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Radio-Coteau: Rare & Special

Radio-Coteau is deservedly a true “cult” Pinot Noir. A “cult” wine is one produced in very small quantities by a very skilled and experienced winegrower and winemaker, sold and tightly allocated through a mailing list, distinguished by unique and special wines, and known only to the most dedicated wine geeks..

Owner Eric Sussman developed an interest in wine while studying agriculture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He ventured to Washington’s Yakima Valley where he spent several years managing the vines and cellar of a small artisan producer. He then moved on to France and spent the 1995 vintage in Burgundy at Comte Armand in Pommard and Domaine Jacques Prieur in Meursault. After returning to northern California, he worked one year at Bonny Doon and from 1988-2001 as the associate winemaker at Dehlinger. He crossed paths with Bill and Joan Smith, former owners of La Jota, and current owners of W.H. Smith Wines. They formed a partnership that became Radio-Coteau Wine Cellars.

“Radio-coteau” are two conjoined words derived from the northern Rhone region of France. The colloquial meaning is “word of mouth,” but the literal translation is “broadcasting from the hillside.” Eric first heard this expression from a friend while living and working in Burgundy. It refers to a commitment to community, to growers found by word of mouth, tradition handed down in the cellar, and friends helping at harvest.

The inaugural Pinot Noir releases in 2002 focused on vineyards in the true Sonoma Coast and Savoy Vineyard in the Anderson Valley. The wines were received by the wine press with considerable praise and quickly sold out. Andy Tan, noted sommelier and wine retailer said, “This estate is making the most exciting Pinot Noir from California.” After tasting through the 2003 lineup (PinotFile, Volume 4, Issue 44) I noted that all of the wines were superb: “A lot of Pinot and ton of Noir.”

I recently tasted through the 2004 lineup of Pinot Noirs which were released in March, 2006. Once again, I came away very impressed by the complex array of flavors, the voluptuous textures, and the sensuality of the wines.

2004 Radio-Coteau La Neblina Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 760 cases, $40. This wine is named for the fog (“La Neblina” is Spanish for fog) that is ever present in the cool vineyards of the western Sonoma Coast. A blend of grapes sourced from two vineyards along the Sonoma Coast (growers Kirk Lokka and Bill Smith), the clones are Dijon 115 and 777. · I love the aromatics featuring perfectly ripe Pinot fruits. There is a panoply of wonderful flavors including black cherry, cassis, mushrooms, spice, smoke and earth. This is the most structured of the three wines, yet light as a feather. A warm fuzzy mouth feel leads to a finish that is long and pure.

2004 Radio-Coteau Albirigi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 150 cases, $42 (sold out). The Alberigi Vineyard sits on Vine Hill Road in the Russian River Valley. The vines here were planted in 2001 (Dijon 114, 115, 777) and thrive on the Goldridge soil . This is the debut bottling from a vineyard sourced exclusively by Radio-Coteau. · This beauty has that Williams Selyem Rochioli nose that I am continually searching for - spicy Bing cherries, Dr Pepper, cola, and a touch of rhubarb. The flavors continue the theme and are light as an angel. Beautifully balanced. This wine does it “nice and easy.”

2004 Radio-Coteau Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 480 cases, $48 This prestigious vineyard farmed by Richard Savoy is the source for many notable California Pinot Noirs (Adrian Fog, Barnett, Littorai, and Roessler). This hillside vineyard is located in a cool, yet sunny site northwest of Philo and has a multiple range of clones, exposures and soils. The vineyard was planted in 1992 and 1996. This bottling contains Pommard, Dijon 115, and Martini clone. · This wine has very nice soft red Pinot fruits on the nose and on the palate accentuated by floral and spice elements. The sweet fruit flavors linger on the finish. The whole package is nicely balanced.

2004 Radio-Coteau Terra Neuma Sonoma Coast Pinor Noir

74 cases, $48 (sold out). This is also a debut-bottling from a hillside vineyard farmed biodynamically by the Benzigers. The vineyard is southwest of Freestone, a few miles inland from the Pacific ocean. It was planted in 2002 to Dijon clones 115 and 777. I did not receive any allocation of this limited-production wine so I cannot provide any tasting notes.

2003 Radio-Coteau Hellenthal Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 100 cases. · Tasted last year, this was a bruiser that needed a lot of air time. Now it is flat-out terrific. The aromatics are rich with dark cherries, dark plum, rhubarb, tea and oak. Beautiful dark Pinot fruits with earthy undertones which are mouth-coating. With air time the wine becomes as soft as a Pinot Noir marshmallow. I would match this against any Burgundy any time. One of the best Pinot Noirs I have drank this year and the stuff that Pinot dreams are made of.

Radio-Coteau is a virtual winery with an excellent website: There is a mailing list signup on the website, but at this point, do not be disappointed by very limited allocations.

The W.H. Smith Wines 2005 Pinot Noirs have just been released. There are two wines: 2005 W.H. Smith Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($28) and 2005 W.H. Smith Wines Maritime Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $52. The Smith’s first vintage of W.H. Smith Wines was 1992. In 1994, they purchased 260 acres above the town of Cazadero on the Sonoma Coast. The first vintage of Maritime Ridge Vineyard from this property was 2002. The wines from this vineyard have been rich, plush and complex and highly touted by the wine press. I recently drank the 2003 W.H. Smith Wines Maritime Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. A superb wine with ripe fruit aromas, a velveteen texture, coating tannins, and a long and intense finish. The wines are sold to a mailing list in six bottle increments only. The website is and the phone is 707-965-9726.

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