritus. Glorious aromas of black cherry pie glaze, spice, earth and oak come together beautifully. The mid weight earth-kissed dark cherry core is delicious and carries its intensity through a long finish. Very silky in the mouth, with soft tannins and easy drink ability. One of the top Pinots I tasted at the World of Pinot Noir. Allocated.

2012 Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Theresa Heredia has now settled in as winemaker and has put her stamp on the wines. They feature the Gary Farrell style with a little more structure and aromatic charm. This wine features the luscious fruit this vineyard is known for especially in this glorious vintage accented with an array of exotic spices. Great.

2012 Gary Farrell Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir A typical Bien Nacido offering with aromas of violets and herbs, earthy red and black fruits, and an uplifting finish showing a touch of dried herbs.

2010 Ghost Hill Cellars Prospector’s Selection Bayless-Bower Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir A bright wine with appealing red cherry and blueberry fruits with seamless balance and a refreshingly crisp finish. Just now flashing its best stuff.

2010 Gundlach Bundschu Winery Heritage Selection Carneros Pinot Noir $55. The winery’s 153-year-old estate 320-acre vineyard, Rhinefarm, is located at the southernmost point in Sonoma Valley. This limited bottling is made from some of the oldest vines on the property dating to 1934. This was a surprise for me as I had never sampled this Heritage Selection bottling and found it to be a very special wine. Highly aromatic with scents of black cherries, black plum sauce and floral attaché. Intensely flavored and very complex, yet polished and refined with soft tannins and an amazingly long finish displaying copious black cherry goodness accented with oak. Allocated.

2011 Gypsy Canyon Trois Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir No tasting room, a smart beautiful woman on stunning acreage doing what makes her happy. Deborah Hall pretty much single handedly tamed the large property into a haven of grapes, rescued dogs and fulfilled dreams. Consistently one of my favorite wines from this AVA, this three vineyard blend is a special selection of barrels. Each wine is presented in special hand-blown glass bottles. A very feminine, elegant wine with fresh aromas and flavors of red cherries and baking spice. Reflective of the vintage in its delicacy, but highly satisfying. Wait List.

2011 Hartford Family Winery Velvet Sisters Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 14.6% alc., pH 3.81, TA 0.52, $65. The “Velvet Sisters” are local Anderson Valley historical figures who in the language of Boontling lore became known for wearing plush velvet dresses that they had bought on a trip to British Columbia. Sourced from a block within the Falk Vineyard planted to Pommard, 115, 667 and 777. Aged 14 months in 50% new French oak barrels. All the 2011 Hartford Family Pinot Noirs poured at the event were quite special but this one really stood out for me. Very bright and vivid fruit extract featuring aromas and sappy flavors of black cherries, boysenberries, and baking spice. Concentrated, yet refined and silky. Gorgeous.

2011 Hartford Family Winery Hailey’s Block Arrendell Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 14.9% alc., pH 3.57, TA 0.60, 270 cases, $65. This block, named after Don and Jennifer Hartford’s daughter, Hailey, was planted in 1996 to Dijon 114 and 777 when Hailey was 6 years old. Unfined and unfiltered. Hi-tone aromas of red plum and raspberry echoed on the palate with added nuances of spice. The electric backbone of acidity charges the wine with energy and leads to a mouth watering finish.

2011 Hartford Family Winery Arrendell Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 14.5% alc., pH 3.36, TA 0.67, 235 cases, $90. This vineyard is located in the coldest spot in the Green Valley sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley AVA. First planted in 1975, it struggles to ripen one ton per acre of heirloom selections of Pinot Noir. The high natural acidity creates the potential for extended aging. Enticing aromas of black cherry pie glaze, red raspberry jam and dried herbs. Crisp on the palate with a bright cut of acidity, bringing to life the core of cherry, blueberry and raspberry fruits. The finish is juicy and long.

2012 Masút Block 6 Estate 115 Mendocino County Pinot Noir Brothers Ben and Jake Fetzer are the owners, growers and winemakers. They work with several clones of Pinot Noir planted on 35 acres in Mendocino County’s coastal mountains. Nicely perfumed with aromas of black cherries and black plums with hints of spice. Dreamy softness on the palate with flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and cola with a subtle note of supportive oak in the background.

2011 Masút Estate Vineyard Mendocino County Pinot Noir 14.3% alc., $40. Aged 11 months in 35% new French oak barrels. Highly aromatic with scents of black raspberry preserves, black cherries and toasty brioche. The flavors echo the aromas with an underlying touch of spice and earth. Mild tannins make for easy drinking now and the finish is quite generous and memorable.

