California Pinot Noir Worth Toasting
I have reiterated to readers a number of times how my wine drinking lifetime of close to fifty years coincided
with the dramatic rise in excellence of California Pinot Noir. That said, the joyous ride is not over. There
continues to be an embarrassment of riches and today’s overall consistent quality of California Pinot Noir has
never been more extraordinary. The bar has moved to such lofty heights that large numbers of premium
California Pinot Noir now receive scores of 90 or above.
As winemakers continue to strive for perfection in Pinot Noir, consumers can rejoice. It’s time to toast our
Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards, Malibu, CA
Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards, established in 2005, has emerged as one of the leading producers in the Malibu
Coast, a region that attained AVA status in 2014. Proprietor Elliott Dolin grew up Northern New Jersey and
became an accomplished musician, working with Donna Fargo Ray Price and Brenda Lee as well as playing
on recording sessions alongside Nashville’s top session players. He began to invest in real estate, moved to
California and transitioned into a career in commercial real estate investment. After meeting his spouse, Lynn,
in the early 1990s, he developed a passion for wine and became active in restoring vintage cars.
In 2006, while restoring his recently purchased Malibu home, he saw the opportunity to grow Chardonnay and
three years later, Dolin Estate Chardonnay was born.
After the first three vintages of Chardonnay, the winery expanded production to include Pinot Noir from notable
Santa Maria Valley vineyards. Winemaker Kirby Anderson joined the winery in 2010 and helped expand
production into Central Coast Pinot Noir in 2012. A graduate of University of California at Davis, Anderson
honed his winemaking skills working at Buena Vista Winery, Bernardus Winery and La Crema. In 1997, he
became the winemaker for Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez, CA, leaving in 2008 to become a winemaking
Dolin wines are available on the winery website and through a mailing list at www.dolinestate.com. The
winery’s Chardonnays are reviewed later in this issue.
2013 Dolin Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.63, 340 cases, $32. Sourced from Bien
Nacido Vineyard. Dijon 667. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, fermentation in 1.3-ton open-top tanks, and
aged 23 months in French oak barrels, 30% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate garnet color in the
glass. Noticeable oak toast and spice frames the aromas of black raspberry and plum. Mid weight plus in
concentration, featuring black stone and berry fruits engaged by gentle tannins. Plush and satiny in texture,
with integrated alcohol and a modest finish. Oak plays too prominent a role in this wine and this may worsen as
the wine ages so I recommend consuming it now.
2013 Dolin Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.61, 128 cases,
$45. Dijon 667. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, fermentation in 1.3-ton open-top tanks, and aged 21
months in French oak barrels, 30% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light garnet color in the
glass. Very nice perfume of purple and black fruits with a complimentary floral note. A charming wine with a
tasty mid weight core of black cherry, black raspberry, black grape and spice flavors sporting a silky texture,
modest tannins and a gracious finish. The breeding of the grapes comes through in this wine.
2013 Dolin John Sebastiano Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 340 cases, $45.
garnet color in the glass. Very ripe fruited, with aromas and flavors of dark berry jam, cassis and raisin. Mid
weight plus in style offering a silky mouth feel and ingratiating tannins but not much finish. The fruit has a
roasted quality and there is an additional tutti-fruity note.
Dutton-Goldfield, Sebastopol, CA
This distinguished winery began in a vineyard in 1998, when longtime colleagues and friends Steve Dutton and
Dan Goldfield recognized a shared vision to craft wines that expressed the personalities of their vineyards. Dan
has become something of a winemaker emeritus based on his many years of crafting wines from cool-climate
vineyards in Sonoma County.
The annual production is focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with 75% of the grapes coming from Steve
Dutton’s over eighty Dutton Ranch vineyards, primarily in the Green Valley sub-appellation of the Russian River
A tasting room is open daily on Gravenstein North in Sebastopol. The wines are largely sold to a dedicated
mailing list of wine enthusiasts. Visit www.dutton-goldfield.com.
2016 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.58, $44.
Sourced from eight Dutton Ranch vineyards. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, 14 to 20 days on skins, and
aged in French oak barrels, 40% new, for 10 months.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. This wine is
aged in significant new oak and will need more time for the oak to integrate. At this stage, the nose offers
aromas of dark cherry, spice, underbrush and woodshed. The mid weight flavors of black cherry, purple and
black berries appeal but the wine is tight. Nicely balanced with caressing tannins and a short finish.
