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Clos Saron: A Hidden Source of Superb Pinot Noir

The Sierra Foothills of California is not the first place one thinks of as a source for Pinot Noir. That said, Gideon Bienstock and his spouse Saron Rice have transcended all preconceived notions that exist about the winegrowing possibilities in the vast Sierra Foothills region. What they started and what they have accomplished over the past years is not only unusual and but highly admirable.

The story begins in 1995 when Gideon and Saron were asked by a friend to take over a 0.5-acre vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1980. Gideon was the winemaker for the famed Renaissance Vineyard & Winery and was very familiar with the potential for growing cool climate varieties in higher elevations of the regions. Cabernet Sauvignon was clearly not an appropriate variety for the area because it did not properly ripen in the cool climate. Gideon and Saron took over farming of the vineyard, grafted the 400 vines to Pinot Noir and doubled the vineyard density by own-rooting a Pinot Noir vine between every two grafted vines. Three years later, the owner of the vineyard sold it to them and Clos Saron was born.

Currently, the Home Vineyard, located specifically in the Yuba County town of Oregon House, is 2.5-acres in size comprising 4,500 own-rooted Pinot Noir vines. Planted clones include Dijon 113, 115, 667 and 777 and Wente, Swan and Pommard heritage selections (with a few vines reportedly imported from Burgundy). The vineyard is planted on a well-drained northeast-facing slope at 1,500-1,600 feet elevation in clay-loam topsoil on fractured granite and volcanic ash subsoil. The climate is continental but prone to spring frosts. The main pest pressure is from birds and bird netting is used to protect the grapes. Farming is organic with occasional biodynamic preparations and irrigation is only used to establish young vines.

I began sampling and reviewing Clos Saron Home Vineyard Pinot Noir with the 1999 vintage and continued through the 2011 vintage. Visit I also visited and tasted with Gideon in the small winery on the property. With so many wineries to cover by 2015, I regrettably failed to sample additional vintages.

I recently opened three vintages of Clos Saron Home Vineyard in magnum format and was taken with the ageability of these wines. When I look back at older vintages, my tasting notes say, “A twenty-year wine” and, “Needs a few years in the cellar” and, “The wine has several years of life ahead.” My predictions proved correct as you can see from the following reviews. Gideon told me many years ago, “The Home Vineyard tends to be structured, spicy, minerally and earthy….It tends to age slowly and improve over time in terms of texture, refinement, harmony and added flavor complexity….This terroir produces long-lived Pinot Noirs by California standards, reaching maturity at 8-12 years in the bottle.” My recent tasting confirms his vision.

The wines display an emphasis not on flashy fruit, but on gamy, earthy, mushroom, mineral and barnyard characters along with a healthy tannic structure that bodes well for aging. Do I dare say “Burgundian?”

The winery’s flagship wine is the Home Vineyard Pinot Noir. Occasionally limited quantities of Old Block and Lower Block Pinot Noir are bottled separately. Since 2017, a Pinot Noir has been produced from a 0.6-acre vineyard located across the road from Home Vineyard known as Suzy’s Block that was planted in 2007 (a wine club exclusive).

Clos Saron specializes in Pinot Noir but also produces Zinfandel, Syrah, Gewürztraminer and non-traditional blends of other red and white varietals. The limited production wines are sold through a mailing and online on the website at For those looking for a unique setting and an adventurous trip when the pandemic subsides, I recommend a visit (by appointment).

These three magnums have been perfectly cellared since release.

2000 Clos Saron Home Vineyard Sierra Nevada Mountains Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., magnum. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Slightly musty aromas of cherry, old leather and seasoned oak. Light to mid-weight dark red cherry and raspberry fruit flavors initially but fade rather quickly. Still very drinkable, but fruit is tiring and both acidity and tannins have come to the forefront. Drink up. (Back in 2007, Gideon told me this vintage was nearly mature at that time)

2006 Clos Saron Home Vineyard Sierra Nevada Mountains Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., #1 of 48 magnums. Unfined and unfiltered. · Light ruby red color in the glass. Fresh aromas of cherry, allspice and dark chocolate. Plenty of succulent black cherry to satisfy in a mid-weight style, with earthy undertones, exhibiting residual tannins and a very long and juicy finish. Impressive harmony and thoroughly enjoyable. Undoubtedly will drink well for another 5-10 years.

2007 Clos Saron Home Vineyard Sierra Nevada Mountains Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., #17 of 42 magnums. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Intriguing aromas of mocha-kissed cherry, root beer and forest floor. Still very fresh and engaging in a middleweight style with an appealing earthiness. A little riper fruit profile than the 2006 vintage and less tannin. This wine really grabbed my attention, not only because of the very long finish but the Burgundian sous bois character. Should drink enjoyably for another 5-10 years.

Magnums are perfect for a dinner for two… that is, if my wife doesn’t drink too much

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