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Three Carneros Pinot Noir Gems

Valerie’s Vineyard

This 1-acre vineyard is a partnership between long time Sonoma County public relations person, Michael Coats, his wife Valerie, her parents and sister, and Chuck and Jerry Hanson who are owners of Hi-Time Cellars, one of California’s top wine retailers located in Costa Mesa (photo below shows the crew during the 2007 harvest). All the partners share in the work of the vineyard which is organically farmed and overseen by noted vineyardist Phil Cotourri. The vineyard, which was previously a plum orchard, was originally planted on resistant rootstock with a secret Russian River Valley clonal selection in 2000 by viticulturist Chuy Ordaz. It is located less than 500 feet from the appellation line between Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Carneros. Yields are kept at just under 2 tons per acre.

The estate Pinot Noir is crafted by B.R. Cohn Winery’s winemaker, Tom Montgomery, at B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen. Production is tiny and each vintage since the inaugural commercial bottling in 2004 quickly sells out. Check Hi-Time Wine Cellars ( for availability or e-mail Visit the website at for more information.

2007 Valerie’s Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 88 cases, $40. Aged in a mix of new and two-year-old French oak barrels for 17 months. · Nuanced nose offering pleasing aromas of dark berries, black plums, pine, dark caramel and soy sauce. Deep in color but moderately light in weight with plenty of dark fruit powered pleasure. Bright and focused with gossamer tannins offering alluring Pinot delicacy. A beautifully crafted wine that makes a statement and is well worth a search. A gem.

Trinitas Cellars

Trinitas is the Latin word for Trinity symbolizing sun, soil and humanity, the three ingredients needed for the production of wine. It further reflects the triumvirate of the wine country lifestyle, Meritage Resort & Spa, and Trinitas wines. Tim and Steph Busch founded Trinitas Cellars in 2000, and opened their hotel, The Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, in 2006.

The winemaker is Kevin Mills, a graduate of Grayson County College Viticulture and Enology program in Denison, Texas. He spent over four years mentoring under Peju Province Winery winemaker Sean Foster. The Trinitas portfolio of wines includes multiple varietals including a single Pinot Noir sourced from Carneros. The site in Carneros is near the tidal wet lands and primarily (90%) from Sonoma Carneros.

I reviewed the 2007 Trinitas Cellars Carneros Pinot Noir in September, 2009 and found it to be muscular and Syrah-like. The 2008 version is a horse (wine) of a different color.

2008 Trinitas Cellars Carneros Pinot Noir

15.5% alc., pH 3.76, 880 cases, $28. Low yields, aged in 60% new French oak for 10 months. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Pleasing aromas of ripe black cherries, strawberries and raspberries accented by a wild flower bouquet and supporting toasty oak. A riper style with a middle weighted, earth-kissed cherry core offering a grilled meat, smoky and dusty edge with a hint of root beer. Admirable finesse makes for easy drinking. A little more alcohol than I prefer, but it is well-integrated. Plenty of pleasure for the tab. Very good (-).

Sean Minor Wines

The 2008 Sean Minor Carneros Pinot Noir is one of the rare California Pinot Noirs priced under $20 that really delivers both true Pinot Noir varietal character and a good drinking experience. An online retailer proclaimed recently that this wine sold out from the winery in 60 days after release, but the wine is still available on the website at

Sean Minor began making value-priced wines in 2005 under the Four Bears Winery name (honoring the owner’s four children). Minor, a wine industry veteran, found it difficult to find affordable, high-quality California wines for everyday drinking. With the assistance of his winemaker friend Will Bucklin, who worked with Minor at King Estate in Oregon, Minor embarked on a quest to fill this void. Minor eventually incorporated 4 Bears into the Sean Minor Wines label and now produces five varietals from Sonoma and Napa using purchased bulk wine, all priced under $20. Projected production is 25,000 cases.

2008 Sean Minor 4 Bears Napa Carneros Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $13. · A spicy mother on the nose and palate with added interest from scents and flavors of strawberries, woodshed and cardamon. Lightbodied but pleasing with enough tannin to support the splashy fruit. True to the varietal and surprisingly good for the price. Very good (-).

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