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Elite California Pinot Noir Vineyards Part II: North Coast - Other Appellations

“I firmly believe that vineyard work is the route to a balanced wine.”
Jeff Brinkman, winemaker at Rhys Vineyards

Devil’s Gulch Vineyard

Owners: Mark and Myriam Pasternak
Acres: 14 acres of Pinot Noir
Years planted:
1980: 3 acres of Pinot Noir (Martini 15) and 4 acres of Chardonnay (Clone 4)
1998: 11 acres of Pinot Noir (Dijon clones 114, 115, 667, and 777)
Location: Wedged between Sonoma County to the North and the San Pablo Bay to the South in the tiny town of Nicasio in Marin County. The Devil’s Gulch Ranch abuts the 800+ acres of the Golden Gate Recreation Area.
Aspect: Terraced blocks facing south with slopes that exceed 60% in some areas with the rest of the vineyard straddling a ridge top. The elevation is 700 feet above sea level.
Pinot Noir scions: Martini 15, Dijon 114, 115, 667, and 777
Soil: Decomposed sandstone that provides superb drainage and a high mineral content.
Vines: Original 1980 planted has 10’ x 6’ spacing with vines on AxR1 rootstock. The 1998 plantings have 8’ x 5’ with vines on 3309 and 420A rootstocks. The original vines are cane pruned on a quadrilateral modified Scott Henry system. The 1998 planting is all VSP trained. The entire vineyard is drip irrigated using a two hose system to insure the vines in poorer soils receive adequate water and the vines in better soils are not over irrigated.
Farming: Mark farms the vineyard and produces his own compost from the rabbits, pigs and sheep that he raises on the ranch. He was one of the first in California to graze his sheep in the vineyard during the winter, a trend that is more commonplace now. He has also used his chickens to reduce the cover crop. Although he is an advocate of organic farming, he has found it necessary to use Roundup sparingly for weed control due to the steepness of the vineyard. The rest of the foliate spray program is done using organic materials.
Winery clients: Dutton-Goldfield and Sean Thackrey (Hartford Court, Kalin, and Schramsberg in past).
Comments: The extremely mild and lengthy growing season is conducive to growing Pinot Noir but rain in the spring is common so that yields can be low. The risk of rain and fungus at the end of the long growing season can also severely reduce yields. Mark has managed or consulted on all or nearly all the vineyards in Marin County for many years. My last review of Sean Thackrey Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Marin County Pinot Noir was the 2015 vintage when my August 6, 2017 notes say, “Commendable balance with a density that does not sacrifice charm. A truly unique wine from a challenging site crafted by a contemplative winemaker”. Score 95. Dan Goldfield crafts’ one of California’s greatest Chardonnays from this vineyard.

2018 Dutton-Goldfield Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Marin County Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $72. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. The seductive perfume of Pinot Noir is difficult to capture but this wine has it. Aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, blueberry, sweet mulch and tilled earth. Very polished and refined on the palate, with a discreet concentration of dark cherry and raspberry fruit with both a floral and earthy accent. Oak lends a complimentary hand. Exquisite balance with a prolonged finish. When tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle, the wine soared to new heights, the spiciness was unreal, and the wine became better and better over time in the glass. Angel sent. Score: 96

