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Wine Briefings —Newsletter 12.20

Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance Wine & Fire Weekend Sta. Rita Hills is celebrating its 20th anniversary of the approval of its AVA status with a full weekend of special activities August 12-15. Tickets are available for individual events or as a full weekend package. The weekend package includes all three seminars, a complimentary weekend tasting passport, and the premier La Paulée Dinner honoring Sta. Rita Hills pioneers. There are also limited tickets to the Grand Tasting at La Purisma Mission on August 14. Shuttles are available from three Lompoc hotels for some events. Visit for tickets.

Wiliamette Valley Gains Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Status Harry Peterson-Nedry of RR Wines and Ridgecrest Vineyards and the Willamette Valley wineries Association fought for this recognition. This milestone recognizes the quality of Willamette Valley wine and protects the Willamette Valley name from misuse and fraudulent labeling in the European Union and many markets around the world. Among US wine regions, only Napa Vally and now the Willamette Valley bear this distinction.

Celebration of Pigs & Pinot Tickets & Packages Tickets for Charlie Palmer’s annual event went on sale July 14 and will probably sell out by the time you read this but you can inquire. Chef Charlie Palmer and a team of renowned culinary and wine authorities will host the event on September 10 at Hotel Healdsburg and Dry Creek Kitchen. The event is centered around a multi-course dinner hosted by Chef Palmer and showcasing some of Sonoma County’s greatest Pinot Noir wines and perfect pork pairings. Visit for tickets to the Celebration Package and or Celebration Dinner.

Sad Outcome of Smoke Taint in 2020 Industry sources estimate 165,000-325,000 tons of California wine grapes, valued at $601 million, went unharvested in 2020 due to actual or perceived concerns of quality loss due to wildfire smoke events. As of April 4, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency reported paying $187,920,862 in crop insurance claims to growers due to wildfire and smoke-related losses.

Shakeup at Linfield University’s Evenstad Center for Wine Education Renowned research climatologist Gregory V. Jones has resigned as the director of Linfield University’s wine studies program to explore a few options both in the U.S. and abroad. Also resigning was Chelsea Janzen, the program’s office coordinator, and Jeffrey Peterson an associate professor who teaches numerous classes in Linfield’s wine studies program. the resignations occur at a time in which Linfield University’s administration faced charges of antisemitism and mishandling sexual harassment cases. A vocal critic of the Linfield administration, tenured professor Daniel Pollack Petlzner, resign from the University’s board of trustees. the story was reported by Michael Alberty in The Oregonian newspaper on July 6, 2021.

Drought Conditions in the West

Buying Burgundy? Forgetaboutit Burgundy prices are through the roof and only attract crazy-rich billionaires these days. Top-shelf wines like DRC La TËche are only a memory for most of us and the coming generations will probably never experience that wine or any of the best Grand Cru Burgundy wines. Want a bottle of Leroy Musigny? You will need to fork over $33,067 according to Wine-Searcher. Even village-level wines from good producers are priced beyond the reach of most pinotphiles. It is high time to fall in love with California and Oregon Pinot Noir!

Red Wine Alcohol Levels Have Increased Over the Last 30 Years According to a study of 35,000 red wines produced between 1990 and 2019 from five major growing regions conducted by the London International Vintner’s Exchange (Liv-ex), the average ABV has increased significantly for all regions except Burgundy. The reasons are unclear but probably global warming and stylistic preferences play a significant role.

In the October 6, 2020 issue of the PinotFile, I wrote about this issue in an article titled, “An Investigation of Alcohol Levels of California and Oregon Pinot Noir since 2004.” I surveyed ABV levels of California Pinot Noirs I had reviewed for a 14-year period from 2004 to 2018 and found the average ABV had decreased by about 1.0% (14.40% in 2004 to 13.73% in 2018). In a survey of Oregon Pinot Noirs I had reviewed from 2004 to 2017, the average ABV showed no change other than a spike in the very warm 2006 and 2009 vintages. The fly in the soup for California is that a significant number of wineries use alcohol reduction but never reveal this. Could the decrease in average ABV over the period studied be due in part to increased use of alcohol reduction by wineries. Learn more at

Quick Reviews of Recently Tasted Pinot Noir I have not found time to write extensively about these wines in any special issue feature, but I would like to offer a brief critique.