Considerably better when re-tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with more
aromatic goodness and more finish. There is no hurry to drink this wine now.
2015 Dutton-Goldfield Emerald Ridge Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.64, 602 cases, $62. Clones are Pommard, 2A, and “828.” 100% de-stemmed, open-top
fermentation after a 5-day cold soak, each clone treated separately and later blended. Aged 16 months in
French oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The wine was considerably more
giving when tasted the following day after opening and my review will reflect that. Aromas of purple berries,
spice, pine and savory herbs engage the drinker. Crafted in a mid weight plus style, with explosive flavors of
black raspberry and blackberry that find every corner of the mouth. Impeccably balanced, with agreeable
tannins, gracious acidity and a noticeably long finish replete with fresh fruit. Decant if you must drink now.
2015 Dutton-Goldfield Fox Den Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH
3.44, TA 0.68, 490 cases, $62. The 8-acre vineyard sits just above the town of Occidental. Goldridge sandy
loam soil. Planted in 2002 to 667, 777 and 115 at the home of Ed and Sue Smith. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day
cold soak, open-top fermentation, clonal blocks managed individually and aged 16 months in French oak
barrels, 55% new.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Enticing aromas of ripe cranberry black raspberry
rose petal, ground cocoa and vanilla. A luscious array of purple and black berry fruits greet the palate carrying
over through an intensely fruity finish. Nicely composed, with a satiny texture and well-integrated tannins. The
wine was considerably more appealing when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle showing more fruit and spice in the nose, a seductively soft mouth feel and a seamless character.
Decant if you must drink now.
Goldeneye Winery, Philo, CA
Goldeneye was founded in 1996 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn who believed the Anderson Valley had the
potential to be one of the finest regions in the world for growing Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is now sourced from four
estate vineyards within the Anderson Valley: Gowan Creek in the heart of the Anderson Valley on the valley
floor, Confluence located on both hillside and valley floor sections, Split Rail located riverside on the valley
floor, and The Narrows located in the very cool, northern “deep end” of the valley surrounded by redwood
forests. The entire Pinot Noir program encompasses 200 vine acres and more than 24 distinctive clones.
Single-vineyard bottlings are offered from each of the estate vineyards. When blended together in the
Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, the representation of the region as a whole is brought to light. The Ten Degrees
bottling is a reserve selection.
The current winemaker is Michael Accurso, who joined the winery in 2012 and worked alongside previous
winemaker Michael Fay. He also managed vineyards for a number of wineries including Copain and Littorai
while a vineyard manager for Ardzrooni Vineyard Management.
The picturesque Goldeneye tasting room is located in Philo overlooking the Confluence Vineyard. Visitors are
welcome daily. Visit www.goldeneyewinery.com. The wines reviewed here were cellared and bottled by
Goldeneye in Hopland, CA.
2015 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 12,723 cases, $58.
Moderately light garnet color in
the glass. Flattering aromas of black raspberry, plum, earthy flora, dried herbs and a dash of oak. A giving,
congenial wine with mid-weight flavors of black raspberry, black cherry and ripe strawberry. Silky and
embraceable, as well as balanced, with a decent but not extraordinary finish.
2015 Goldeneye Gowan Creek Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $84. Aged 16 months in
French oak barrels, 65% new.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry fruit and oak-driven
vanilla, cigar and warm spices. Modest in weight with an explosive attack of black cherry fruit that veers to the
ripe side. The fruit sap is wrapped in luxurious toasty oak in the typical Goldeneye style. Discreet tannins allow
for drinking now.
2015 Goldeneye Confluence Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $84. Aged 16 months in
French oak barrels, 60% new.
Light ruby red color in the glass. Alluring aromas of black cherry, rose petal
perfume, and oak spice and vanilla. Sleek in the mouth with good vibrancy and freshness, offering a core of
black cherry fruit that shows great purity and charm. The tannins are well matched to the sap, oak plies the
background, and the finish is endowed with aromatic cherry goodness.
2015 Goldeneye The Narrows Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 437 cases, $84. Located
at the northernmost tip of the Anderson Valley in the “deep end.” Mature vines planted ten miles inland from the
Mendocino Coast so there is a strong maritime influence including summer fog and cooler daytime
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Inviting scents of cherry, fruit bin, pasture and a hint of
oak. Uplifting and gratifying, with good dark red fruit and spice exuberance and a sidecar of floral goodness.
