Sips of Recently Tasted California Pinot Noir
The estate vineyard, located at 1,000 feet elevation on the northwestern shoulder of Sonoma Mountain, was
originally planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1973, but the site, located proved too cool for consistent success
with this variety. The vineyard founder, Dave Steiner, coaxed by noted winemaker Rod Berglund, planted a
block of the vineyard to Pinot Noir in the early 1990s. Present owners, Nate and Lauren Belden acquired the
site in 2005 and redeveloped the vineyard, named Steiner Vineyard after Dave Steiner. Only 1.5-acre stand of
Pinot Noir clone 667 planted in 1998 could be saved. Soils are ancient volcanic in type. Vineyard manager is
Chris Bowland and winemaker is Justin Harmon. Visit www.beldenbarns.com.
2013 Belden Barns Estate Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.80, TA 0.52, 325 cases, $38.
Aged 16 months in 100% French oak barrels, 42% new.
Medium reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose
lacks fruit expression, with oak-driven espresso the overwhelming scent. The luscious black cherry and black
raspberry core of fruit is buried in oak and overwhelmed by flavors of coffee and dark chocolate, but does rise
up on the lengthy finish. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine
still smelled and tasted of coffee. This wine will appeal to those who prefer lavishly-oaked Pinot Noir.
2013 Belden Barns Serendipity Block Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.57, 71 cases, $48. Sourced from the best
pocket of the Steiner Vineyard that was inter-planted with 9 Pinot Noir
clones. 100% whole cluster. Aged 16 months in 100% neutral French oak
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. A polished, light to
mid weight style, with a mix of purple and black fruits framed by firm, but
not terribly imposing tannins. Oak plays an insignificant role and the finish
exhibits a generous burst of both sweet and citrus-imbued purple fruits.
This winery is a joint effort of Will Henry and iconic Santa Barbara County winemaker Lane Tanner. Grapes are
picked relatively early on the harvest calendar to create a livelier wine that is lower in alcohol. Lane Tanner
was one of the first female winemakers in Central California. Will Henry is a widely published journalist and
photographer and founder of the non profit organization Save The Waves Coalition. Will and Lane make the
wines together in Santa Maria. Visit the website at www.lumenwines.com.
2013 LUMEN Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 800 cases, $29. Sourced from several
vineyards (mainly Sierra Madre Vineyard) and picked early for added vibrancy. Clones 77, 115 and
Pommard 5. Harvest Brix 23.4º. 100% de-stemmed. Aged in 15% new and 85% neutral French/
Hungarian oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass.
Bright aromas of Maraschino cherry and dried rose petal. Welcome attack of fresh black cherry fruit
framed by complimentary oak. The tannins are nicely balanced, the fruit is lifted by tangy acidity, and
the finish is uplifting and refreshing. This elegant wine is very well crafted.
2013 LUMEN Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 99 cases, $49. A barrel selection.
Harvest average Brix 23.7º. Clones 667 and Pommard 5. Aged
in 84% neutral French oak and 16% new Hungarian oak.
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. The aromas of fresh
boysenberry, plum, spice and toasty oak draw you into the
glass. Beautifully balanced and polished on the palate, with
flavors of black raspberry, boysenberry and plum with a slight earthy
undertone. The oak seasoning is complimentary, the tannins are proportional
and the wine’s juicy acidity makes for refreshing drinking.
The intensely aromatic spiced plum on the very long finish is especially
impressive. This wine truly reflects Santa Maria Valley terroir and is the
best Pinot Noir I have ever had from this vineyard.
Veteran winemaker Nicolai Stez, who work at the side of Burt Williams for many years, sent me these 2012
Pinot Noirs. The 2012 Buena Tierra Vineyard bottling scored 98 points and was awarded Best California Pinot
Noir and Best of Region at the 2015 California State Fair. Visit www.woodenheadwine.com.
2012 Woodenhead Kent Berry Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $N/A.
light crimson color in the glass. The nose leads with aromas of red cherry, strawberry and oak spice. Light to
mid weight flavors of red cherry, blueberry and pomegranate are propelled by bright acidity and framed by fine
grain tannins. Easy to drink but with a bit of alcoholic heat on the finish.