2018 Alma Fria Pleural Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., 415 cases, $40. 10% whole cluster. Aged 12 months in 10% new French oak. · Typical Sonoma Coast nose featuring dark strawberry, spice and autumn forest. Full-bodied, with a flood of purple and black fruits attacking the palate infused with muscular tannins. Monotone and undistinguished. Score: 88

2018 Alma Fria Döna Margerita Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., 60 cases, $70. Vineyard planted in 2002 in Freestone. 15% whole cluster. Aged in 25% new French oak. · Aromas of boysenberry, prickly pear, rose petal and oak vanillin. Mid-weight flavors of boysenberry, blueberry-pomegranate with respectable balance and a moderately long finish. Score: 91

2018 Alma Fria Holtermann Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., 100 cases, $70. Vineyard planted in Annapolis in 2002 at 700-800 feet elevation. 15% whole cluster. Aged in 30% new French oak. · Dark garnet. Nice perfume of black cherry, wine cave and dark rose petal. A discreet load of purple and black berry fruits with a savory herbal thread. Modest tannins, admirable balance and some length on the finish. Some enjoyable personality. Score: 92

2018 Anthill Farms Campbell Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., $44. Vineyard is near Annapolis on the fog line at 750 feet. Farmed by Steve Campbell. · Pleasant aromas of underbrush, floral goodness, cherry, strawberry and cocoa. Infused with blueberry and dark red cherry fruit with a hint of oak-driven cocoa and vanilla. Silky, with gentle tannins and a slightly tart cherry finish. Score: 92

2018 Drew Estate Field Selection Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., $60. · Dark garnet. Aromas of black cherry, spice, redwood timber and barnyard. Flush with earthy black cherry and raspberry fruit backed by modest tannins. Impeccable harmony, with a smooth and refreshing finish. Better the following day when I finished the bottle. Exceptional. Score: 95

2018 Nielson by Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $19, screw cap. · Aromas of red cherry, strawberry, spice and oak-driven toast and espresso. Flavors echo the aromas in a mid-weight style with satisfying fruit on the mid-palate and finish with soft tannins, but way too much oak presence for me. Score: 88

2018 Marshall Davis Estate Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 200 cases, $38. Dijon 777, 114, Pommard and Mariafeld clones. Aged 14 months in 25% new French oak. Dijon 114, 777 and Pommard clones. 60% whole cluster. · Moderately light garnet color. Aromas of black cherry, spice and dark rose petal with similar flavors adding blueberry. Picks up interest and appeal over time in the glass, with solid harmony and a bright cherry-driven finish. Excellent value. Score: 90

2018 Marshall Davis Estate Vineyard Cask Series Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 175 cases, $45. Clones 114, 777 and Pommard. 60% whole cluster. Aged in a single 15HL French oak tank. · Moderately light garnet color. Seductive aromas of cherry, baking spice, tilled earth and rose petal. Very interesting, with mid-weight flavors of black cherry boysenberry and hints of burnt tobacco, exotic spice, sandalwood and savory herbs that carry over to a highly aromatic finish. Even better when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle. A terrific wine for whole cluster fans. Score: 93

2018 McElroy Vines & Roses Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 974 cases, $28. · Native yeast fermentation, aged in 35% new French oak. Light ruby red color. Enticing aromas of Bing cherry, baking spice and cola. Lighter in style but flavorful, with a core of red cherry and berry fruits annotated with spice. Sleek, with gentle tannins. A solid, every day wine that exceeds expectations at this price. Score: 90

2018 Rhys Mt. Pajaro Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $79. · Still a very young wine with moderately vigorous tannins supporting a mid-weight plus core of purple and black fruits with an earthy undertone. Very suave in mouth with soaring aromas of dark cherry and berry when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle. Score: 94

2018 Texture Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $60. Winemaker Erich Bradley of Sojourn Cellars. · Plenty of dark red and black cherry fruit to satisfy with some spice and earthy flora adjuncts. A cherry jubilee with an impressive entry and an even more eye-opening and lengthy finish. A splendid, very giving appellation blend. Score: 93

2019 Morgan Twelve Clones Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noi

14.2% alc., $35. · Nicely perfumed and tastefully appointed with aromas and flavors of spiced black cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Silky in the mouth in an elegant style. Very giving and both a superb value and excellent daily drinker. Score: 92

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