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Canihan Family Cellars: Little Known But Highly Awarded

The Canihan family acquired a 20-acre vineyard property on the southern edge of the Sonoma Valley bordering Carneros in 1975 from a Basque farmer, but planting did not ensue for 23 years. Bill Canihan and his father, William Canihan, Sr., were inspired by a member of the family, August Sieguist, who had sustainably farmed a vineyard planted to Pinot Noir and other cool climate varieties in his native Switzerland before immigrating to the United States in the early 1900s. The Canihans sought out noted viticulturist Phil Coturri to direct the planting of the vineyard and winemaker Alexandra Romanini to assist them initially in producing Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir from their vineyard. Bill now works with winemaker Alex Beloz, formerly of MacRostie Winery.

The inaugural Canihan Family Cellars release, a 2004 Estate Syrah, won Best of Show Red Wine at the prestigious 2007 San Francisco International Wine Competition. The Canihan Family Cellars 2005 “Exuberance” Pinot Noir won Gold Medals at the 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the 2008 West Coast Wine Competition. Quite a burgeoning resume for a very young winery.

The Pinot Noir portion of the estate vineyard is composed of 3.75 acres planted to Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777 and newer 3.61-acre plantings that include the same Dijon clones and Pommard, 2A and Wädenswil clones as well as Paul Masson, Swan and Hanzell selections. Dry farming and cane pruning result in small yields of less than 2 tons per acre. The vineyard is ideally located to receive the full affect of the cooling fog and maritime breezes from nearby San Francisco Bay. The Canihans are committed to farming sustainably and biodynamically and the vineyard is certified organic by CCOF.

Canihan Family Cellars was one of Crushpad’s first commercial customers. Now the wines are crafted in a warehouse complex near the town of Sonoma, the home of many other well-known producers of Pinot Noir. I recently visited Bill at his winery and tasted his current releases that he was pouring like a proud new father. I also spent some time with the wines at home and felt they warranted your attention.

2007 Canihan Family Cellars Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.72, 290 cases, $39. 100% Estate Grown. Yields were less than 1.5 tons per acre. 80% Dijon clones. Unfined and unfiltered. · Enticing aromas of cherries, strawberries, green tea and baking spices. Delicious essence of the same fruits settle on the middle palate accented by savory herbs, brown spice, and vanilla wafers. Discreetly rich with admirable finesse and a moderately long, teasing finish. This is a wine you keep going back to. Shows a kinship to Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Ready to drink now but balanced to last several years.

2007 Exuberance Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.69, 120 cases, $60. This is a reserve bottling only produced in exceptional vintages. 100% Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Rich and deep nose of dark stone fruits and berries with hints of smoke, oak and herbs. Luscious silky purple fruit core that is toasty, herbed, and rich but not cloying. The silky smooth texture grabs your attention. Still somewhat primary and lacking nuance, this wine has the stuffing for greatness down the road. A reserve in every sense of the word. Very good.

Canihan Family Cellars wines are available on the website ( and through retail channels primarily in Northern California. Call Bill for a tasting appointment (415-929-8190).

Note: I like Bill’s classy three-bottle presentation of his wines pictured below which adds credence to the quality of the wines and dully reflects Bill’s commitment and passion.

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