PinotFile: 12.6 May 25, 2020
- Recent Pinot Noir Wines I Have Enjoyed
- Summa Vineyard: A California Legacy Vineyard Continues to Please
- Wines Recently Submitted for Review
- Drinking Older Domestic Pinot Noir Has Taught Me A Few Lessons
Recent Pinot Noir Wines I Have Enjoyed
Here are reviews of special wines I have enjoyed drinking over the past few months listed by vintage year. My
impressions are based on drinking the wines before dinner and with dinner rather than critical evaluation
through sipping, swirling and spitting.
2009 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., $69. Rhys selections and
two heritage clones of Pinot Noir planted in 2004 on 10.85 acres. The defining feature of this vineyard is its
intensely rocky soil composed of sedimentary Monterey shale. Elevation is 1,400 to 1,600 feet. All Pinot Noir at
Rhys is fermented with native yeast, and aging is carried our in the finest French oak barrels that have been air
dried for four full years in Burgundy. The consistency of the barrels implies that the wines are differentiated
entirely by the vineyard and not by the barrel. The Pinot Noir wines are typically aged 18 months in barrel. The
wines are never fined or filtered.
Note: Eleven years later,
Horseshoe Vineyard is considered by the team at Rhys to be “one of the finest sites in California to grow Pinot
Noir. The vineyard also produces Chardonnay that is “a stunning example of New World terroir….tremendously
complex and invigorating wines. The 2018 vintage of Horseshoe Vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is now
available as a futures order. Rhys wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list at
www.rhysvineyards.com. The winery’s website is one of the most informative I have ever encountered.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose offers aromas of dark
berries and cassis with a floral element prominent. The mid weight flavors of blackberry and black cherry are
graciously in harmony with the wine’s lacy tannins and steely acidity. This wine is now drinking at its peak and it
was only by fate that I decided to open the bottle at its apogee. I wish I had more.
2012 LaRue Emmaline Ann Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
12.4% alc., 50 cases, $70. Sourced from a 3-acre
vineyard near the town of Freestone. Dijon clones planted in
Goldridge sandy loam soil. Aged 17 months in 50% new French
Note: LaRue wines are sold by owner and winemaker Katy
Wilson through a mailing list at www.laruewines.com.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. A
feminine wine that has held up beautifully over time. Despite its
relatively light color and lighter body, this wine delivers plenty of
deep aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry, blueberry and
spice. There is a vein of whole cluster goodness running
through. A silky mouthfeel benefits from gossamer tannins. Still
refined and classy as I noted in my December 10, 2014 review
and drinking at its peak now. Rated 94 previously and still
2015 Press Cellars Helluva Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 300 cases, $25. (Just being
released currently). Wine buyer and retailer Patrick Campbell crafts a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
and an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Helluva Vineyard, 5.5 acres located near Boonville. I scored this wine
93 and it is now sold out. The winery is owned by three families from San Diego: Campbells, McDonalds and
Giboneys. Smith Story Wine Cellars, Betwixt Wines and Handley Cellars have bottled vineyard-designated
wines from this vineyard. Pommard 5 clone. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 60% new. www.presscellars.com.
color in the glass. This wine offers the typical black cherry fruit aromas and flavors of the Pommard clone.
Bombastic in style, with well incorporated oak seasoning and agreeable tannins, finishing with a satisfying
black cherry cordial finish. This beauty reminds me of a typical Russian River Valley Pommard-based, wellripened
Pinot Noir such as those produced at J. Rochioli. The price is not a misprint!
2016 Fulcrum Gap’s Crown Vineyard Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 224 cases, $68. Clones “faux
828,” and 667. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Note: I have been following and reviewing the wines of David Rossi
since 2006 and have seen a recognizable rise in quality. The Gap’s Crown Vineyard bottling is deserving of the
most accolades year in and year out. Interestingly, David lives in New Jersey and travels back and forth for
winemaking operations and sales events. The coronavirus has slowed, yet not stopped him. He continues to
pay his employees through the shutdown. He says, “We will not let some virus take us out. As soon as it is safe
to open, we will open the doors.” Fulcrum’s tasting room is located on the Sonoma Plaza. The wines are also
sold through a mailing list at www.fulcrumwines.com.
dark garnet color in the glass. Generous aromas of blueberry, blackberry jam, and spice. Very seductive on the
palate, with a silken texture and a long, deep core of purple and black fruits that caress the palate. Evocative
harmony with a lasting finish of vibrant fruitiness. Previously rated 97 when reviewed April 14, 2018, and still
pumping out the glorious Pinot charm.