2012 Woodenhead Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., 538 cases, $45. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate light crimson color in the glass. Gorgeous nose with extravagant aromas of crush Bing cherries.
Quintessential Russian River Valley flavor profile with mid weight tastes of Bing cherry, cola and spice. On the
elegant side in this vintage, with good vibrancy, balanced soft tannins and complimentary oak in the
background. Ready now, but impeccable balance predicts a long life ahead.
2012 Woodenhead Buena Tierra Vineyard E Block Clone 115 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., 149 cases, $75 (2 bottle
Moderately dark reddish purple hue in the glass. Complex
aromatic profile with scents of black cherry, black raspberry, clove,
cardamom, and toasty oak jumping from the glass. Delicious mid weight
core of black cherry, raspberry, vanilla, and Moroccan spice goodness.
Impressive polish and harmony with a satiny mouthfeel and a very long
finish that returns waves of luscious oak-infused fruit flavor. Still
pumping out aromatic and flavor highlights the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2011 Calera Selleck Vineyard Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 214 cases, $71. This 4.8-acre vineyard was
planted in 1975. Yield 0.64 tons per acre. Native yeast fermentation. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels,
30% new. Unfiltered.
Moderately light cherry red color in the glass. This wine speaks of the earth, with aromas
of loamy soil, iron and oak and flavors of earth-kissed black cherry, dark raspberry, edible flower, and spice.
Light to mid weight in style, with mildly firm tannins and complimentary oak in the background. When tasted
the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was still enticing and impressive for
its balance, but the fruit aromas had still not shown up on the nose.
2012 Calista The Coast Range California Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.77, TA 0.56, 17,000 cases, $24.99. A
blend of Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands fruit. 100% de-stemmed, several
day cold soak, fermentation in small, open-top fermenters, twice daily punch downs. Aged 14 months in French
oak barrels, 30% new.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The inviting aromas of dark red cherries and
berries lead to a middleweight, appealingly-flavored wine offering dark red and purple fruits that display some
persistence on the finish. The fine grain tannins rise up on the finish and oak peeks out over time in the glass.
A bit of alcoholic warmth shows up on the finish as well.
2013 Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.44, TA 0.67, 1,290 cases, $55. Released January 21,
2015. The 100-acre Hallberg Vineyard is located in the Green Valley of
Russian River Valley appellation. Mostly de-stemmed with a small
portion of whole cluster. 5 to 7-day cold soak, 10 to 15-day extended
maceration. Aged 14 months on the primary lees in 100% French oak
barrels, 40% new.
Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass. This
wine aims to please with aromas and flavors of red berries, blueberries,
and cherries with a modicum of oak contribution. Light to mid weight in
size, with appealing tension and an uplifting cut of acidity typical of Gary
Farrell wines. Quite charming.
2013 J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Arroyo Seco Monterey County Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.72, TA
0.59, 3,321 cases, $35. Estate grown clones including Dijon 115, 667 and 777, and Pommard 4.
Harvest Brix 25.8º. Aged 8 months in French oak barrels, 60% new.
Dark reddish purple color in the
glass. Aromas of ripe black cherry and blackberry with a tug of vanilla. Full-bodied, but light on its
feet and not overwrought, with a plush core of assorted dark berry flavors accented with highlights of oak-driven
dark chocolate and espresso. The wine is velvety in the mouth with appealing balance, and although not particularly
complex, the fruit and texture are seductive. A crowd pleaser for those who prefer the riper, bolder
style of Pinot Noir typical of J. Lohr Pinot Noir offerings.
2012 Littorai The Haven Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., $80. This site is northwest of Occidental on the southern
shoulder of a 1200-foot ridge. The soils are very diverse
including sandstone, shale and gravel. Planted in 2001, this is
usually the latest ripening site in the Littorai vineyard family.
There is about 40 different rootstock and clonal combinations
within a very small 4-acre vineyard. It is farmed using
agroecological and biodynamic methods but is not certified. Yields are
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Delightful perfume of
ripe berry mash. Delicious mid weight plus core of perfectly ripened dark
red berry and black cherry fruits. A bit earthy and savory with a hint of
cola. The suede-like texture is very appealing and there is a well-proportioned
tannic backbone. Beautifully balanced, this classy wine is just now showing some appeal, but will
certainly be more complex and purposeful with further cellaring.