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Donum Estate Vineyard

Owner: With the divorce of Anne and Markus Moeller-Racke and the sale of Buena Vista to Allied Domecq in 2001, Anne split off 147 acres of the Buena Vista Estate, retaining Tula Vista Ranch that she first planted in 1989-1990 and renamed the property Donum, Latin for “Gift of the Land,” Estate. The Donum Estate was sold to Winside, Inc. in late 2011, a partnership of Danish investors led by Allan and Mei Warburg. Anne left Donum Ranch in the summer of 2019.
Acres: 91 (82 acres of Pinot Noir and 9 acres of Chardonnay). The original planted 45 acres was formerly the Tula Vista Ranch of which 5.5 acres was Pinot Noir and this block has gone into the West Slope bottling of Pinot Noir. Donum also owns a 16-acre vineyard in the Russian River Valley and a newly acquired and newly planted 20-acre vineyard site in Bodega, adjacent to Benziger’s de Coehlo Vineyard.
Years planted:
1985-1989: a 40-acre plot that has now been replanted.
1989-1990, 2013, 2016, and 2018: about 10 acres of the 1980 plantings of Pinot Noir remain.
Location: Sonoma Carneros region just north of San Pablo Bay (Carneros AVA)
Aspect: Moderate slopes of three hills with much of the vineyard either west or east facing.
Pinot Noir scions: Heirloom selections including the Donum selection that is presumably a Roederer selection, Chalone selection, Hanzell selection, Swan, Calera, Pommard and Wädenswil clones, and Dijon clones 115, 667, and 777.
Soil: Heavy clay content with a mix of clay loams, with some areas having sand in the subsoil.
Vines: Mostly 7’ x 4’ spacing with some 8’ x 4’. All blocks except West Block are two-cane VSP trellised while the West Slope block is on a tow-arm cordon.
Farming:Organic methods and biodynamic processes since 2020. Organic certification with CCOF is expected in 2022 at which time Donum Estate will become Sonoma County’s second largest organic vineyard owner and the largest organic vineyard on the Sonoma side of Carneros.
Winery clients: Donum Estate Pinot Noir grapes have been sold to Cattleya Wines and La Rochelle as well as bottled under the Robert Stemmler label in the past.
Comments: A stunning collection of contemporary sculpture is placed within the vineyards. The West Slope bottling since 2007 comes from a 5.5-acre plot planted to the Donum selection and is the culmination of the search for the top Pinot Noir terroir in Carneros. The White Barn bottling comes from a block of Wadenswil clone next the the estate’s white barn. The Mikado Tree bottling since 2017 comes from a block of Swan clone. Additional Pinot Noir bottlings include Three Hills and Carneros Estate. The Ferguson Block adjacent to the Donum Estate was planted by Thomas Ferguson to the Martini clone in 1974. The grapes were sold exclusively to the Donum Estate and the resultant wine was labeled as “Thomas.” The vines were pulled out in 2016 and Thomas Pinot Noir was no longer produced. The Ferguson Block Vineyard was bought by Donum Estate, replanted in 2018-2019, and the grapes are incorporated in Estate Pinot Noir bottlings. An estate winery on the vineyard property opened in 2019.

2017 Cattleya Belly of the Whale Carneros Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 78 cases, $70. Roederer clone from the oldest part of the Donum Estate Vineyard. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Clean and spirited aromas of fresh cherry, pomegranate, rose petal, sous bois, s’mores and cigar. Robust, virile, and fruit-driven, featuring deep, flamboyant flavors of black cherry and blackberry that flood the palate with goodness. Full-flavored, yet has welcome finesse and a silken mouthfeel. The felty tannins fit right in,, the vibrant acidity elevates, and a sneaky hint of savoriness peaks one’s interest. Reviewed June 4, 2019. Score: 93

2018 Donum Estate Single Vineyard Year of the Dog Carneros Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $80. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Highly aromatic, with scents of fresh boysenberry, spice, cinnamon and dark chocolate cocoa. Oak-kissed fruit flavors of boysenberry, blueberry-pomegranate and blackberry in a mid-weight plus style showing modest tannins, a silken mouthfeel, and good length on the finish that reveals the slightest sense of alcoholic heat. Score: 92

2018 Donum Three Hills Single Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $85 · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Complex nose exhibiting aromas of purple berry, violets, underbrush, mocha and a hint of toast. Like mother’s milk, the velvety texture is extremely pleasing. Middleweight in concentration, with immersed tannins and a compliment of oak. Overall, admirable balance, ending with excellent length. Score: 93

2018 Donum West Slope Single Block Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $125. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Very earthy nose with aromas of damp soil, mushrooms on the grill, mocha and molasses. Packed in with a delightful core of purple berry fruit in a boulder expression of Pinot Noir. Creamy in texture, with a honed tannic backbone, a shadow of oak, and finishing remarkably long. Surely, the most longlived of the 2018 Donum Pinot Noirs tasted on this occasion. Score: 94

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Etude Estate Vineyards at Grace Benoist Ranch