2016 Kelley Fox Wines Maresh Vineyard Red Barn Blocks Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., 46
cases, $75. Grapes were sourced from the original 1970
plantings of Wädenswil and Pommard clones surrounding the
Maresh Red Barn. Maresh is the 5th oldest vineyard in Oregon
and is farmed by Jim and Loie Maresh. Kelley was formerly
the winemaker for Scott Paul for ten years . Her long-time
personal relationships in the Willamette Valley allow her to
source outstanding fruit from Maresh Vineyard, Hyland
Vineyard and Momtazi Vineyard. This wine saw no new oak
(as all Kelley Fox Pinot Noirs).
Note: Four 2018 Maresh Vineyard Pinot
Noirs are currently offered including three block-designates ($75-$100) at www.kelleyfoxwines.com.
Moderately light ruby red color
in the glass. A very elegant, feminine wine with gracious
aromas of red cherry, spice, sandalwood and thyme. Very silky
and sexy on the palate with fresh flavors of red cherry and red
currant. Impeccably balanced with a lasting finish. This wine is
at a nadir now.
2016 Soliste Renaissance Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., 45 cases, $85 ( available by allocation). The goal at Soliste
is to focus on each specific clone of Pinot Noir that is best in
harmony with each vineyard site: Single Vineyard, Single Clone,
and Single Cooperage wines - Monoclone®. Claude Koeberle
and Don Plumley have the dream to be in the conversation with
the legendary Burgundies because they are the benchmarks
that inspire and drive their madness. They feel that the 2016
vintage Soliste Pinot Noir wines are the most Burgundian of all
the vintages produced to date. This wine is from The Sonatera
Vineyard, specifically a few rows of vines that allowed to craft a
deeper wine, pressing 50% whole cluster to create more layers
without losing elegance. Claude remarked, “I have never tasted
a Pinot Noir of such pedigree outside of my native Bourgogne.”
Claude is prone to hyperbole but I am agreement with him with
regards to this wine. I respect his palate, for Claude is a rare breed - a chef for over 50 years who co-owns
restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles - and who has a unique, unlimited knowledge of and perhaps
more important, a unmatched passion for Pinot Noir and its role at the dinner table.
Note: Because this is a very challenging time for wineries and restaurants, Soliste is currently
selling two wines normally sold only to restaurants at restaurant direct-wholesale prices: 2014 Les Cailles
Russian River Chardonnay and 2015 Narcisse Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, both $28. Les Cailles Chardonnay
has only been sold to The French Laundry and Narcisse is the winery’s blend of Monoclone® Pinot Noir
vineyards created specifically for restaurants. Visit www.soliste.com.
Moderate garnet color in
the glass. Soaring aromas of black cherry, black raspberry and spice. Richer than many Soliste Pinot Noir
wines, but still nimble and coaxing on the palate, with flavors of black cherry and boysenberry. Substantial
weight in the mouth, yet sleek and comforting, finding solace in a welcome contribution of oak and a finish that
just won’t quit. Still generous when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle
indicating the potential for longevity. A truly extraordinary wine and one of the best I have ever tasted from this
2016 Williams Selyem Burt Williams Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.6%, pH 3.51, TA 0.60, $85.
Released fall 2018. Last vintage of the Morning Dew Ranch
Pinot Noir by Williams Selyem as Burt Williams sold the Ranch
in 2015. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 57% new 43%
Note: Williams Selyem wines (Pinot
Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel) are allocated through a
mailing list at www.williamsselyem.com.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. This is
an extremely easy-drinking wine showing exceptional
harmony. The aromas of cherry and cardamom lead to a light
to mid weight styled drink that is cherry-driven with added
flavors of tobacco and licorice. The gossamer tannins make
for a gracious mouthfeel and the finish is long and highly
gratifying. Still fine when tasted the next day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle. I am sure this wine has at least
another 6 good years.