2013 Mansfield-Dunne Peterson Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.74, TA 0.59,
340 cases, $48. Winemaker Ed Kurtzman. Clones “828,” 667, Pommard 5, 115 and 777. Aged 13 months in
French oak barrels, 67% new.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The aromas of black raspberry
preserves, plum, spice and rose petal are inviting. Very charming and polished, with a mid weight core of black
cherry and raspberry fruit accented with spice and a tug of oak. Easy to like, with supple tannins and a finish
that has length and juicy intensity. Even better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle. This wine is certainly enjoyable now, but further aging will allow more expression and better oak
2013 Manzoni Home Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 708 cases, $35.
Released summer 2015. Dijon clones 115 and 777.
Moderately light cherry red color in the glass.
Nicely perfumed with aromas of strawberry, cherry and sandalwood that draw you into the glass.
Very tasty, with a discreetly concentrated core of cherry fruit accented with notes of cola, spice and
anise in the background. This highly approachable wine has a well-balanced tannic backbone and
good finishing length, and will appeal to those who enjoy a respectable contribution of oak in their
2013 Migration Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 19,722 cases, $38. A blend of fruit
from the cooler Green Valley of Russian River Valley and slightly warmer parts of the Russian River
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Plenty of interest here with aromas of
strawberry, red cherry, baking spice and toasty oak. The light to mid weight flavors of cherry, black
raspberry, rhubarb and cola are quite enjoyable, albeit with a slightly confected tone. A solid,
forward drinker with supple tannins, a silky texture, and a sweet cherry finish.
2013 POE Van Der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., $45. This iconic vineyard, located at 1,400 feet elevation at
the top of Sonoma Mountain, was planted in the late 1950s.
light crimson color in the glass. Seductive aromas of fresh cherry pie
glaze, cranberries and a touch of oak. The bright black cherry core lifts
the senses and the vibrancy is thirst-quenching. Nicely spiced, with
modest tannins, as well as welcome elegance and balance. Even better
the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle showing
more flavor intensity on the palate. Impressive wine from a celebrated
2013 Rally Point Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 147 cases, $38. Released March 2015.
A portion of revenues from this wine are donated to organizations that support veterans or share the
winemaker’s values. Aged 8 months on the lees in French oak barrels and then racked into barrels for 3
months before bottling. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light cherry red color in the glass. A lighter-weight
wine, even slightly dilute, with pleasant aromas and flavors of fresh cherries, dried herbs and oak. Easy to
drink, with silky, supple tannins, finishing on a cherry note.
2013 Wait Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 75 cases, $36. Release fall 2015.
Sourced from the cool Devoto Garden Vineyard west of Sebastopol (clones 667 and 115), and the warmer
Skikos Vineyard west of Santa Rosa (clones 77 and Swan). 25% whole cluster, 5-day cold maceration. Native
yeast fermentation. Aged 10 months on the lees in French oak barrels, 33% new.
Moderately light crimson color in the
glass. Pleasant aromas of cherry and earthy flora. Discreetly concentrated and very juicy, with appealing
flavors of black cherry, boysenberry, cola and spice. Elegantly crafted and easy to drink, with balanced
tannins, vibrant acidity and a gloriously fruity finish.
2013 Wait Cellars Devoto Garden Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 350 cases, $33. Release in fall
2015. This site is on a windy ridge west of Sebastopol, renowned for its
cool temperatures and fog, and well-drained Goldridge soil. Harvest Brix
22º-23º. Clones “828,” 667 and 115. 25% whole cluster. Wild yeast
fermentation. Aged 10 months on primary lees in 20% new French and
Hungarian oak barrels, with lees stirring throughout the winter. Unfined
Moderately light crimson color in the glass. Lovely
aromas of strawberry, raspberry, clove and sage. The flavors echo the
nose, in an elegant style that is also crisp, with mild tannins
and impeccable balance. This light and bright wine reflects its Green
Valley origins and would be a perfect partner at the dinner table.