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Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Robert Sinskey, M.D., was an ophthalmologist practicing in Santa Monica in the early 1970s when I was an ophthalmology resident at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. We operated together several times and enjoyed a few social repasts. Sinskey went on to indulge his passion for wine, initially as an investor in Acacia Winery in 1980 in Carneros, and later in 1988 as an owner of his eponymous winery which is now located in the Napa Valley.

From a small holding of 15 acres of vineyards, Robert Sinskey Vineyards (RSV) has grown to just under 200 acres of prime vineyard land in five Napa Carneros locations, and a small 4.8-acre estate vineyard adjacent the winery in the Stags Leap District of the Napa Valley. Beginning in 1991, the vineyards were all farmed organically and biodynamically (they are now all CCOF certified organic and Demeter® certified biodynamic). Robert Sinskey’s son, Rob, early on successfully took over the winery operations and winegrowing duties. The winemaker since 1991 has been Jeff Virnig who was trained at Cafaro, Mayacamas and Joseph Phelps.

Pinot Noir has been the focus of the winery, but the road to success with this fickle grape has been rocky as Rob notes on his website. “Pinot Noir became my muse. She scared and thrilled me at the same time. I didn’t always understand her, but I intuitively knew that if we provided for her, she would reveal her subtle and elegant beauty. She had no qualms, however, about telling us when we made mistakes. At times, she gave us the silent treatment, closing in on herself, tight lipped and determined to reveal little; or she might throw a fit, hurling an aromatic assault of tomatoes, medicine chest and rubber tennis shoes. The worst was when you missed the mark by showing up late (to harvest) and discovered your delicate Pinot shriveled up like a beauty queen who had spent her better years tanning at the beach, now prematurely aged, brown at the edges with a tired essence of prune.” Years of experience combined with a commitment to organic and biodynamic winegrowing have brought RSV wines considerable well-deserved praise. Most of this recognition has come from wine geeks in the know, since RSV does not tout wine reviews or scores.

Pinot Noir has been produced at RSV since 1986 (the first vintage was from purchased fruit) and includes a Los Carneros appellation blend, three vineyard-designate bottlings and a Reserve called Four Vineyards containing primarily Three Amigos Vineyard fruit. The winery is famous for its outstanding Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, among the best in California.

The Pinot Noir from RSV is atypical for California. Grapes are picked early, new oak is kept to a minimum (25% to 30%), some wines are fined, and typically the wines remain in bottle for 12 to 24 months before release. The wines are usually less than 14.0% alcohol, elegantly styled, with lively acidity, modest extraction, and no encumbrances from oak and tannin. They are about as far from Caliesque fruit bombs as you can get in California. The 2007 Pinot Noirs reviewed below represent the winery’s twenty-second vintage of Pinot Noir. In every wine tasted, the aromatics were currently introverted and lagged the flavors in charm. The house style is very conducive to food and I find it more akin to Oregon than California.

The RSV tasting room at 6320 Silverado Trail is off the beaten path for pinotphiles, but is a favorite of Sunset and Wine Spectator magazines, and worth a trip. It is open daily from 10:00 to 4:00. The wines are also sold online where the informative website aims to educate ( A third 2007 vineyard designate Pinot Noir from Capa Vineyard was not reviewed as it has not been released. A Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are also produced. Visit the informative website section called “Vineyard Kitchen” for seasonal menus and recipes from Maria Helm Sinskey, Rob’s spouse, who was formerly the executive chef at San Francisco’s Plumpjack Cafe. Her recipes also accompany each of the RSV wine tasting notes and I found myself drooling after looking at the accompanying photos.

2007 Robert Sinskey Vineyards Los Carneros Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., 5,325 cases. $38. · Lovely perfume of black cherries, violets, pine pitch and graham. Soft and silky in the mouth with bright red plum, cranberry, red currant and black cherry flavors with side notes of cola and brioche. The fruit is caressed by fine grain tannins and zingy acidity that perks up the tangerine-laced and slightly tart finish. Very good.

2007 Robert Sinskey Vineyards Four Vineyards Los Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., $56. Chosen from as many as 30 different lots of Pinot Noir from RSV’s four Pinot Noir vineyards. · Moderately dark ruby in the glass. Very shy initially, opening slowly with coaxing over time in the glass revealing alluring aromas of dark red cherries and berries and underbrush. Follows the same theme as the other Pinot Noirs in the lineup with delicious bright dark red and black fruits, some hints of gourmet red, hard cherry candy and sandalwood, and a zippy finish showing hi-tone citrus peel aromas. Modestly intense and rich, displaying well-integrated tannins, a gentle nature, and the most generous, powerful and persistent finish in the RSV lineup. A seductive wine that is hard to say no to.

2007 Robert Sinskey Vineyards Three Amigos Vineyard Los Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., pH 3.48, $56. This vineyard was planted to heirloom (heritage) selections beginning in 1982. Aged 9 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark ruby color in the glass. Very shy nose initially revealing demure scents of dark red fruits, dried oak and smoke. More showy on the palate with juicy and earth-kissed red cherries and berries. Ripe tannins provide some backbone and the bright acidity lifts the fruity finish. Very good (+).

2007 Robert Sinskey Vineyards Vandal Vineyard Los Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $56. A selection of five lots from the Vandal Vineyard which is located on a ridge of land in lower Carneros that joins the shoulder of Mt. Veeder. · Moderately dark ruby color in the glass. Very shy aromas of dark red and black fruits with a hint of toast and crackers. More expressive in the mouth with bright flavors of earthy darker fruits and hints of cherry skin and orange peel on the finish. Firmly structured but smooth and sensual. Will benefit from additional cellaring. Very good.

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