Refined and silky in the mouth with enough tannin to bolster the sap. Although accessible upon opening, this
wine was considerably better when tasted several hours after opening.
2015 Goldeneye Split Rail Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 342 cases, $84. 16 blocks and
9 clones in this vineyard located in the heart of the Anderson Valley.
Moderate garnet color in the glass.
Reserved, but gracious aromas of mixed berries, piney oak and a subtle floral note. Darker fruits are featured
on the mid weight palate. Straight forward, fruity and pleasant with harmonious tannins, but not complex at this
stage. Still reserved when tasted from an open bottle several hours later. Should be cellared for a year or two.
La Crema Winery, Santa Rosa, CA
La Crema, dating to 1979, is one of the most dependable brands in the Pinot Noir marketplace. The original
name of the winery, La Crema Vinera or “Best of the Vine,” set the standard for the winery. A member of the
Jackson Family Wines portfolio, this winery focuses solely on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from cool-climate
appellations in California and Oregon.
La Crema wines are widely distributed in the retail marketplace. For years, there was a tasting room in
Healdsburg. Now consumers can also visit the La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in the Russian River
Valley to sample La Crema wines. Visit www.lacrema.com for details.
2015 La Crema Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., pH 3.76, TA 0.60, 11,850 cases, $40, Sourced
from 14 grower and estate vineyards spread across the Russian River Valley. Clones 777, Flowers, Pommard,
2A, 667, “828,” and 23. 100% de-stemmed, 3 to 5-day cold soak, fermented in open-top tanks, and aged 11
months in French oak barrels, 31% new.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Engaging scents of Bing cherry,
baking spices and nut oil. Succulent and sweet dark cherry flavor with accents of spice, toast and anise. Easy
to like in a middleweight style with complimentary tannins and an alluring cherry cola finish. Impressive quality
at this scale of production.
2015 La Crema Panorama Vineyard Arroyo Seco Monterey County Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.74, TA
0.59, 761 cases, $40. Sourced from selected blocks within the estate Panorama Vineyard. 100% de-stemmed,
3 to 5-day cold soak, fermented in open-top tanks, and aged 9 months in French oak barrels, 28% new.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The nose is earthbound with added fruit aromas of black cherry and
ripe berries and a subtle infusion of Asian spice. An engaging wine with open arms, offering tasty black cherry,
boysenberry and plum fruit flavors infused with the right amount of oak spice. Gracious and harmonious, with a
noticeably extended finish.
Maggy Hawk, Windsor, CA
This winery, part of the Jackson Family Wines portfolio, is unique in that only single clone Pinot Noir wines are
offered from the Maggy Hawk Estate Vineyard. Each wine is the series is named after a horse born to Maggy
Hawk, a winning thoroughbred. Readers know that I have a special fondness for the Maggy Hawk Pinot Noirs.
The vineyard is situated in Philo, in the “deep end” of the Anderson Valley among redwoods and is one of the
last vineyards before one reaches the Pacific Ocean. It is a complex patchwork of different facings, slopes and
clones. The soil is decomposed sandstone, known for exceptional drainage and low nutrients. In most vintages,
yields are very low, no more than two tons per acre.
The winemaker is Elizabeth Douglas who joined La Crema in 2001, became the Director of Winemaker in
2010, and WindRacer more recently. The photo below shows her pouring at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Festival. I have toured the vineyard with Elizabeth and found she possesses a close bond with this special
property. Elizabeth is a Canadian native who became one of the first to graduate from the Cool Climate
Oenology and Viticulture program at Brock University in the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada.
Maggy Hawk wines are available on an allocation basis to mailing list members. Visit www.maggyhawk.com.
Taste the wines at the annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.
2015 Maggy Hawk Stormin’ Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 223 cases, $66. Clone 667. This wine,
from a 3.47-acre block, is typically intense and structured. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels.
garnet color in the glass. A classic Pinot nose of spiced cherry and earthy flora. A big gulp of dark fruit
goodness that is bold yet refined with gracious tannins and giving acidity. Satiny in the mouth, with noticeable
oak backing, and a long finish. The majestic fruit is unusually concentrated for Pinot Noir. More desirable when
tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle when the oak showed better integration.
Decant or hold awhile in the cellar.
2015 Maggy Hawk Hawkster Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 495 cases, $66. Clone Wädenswil 2A. A 6.18-
acre block. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Reserved, but
pleasing aromas of forest and blackberry fruit. Both earthy
and fruity, exhibiting a mid weight core of fresh black cherry
and black raspberry sap clothed in gracious toasty oak. Soft
and silken in the mouth with a notable juiciness and a big,
even giant, persistent finish. When tasted the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle, that glorious finish continued to
grab my attention.
