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Closing In On the Holy Grail

“For me, Pinot Noir is the Holy Grail, the most sensual of all wines,
and I am staunchly determined to pursue my love affair with it.”

Russian River Valley winegrower Guy Davis has said, “The pursuit of creating the perfect Pinot Noir is like the pursuit of the Holy Grail. Only a few of us believe it exists but we wake up at dawn every day to move one step closer in our quest.” He goes on to state his five rules for crafting sacrosanct Pinot Noir: (1) Only grow Pinot Noir on sites destined for greatness, (2) Practice precision viticulture, (3) Be fanatical about picking on the right day, (4) Practice meticulous attention to the Pinot Noir wines in the cellar. Smell, taste, and talk to the wines every week, and (5) Be an expert at blending. You have to know what true greatness requires to achieve it.

Pinot Noir at its best can be the most complex and satisfying elixir ever consumed. When it’s great, it’s totally sensual. When people speak of the “Holy Grail” of wine, they are always talking about Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir remains the wine most serious winemakers want to make, and most serious winemakers want to drink.

I recently drank six California Pinot Noir wines that were so transcendent, so special and so Holy that I felt the need to share my impressions of these wines. I believe these wines are still available.

2017 COBB Diane Cobb Coastlands Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 175 cases, $120. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Very pleasing aromas of dark red cherry and berry along with tilled earth. A middleweight beauty featuring a core of cherries jubilee backed by lithe tannins. Impressive attack and length with an appealing “sweetness” to the fruit. The extremely long peacock finish offers a perfume of perfectly ripened dark red cherries. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine offered a cornucopia of silken cherry goodness that only Pinot Noir can deliver. Score: 96

Note: In 1989, Diane Cobb planted a 1/2-acre nursery plot at Coastlands Vineyard to determine which of 20 varieties of Pinot Noir was best suited to the site. Later, the plot was expanded with a single selection that she determined was among the best in the nursery. This wine is from 1.5 acres of Coastland Vineyard planted in 1989 and 1996 and is a tribute to Diane Cobb (1941-2006). A perennial favorite in the Cobb lineup vinified by Diane’s son, Ross. Visit to purchase COBB wines.

2018 Davis Family Vineyards Soul Patch Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $55. Grown, vinted and bottled by Davis Family Wines, Sebastopol, CA. Native yeast fermentation in open-top fermentors after a 5 to 7-day cold soak. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 33% new, 33% one-year, and 33% 2-year. Only the favorite barrels of winemakers Guy and Cole Davis are included in this bottling. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Terrific aromatic purity upon opening with scents of blackberry, Dr. Pepper and spice cake. Midweight plus in style and very comforting in the mouth, with a glorious display of well-spiced, blueberry, olallieberry, black raspberry and blackberry fruit flavors framed by supportive ripe tannins. Impeccable balance, finishing with the perfume of lovely Pinot must. High drinkable now, but the harmony and tannic backbone predict at least a 20-year life ahead. This beauty is like the gorgeous girl in school you always wanted to date. Score: 97

Note: Guy and Judy Davis purchased the property on which Soul Patch Vineyard is planted in 1996. Guy planted the 7 acres of Pinot Noir to Pommard and Dijon clones 777, 667, and 115. Guy and his son Cole have farmed the vineyard since its purchase, in addition to the existing block of old vine Zinfandel. Only organic farming practices are used on this eastern-facing hillside with rows running north to south, ensuring that all of the grapes receive equal exposure to the sun. The soil is Goldridge series, with a very high amount of volcanic ash. This vineyard is a true labor of love and this wonderful 2018 Pinot Noir is the culmination of twenty-two years of commitment to producing an “all-world” wine. Davis Family wines are sold on the website at

2019 Drew Wendling Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $70. Produced and bottled by Drew Family Cellars, Elk, CA. Early spring release. Yield 2 tons per acre. Native yeast fermentation, 45% whole cluster, gravity racked twice, and aged in French oak barrels, 25% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Very complex nose with a cornucopia of aromas including dark red cherry, black raspberry, pipe smoke, tarragon, sweet burnt tobacco and rose petal. The nose takes on more spellbinding aromas when the wine was sampled one day after opening. All the good things about Pinot Noir are wrapped up in this mid-weight wine including elegance, silkiness, polish, and balance. There is both dark red and black raspberry, black cherry and olallieberry fruit tastes on the palate displaying a satisfying, delicate richness. Lip-smacking, juicy acidity elevates the fruit vivaciousness and leads to a mouthwatering, extremely lengthy (45 seconds) finish. Best with cellaring or decanting. A liquid lullaby. Score: 97