Owner: Tony Soter founded Etude Winery in 1982 and sold the winery to Beringer Blass (Fosters Wine Estates) in 2001. Soter had envisioned planting Pinot Noir at the Grace Benois Ranch, but Beringer has acquired the property and first planted vines there.
Acres: A 1,250-acre ranch with 158 acres of Pinot Noir assigned to Etude Winery.
Year planted: 2000 (?). Pinot Noir first came into production in 2002
Location: Far northwest corner of the Carneros AVA at the southern tip of Sonoma Mountain on Cuttings Wharf Road. Grace Benoist (pronounced “ben wah”) Ranch is situated on the Sonoma side of Carneros and borders part of the Durrell Vineyard.
Aspect: Exposed to the cooling effect of fog and maritime breezes that travel in from the Pacific via San Pablo Bay and the Petaluma Gap. A rambling tract of grazing land with the Rodgers Creek Fault Line located a few hundred feet west of the Ranch and the Bennet Valley Fault Line underneath the property.
Pinot Noir scions: 6 acres of heirloom selections (mainly Swan, Chalone and Calera selections) planted at Grace Benoist Ranch using cuttings from Etude’s original heirloom selection program, plus Dijon clones 114, 115, 113, 667, 777, and Pommard 5, and Martini 13 clones.
Soils: Three distinct types: (1) Petaluma Formation of coarse sand and gravel deposited by a system of rivers, lakes, and streams, (2) Sonoma Volcanics, and (3) Quaternary Unknown comprised of varying concentrations of volcanic pebbles, cobbles, and boulders. In summary, well-drained, rocky soils of volcanic origin that are very atypical for Carneros.
Vines: Cordon-trained on a VSP trellis. A low density planting. Rootstocks match the soil types and different microclimates in the vineyard.
Farming: Sustainably farmed with a holistic winegrowing approach that nurtures the soil, respects the native ecosystems, and reduces the environmental impact.
Winery clients: Beringer, and Chateau St. Jean, with the majority of Pinot Noir going to Etude.
Comments: The vineyard is divided into 24 individual blocks, averaging 8 acres in size, each with its own soil type, rootstock, grape variety, and clonal type. There are several smaller vineyards within the Ranch including four Pinot Noir vineyards sourced by Etude: Laniger (Dijon 115), Deer Camp (Martini 13 clone), Temblor (Dijon clones), and Heirloom. There are also 6 acres of Chardonnay, 14 acres of PinotGris, 8.5 acres of Merlot and 2.5 acres of Malbec.

2017 Etude Heirloom Carneros Pinot Noir

14.9% alc.,$95. Composed of a diverse number of prized heritage vines. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose lacks fruit features, instead revealing scents of earth flora and oak spice. Much more appealing on the palate with attention-grabbing flavors of black cherry, blackberry, Dr. Pepper, tarragon, vanilla and mocha java. Admirable balance at this high ABV. Oak adds a compliment. Moderately husky tannins show up on the extremely lengthy finish. A little more revealing and enjoyable when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle. Score: 93

2018 Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Carneros Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $46 (but can be found at retail for $36). Composed of 16 clones and selections. A blend of the best grapes from individual parcels on the Ranch. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Terrific nose that enchants with aromas of black raspberry, grape jelly and allspice. Wow! The luscious core of purple and blackberry fruit essence really coats the palate with goodness. Fine-grain tannins are modest, the texture is sleek, and a hint of toasty oak adds flavor. The wine exits on a high note with bracing acidity and some length. This wine could be the best value in California Pinot Noir today and is a consistently reliable offering in each vintage in my experience. Score: 94

2018 Etude Laniger Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $85. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Very appealing aromas of blackberry reduction and violets. A luxurious mouthful of plum and purple and black berry fruits with a shadow of oak. Satisfying, with balanced tannins and a sweet-fruited finish with some length. Score: 92

2018 Etude Deer Camp Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

14.2% alc.,$85. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Pleasant aromas of dark berries and dark rose petal. Full-bodied in style, exhibiting a rush of boysenberry, black cherry, and black currant fruits with a hint of dark chocolate flavor. A voluptuous wine, yet has gentle power and admirable balance. Score: 92