2016 LUMOS Temperance Hill Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 145
Note Dai Crisp and his spouse PK McCovy started
the LUMOS Wine Company in 2000. Since 1999, Dai has managed the Temperance Hills Vineyard, a 100-acre
site in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA that is considered one of Oregon’s most esteemed vineyards. A tasting room,
housed in an historic barn, is located in Wren, Oregon, 16 miles west of Corvallis. LUMOS wines are sold on
the winery’s website at www.lumoswine.com. Prices are quite reasonable ($28-$45) considering the pedigree
of the grapes sourced from Temperance Hill Vineyard.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Black fruits are featured in this mid weight wine that
sports excellent harmony. Since last reviewed in October 2018, this wine has gained considerable appeal. The
core of dark berry and stone fruits so typical of this vineyard are vivid and saturating. The tannins have
mollified since last tasted, and the wine aims to please.
2017 RAEN Home Field Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $80. 4.8 acres, ancient marine soils at
an elevation of 1500 feet. Whole cluster fermentations rely
only on native yeasts. Clone 777. Aging is in neutral French
oak barrels for 10 to 20 months depending on the site and
vintage. The wines are bottled without fining or filtration.
Note: RAEN (pronounced “rain” to remind
us that wine was rain first and translated to Research in
Agriculture and Enology Naturally)) winery, a partnership between winegrowers Carlo Mondavi and Dante
Mondavi, focuses on Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The three Pinot Noir wines offered: (1)
Freestone Occidental Bodega Vineyard planted to clone 667, Pommard and a Calera selection ($95); (2) Fort
Ross-Seaview Home Field Vineyard (going forward will be known as Sea Field) a site located just north of
Jenner overlooking the Pacific Ocean ($80); the Sonoma Coast Royal St. Robert Cuvée (clones “828,”, 667,
rVR1, Pommard and a Calera selection), a blend of fruit from the West Sonoma Coast ($60). Chardonnay is
sourced from the Charles Ranch Vineyard located in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA ($90). The wines are eagerly
sought after and highly allocated to a mailing list at www.raenwinery.com. This young winery is proving to be
Pinot Noir par excellence.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. an elegant, but very
aromatic and flavorful wine offering aromas and tastes of ripe
cherry, strawberry, exotic spice, wild herbs, and forest floor.
This is one terrific wine to drink now that has excellent rapport
between the fine-grain tannins and acidity. There is a clear
whole cluster foundation that elevates this wine. I literally
wanted to drink the whole bottle. Welcoming and amicable
when tasted the following day from a previously opened and
2017 Bien Nacido Estate Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay
12.6% alc., 251 cases, $40. The famed Bien
Nacido Vineyard has been bottling Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under their Estate label since 2011. Grapes for
this wine come from own-rooted, 45-year-old vines planted in shale with limestone outcroppings. This W Block
of Chardonnay is the oldest block at Bien Nacido Vineyard, planted in 1973 to the original Wente clone. Whole
cluster pressed, native fermentation, 100% malolactic fermentation, and aged sur lie 16 months in French oak
barrels (25% new) and stainless steel. Bottled unfiltered.
tasting room for Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Estate wines is located in downtown Los Olivos. Note: I did
taste the 2016 Bien Nacido Estate Santa Maria Pinot Noir ($50) but cannot give it a recommendation since I
found the oak barrel work to be overbearing. A tasting room for Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Estate wines is
located in downtown Los Olivos. Visit www.biennacidoestate.com.
Aromas of lemon, pineapple and straw with
noticeable toast and nuttiness. Excellent restraint and edginess on the palate with flavors of grapefruit, lemon
rind and lime shot through with an arrow of spirited acidity. This wine avoids the ripe fruit tropical flavors
common in many California Chardonnays. An excellent value considering the pedigree of the grapes.
2017 Littorai Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., $85. Sourced from vines that are
farmed using organic and biodynamic principles. Littorai was one of the first purchasers of fruit from Hirsch
Vineyard along with Steve Kistler and Burt Williams who first showed up together at Hirsch Vineyards in 1994.
The three winemakers crafted startling good and age-worthy Pinot Noirs and spurred the notoriety of Hirsch
Vineyards. The vineyard is planted to Pommard and Dijon clones and heritage selections including Swan,
Calera and Mt Eden. This bottling includes 114, 777, Pommard clones and a Swan selection. Typically, Littorai
wines are aged 16 months in French oak with about 25% new barrels.
winery’s website is www.littorai.com. Littorai wines are sold only through an allocated mailing list. The wines
are also available at many fine restaurants.
