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Bernardus Winery: Pinot Noir Transcends the Ordinary

Bernardus Winery owner Ben Pon appreciates wine as an art and his wines reflect this aesthetic. Bernardus was the fifth winery to establish vineyards in the Carmel Valley and currently has 50 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Pon’s goal has been to make a red wine equal to the finest from Bordeaux and the winery’s resulting Marinus Estate Bordeaux-style red wine has met that goal and is the centerpiece of the winery’s production. Additionally, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are sourced from cool coastal vineyards for vineyard designate wines.

I have had only passing interest and experience with Bernardus Winery Pinot Noir in the past. Recently, the winery sent me several 2011 Pinot Noirs to review and this was quite an eye-opening experience. Winemaker Dean De Korth has applied his training and apprenticeship in Burgundy to craft some extraordinary wines that are consistently stellar across the entire lineup.

De Korth (pictured below) obtained a degree in Viticulture and Enology at the Lycee in Beaune and the University of Burgundy in Dijon. He worked for Jean-Marc Pavelot in Savigny-les-Beaune, Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Mersault, and Olivier Leflaive in Puligny Montrachet, before being offered the position of cellar master with Pierre Morey in Meursault. Upon returning to his native Monterey Bay area to be closer to his family, he worked as the winemaker for several prestigious Central Coast wineries including Morgan, Talbott and David Bruce. He is ideally qualified to apply Old World winemaking techniques in the New World setting at Bernardus.

After hand-sorting, the Pinot Noir grapes are de-stemmed and gently pumped to small fermenters retaining as many whole berries as possible. Each fermenter is hand-punched or pumped-over twice daily until fermentation is complete. The solids are then pressed and the wine is aged in barrel 10 months before final blending and bottling. Vineyard sources are at the top end.

2012 Bernardus Santa Lucia Highlands Saignée de Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 569 cases, $24. Made from fresh pressed Pinot Noir grapes. As the grapes are crushed, a small percentage of the juice is blend off before it has a chance to absorb much color from the grape skins. The barely colored juice is then cold fermented in stainless steel in the winery’s coolest cellar to dryness. A blend from multiple Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards including Pisoni, Rosella’s, Sierra Mar, Soberanes, Tondré Grapefield, Fairview, Highlands and Paraiso. · Magnetic pinkish red color and clear in the glass. Lovely nose perfumed with strawberries, red cherries, mangoes, redwood and allspice. The wine is fresh, crisp and bright on the palate with flavors of strawberry, red cherry and cotton candy with a hint of citrus. Drink this wine slightly chilled with sushi for a big smile. Score: 88

2011 Bernardus Soberanes Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 312 cases, $55. Vineyard farmed by Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni and located adjacent Garys’ Vineyard. Pisoni “clone” and Dijon 667. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. I really liked the nose on this beauty featuring bright aromas of black cherry, blackberry jam, cassis, brewed tea and oak. The delicious fruit including dark cherries and blackberries really jumps out. Nicely composed with integrated tannins, and a lengthy, intensely fruity finish. This wine has broad shoulders but is refined. Score: 94

2011 Bernardus Sierra Mar Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 336 cases, $55. A newer vineyard planted by Gary Franscioni on a hilltop at the southern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands. Pisoni “clone” and “828.” Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas of black cherry pie filling, plum reduction sauce and complimentary oak. Intensely flavored with layers of black cherry, black raspberry and plum fruit with an earthy underpinning. Bright acidity, balanced tannins and modest finishing length complete the picture. Score: 91

2011 Bernardus Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 429 cases, $65. This vineyard was planted by Gary Franscioni and named after his wife. Pisoni “clone” and Dijon 777. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddishpurple hue in the glass. Highly aromatic and intoxicating, with scents of cherries, dark strawberries and spice. The delicious core of cherry fruit is accented with hints of cola and oak-driven mocha. Very approachable with harmonious tannins and a lovable finish. Shows off the typical red-toned fruits and femininity characteristic of this vineyard. A dancing Pinot. Score: 94

2011 Bernardus Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 165 cases, $65. Planted to the Pisoni “clone” by Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni. Aged 10 months in about 40% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A masculine wine with a notable earthy accent. Aromas of darker red cherries and berries and some oak spice. Full-bodied, filling the mouth with layers of deep red cherry and berry fruits, yet has a pleasing soft texture and nicely integrated tannins. The most extracted and structured wine in the 2011 Bernardus Pinot Noir lineup that will benefit from more cellaring. Score: 92

2011 Bernardus Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 508 cases, $70. Aged in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Demure aromas of dark red and purple stone and berry fruits with some forest floor compliment. The fruit explodes on the palate with some fervor, yet with more delicacy in this vintage. Very polished and beautifully balanced, with superb fruit purity. A whiff of alcohol shows up on the finish. A sophisticated offering that is atypical for Pisoni Vineyard but reflective of the cool vintage: Pisoni unplugged. Score: 93

The Bernardus tasting room is open daily at 5 West Carmel Valley Road in Carmel Valley. The wines are also available through the winery’s wine club and online on the website at (the 2011 vintage wines are net available at the online store offering at the time of this publication).

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