2012 Pfendler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and 2012 Pfendler Sonoma Coast Chardonnay - see feature in this issue. Both are extraordinary wines and the best ever from this producer.

2012 R² Wine Company S&B Sanford & Benedict Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 150 cases, $56. One of the limited quantity Pinot Noirs from the team that formerly owned Roessler Vineyards. Winemaker is Drew Huffine. A beautiful wine with highly expressive dark red fruits on the nose and palate, filling the mouth with pleasure, and exiting with a persistent, earth-toned, fruit-driven finish. Impeccable balance.

2012 R² Wine Company 3-3-3 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 150 cases, $50. A blend of the three best barrels of the vintage. Aged in 60% new French oak barrels. A gorgeous wine that exudes charm and elegance, featuring bright cherry, strawberry and cola aromas and flavors. Harmonious with a generous finish.

2012 Reuling Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 1,000 cases, $70. This vineyard was planted in 2000 and comprises 12.2 acres of Pinot Noir (Calera and two Burgundian suitcase selections) and 2.2 acres of Chardonnay selections from Montrachet Vineyard. After selling fruit to Aubert and Peter Michael for ten years, owners Tim and Jackie Reuling decided to produce their own wines with winemaker Matt Taylor. 25% whole cluster. Lovely aromas of cherries, spice and subtle oak. Mid weight flavors of black cherry with a savory, spicy undertone and bright supporting acidity.

2012 Reuling Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 14.0% alc., pH 3.46, TA 0.56, 350 cases, $70. Pressed whole cluster to barrel, barrel fermented, 100% native yeasts, aged 10 months in 50% new and 50% used French oak barrels. This wine really caught my attention with its aromas of lemon, peach and petrichor (dirt after rain). The creamy palate featured white stone fruits, lemon curd, and crème brûlée supported by lively acidity. The finish is long and refreshing. An extraordinary offering.

2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Balistreri Family Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 14.4% alc., 50 cases (re-release), $75. Vinified by winemaker Anthony Austin. Harvest ended at the start of November ahead of the rains. 25% whole cluster. Extended 10-day cold soak, spontaneous wild fermentation. Drinking now in its prime with rich black cherry and black raspberry fruit complimented by earthy flora notes and spice. Seamless, with a bombastic finish.

2010 Talisman Wines Adastra Vineyard Los Carneros Pinot Noir 243 cases, $56. Pinotcentric winery with exquisite Pinot Noirs crafted by Scott Rich. 113, 2A and Pommard. Darkly colored and dark fruit driven with aromas and flavors of blackberries, boysenberries and subtle oak. Very sleek and soothing on the palate, finishing with a burst of fruit. Has some bottle age and drinking beautifully now. Check out feature with review of all 2010 releases in this issue.

2011 Trombetta Family Wines Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 14.2% alc., 530 cases, $58. Mother and daughter duo Rickey Trombetta Stancliff and Erica Stancliff share a passion for fine Pinot Noir. This wine is crafted by Erica and consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs. Clones 777, Swan and “828.” Harvest Brix 25º. Native fermentations, aged 9 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Effusive aromas of mixed berry preserves with hints of earth and mocha. Bright and lively on the palate with a broad array of berry fruits accented by spice and vanilla. An elegant, polished wine of great charm.

2012 Twomey Monument Tree Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir A new release and the first Twomey Pinot Noir with the Monument Tree Vineyard designation. A seamless wine in the Twomey style with juicy acidity charging the discreetly concentrated dark red cherry and berry fruit. Hedonistic flavor, yet refined in character. Highly enjoyable.

Wayfarer Pinot Noir was the most exciting find at this year’s World of Pinot Noir. This new label from Jayson and Cleo Pahlmeyer features estate grown Wayfarer Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Wayfarer Vineyard is 30 acres of Goldridge soil hidden among the redwoods two coastal ridges from the Pacific Ocean. Formerly a family owned organic farm known as ‘Wayfarer,’ and just down the mountain road from Marcassin Vineyard in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, Helen Turley declared it destined to be “the La Tache of California.” Considerable effort was needed to transform the property in the remote Sonoma Coast wilderness into a world-class vineyard. Viticulturist David Abreu divided the site into 30 one-acre blocks, each dedicated to a single clone determined to be the best match for the block: 16 clones in all. The Wayfarer fruit was blended into Pahlmeyer’s Sonoma Coast wines beginning in 2005. I visited the vineyard in 2004 with then Pahlmeyer winemaker Erin Green (see The PinotFile, Volume 3, Issue 24). The wines are vinified now by talented winemaker Bibiana González Rave who was trained in viticulture and winemaking in the vineyards of France. I have been impressed with her talent and drive since our first meeting at the World of Pinot Noir when I interviewed her for Grape Radio. The scheduled inaugural releases will be in the fall of 2014. My advice is to get on the mailing list now while you can at

