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Hirsch Vineyard: Grand Cru on Sonoma Coast

David Hirsch was somewhat of a visionary who planted one of the first vineyards in the true Sonoma Coast in Cazadero (Mike Bohan was the first to plant in 1973). In 1978, Hirsch purchased 1,100 acres on a remote ridge 900 feet above the Pacific Ocean at the end of Bohan-Dillon Road. Beginning in 1980, David and Marie Hirsch established a vineyard of 48 acres on the ridge tops above the fog line a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it became world-renowned when Burt Williams (William Selyem), Ted Lemon (LIttorai), and Steve Kistler (Kistler) showed up one day in the early 1990s, chose their blocks, and proceeded to make startling good and age-worthy vineyard designate wines from the Hirsch Vineyard. The name, Hirsch Vineyard, quickly became synonymous with the true Sonoma Coast.

The vineyard is scattered over several ridge tops with varying exposure, altitude and soil type. With a variety of rootstocks and clones planted, there is considerable heterogeneity to the fruit, and Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noirs from different producers are difficult to compare as they are derived from distinctly different terroirs (refer to aerial photo of Hirsch Vineyard below)

In 2002, the Hirsch’s built a 15,000-case winery on the estate in an old lambing barn, and brought in winemaker Vanessa Wong (Peay Vineyards, formerly Peter Michael) to craft the first Hirsch Estate Pinot Noir (vintage 2002). She was subsequently replaced by Mark Doherty (formerly PlumpJack and Davis Bynum). There have been five vintages of Hirsch Estate Pinot Noir and in most vintages, many different blocks are blended to produce the Estate Pinot Noir. In 2005, the yields were so miniscule that outside fruit was sourced to make the wine.

I recently tasted through a few vintages, including the first, of Hirsch Estate Pinot Noir. Early on, the wines can be quite structured and tannic (see 2006 vintage Estate for exception), but with time in the bottle lovely expressive fruit comes to the front and the wines are a delight to drink.

2006 The Bohan-Dillon Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $30. This wine is composed of barrels that do not make the grade for the Estate label. None was produced in 2004 and 2005 due to low crop yields. Yields and tonnage in 2006 were very generous, exceeding all vintages over the previous nine years. At least twice as much fruit was dropped in 2006 as harvested in 2005. The bunches and berries were not unusually large, but very compact. · A simple Pinot Noir that makes a pleasant overall impression. Earth, damp leaf and spiced cherry scents with red Pinot fruit flavors enhanced by tones of herbs and oak. Light in the mouth with a good acid kick on the backend.

2006 Hirsch Vineyards M Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 448 cases $50. The label says: “It is a Marvelous and Mellifluous Middle cuvee of our site of fruit from 22 blocks. A wine for grownups.” · The nose is flat and subdued initially but opens with swirling to aromas of deeply spiced cherries and roses with a whiff of alcohol. Highly structured and built for the long haul. Very earthy with notes of game and oak spice accentuating the black cherry fruit. Not particularly expressive now, but you get the feeling there is plenty of pleasure waiting to get out. Velvety soft in texture and beautifully crafted. A keeper.

2006 Hirsch Vineyards Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $55. Composed of 32 blocks from the Hirsch estate. · Very complex and constantly evolving aroma mix of dark cherries, cranberry, wet stone, Xmas spices including clove and cinnamon, mint and oak. Earth-dusted black fruits with a hint of raisin. Soft in the mouth with slippery tannins and an appealing elegance.

2003 Hirsch Vineyard Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

15.1% alc.. · Flamboyant and sexy perfume of crushed black cherries and blackberries with a lovely accent of oak and dried herbs. Alcohol peeks out a skoosh. Delicious dark red fruit compote that coats the tongue. Hedonistic, but silky and satiny, with a nice tang on the finish.

2002 Hirsch Vineyard Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc.. · Ripe plump cherries and oak spice with an infusion of floral scents. Earthy and dusty cherry fruit with some shroom and tangerine peel. Still sporting some tannin creating a dry finish. Still has plenty of life left.

Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is sold primarily through a mailing list. Sign up on the website at The address is 45075 Bohan-Dillon Road in Cazadero. Tours and tastings are by appointment only (707-847-3600). If you decide to make the trip, allow a full day, and check the weather for Cazadero is an extremely wet site (80 inches of the wet stuff each year). Every true pinotphile should make the pilgrimage to Hirsch Vineyard at least once in their life.

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