Moderately light garnet color in the
glass. Aromas and flavors of mixed berries including strawberry framed by sandy tannins and bright acidity.
Texturally of great interest but otherwise not exciting at this stage. Largely unchanged when re-tasted the
following day from a previously opened bottle. Giving, but not yet generously, requiring patience.
2017 Peter Michael ‘Le Caprice’ Fort Ross-Seaview Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $130. Released April 1, 2019. This estate
vineyard was planted in 2006 at 1,000-1,500 feet elevation on
the first ridge-line from the coast to a suitcase clone of Pinot
Noir. Soils are alluvial sediments, decomposed volcanic material
and clay. The name of the vineyard is a reference to the
capricious character of Pinot Noir. This bottling is typically the
most fruit-forward of the three Peter Michael estate Pinot Noirs.
Native yeast fermentation, aged 16 months in 50% new French
oak barrels. The winemaker is Nicholas Morlet.
Note: 3 wines are produced from the Peter Michael estate Seaview
Vineyard: Le Caprice, Ma Danseuse and Clos du Ciel. A fourth Pinot Noir, ‘Le Moulin Rouge,’ is sourced from
the Pisoni Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The wines are allocated to a mailing list that is now full and
interested consumers can join a waiting list at www.petermichaelwinery.com. The winery in Calistoga is
available for tours and tasting to private members and waiting list members by appointment.
garnet color in the glass. Intriguing aromas of black cherry, ripe
strawberry, spice and redwood forest floor. Beautifully
composed with exquisite balance, offering deep flavors of black
cherry fruit that saturate every nook and cranny in the mouth.
Very suave in texture in a medium weight style, with a mix of
warn leather, floral and herbal undertones. Extremely satisfying now but displays the harmony that guarantees
at least ten more years of drinking pleasure. Still righteous juice when tasted the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2018 Larkspur Dundee Oregon Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $9.99 (with grocery store 6-pack purchase). Easily
located in your favorite supermarket (Kroger, Fred Meyer, Fry’s etc.). Winemaker is Sarah Cabot who has
several years of winemaking experience with Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. Vineyard sources and
vinification details not available.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of black cherry
and subtle oak spice. Silky in the mouth and very easygoing, with a core of black cherry fruit accented with a
hint of spice. The tannins are well-proportioned, oak is well-mannered, and the dry, lip-smacking finish has a
little length. This wine will not lead to an epiphany but will work as a satisfying everyday quaff.
2018 Privé le nord Estate Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc.,∼200 cases, $65.
Le Nord is the north block of the Privé Vineyard at 600 feet elevation. 100% Pommard clone, 100% destemmed.
The wine was aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 25% new.
Note: Mark and Tina Hammond only produce 950 cases
annually, specializing in Pinot Noir from their 2-acre vineyard, but also offering Syrah and Pinot Noir Port.
Wines are available to a member’s list only. The Privé Vineyard was originally planted in 1980 and then grafted
to Pommard clone in 1998 by the Hammonds after they acquired the vineyard in 1995. The label was launched
in 2001. Other Pinot Noir bottlings include Le Sud (from the south block of the vineyard) and Joie De Vivre (a
limited, reserve). Pricing varies with length of time one is on the member’s list. Etched magnums are available.
Visits to the winery are welcome by appointment (minimum order of 6 bottles requested). Visit
www.privevineyard.com. This is one of my favorite producers of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley.
Moderate garnet color in the glass.
The wine is reserved upon opening, revealing its charms slowly over time in the glass. Aromas of Bing cherry,
rose petal and spice tantalize. Middleweight in style, with flavors that replicate the aromas with a dusting of
oak. Plush in the mouth, with balanced tannins, and an exceptionally long finish of black cherry goodness.
Considerably more giving when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Best to
give this beauty another 3 to 5 years in the cellar.
2018 Toil Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
755 cases, $50. Released spring 2020. Aged 11 months in
French oak barrels, 32% new and 68% neutral.
Note: This wine
comes from Figgins Family Wine Estates that includes
Leonetti, Figgins and Toil Oregon and is produced and bottled
in Walla Walla Washington. The winemaker, Chris Figgins, is
the son of Gary Figgins, the well-known winemaker who
founded one of Washington’s cult wines, Leonetti Cellars. The
inaugural wine was produced in 2012 from grapes sourced in
the Willamette Valley. The new Toil Estate Vineyard is located
in the Chehalem Mountains but has not yet produced a
commercial crop.. Chris may be the first eastern Washington winemaker to offer a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.