2012 Wayfarer Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 5-7% whole cluster.

2012 Wayfarer Golden Mean Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 25% whole cluster.

2012 Wayfarer The Traveler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 32% whole cluster. A DRC suitcase selection.

The wines are still a bit tight and thus won’t be released until fall. That said, these were the best Pinot Noirs I tasted at the World of Pinot Noir. I was so enraptured that I failed to write any tasting notes except “a fiesta in the mouth: WOW!”

Very Good (86-89)

2012 Alma Rosa Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir $35, screwcap. Very approachable, ideal dinner wine.

2011 Babcock Winery Appellation’s Edge Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir $60 (sold out). Sourced from Radian Vineyard Blocks 32 (Pommard) and 33 (Dijon 115). Grown at the extreme western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

2011 Baxter Winery Valenti Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir 12.5% alc., $45. Fermented with 30% whole cluster using native yeast. Aged in all neutral French oak barrels for 20 months and then aged 12 months in bottle.

2012 Bruliam Wines Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Dijon clones 777 and 115. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels.

2012 Cebada Vineyard Estate Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir $42. Part of Forbidden Fruit Orchards, a boutique farm and winery located between Buellton and Lompoc, just west of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Clones 2A, 115, Calera and Pommard 4. Aged in about one-third new and two-thirds neutral French oak barrels.

2012 Charles Heintz Vineyards Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 200 cases, $48.

2013 Charles Heintz Vineyards Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Rosé $19.

2011 Domaine de la Côte Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 12.5% alc., 645 cases, $45. 50% whole cluster.

2012 EnRoute Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

2012 Hartford Family Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

2011 Hartford Family Winery McEvoy Vineyard Marin County Pinot Noir

2011 Joseph Jewell Floodgate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

2011 Joseph Jewell Hallberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

2011 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir $55. 59% Pastorale Vineyard and 41% Quarter Moon Vineyard. 17% whole clusters. Aged 14 months in 40% new and 60% two-to-three-year-old French oak barrels.

2012 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

2011 Kitá Wines Hilliard Bruce Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 13.5% alc., $60. Wines produced by winemaker Tara Gomez and assistant winemaker Tymari LoRe. Aged in 40% new French oak barrels.

2012 Kitá Wines Hilliard Bruce Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir Unreleased.

2012 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $24. A blend of grapes from the Left Coast vineyards, crafted from a wide variety of clonal and rootstock combinations. Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777.

2011 McEvoy Ranch “The Evening Standard” Marin County Pinot Noir 195 cases, $45. Known for olive oil, but now producing wine under the McEvoy Ranch label. The winemaker is Dr. Maurizio Castelli assisted by Blake Yarker.

2012 Paul Lato “Atticus” Sebastiano Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir $70. A blend of 115 and Swan selection. As usual, the Paul Lato booth was swamped with people so I gave a wave and tasted a bit of this wine out of magnum format.

2012 R² Wine Company Hein Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $48. Limited production.

2011 R² Wine Company Black Pine California Pinot Noir $26. 80% Sonoma Coast fruit.

2012 RN Estate Solomon Hills Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 205 cases, $55. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels.

2012 Seagrape Wine Company “Jump Up” Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 192 cases, $40. Produced by Dave Steinwachs and winemaker Karen Steinwachs, the winemaker for Buttonwood Farm Winery and a long time board member of World of Pinot Noir. A blend from Rancho la Viña Vineyard (777) and Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard (667). 25% whole cluster from Rancho la Viña aged in 15% new French oak and 100% de-stemmed from Rancho Santa Rosa aged in once-used French oak.

2012 Seagrape Wine Company Rancho La Viña Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 24 cases, $40. From a 1-acre “Seagrape block” planted to clone 777. 25% whole cluster.

2011 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Bodega Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 14.6% alc., 196 cases, $50.

2012 Twomey Soberanes Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

2011 Wren Hop Vineyards “Wisdom & Chaos” Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 375 cases, $62. Dijon clones 115 and 667. Raised in 100% new French oak barrels.