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Churchill Cellars: A Piece of Pinot Heaven

Suppose you love Pinot Noir, want to farm a small plot of land and live in the wine country. You could not do any better than follow the lead of Ken and Susan Churchill who sold their environmental consulting business in the East Bay, bought a prime vineyard property on Olivet Road in the Russian River Valley, and planted 2,000 small Pinot Noir vines on a 1-acre vineyard. They renovated and modernized the existing farmhouse, built a small tasting room and case storage area, put a pool in the ground, and set up a tennis court adjacent the vines. This little bit of wine country nirvana made me green with envy.

Ken is a gentleman farmer who enjoys spending time in his Bella Luna Vineyard. Small Vines Viticulture ( installed the close-planted vineyard which is lovingly and sustainably farmed. The vineyard was possibly the first in the Russian River Valley planted with Dijon 459 clone. Other clones in the vineyard include Dijon 115, 667, and 777. The vineyard has quite a bit of diversity among the different clonal plantings and the variation in climate even within this small plot. Ken said that there can be a six degree temperature difference across the vineyard.

The winemaker is noted veteran Anthony Austin whose career spans over 35 vintages. A University of California at Davis graduate, Austin studied under the late great Andre Tchelistcheff. He made legendary Pinot Noirs in 1982 under his own label, Austin Cellars, from Sierra Madre Vineyard and Bien Nacido Vineyard fruit. Currently, he also makes wines for his own label (Left Edge Cellars) as well as Russian River Valley Vineyards, Sonoma Coast Vineyards and Cloud’s Rest.

Production at Churchill Cellars is understandably small, varying with the vintage. The inaugural vintage was 2003, producing all of 46 cases. The Bella Luna Vineyard had its biggest crop of 275 cases in 2006, but frost damage in 2007 led to a smaller 120 case production. Additional fruit has been sourced in recent vintages for other vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs, bringing total production at Churchill Cellars to about 1,000 cases. In 2008, the output at Leepin Vineyard was taken over by Paul Sloan of Small Vines Wines and Churchill Cellars will not produce any Pinot Noir in the future from this source. All the Churchill Cellars Pinot Noirs are similar, a reflection of very similar Dijon clone composition.

2007 Churchill Cellars Bella Luna Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.59, 120 cases, $45. Dijon clones 115, 459, 667 and 777. Aged 18 months in barrel. Released March 1, 2010. · Aromas of red and black cherries, balsam and menthol. Moderately rich mouthful of dark red stone fruits, an underlying savory note of herbal oak, healthy, ripe tannins and a big fruity finish. Plenty of fruit front and center, but not jammy and brought into focus with lively acidity. Good.

2007 Churchill Cellars Leepin Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.70, 214 cases, $45. Released March 1, 2010. Dijon clones 113, 115, 667 and 777. Aged 18 months in barrel. · Very shy fruit on the nose combined with scents of oak and charcoal. Dark cherry and berry core with an earthy underpinning, sandpaper tannins and a refreshing grip of acidity on the dry finish. Good.

2006 Churchill Cellars Bella Luna Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.95% alc. (labeled 14.5%), pH 3.56, 275 cases, $39. Aged 18 months in barrel. Dijon clones 115, 459, 667 and 777. Released September 1, 2008. · Moderately light garnet color. Bright perfume of strawberries, Bing cherries and underbrush which fades some over time in the glass with some heat showing up. Tasty flavors of red cherries and strawberries with soft tannins, an appealing lift of cherry fruit on the finish, and exemplary finesse. Good.

2006 Churchill Cellars Leepin Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.95% alc. (labeled 14.5%), pH 3.72, 300 cases, $39. Released September 1, 2008. Dijon clones 113, 115, 667 and 777. Aged 18 months in barrel. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Flashy scents of red berries, berry jam and oak spice. Lovely marriage of cherry and berry flavors on the palate with underpinnings of oak, savory herbs and earth tones. A solid wine with admirable elegance. Very good.

2006 Churchill Cellars Priscella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.65, 425 cases, $39. Dijon clones 114, 115, 667 and 777 from a sustainably farmed vineyard owned by Curt and Valerie Abbott. · The terrific nose draws you in with aromas of black cherries, dark red berries, seasoned oak and tea. Delicious red cherry and berry core with hints of sandalwood, toasty oak and cherry skins ending in a smooth finish with a complimentary grip of citric peel. A charming and easy drinking wine with the most mid palate richness of the three wines from this vintage. Very good.

Churchill Cellars Pinot Noir is available online at Wine Club members save 15%-25%.

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