The wines, that include a Chardonnay and Rosé, are sold through a mailing list at www.toiloregon.com.
light garnet color in the glass. Friendly aromas of cherry,
strawberry, baking spices, and a hint of rose petal. Inviting
freshness and vitality in a mid-weight style offering a satisfying
core of black cherry fruit underlain with spice and subtle oak.
Easy going in a forward drinking style.
Summa Vineyard: A California Legacy Vineyard Continues to Please
“I simply love this vineyard and the wine it produces.
There is really nothing we have come across that tastes like it.”
Thomas Rivers Brown
Summa Vineyard was first planted in 1979 by Steve Young on a beautiful ridge-top site on Taylor Lane west of
the town of Occidental and six miles inland from the Pacific coastline in the West Sonoma Coast. As a
reference in time, in 1980, David Hirsch planted his first vines at Hirsch Vineyards in Cazadero located north of
Scott and Joan Zellar acquired the vineyard in 1982 and farmed it until Thomas Rivers Brown bought the
Summa Vineyard in September 2010.
The original 2 acres of vines included Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer but the latter two varieties
were grafted over to Pinot Noir soon after the 1979 planting. The original Pinot Noir plantings have been a
source of conjecture through the years because the Zellers either do not know or decline to disclose the plant
material origins. Burt Williams, who crafted Pinot Noir from Summa Vineyard from 1988 to 1997, suspects the
original vines are a Swan selection.
In 1998, an additional 3 acres of Pinot Noir were added on resistant rootstock from old vine cuttings and these
plantings are referred to as Summa Young Vines. In 2000, old vine cuttings were interplanted among the old
vines. In 2005 and 2009, an additional 1.5 acres of Pinot Noir was planted adjacent the Zeller’s residence
using old vine cuttings and known as the Driveway Block (New Vines).
Since 2015, Thomas has removed underperforming, severely diseased, dead, and tractor damaged vines at
the rate of 5 to 6 vines per year using a Calera selection.
Thomas produced his first Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir in 2002 under the Rivers-Marie label when the Zellers
offered him some grapes. This would prove to be a propitious decision for in 2004, Thomas tasted the 1988
Williams Selyem Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir (the inaugural Summa Vineyard release from Williams Selyem)
and remarked afterwards, “I never tasted anything like it before from California.
The first wines from Summa Vineyard were produced by the now-defunct Sea Ridge Winery in the late 1980s.
Williams Selyem was unable to offer a Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir every vintage because yields could be
minuscule. After the 1988 vintage, no 1989 or 1990 vintage was produced. In 1991, a total of one ton of grapes
was harvested from the two acres which produced two barrels of wine. The cost of the grapes worked out to be
$5,000 per ton when the farming costs for three years (two of which - 1989 and 1990 - yield no grapes) were
The 1991 Williams Selyem Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir was offered to the mailing list at $100 a bottle, the first
California Pinot Noir to sell for triple digits. Burt figured that if people wouldn’t buy it, he and Ed would take it
home and drink it. Williams said about the wine’s price, “C-note or c-none.” The wine sold out in three days.
Williams Selyem released a Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir in 1993 (a combination with Coastlands Vineyard
grapes was also bottled in this vintage), 1995 and 1997. In 1988-1990 and 1993-1995, declassified lots of
Summa Vineyard grapes were sometimes a component of The Williams Selyem Sonoma Coast bottling.
The 1995 Williams Selyem Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir was priced at $125 and again sold out within days. Ed
Selyem that of all the grand cru Burgundies he had tasted over the previous decade there was not one that
came close to this wine.
After Williams Selyem was sold in 1997, grapes from Summa Vineyard went to Mueller Winery (1998-2000),
Brogan Cellars (1998-2006) and Littorai (2002-2008 using a combination of young and old vines). Since 2010,
the vineyard has been a monopole exclusive to Rivers-Marie. Thomas produces a Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir
(younger vines) and an “Old Vines” Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir. Declassified lots are blended into the Rivers-
Marie Sonoma Coast bottling.