2015 Maggy Hawk Graceful Lady Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 327 cases, $66. Clone 777. Aged
16 months in French oak barrels.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Energetic aromas of black cherry,
cardamom spice and complimentary oak. Discreetly concentrated in a charming and poised style, with flavors
of black cherry, black tea and spice. Highly accessible, with welcome elegance, a silky mouth feel and
seamless integration of t n’ a. “Graceful Lady” is an apropos name for this wine. Still highly aromatic and
charming when sampled the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2015 Maggy Hawk Jolie Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 641 cases, $66. Clone 115. A
southeast facing 10.03-acre block that consistently produces the most nuanced and pretty Pinot
Noir from the vineyard and always my favorite wine in the lineup. Aged 16 months in French oak
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Lovely perfume of black cherry, clove, and
Wassail spices, becoming more explosive over time in the glass. The mid weight black cherry
essence is pure and vivid in the mouth, carrying over through an exceptionally long finish. Even
better when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. This wine has
an aura that captivates me year in and year out.
Masút Vineyard & Winery, Redwood Valley, CA
Third generation vintners Ben and Jake Fetzer began planting the first vineyards at Masút in 1997 and by the
early 2000s, many wineries were beginning to see the potential of the site untapped for growing Pinot Noir.
They spearheaded a petition for a new AVA called Eagle Peak Mendocino County (approved in 2014, Masút is
the sole winery in the AVA), and converted a barn on their property to a winemaking facility, becoming a
bonded winery in 2009. They released their first vintage in 2011, dedicating it to their father, Robert Fetzer, who
tragically passed in a rafting accident in 2006.
Masút is a Native American word meaning, “dark, rich earth.”
The 1,200-acre Masút property features rugged, sloped terrain and fast-draining soils. Elevations rise from 800
feet to almost 2000 feet. 40 acres are planted to Pinot Noir, including Dijon clones 113, 115, 777, and
Mariafeld, Mt. Eden, Swan and Masút clones, and Chardonnay including Wente and Dijon 96 clones.
I have followed the Fetzer brother’s wines since the initial release and although the wines have always been
very good, I have seen improvement due to maturity of vines and increasing winemaking acumen. The 2016
Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir is the culmination of years of hard work and is truly a magnificent wine that
deserves a toast.
Masút wines are sold through the winery’s online store at www.masut.com. Private tours and tasting are
available by appointment.
2016 Masút Estate Vineyard Eagle Peak Mendocino County Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.58, TA 0.60, 3,100
cases, $40. Clones are 115 (50%), 777, 113, Mt. Eden and
Masút. 100% de-stemmed, 4 to 6-day cold soak, 10-day
ferment, aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 32% new.
Gorgeous moderately dark garnet color in the glass.
Irresistable aromas of boysenberry, blueberry-pomegranate,
black grape juice, spice and forestry. A stunning wine in the mouth with
a terrific attack, length and finish. The mid weight flavors of juicy purple
and black berries seem to melt in the mouth. The sap is framed by a
deft touch of oak and the velvety mouth feel is a turn on. This wine is
great from the time you pull the cork and still great when tasted later in
the day. This is the most exceptional wine from this producer I have
tasted to date. I felt in the past that the Masút wines often leaned too much on oak, but this wine has none of
that. You can feel the Fetzer boys’ passion in this Pinot.
Ram’s Gate Winery, Sonoma, CA
Veteran winemaker Jeff Gaffner directs the wine program at this modern and progressive winery that is an
inspiring showpiece in Sonoma Carneros. The winery works with marquee vineyards of Sonoma County and
Carneros, as well as the 28-acre estate vineyard planted to seven grape varieties.
The 2015 wines were released a bit later than in previous vintages to allow the wines to age longer in oak and
bottle. This extended aging before release has led to wines that are ready to drink now and the entire Pinot
Noir lineup is exceptional with the most outstanding offerings from this winery to date. Most wines exhibit
exquisite balance, elegance, and juiciness and what I call “hug-ability.”
The 2015 Chardonnays are also noteworthy and are reviewed later in this issue. With fewer bottles available
from the light crop in 2015, these wines will sell out quickly.
Appointments for tasting that includes food pairings are recommended and are held in several venues at the
winery. The wines are sold at the winery and through a mailing list. Visit www.ramsgatewinery.com.