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Hanzell Vineyard

Owner: De Brye family since 1975
Acres: 46 planted acres on a 200-acre estate with 14.5 acres of Pinot Noir.
Years planted:
1953: Original plantings of 3 acres each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in The Ambassador’s Vineyard. The Ambassador’s 1953 Vineyard, currently including 4.04 acres of Pinot Noir, is part of a vineyard block now called Zellerbach Vineyard that also contains newer plantings of Pinot Noir. 15%-20% of the original vines have been replanted.
1957: Additional plantings of Pinot Noir in The Ambassador’s 1953 Vineyard were grafted over to Chardonnay in 1998.
1965-1975: Day Vineyard, 5 acres of Chardonnay
1976: de Brye Vineyard, 16 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
1999: Sessions Vineyard, 4 acres of Pinot Noir
2001: Ramos Vineyard, 5 acres of Chardonnay
Location: High above the town of Sonoma at the toe of the Mayacamas Mountain range overlooking the southwestern end of Sonoma Valley and San Pablo Bay. A completely unique site for growing Pinot Noir in the Sonoma Valley AVA.
Aspect: Terraced and contoured vine rows with both western and southern exposures and slopes of up to 38%. The elevation is 670-785 feet above sea level.
Pinot Noir scions: The source of the Pinot Noir planted in 1953 is not clear. Legend has it that founding winemaker Brad Webb took cuttings on a clandestine mission to Napa from Pinot Noir planted at the To-Kalon Vineyard in Napa that originally was sourced from Santa Cruz Mountains vintner Martin Ray. Another more plausible version is that To-Kalon Vineyard manager Ivan Schoch, who was also the vineyard manager for Hanzell Vineyards, selected budwood from To-Kalon Vineyard for the 1953 planting. In still another version, Schoch took cuttings directly from La Cresta Vineyard upon the advice of A.J. Winkler. The de Brye Vineyard was planted with budwood taken from the 1953 and 1957 blocks of the Ambassador’s Vineyard and the Sessions Vineyard was propagated from cuttings taken from the 1953 Ambassador’s Vineyard. All the Pinot Noir scion in Hanzell vineyards is a selection massale derived from the original vines. The Hanzell clone or UCD 108 underwent micro shoot tip tissue culture to eliminate viruses at Foundation Plant Services in 1997. A limited amount of Hanzell clone is planted in other California vineyards.
Soils: Rocky volcanic and Red Hill clay loam with excellent drainage.
Vines: Primarily St. George rootstock. The average vine age is 35+ years.
Farming: A “Bio-farm” approach is used to limit the site’s carbon footprint. Biodynamic principles are woven in with the goal of being 100% self-sustained. Any material brought onto the property from outside sources is Certified Organic solely from manufacturers with strong ethical, social, and environmental platforms.
Winery clients: None, a monopole.
Comments: The Ambassador’s 1953 Vineyard contains the oldest producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in California. Grapes from the original vines in The Ambassador’s 1953 Vineyard are typically blended with grapes from other estate vineyards that were planted in subsequent years (De Brye, Sessions, and Zellerbach) to produce the winery’s annual Hanzell Vineyards Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir. In 2003, 2007, 2014, and 2018 Hanzell bottled a Pinot Noir solely from the original vines and labeled the wine Hanzell Vineyards The Ambassador’s 1953 Vineyard Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir (only made available to certain wine club memberships. In the 2018 vintage, a Hanzell Farm The De Brye Selection Pinot Noir was offered in both a 100% whole cluster and 100% de-stemmed version. A second Pinot Noir label produced annually, Sebella, is moderately priced ($45), and includes grapes sourced from other vineyards.

2014 Hanzell Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc. · Light garnet color in the glass. Wonderfully inviting nose offering vivid aromas of dusty cherry, dark red raspberry, tilled earth and warn leather coat. Light to mid-weight in concentration with alluring flavors of dark red cherry, raspberry, mushroom and savory spices. Drinking at or near its apogee with soft tannins, juicy acidity and excellent length on the finish. Score: 94

2015 Hanzell Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Reserved aromas of boysenberry, black raspberry and purple grape. More richness in this vintage in a mid-weight plus style, with a riper profile of purple and black fruits. Still very fresh, with excellent harmony and impressive length on the generous finish. Although I am reluctant to use the term, there was definitely a mineral component to this wine. Score: 93

2016 Hanzell Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc. · Aromas of dark cherry dusted with baking spices and an earthy undertone. Very impressive in a middleweight plus style, with waves of black cherry, black raspberry, pomegranate and spice flavors. Somewhat viscous with adroit integration of acid and tannin, really showing off on the long, long, long finish. A stellar wine of uncommon breeding. Score: 95

2017 Hanzell Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc. $98. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. More demure in this vintage, with aromas and flavors of cherry, red berry, dried herbs and toasty oak. The slightly tart cherry finish lacks staying power and reveals significant oak inflection. Maybe more time in the cellar may add to the appeal. Score: 91

2018 Hanzell Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc, $98. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of cherry, baking spices and sandalwood. Very bright cherry fruit marks the entry and loaded with spice and cola flavors expands through the mid-palate. A good cut of acidity propels the fruit through a ridiculously long finish. Clearly, the longest finish of any wine tasted in this vertical (2014-2018). Score: 96

