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Sinor-LaVallee Wines: For Hedonists Only

The husband and wife team of Mike Sinor and Cheri LaVallee Sinor founded Sinor-LaVallee Wine Company in Arroyo Grande in 1997. Mike and Cheri met as students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1993 where they had “Chemistry.” They were married in 1996 in the town of Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy. Both have a colorful background in the wine industry.

Mike’s history is intimately tied to the Edna Valley region of California. His first job in the wine business was at Corbett Canyon Vineyards in 1991. Many of you will remember those Corbett Canyon commercials featuring the echo of “canyon, canyon, canyon.” Corbett Canyon was one of the first wineries in Edna Valley, founded in 1978, but has changed ownership several times through the years. Today, it is owned by Rob Rossi, and is a custom crush facility (SLO Winemaker’s Studio) where Sinor now produces his Sinor-LaVallee wines.

Back in 1991, Mike was just trying to earn some money to pay for college, but this job quickly led to a passion for wine. After finishing his studies at Cal Poly in 1994, he took a harvest position at Byron Vineyard and Winery in Santa Maria. Soon he had a permanent cellar position, advanced to enologist, and then became assistant winemaker at Byron working under noted Central Coast vintner Ken Brown. During his time at Byron, Mike traveled to Burgundy and the Rhone Valley to study winemaking. Mike left Byron after the harvest of 2000 to become the winemaker at Domaine Alfred Winery in San Luis Obispo at the site of Chamisal Vineyard.

Chamisal Vineyard was first planted in 1972 by Norman Goss who built a small winery on the property in 1980. Alfred “Terry” Speizer, who sold Electec, his Silicon Valley semiconductor company, bought the dormant 131- acre Chamisal Vineyard property in 1994 and revived the declining vineyard and winery. The Domaine Alfred label was launched in 1998. Mike directed the vineyard operations, instituted biodynamic farming, and crafted wines that brought the winery considerable national acclaim, particularly for Pinot Noir. Domaine Alfred was sold in 2008 to Napa-based Crimson Wine Group, owners of Pine Ridge in Napa and Archery Summit in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

In 2006, Mike resigned from Domaine Alfred to focus on Sinor-LaVallee Wines. He continues to be much in demand as a winery consultant and started a second brand, Ancient Peaks Winery, where he is in charge of winemaking. Those of you who attend the annual World of Pinot Noir in Shell Beach, California, have probably seen Mike running around directing the show. He is one of the founding board members for the World of Pinot Noir and served as Board President for the 2005 event.

Cheri’s introduction to wine also grew out of a need to pay for college. In the summer of 1991, she worked for a trucking company that transported wine grapes from various vineyards to E.&J. Gallo Winery. She studied Agricultural Business at Cal Poly, but wasn’t really bitten by the “wine bug” until she met Mike. After graduating from Cal Poly in 1994, Cheri worked as the manager of the Corbett Canyon Vineyards tasting room. Later she became the Executive Director of the Central Coast Wine Growers’ Association (CCWGA), a non profit association of growers and wineries. She left in 2001 to manage the growing Sinor household of two young children.

The inspiration for Sinor-LaVallee wines is the Burgundy model: finding specific rows of vineyards with world class terroir near where you live, contract for those rows, and make the best wine you can. Mike produces mainly Pinot Noir along with small amounts of Syrah, Pinot Gris, and Vin Gris of Pinot Noir sourced from vineyards in Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. The main vineyards, Talley-Rincon, Aubaine, Corbett, and Margarita, are all within a bicycle ride from where he lives. Total production is about 500 cases annually.

The Sinor-LaVallee label features all the thumbprints of the family members. On the front label, Mike’s on the right and Cheri’s on the left. Tomas and Esmée are on the back label.

The title of this feature, “For Hedonists Only,” is an apropos description of the style of wines that Mike produces. They are bold expressions of Pinot Noir, packed with pure fruit pleasure, decadent and macho, yet suave. They are wines that say, “ooh la la” on the palate.

Mike likes to do something distinctive at each harvest. Sometimes it is a different hair cut (for example, a Mohawk), or a different beard. His music of choice at harvest is the Gregorian chant. The Gregorian chant is said to increase beta wave activity in the brain. Beta waves, or beta rhythm, are associated with active, busy, or anxious thinking and active concentration: very appropriate for winemaking. Whatever Mike did for the 2007 harvest, it was magical for he crafted a very impressive lineup of flamboyant Pinot Noirs that will find plenty of fans.

2007 Sinor-LaVallee Luna Matta Vineyard Paso Robles Syrah

14.9% alc., 74 cases, $25. Sourced from a one acre block planted to Syrah clone 174. I tasted this wine with the lineup of Pinot Noirs which is very unfair. Its like driving an Aston Martin and them switching to a Hummer. That said, this is a very exemplary Syrah. · Purple fruits with hints of tobacco, oak and alcohol on the nose. The plum-driven flavors are accented by brown spice. Rich and velvety in texture, with healthy tannins. Decent (+).

2007 Sinor-LaVallee San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 104 cases, $29. An appellation blend of several vineyards. · Deep purple color in the glass. Terrific perfume of black cherries, raspberries, graham, cardamon spice and wet earth. Luscious dark berry fruit packed with flavor. Smooth, deft touch of oak, and admirable harmony. Very approachable. I would be happy drinking this daily. Think Sinor-LaVallee Pinot Noir in a skirt.

2007 Sinor-LaVallee Talley-Rincon Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 48 cases, $40. Sinor has a one acre block of Talley-Rincon Vineyard consisting of 14 rows planted to clone 2A. Yields were .73 tons per acre. · Dark purple robe in the glass. Shy aromas of dark stone fruits and subtle spice and toast. The nose improves in the glass over time. Tasty core of black cherry fruit. Fresh and clean with moderate tannins and aromatic persistence on the finish. Will get better with cellaring but very enticing now. Very good.

2007 Sinor-LaVallee Anniversary Cuvée Central Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 47 cases, $50. This wine celebrates Mike and Cheri’s marriage in Burgundy in 1996. It is vinified in the old style of Pinot Noir using 100% whole cluster. The combination of Talley-Rincon and Aubaine fruit is fermented entirely on stems, using indigenous yeast and natural MLF. Not produced in all vintages, it is often referred to as the “wild child” in the Pinot lineup. · Deep, dark purple color in the glass. An “Oh my God” kind of nose featuring blackberries, plums, forest floor, spice, a hint of oak, and a floral note. A peacock tail of black berry fruits unfurls on the palate, saturating the taste buds but retaining a velvety touch. Juicy and exotic with moderate tannins and perfect harmony. This is what drives Pinot Geeks to throw all caution to the wind to find that one great sensual experience. Crazy good.

Sinor-LaVallee wines are sold primarily through a mailing list at with some retail distribution. Tasting is by appointment (805-801-2502).

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