2015 Ram’s Gate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.5, TA 0.59, 670 cases, $46.
garnet color in the glass. Many aromatic nuances show up on the nose including boysenberry, black raspberry,
grilled beef, underbrush and earthiness. Rather rich and jammy with a core of brooding black fruits, dark
chocolate and black tea flavors framed by genteel tannins. Sleek in the mouth, with a modest finish.
2015 Ram’s Gate Roberts Road Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.40, TA 0.58, 178 cases, $72.
Located in the Petaluma Gap AVA, this vineyard dates to 1999 and is farmed by the Sangiacomo family.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Seductive aromas of cherry, strawberry and warm spices are engaging. The
flavors echo the aromas in a mid weighted wine with impressive length in the mouth, leaving behind a long,
juicy, cherry-fueled finish. The mouth feel is soft and relaxing. The load of fruit sap is kept in check by adroit
acidity so that the wine is balletic and fresh in character.
2015 Ram’s Gate Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.30, TA 0.58, 333
cases, $72. A new addition to the Rams Gate portfolio. This vineyard is located in the Petaluma Gap AVA and
consists of 138 acres ranging in elevation from 300 to 840 feet above sea level. Aged 11 months in French oak
barrels, 40% new.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Reserved aromas of black cherry, blackberry,
plum and old cellar entice. Plump and luxurious, yet suave and caressing in the mouth, with a boat load of dark
fruit. The sap is balanced with a backbone of fine-grain tannins and gracious acidity as well as supportive oak. I
can’t emphasize enough the intensity of fruit flavor and must score the wine high simply on fruit audacity. Like
Olympic figure skater Nathan Chen this wine pushes the envelope.
2015 Ram’s Gate El Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.59, 325
cases, $76. This property is maintained by Ulises Valdez. Vines here were planted in 2006 on steep slopes in
gravelly, rocky clay over sandy loam soils.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, red
berry, spice and a dash of toast lead to a middleweight styled wine with a serious attack of well-spiced red and
purple fruits backed by a firm tannic grip. Nicely composed with good harmony, offering an amazingly
persistent finish with fruit holding on for dear life.
2015 Ram’s Gate Silver Eagle Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.30, TA 0.61, 132 cases,
$76. This property is managed by Ulises Valdez. Located in
the Green Valley of Russian River Valley region, the vines
were planted in 2007 near the town of Occidental just 6
miles from the coast. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels,
Moderately light garnet color in the glass.
Appealing perfume of cherry, allspice, and earthy flora. A complete wine
with luscious black cherry and black raspberry fruit flavors that strike an
impression. The fruit is infused with exotic spices that hold interest.
Bold on the attack, lengthy in the mouth, and finishing with purpose and
2015 Ram’s Gate Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.40, TA 0.58,
497 cases, $76. Vines are rooted in stony loam soil on an elevated bench with optimal drainage. Aged 11
months in French oak barrels, 33% new.
Light ruby red color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas of cherry,
baking spice and prune. Light to mid weight flavors of black cherry and purple berry that veer to very ripe
territory. Nicely balanced, with an elegant demeanor, a soft texture, a compliment of nutty oak and a lingering
Sante Arcangeli Family Wines, Corralitos, CA
This family winery is an accomplished producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, primarily produced from
vineyards in the Corralitos region of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Pronounced “SAHNtay Are CAN Juh Lee,” the
winery is named after a real person, winemaker John Benedetti’s great-grandfather. He built an historic
business in the small farming town of Pescadero on the coast of California. Sante Arcangeli’s grandson, Norm
Benedetti and his spouse Shirley, guided the business to become known as Arcangeli Grocery Company, a
world-famous bakery and gourmet market. It is now owned by Sante’s great-grandchildren, John’s brothers
Mike and Don.
The winery was named after John’s great-grandfather as a means of honoring all those in his family who came
before him. John taught himself to brew beer in his late teens and segued into wine in his mid-30s with the
guidance of winemaker Ryan Beauregard, the Brassfield family, and winemaker James MacPhail.
The winery’s quaint tasting room in Pescadero is open Friday-Sunday. See Prince in photo - he gets around.
Visit www.santewinery.com to purchase wines, or visit the Arcangeli Grocery Company in Pescadero for a
2016 Sante Arcangeli Split Rail Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.60,, TA 0.63
175 cases, $49. Vineyard is located in Corralitos five miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. 20 to 30-year-old
dry-farmed vines planted in gray sandstone and clay soils at 1700 feet elevation. Harvest Brix 23.0º-24.5º.