Note: The 12-year-old Wendling Vineyard is the most north-westerly site in the Anderson Valley AVA, sitting in the “deepest end” of the valley on a 450 feet slope. The three soil types (Ornbaun, Wolfey, and Bearwallow) offer excellent drainage. The cooler coastal temperatures provide for low to moderate yields that lead to a darker fruited Pinot Noir. The vineyard is planted to several suitcase selections (alleged DRC and La Tache selections as the basis of this wine) and Dijon clones. Jason Drew considers Wendling Vineyard one of a handful of “Grand Cru” sites in the Anderson Valley. Regarding the 2019 vintage, Jason says, “With more winter and spring rainfall in 2019 and cooler temperatures throughout the season without any extreme heat events, the 2019s will be known as incredibly elegant vintage with lifted aromatics and ethereal weight with loads of character. Drew Family Cellars earned a well-deserved Wine & Spirits Magazine top 100 Winery of the Year (9th time this winery has been selected!). Drew Family wines are sold through a mailing list at

2018 Dutton-Goldfield McDougall Ranch Fort Ross- Seaview Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.65, $68. Produced and bottled by Dutton-Goldfield, Santa Rosa, CA. 100% de-stemmed, 7-day cold soak. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Very seductive aromas of black cherry, wild blueberry, nori, cocoa and rose petal. This charismatic beauty offers considerable nuance and length. Middleweight plus in style, with a charge of blueberry, boysenberry, black currant, red grape and spiced tea flavors that seductively caress the palate. The discreetly rich fruit is infused with lively acidity and framed by matched tannins. Oak is but a subtle seasoning. The extremely long finish was like “Whoa,Yeah. Hell,Yeah.” So exquisitely balanced, this wine might outlive vintner Dan Goldfield. Score: 97

Note: The late Mac McDougall must be smiling from heaven. This 9-acre vineyard is atop a windswept, south-facing ridge at 1,100 feet just off the Sonoma Coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Gualala River, and the neighbors at Hirsch and Martinelli vineyards. Soils are thin and well-drained. The grapes are typical west Sonoma Coast in origin, with thick skins, deep color, and natural spice. As Dan Goldfield notes, “This vineyard wonderfully represents the wild beauty and intensity of the Sonoma Coast, both in its land and its fruit. Dutton-Goldfield wines are sold through a mailing list and on the winery’s website at

2018 Maggy Hawk Jolie Maggy Hawk Estate Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc. (label), 14.1% (website), $65, 484 cases. Produced and bottled by Maggy Hawk Vineyard Santa Rosa, CA. Clones are Pommard, 2A 115, 667 and 777. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 20% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light garnet color in the bottle. Soaring aromas of Bing cherry, raspberry, spice and sap right after opening. Delicious tastes of black cherry and raspberry have mouth-filling fullness and length. Beautifully balanced with buried tannins and an invigorating acid backbone. Very polished with a thoroughbred finish. The next day, when tasted from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine led me on a wonderful Pinot high. Score: 96

Note: This vineyard is located in a rugged and remote outpost at the “deep end” of the Anderson Valley surrounded by redwoods. I have visited the vineyard and it is one of the most spectacular I have ever experienced. Maggy Hawk is Kendall-Jackson’s crown jewel of Pinot Noir and is named after owner Barbara Banke’s favorite winning thoroughbred horse. The vineyard was planted in 2000 to 23.55 acres of distinct blocks with a variety of Pinot Noir clones including Pommard, Wadenswil 2A and Dijon 115, 667, and 777. The layout is a complex array of steep slopes and aspects containing well-draining sandstone soil with low nutrients. The site is very cool and is often wind-swept as well as blanketed by coastal fog. Historically, the Maggy Hawk Pinot Noirs have been predominantly single clone bottlings from specific vineyard blocks and named after Maggy Hawk’s progeny: Jolie, Afleet, Stormin’ and Unforgettable. One bottling, Hawkster, is named after Maggy Hawk’s sire. Jolie has been composed of clone 115 but in this vintage, there are four clones. Jolie has been my favorite Maggy hawk Pinot Noir in every vintage. Maggy Hawk wines are produced in small quantities and sold through a mailing list at

2019 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 250 cases, $60. Cellared and bottled by Rivers-Marie Wines, Calistoga, CA. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. There is quite a bit of oak embellishment on the nose and palate initially but the wine finds its balance by the following day when it sheds its barrel cloak and becomes stunning. Bright aromas of black cherry and blueberry dance with exotic spices and rose petal. Discreetly concentrated in a mid-weight style with provocative flavors of black cherry and blueberry-pomegranate that offer considerable midpalate length. Seductive silkiness and elegance, with modest, well-ripened, fine-grain tannins and a glorious finish that merges fruit and oak seamlessly. The best Pinot Noir beyond Summa Old Vines that I have ever tasted from winemaker Thomas Brown and one that will bring you closer to God. Score: 96

Note: Long growing season allowing full maturity of fruit and judicious harvesting. This wine is the winemaker’s favorite in 2019. He notes, ”We find ourselves too often looking for the flaws in what we make, but here we allow ourselves to simply enjoy the wine for how good it is and give ourselves the slightest pat on the back. Completeness has a lot to do with our enjoyment of this vintage of Occidental Ridge, for the wine has no holes in the experience even at this young age. We’ve talked about this site as the co-flagship of the Rivers-Marie Pinot line-up and this edition of Occidental Ridge only reaffirms that.” Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon are allocated to members of the mailing list at

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