Download &
print (pdf)

Wine Briefs —Newsletter 12.33

Russian River Valley Neighborhoods Study Conclusions Growers and wineries undertook an experiment beginning in 2015 to prove that Pinot Noir grown in different sub-regions within the Russian River Valley AVA presented itself differently. Called the Neighborhoods Initiative, it led to six specific delineations within the Russian River Valley known simply as The Neighborhoods. Pinot Noirs from 18 wineries from several vintages were analyzed to devise a series of characteristics for their wine that could be measured in a laboratory. When the analysis was concluded in 2019, it was confirmed that each neighborhood offered a fingerprint of its own. There were consistently specific sensory characteristics that derive from Pinot Noir grapes grown in the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods:

    Middle Reach One of the warmer neighborhoods. The heart of it is Westside Road, home to Bacigalupi, Bucher, Rochioli, Allen Vineyard, Williams-Selyem, Arista, DuMOL’s Flax Estate, Ramey’s Westside Farms, MacRostie, MacMurray Ranch and Gary Farrell. The wines are typically defined by texture and length as well as ripeness, intensity and lush character. The tannins can be structured yet supple.
    Laguna Ridge This neighborhood lies south of the Middle Reach near Forestville. It is home to Merry Edwards, Dehlinger, Lynmar and Joseph Swan. The Pinot Noirs are characterized by sensuous and moderate acidity, with red and dark fruit flavors and a touch of baking spice, with ample tannin.
    Santa Rosa Plain A large stretch of flatlands on the east side of the Laguna de Santa Rosa encompassing Olivet Road. It includes a deep concentration of vineyards and wineries including Benovia, Inman, Pellegrini and DeLoach.
    Eastern Hills The northernmost neighborhood east of Windsor, a warmish area only minimally touched by Russian River fog. The Pinot Noirs can be quite ripe and lush.
    Green Valley The only neighborhood that is its own AVA, centered around the towns of Graton and Occidental. Redwood and fir trees surround many of the vineyards. The Dutton family, Iron Horse, Hartford Court, Marimar Estate and DuMOL have considerable plantings here. Because of the cooling winds and moderate elevations, many of the Pinot Noirs have a crispy red fruit character, more rhubarb and pomegranate than dark cherry, with beautiful aromatics and texture.
    Sebastopol Hills Predominantly west and southwest of Sebastopol, this neighborhood is about as cool as it gets within the Russian River Valley. Vineyards include Balletto’s Burnside Road, Sexton Hill and Cider Ridge, as well as Pratt Sexton Road. The cool climate provides crisp red fruit characters with elements of dried herbs and black tea. Cold, windswept and unsheltered, it has less risk of frost than other neighborhoods, providing plenty of hang time.

The Russian River Valley Winegrowers Neighborhoods map:

Wine Ratings Continue to be Controversial I read with interest a post in the Northwest Wine Report - - by Sean P. Sullivan (a former contributing editor to Wine Enthusiast magazine) titled “Who cares about wine ratings?” Looking back to the origins of the PinotFile in the early 2000s, I resisted awarding scores to reviewed wines, preferring instead to give a concise and appropriate description ending with words like “good,” “very good,” outstanding,” and “extraordinary.” Readers demanded scores, so I relented and began using the 100-point scoring system in 2008. Sullivan points out, “You are unlikely to find a critic who does not have at least some misgivings about rating wine.” You can include me in those with misgivings. Sullivan also notes that wine rating is still more art than science. I find scoring entirely subjective and vulnerable to many variables, particularly with Pinot Noir. That said, through the years I have accumulated enough experience tasting thousands of domestic Pinot Noirs to consider my scores reliable at least to those whose palates are aligned. Young consumers are not particularly interested in scores and they may be the force that causes the extinction of wine scoring.

Increased Risk for All-Cause Dementia in Abstainers A recent paper in the journal Addiction reported the relationship between alcohol use and dementia in adults aged more than 60 years after reviewing data from 15 international studies. Some population-based studies in the medical literature have shown that light-to-moderate alcohol use can reduce dementia risk as compared to those who have abstained from alcohol. Still, other studies revealed no increased risk of dementia in abstainers. This recent study suggests that abstaining from alcohol may increase the risk for all-cause dementia and that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of dementia among Europeans (but not Asians) compared to occasional drinkers. The study did not look at the type of alcoholic drink in each cohort.

Binge Drinking Could Increase Risk of COVID-19 A studied published recently in Drug and Alcohol Dependence looked at seven groups of women in their 20s and found that women were more likely to end up with COVID-19 if they consumed four or more drinks of alcohol per sitting. One explanatory factor is not practicing preventive behaviors such as social distancing when intoxicated.