Martini, Mt. Eden, Swan, 2A, 32, Pommard 4 and David Bruce selection. 95% de-stemmed., native and
inoculated yeast fermentation, aged 10 months on lees in French oak barrels, 28% new. Bottled unfined and
Light ruby red color in the glass. Aromas of cherry anointed with oak-driven toast and burnt tobacco.
Light in weight in a fresh and juicy style featuring red cherry and strawberry fruit flavors overlain with a pushy
tobacco note. The silky personality appeals as does the slightly tart and quenching finish, but there is just too
much oak at the forefront at this stage. More time in bottle may ameliorate some of the aggressive oak but this
wine was unchanged when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2016 Sante Arcangeli Integrato Barrel Selection Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
alc., 350 cases, $39. Sourced from Lester Family, McConnell, Saveria and Herr vineyards. A
barrel selection from single-vineyard lots. Clones 2A, Swan, “828,” 667,115 and Mt. Eden.
Harvest Brix 23.0º-25.0º. 95% de-stemmed. 10% saignee. Native and inoculated yeast
fermentation. Aged 10 months on lees in French oak barrels, 33% new. Filtered at bottling.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Leading off are aromas of black cherry, toast and pipe
smoke. The barrel management is more commendable in this mid weight wine featuring a core of
vivacious black cherry and black raspberry fruits. The attack has purpose, the tannins are harmonious, the
appealing texture is sleek, and the finish is highly notable for its intensity.
Sea Smoke Estate Vineyards, Lompoc, CA
Sea Smoke wines are produced from the winery’s organic and biodynamic certified Sea Smoke Estate
Vineyard that contains ten clones of Pinot Noir. Winemaker Don Schroeder has been at Sea Smoke since
In 2015, yields were very low (about 1.5 tons-per-acre), but the small size of the clusters and grapes led to
The winemaking goal with the Southing bottling is to create a marriage of complexity and elegance. Grapes are
100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, then inoculated with cultured yeasts. Manual punch downs with a total
maceration time of 14 to 18 days. Free-run and gently pressed wines were racked to barrels and aged 16
The Sea Smoke wines are sold exclusively to a mailing list at www.seasmoke.com. The 2015 Sea Smoke
Chardonnay is reviewed later in this issue.
2015 Sea Smoke Southing Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.63, $64. Southing refers to
the south-facing hillside bluffs on the estate vineyard. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 45% new. Bottled
unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, purple berry,
underbrush and tar engage the nose. Comforting and satiny in the mouth, in an elegant but flavorful, even
powerful, mid weight style, offering flavors of black cherry and boysenberry accompanied by earthbound notes.
The tannins are well-behaved making for easy drinking now.
Senders Wines, Davis, CA
Craig Senders, M.D., is an ear, nose and throat surgeon and director of the Cleft Lip and Cranial Facial Team
at the University of California at Davis, who has provided free cleft lip and palate repair in developing nations
for more than three decades. Along with his spouse, Karen, he founded Senders Wines to further international
surgical outreach programs. Dr Senders harnesses his artisan winemaking skills, crafting wine and donating
all of his winery’s profits to support surgical outreach efforts.
Senders offers Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Carneros Pinot Noir and Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
Current production is about 500 cases annually. The wines are crafted at a custom crush facility in Napa, with
one lot produced at home for a very personal experience. Visit the website for more information and to
purchase wine: www.senderswines.com.
2011 Senders Las Brisas Carneros Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 125 cases, $55. Sourced from Mahoney Los
Brisas Vineyard. 40% 667, 40% Swan and 20% 777. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 25% new.
ruby red color in the glass. The nose is nuanced with aromas of red cherry, cranberry, baking spice, old leather
and smoky oak. Light to mid weight in style, with a shallow attack and finish, featuring red fruits, melted tannins
vibrant acidity and a modest overlay of oak that peeks out at the end. A wine for older Pinot Noir enthusiasts.
2013 Senders Carneros Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 105 cases, $45. 50% clone 667 and 50% Swan selection.
Light ruby red color in the glass. The nose resembles an aged Pinot Noir with aromas of dried cherry, straw,
dried herbs, spice, weathered wood and barn. Light weighted, elegant and soft in the mouth, with flavors of
cherry, cranberry, spice, cola, tea and herbs. Nicely composed, with genteel tannins, crisp acidity and a slightly
tart, cherry-driven finish.
