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Chasseur West County Wines

Winemaker Bill Hunter is one of a band of vintners focused on the Pinot Noir grown in “West County,” the far western Russian River Valley and true Sonoma Coast region encompassing western Sebastopol, Freestone, and the town of Occidental. Hunter is a graduate of University of California at Davis and gained his early winemaking experience at Rombauer, Bonny Doon and Chauffe-Eau Cellars. In 1994, he began making some of his own wine on the side, starting with two barrels of Dutton Chardonnay and one barrel of Carneros Pinot Noir. This led to the founding of his own label, Chasseur, the French word for hunter. In 2002, Hunter brought on Alex P. Bartholomaus, Managing Director of Billington Imports as an investment partner, allowing Hunter to devote himself full time to making wine at Chasseur. Hunter now quietly produces 2,700 cases annually of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at his winery in Sebastopol, located inside the Vacu-Dry apple processing plant on Gravenstein Highway.

There are six vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs for the 2008 vintage: Blank, Sexton, Holder, Umino, Rayhill and Joyce. Another usual source, Freestone Station Vineyard, was lost to spring frost and Sylvia’s was declassified. There was no smoke damage in the central West County vineyards used by Chasseur in 2008. Hunter notes that the 2008 wines are similar in quality to the elegant 2007s, but are bigger and fuller.

I preferred the 2007 lineup of Chasseur Pinot Noirs (see over the 2008 wines reviewed below. Still, the 2008 wines are well-crafted, showing bright fruit flavors, firm but restrained tannins, bright acidity and a consistency of quality. At this stage, the wines lack aromatic and textural interest, want for intrigue and nuance, and all taste very similar. I am sure that Hunter, who tastes the wines frequently, can make distinctions among the separate bottlings, but with a one-time taste through for me, it was difficult to arrive at significant differences. This may be partly attributable to the fact that all the vineyard sources are made up of very similar Dijon clone components. Chasseur Pinot Noirs are aged 14 months in French oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Chasseur’s two appellations Pinot Noirs (Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley) are available in some retail markets, but the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are allocated and sold primarily through a mailing list. Declassified juice goes into a second label, Cazar. I had Chasseur Chardonnay on two occasions in the past, and found the wines exemplary. A Vin Gris of Pinot Noir is also available. Consult the website ( to join the mailing list or to buy wines. Tasting is available by appointment on Fridays.

Hunter is a bit of an outlier in that he does not submit his wines for review to critics. I bought these wines to sample them. I admire him for not promoting the scoring of wine.

2009 Cazar Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $19. From several Sonoma Coast vineyards. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Overriding the appealing aromas of dark berry jam and black grapes are notes of tobacco, hay and grass (the kind you smoke). This carries over on the palate with blackberry and plum flavors accented by notes of grass, herbs and stem. Moderately dense fruit, silky smooth, and nicely balanced with some hi-tone fruit on the lingering finish. Decent.

2008 Chasseur Holder Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., 75 cases, $50. Dijon clones 115 and 667. · This wine offers the most charming aromatics in the lineup with aromas of black cherry tart, spice and oak bark. Intense and dense charge of black cherry and plum fruit with complimentary spice and cola accents. Almost black cherry liquor in intensity but not syrupy. This one is all about amazing fruit that persists on the finish for at least a minute. The tannins are supple and proportioned well to the generous fruit, while the acidity seems slightly overwhelmed, failing to bring the fruit to a high pitch. This one will have fans among Caliesque fruit hedonists. Very good.

2008 Chasseur Rayhill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 125 cases, $55. Dijon clones 115, 667and 777. · The nose is not forthcoming offering only subtle whiffs of fruit, oak and redwood. Moderately intense and tasty essence of dark red cherries and berries with some persistence on the finish. Nicely balanced t n’a. A fruit driven wine that is well-rounded and picks up interest over time in the glass. Definitely cellar this one. Very Good.

2008 Chasseur Sexton Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

15.0% alc., 150 cases, $55. Dijon clones 113, 114 and 115. · Aromas of spice box, leaf and tar with very shy fruit. Tasty dark cherry and berry core with an alluring spice component. Soft tannins and bright acidity. Despite the high alcohol, not excessively sweet or cloying. Hard to ignore the luscious fruit. Good.

2008 Chasseur Blank Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 250 cases, $60. Dijon clones 115 and 777 cropped at 2.2 tons per acre at Blank Road Vineyard. · On the nose there are shy dark red raspberries and strawberries with whiffs of anise, oak and campfire. Tangy array of raspberry and pomegranate flavors with a green note in the background and a mineral streak. Harmonious tannins and zippy acidity. Decent.

2008 Chasseur Joyce Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 225 cases, $60. Dijon clones 115 and 777. · Appealing scent of pie cherries, berry jam and a hint of allspice. Nice array of cherry and berry fruits that really grab hold, wrapped in firm, mouth-coating tannins and persisting on the finish that has a bit of a sauvage character. Impressive expression of layered fruit here. Very good.

2008 Chasseur Umino Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 150 cases, $60. Dijon clones 115, 777, 667 and 459. · The nose is closed for business but with extensive swirling reveals scents of dark berry jam, oak and pine needle. Linear essence of dark raspberries, strawberries and cherries with generous oak. Pretty ordinary. May develop more interest with cellaring. Decent.

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