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Haynes Vineyard

Owner: This property was purchased from Nathan Coombs by James Whitford in 1885. Irene Whitford Haynes, along with her son Duncan and daughter-in-law Patricia Haynes, planted the first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines. The vineyard was sold to billionaire businessman Gaylon Lawrence, Jr. for $12.5 million in 2019.
Acres: 32 total acres with 3.5 acres of old vine Pinot Noir.
Years planted: 1966, 1997, and 1968 by Duncan and Patricia Haynes under the tutelage of Louis Martini, Jr.
Location: East of the city of Napa in the cool portion of the Coombsville AVA.
Aspect: The vineyard is open to the morning fog and buffeted by afternoon breezes from San Pablo Bay. The marine level sinks down into the Coombsville Bowl on cool mornings and does not break up until the afternoon, creating the mildest growing season in the Napa Valley. Pinot Noir scion: Martini from Three Palms Vineyard cuttings. An experimental three rows of Cabernet Sauvignon struggled to ripen in this location over a four-year period.
Soil: Volcanic, alluvial soil known as Coombsville gravelly Loam that is both well-draining and rich in minerals. The rocky alluvial soils sit atop a porous white ash deposit that extends at least 40 feet deep.
Vines: The original Pinot Noir vines are on their own roots.
Farming: Fernando Delgado lived on and farmed the property from 1971 to 2018 and is responsible for the longevity of the original plantings. Pruning was done for each vine individually according to its strength and potential, choosing which canes to keep and how many canes and shoots that each vine could grow.
Winery clients: Tulocay Winery has produced Pinot Noir from the original old vines continuously since 1975. Tulocay is one of the very few Napa wineries that started in the 1970s and is still owned and operated by its founding family. Ancien Wines has bottled a Haynes Vineyard Old Block Pinot Noir annually since 2012. Ancien owner Ken Bernards tediously selects every vine that is harvested for this vineyard-designate because many of the vines have suffered from virus infestation. Ken walks the rows and only selects fruit from original and healthy vines. 2019 is the final vintage for Ancien (and I assume Tulocay as well) since the new owner plans to start a new winery producing small-lot Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah beginning with the 2020 vintage. Due to the very low yields from the old block of Pinot Noir, it may not be financially sensible for the new owner to continue to maintain the old vines.
Comments:André Tchelistcheff worked with these grapes in the 1970s, making Reserve Pinot Noir wines during his time at Beaulieu. Warren Winarski, who founded Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, championed the Chardonnay from this vineyard.

2011 Ancien Haynes Vineyard Old Block Coombsville Napa Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Soaring aromas of fresh black cherry coulis, spice, cola and red rose petal. The fruit on the nose fades some over time in the glass replaced by oak spice. Surprisingly bright and fresh flavors of dark cherry and raspberry with a hint of raisin. An impressive aged Pinot Noir upon opening with an amazingly long and intense finish. A lot going for it after pulling the cork but starts to fade in the glass over time. Completely exhausted when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle. Probably a 94 point wine at its apogee. Drink up. Score: NR

2013 Ancien Haynes Vineyard Old Block Coombsville Napa Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Demure aromas of dark cherry, red rose, baking spice and root beer. Crunchy red and black cherry fruit in a middleweight fashion with beautiful balance. Fresh and showing no definite tertiary character of aging. Very long on the redeeming finish. A bit faded when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle so drink up within five years. Score: 92

2016 Ancien Haynes Vineyard Old Block Coombsville Napa Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Very pleasant aromas of wine cave, blackberry and pomegranate fruits and a hint of ashen oak. Very ripe-fruited in a mid-weight plus style with flavors of black plum, boysenberry and blackberry. Seamless with a viscous mouthfeel and only a hint of tannin. The richest wine in the Ancien Haynes vertical tasted on this occasion but not veering to fruit compote. When tasted the following day, the nose had become exuberant with aromas of black fruits, spice and sandalwood and plenty of Pinot fruit singing on the long finish. Score: 93

2017 Ancien Haynes Vineyard Old Block Coombsville Napa Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 61 cases, $68. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. A knockout from the get-go. Large-scale aromas of black cherry, rose petal, ground savoury spice and wine cave persist over time in the glass. Very comforting in the mouth in a midweight style, featuring an unctuous core of cherry fruit accented with a touch of spice and complimentary barrel presence. Softly textured, with polished tannins, welcome acidity, and good length on the lip-smacking finish. Reviewed August 2020. Score: 95

2018 Ancien Haynes Vineyard Old Block Coombsville Napa Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $68. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Spirited aromas of spiced cherry, crushed walnuts and graham. Expansive and generous in a mid-weight style with delicious flavors of red and black cherry, cola, spice, and a hint of burnt tobacco. Impeccably balanced and showing exceptional Pinot spirit with an ephemereal finish of uncommon generosity and length. My notes say, “Superb in every wine with the word superb underlined six times.” Score: 97

2016 Tulocay Haynes Vineyard Napa Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., 137 cases, $40. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. The nose is well-perfumed with aromas of red cherry, cardamom spice, and a hint of toasty oak. Very suave and easily drinkable in a middleweight style, featuring a delicious core of black cherry and raspberry fruit back by reserved tannins. This wine seduces rather than attacks the palate. The barrel treatment is spot on and the finish is impressively long and vivid. Still superb when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Reviewed August 2020. Score: 94

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