2014 Senders Mahoney Ranch Las Brisas Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 50 cases, $45. Aged
16 months in French oak barrels.
Light ruby red color in the glass. Lovely aromas of cherry, spice and rose
petal with the slightest hint of volatile acidity. Light in weight and delicately styled with flavors of red cherry and
spice and the slightest tomato note. Easygoing with modest tannins and a caressing finish.
WesMar, Sebastopol, CA
Kirk Wesley Hubbard and Denise Mary Selyem learned the wine business while working at Williams Selyem
years ago and established a garagiste winery modelled after that iconic winery. Working out of a small
warehouse facility in Sebastopol, the pair handle all the duties of a winery themselves, including personal time
with those who choose to visit by appointment.
I first became interested in WesMar wines with their second release in 2001 that consisted of four Pinot Noirs
and a Chardonnay. I believe I have tasted every wine they have made since. The couple knows the drill. Obtain
the best grapes possible from growers who are committed to producing quality fruit. Employ many Old World
methods such as hand sorting of grapes, open top fermentations in stainless steel fermenters (formerly milk
tanks) once used at Williams Selyem, partial whole cluster, hand punch downs, no post-fermentation
maceration, removal of wine from fermenters using only gravity and siphoning, and removal of
grape skins by hand to be pressed. Once in French oak barrels, the wines are allowed to settle and clear
naturally, removing the need for fining or filtering. The wines are aged one year prior to bottling in 50% new and
50% 1-year-old barrels. The only additions are yeast, malolactic bacteria, tartaric acid to adjust pH and sulfur
for preservation. It is winemaking pure and simple.
Search the PinotFile for extensive coverage of this winery through the years. Visit www.wesmarwinery.com for
more information. WesMar is one of the few wineries that offer magnums of each bottling every vintage. The
wines are sold primarily to mailing list members.
The WesMar wines reviewed here are among the best they have produced in recent memory. The wines
compose the annual spring release. The winery also produced a Russian River Valley AVA blend in 2015 (sold
2015 WesMar Salzgeber Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $48. Clone 115.
garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, dark rose petal and exotic spices find traction over time in the
glass. Mid weight plus flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and baking spices captivate. Suave in texture,
with handsome tannins and good finishing generosity. Highly enjoyable even when tasted the following day
from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2015 WesMar Oehlman Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $45. Martini clone.
garnet color in the glass. Uplifting aromas of Bing cherry, spice, sarsaparilla, tobacco, rose petal and the
slightest bruised apple (VA) that blows off in the glass. Mid weight plus flavors of black cherry, strawberry and
raspberry with a dash of spice and supportive oak. Commendable balance with finishing length to spare.
Quintessential Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
2015 WesMar Balletto Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $45. Pommard clone.
color in the glass. Very complex and sensual nose offering
scents of exotic spices including allspice, savory herbs, new
leather, dark rose petal and boysenberry jam.
Mouthwatering mid weight plus flavors of blueberry and
boysenberry fruits blessed with enhancing spices, showing
exceptional length in the mouth and finish. The wine floods the mouth
with saturating fruit yet retains a vibrant demeanor due to balancing
tannins and acidity. Even better when tasted the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle offering glorious spice on the
nose, a satin texture in the mouth and the biggest and longest finish of
any of the wines in the 2015 WesMar lineup. Like Shaun White at the
Winter Olympics, a stunning finish.
2015 WesMar Hellenthal Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $55. Field blend of Pommard, Mt.
Eden and Swan.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Brooding and rustic aromas of black fruits, wet
mulch and barn initially. Not particularly charming, even grumpy when first opened, with a mid weight plus core
of purple and black berry fruits framed by firm but not aggressive tannins. This wine typically needs time in
bottle and was more giving when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, when
it showed more aromatic promise, a satiny texture and an agreeable savory aspect. My deserve a higher score
in three to five years if you are patient.
2015 Chateau St. Jean Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., $70. Sourced from Hallberg Vineyard.
Clones 777, 115 and “828.” 3-day cold soak, aged 17 months in French oak barrels, 70% new and aged an
additional six months before release.
Dark garnet color in the glass. Muted aromas of black fruits, anise, dark
toast and cigar. Ripe, bold and rich, with mid weight plus flavors of black cherry, blackberry, cassis, root beer
and spice with an earthy undertone. Oak is well-integrated and the tannic backbone matches up well to the
sappy fruit. Nicely balanced and well crafted in this ripe-fruited, hedonistic style, but not my cup of tea.