Some Australians Welcome New Flat-Pack Wine Bottles Traditional wine bottles are heavy, fragile and waste a lot of space. Flat wine bottles arrived in Australia in the summer of 2022 to provide a solution. The bottles are made from 100% recycled PET plastic which is 83% lighter than traditional glass wine bottles. The slim, flat profile allows twice as many bottles to fit into a standard case. There has been some buzz since the release of these flat bottles but it is not clear that they are suitable for ultra-premium, cellar-worthy wines. The bottles are most appropriate for early-drinking wines and are not meant for cellaring wine.

Smoke Taint and How to Manage It Tom Collins of the Washington State University’s Wine Science Center has studied for years how smoke exposure affects grapes and reported his findings in the journal Nature. Researchers at UC Davis and Oregon State University are also studying the smoke taint of wine grapes. The class of compounds causing smokey aromas and flavors has been identified but the next challenge is determining how to remove them from wine or finding things that can be done in the vineyard to prevent smoke compounds from entering grapes. Stay tuned.

Alcohol Consumption and Weight Gain Current scientific research has consistently shown that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption does not increase body weight and that increased body weight is only a result of excessive alcohol intake or binge drinking. A single-serving size of 6 ounces of wine has 111-275 calories depending on the type of wine and its ABV. A standard 12-ounce serving of beer has 150 calories as does a 12-ounce service of Coke. Many scientific studies show that liquid calories from alcohol are metabolized differently and are not bioavailable. Drinkers process complex carbohydrates more efficiently and store less fat. The takeaway message is that you can enjoy wine in moderation without worrying about gaining weight as long as you maintain a proper diet and perform regular exercise.

Lynmar Estate Adds Hessel Station Vineyard to Portfolio of RRV Estates Located in South Sebastopol in the coolest and most southern tip of the Russian River Valley, Hessel Station Vineyard joins Lynmar Estate’s three other estate sites, which include Susanna’s Vineyard, Adam’s Vineyard in Forestville, and the winery’s original Quail Hill Vineyard, located adjacent to Laguna de Santa Rosa in the heart of the Russian River Valley. The four vineyards encompass 85 acres of vines. Lynmar purchased the Hessel Station site in 2018 which at the time it was but an unfarmed open field which had sat fallow for decades. The site is sustainably farmed by a permanent vineyard team. For more information, visit

Looking for an Unparalleled Value in Pinot Noir? The 2021 Cristom Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Pinot Noir is crafted predominantly from Cristom’s estate single vineyards including Eileen, Jessie, Louise, Marjorie, and Paul Gerrie, along with some fruit from partner vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills. After 30 years of dedication to whole cluster fermentation and native yeast fermentations, the “Mt. Jeff” is the embodiment of Cristom’s winemaking style and is the winery’s flagship Pinot Noir. This wine has 46% whole cluster fermentation. Simply outstanding and an unparalleled value in Pinot Noir ($40), this wine sells out year after year. I believe this is Cristom’s largest production wine so it is widely available. Check your wine retailer or visit

Nearly an Epiphany I have had the opportunity to drink Pinot Noir from every notable producer in California and Oregon but once in a while, there is a Pinot Noir that comes along that is truly stunning. I retrieved a magnum of 2012 Evesham Wood Cuvée J Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir from my wine locker recently and brought it home. There is no question in my mind that Pinot Noir tastes better from magnums particularly aged Pinot Noir. The Cuvée J bottling is the winery’s top wine created for cellaring and sourced exclusively from organic grapes grown at the estate Le Puits Sec Vineyard. I have reviewed examples of this wine since the 2006 vintage and have found this bottling always to be my favorite in the impressive Evesham Wood lineup. When I reviewed the 2012 vintage of this wine in December 2014 (13.0% alc., $42), I noted, “A classy wine with a good tannic backbone for aging and a lengthy finish that soars with a purple berry scent. The wine has shoulders but is still refined.” I awarded it a score of 93. The magnum of this wine I recently drank over 3 days with my wife Patti was incredible. There were masses of perfume and the perfect balance between dark berry fruit and spice. The finish went on and on and on. I kept looking at my glass and shaking my head. The meretricious mistress had been tamed!!

Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance Saunters & Sips Sta. Rita Hills wineries show their current and new release wines along with Spanish music and tasty snacks from Buena Onda at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park on Saturday, April 29, 2023. Participating wineries include Alma Rosa, Fiddlehead Cellars, Foxen Winery, Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Winery, Longoria Wines, Ojai Vineyards, Pali Wine Company, Sanford Winery, Seagrape Wine Co, and The Hilt. Purchase tickets now for Early Bird pricing (discount ends December 15, 2022). Tickets are $99 per person now and $129 after December 15. Purchase tickets at

Santa Cruz Mountains Event The Aptos Wine Wander will be held Saturday, December 10 in Aptos Village. Taste local Santa Cruz Mountain wineries while strolling through Aptos Village businesses. The advanced ticket price is $40. For more information and tickets, visit