2015 Chateau St. Jean Le Seul Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $75. Sourced from Gap’s Crown and Sun
Chase vineyards, both located in the Petaluma Gap AVA.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Lovely aromas of black
cherry, blueberry-pomegranate, cardamom spice and fertile
earth. Highly engaging on the palate, with a mid weight core
of primarily black cherry goodness. A subtle spice, floral and
vanilla accent add interest. Impeccable balance with well-matched
tannins and easy approachability. Even better when tasted the
following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2014 Chateau St. Jean Reserve Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., $70. Heavy bottled, embossed and
signed by the winemaker. A selection of the most intensely flavored barrels. 100% Clone 777. Aged 17 months
in French oak barrels, 39% new, and an additional 7 months in bottle before release. Bottled unfined.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The toasty oak on the nose obscures the fruit aromas. Approachable
flavors of oak-infused majestic dark fruits including black cherry with added notes of anise and black tea. Very
seductive, silken mouth feel with tame tannins and a modest but pleasing finish. There is a paucity of nuance
and sophistication and a bit more barrel treatment than I prefer.
2016 Decoy Sonoma County Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $25. Aged 8 months in French oak barrels, 30% new
and 60% neutral.
Light ruby red color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of red cherry, cranberry relish,
rose petal and sandalwood. Light in weight, even delicate, with gentle tannins and a red-fruited theme
enlivened with crisp acidity. The wine doesn’t lean too heavily on oak like many inexpensive Pinot Noirs but the
fruit is very shallow.
2016 Samuel Louis Smith Albatross Ridge Vineyard Monterey Pinot Noir
12.8% alc., pH 3.56, 109 cases,
$44. Samuel Louis Smith is a micro négociant based in Salinas, CA. Sam is currently the winemaker at Morgan
Winery in Salinas, producing 200-400 cases annually of Pinot Noir, and Syrah under his eponymous label,
Samuel Louis Wines. The Albatross Ridge Vineyard is perched at 1,250 feet northwest of Carmel Valley. Yields
are less than 2 tons per acre. 25% whole cluster fermentation, native primary and secondary fermentation,
aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 36% new. Bottled unfiltered.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas
of black cherry, raspberry, toast, smoke and ash lead off. Discreetly concentrated flavors of cherry and
raspberry fruits with a noticeable guaiacol (smoke) note. The wine has nice harmony and fruit purity with suave
tannins and up front drink ability. The smoke taint may or may not be averse to the drinker depending on their
sensitivity to it. In any case, the wine should be consumed now as over time the as the fruit fades, the smoke
taint will become more obvious. NOTE: In 2016, this vineyard was exposed to the Soberanes fire. Sam told me
that he tracked the wine carefully through its elevage and there was a negligible level of smoke taint in the wine
and his impression upon tasting was consistent with that level. He considers the amount of smoke taint to be
part of the terroir of the vintage and is not enough to discard or even RO filter the wine.
2015 Manross Hawk’s View Vineyard Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.71, 50
cases, $58. NOTE that this is a wine made from Oregon grapes by a California vintner, Heather Manross. 50%
Pommard and 50% Wadenswil clones. 20 to 26-year-old vines planted in Laurelwood soil. 30% whole cluster
fermented. Aged 24 months in French oak barrels, 20% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Light ruby red
color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of black cherry, mocha, clove and underbrush. A light to mid weight
elegant style with tasteful spiced cherry flavor framed by complimentary oak and modest tannins. A savory
herbal riff plies the background. This vibrant wine finishes with a searching, quenching ending. Heather has a
touch with Pinot Noir.
2015 Square Peg Square Peg Estate Vineyard Dry Farmed Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.57, 200 cases, $55.
Vineyard is located in Green Valley, Sonoma Coast and Russian River
Valley overlapping appellations. Harvest Brix 24.2º. 3-day cold soak
after de-stemming, extended maceration, aged 16 months in French
oak barrels, 30% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
color in the glass. Fresh aromas of black cherry, black raspberry and
warm spices soar over time in the glass. A remarkably intense attack of
spiced Bing cherry fruit greets the palate and energizes the frontal
lobes. Expansive in the mouth, with a juiciness propelled by vibrant
acidity, and a lingering finish. This wine combines bombastic Russian
River Valley fruit with vivacious acidity in a joyous union.