IPNC Announces VIP Experience When you travel to IPNC with an entourage it is always a challenge to sit together at the Grand Dinner and Salmon Bake. Now a VIP Experience is offered that allows attendees to purchase 10 full weekend tickets as a bundle and receive a complimentary reserved 10-person table at the Grand Dinner and Salmon Bake. This is the only way to reserve a private table. The 2023 Elevated VIPNC Experience for 10 is $16,950.00 (a single registration for the Full Weekend package is $1,695.00). The 2023 IPNC, now in its 35th year, will be July 28-30 at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon. For more information, visit

Insider Information on Trader Joe’s Pinot Noir Trader Joe’s is currently airing Podcast #57 “Trader Joe’s Wine Wonderings.” I found out after listening to this podcast that the Lot designation indicates what winery produced that Lot# Pinot Noir. The word “Lot” is deceiving since it refers to the producing winery and not the particular batch or lot of Pinot Noir. Lot #109 is a Platinum Reserve Pinot Noir and my scores have been 2015 87, 2016 90 and 2019 89, so this lot is worth purchasing when it is available. Currently, Trader Joe’s is offering a Lot #23 Grand Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir from Carneros Cellars in Napa (14.5% alc., $12.99). I have reviewed Trader Joe’s Lot #23 Pinot Noir 4 times in the past and scored them low: 2013 86, 2015 86, 2016 87, and 2019 87. This would indicate that Lot #23 is probably not a good value and I did not buy this current release to review.

Bacchus Landing Taste wines from eight boutique wineries at one location in the heart of Healdsburg. The relatively new three-acre property offers five tasting rooms, wood-fired pizza at The Market, picnic tables, lawn games and an event center. There is a wide range of grape varietals offered including Pinot Noir from Convene by Dan Kosta, Dot Wine, Montagne-Russe, and Smith Story Wine Cellars. Check it out at 14210 Bacchus Landing Way.

Hanzell Vineyards Holiday Offerings 2020 The Hanzell Farm Pinot Noirs are two bottlings handled identically right down to the harvest and bottling dates, with one fermented fully de-stemmed and one fermented 100% whole cluster. This is a good chance to compare the two fermentations. You may want to also consider Hanzell Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir which is an estate blend sourced from 12 acres of the Ambassador’s 1953, de Brye and Sessions vineyard blocks with an average vine age of nearly 30 years.

Looking for a Limited Production “Cultish” Pinot Noir? This holiday season you may be searching for a special California Pinot Noir that is only sold through allocation (ie expensive). Visit for the good stuff. Sure, you pay a little more than the winery release price, but wines from Cattleya, Cirq and CHEV, Paul Lato, and Occidental to name a few make very impressive gifts. For what it’s worth: Golden Gate Wine Cellars held a bland tasting recently with a lineup that included (vintages not stated but I assume recent releases; scores are from the wine press) Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch (96), Addax Silver Eagle (95), Brewer Clifton Hapgood (95), Dragonette Fiddlestix (95), Hyde de Villaine Ygnacia (94), Rochioli Big Hill (97), Beaux Freres The Upper Terrace (97), Littorai Hirsch (96), and Ancien Jouissance (94). The wines were tasted by a group of 12 people. The Ancien Pinot Noir received 6 first, 2 second and 2 third place votes ahead of Littorai’s 3 firsts, 4 seconds and 3 third place votes and Beaux Freres’ 2 first, 2 second and 3 third place votes. The Ancien Jouissance Vineyard Pinot Noir is from a 2-acre vineyard in the Russian River Valley planted to Dijon 115 in Goldridge sandy loam soil and is offered at $59.99.

Lenné Vineyard Estate Sold Carl Giavante Consulting announced that the 15.5-acre Leneé Vineyard Estate, located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley, has been acquired by Jared Etzel, the current winemaker of Domaine Roy and the son of founding winemaker Mike Etzel of Beaux Frerés. I have visited and tasted with Lenné Estate owner Steve Lutz on many occasions and always respected his 22+ years of know-how in crafting Pinot Noir. Steve will retain the Lenné brand for several years until the back catalog and the exceptional 2021 and 2022 vintage wines are sold. See the Lenné website for the full press release at

Inflation and a Missed Windfall A 3-liter bottle of 1971 Romanée-Conti La TËche sold this month at auction for $81,250. In the early 1990s, I bought a 6-liter bottle (methuselah) of 1983 La TËche at auction (back when wine auctions were in their infancy) for $900. Unfortunately, the wine was drunk soon after at my wine club’s Christmas dinner. 1983 wasn’t as good a vintage as 1971 but the name La TËche currently brings big money at auction and that rare 6-liter bottle would certainly have brought me a significant profit. Bummer.

Previous article:
Bluebird Hill Cellars

Print entire newsletter