The older aerial photo below shows the location of Summa Vineyard and the several other notable Pinot Noir
In the summer of 2012, I hosted a tasting of Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir wines from Rivers-Marie, Brogan
Cellars, Mueller and Littorai and the results were posted in the PinotFile. Visit www.princeofpinot.com/article/
I had a conversation with Thomas recently and he filled me in on the latest on Summa Vineyard. He told me,
“Our primary focus out there is improving farming every year. We made great strides beginning in 2014. We’ve
found that there is more vigor out there than we first thought and that the vineyard does better when it is
actually holding a decent amount of fruit. We aren’t too afraid of really opening up the canopy early which
keeps mildew pressure low with only a small trade-off of increased sun damage potential. We’ve learned the
vineyard has no issue being dry-farmed, even during the drought or a really hot year like 2017. Any waterings
the vineyard receives reflects only us panicking. The vineyard doesn’t really need to be tilled so we have gone
to a much less intrusive no-till system, even leaving weed cover under the vines to pull up excess moisture.
Every vine out there is its own vineyard so each plant in each block is trained differently based on the signals it
puts out as to what it can handle. In the Old Vines, for instance, some vines seem a bit anemic so they may
only carry one fruiting cane while others carry four and still push six-feet-plus canopies.”
Two 2018 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Pinot Noirs are reviewed here. Yields were substantial in 2018,
almost 2 tons per acre for the Old Vines and just above 2.5 tons per acre for the regular vines.
Vinification: no inoculation for primary or malolactic fermentation. Wines are generally on the skins 14 to 16
days, depending on the fermentation pace. 5-day cold soak. Depending on the vintage, wines see 1-2
punch downs a day during fermentation. Once wines are negative sugar by a hydrometer, tanks are sealed and
tasted every day. Wines are pressed once the structure is desirable. Free-run and press wine are combined in
tank and wine goes to barrel the following day. The Summa Vineyard Pinot Noirs spend 10 months in barrel,
predominantly Remond, ranging from 50% new for Summa regular to 100% new for Summa Old Vines.
2018 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 325 cases, $60. Harvest Brix
23.1º. This “Baby Summa” comes from 20-year-old vines. Thomas feels this wine becomes more like the Old
Vines bottling every year. For me, it is an excellent wine but relies a little bit more on fruit impact and less on
complexity than the Old Vines Summa.
Dark garnet color in the glass. Highly expressive nose, offering scents
of dark pie cherries, black raspberries, plum and a hint of vanilla and toast. Mid-weight plus in concentration,
offering a charge of black cherry fruit that saturates the palate and holds up in generosity through an extended
finish. A little more oak shows up on the nose and palate but dissipates with swirling. Gracious tannins make
for easy approachability. Still fine when sampled the following day from a previously opened bottle.
2018 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Old Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., 210 cases,
$80. Harvest Brix 23.8º.
Moderately light garnet color
in the glass. The enticing nose is a wonderland of
aromas including cherry, spice, forest floor, and pine
needles. The dreamy texture makes an impression
immediately. Very enjoyable upon opening in a light
to mid-weight style featuring a core of well-spiced
redder fruits. A stellar wine with engaging freshness and
gossamer tannins, finishing unusually long. There is something
about this wine that is hard to put into words but you know it is
special. Perhaps it is the fact that it offers complexity rather than
brute sap. Most certainly, it is the forty-year-old vines speaking.
In any case, this beauty has the balance to age for many years
and I am sure it will bring many oohs and aah down the line.
Still magnificent when tasted the following day from a previously
Another Summa Vineyard oldie recently tasted:
2007 Littorai Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., $80. Cellared at 55º since
release. I have tasted every vintage of Littorai
Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir from 2002-2008 and
the wines have been consistently top-shelf. The
reviews are available in the PinotFile.
Note: the 2008 vintage
was also sampled. That wine is still packed with fruit but is
smoke tainted caused by the devastating California wildfires.
One’s enjoyment will depend on one’s tolerance for smoke taint. N/R.
dark garnet with slight bricking at the rim. Terrific
nose infused with aromas of black cherry, exotic spices, dried
herbs, tobacco and old cigar box. Velvety and comforting in the
mouth featuring mid weight flavors of darker cherry and berry
with an aged patina. Oak is not in the picture. The wine still
presents heady fruit and holds up beautifully in the glass when
sampled over the course of an hour. A marvelous, well-aged
Pinot Noir that should be drunk now.
Wines Recently Submitted for Review
I review a limited number of wines that were either submitted without notice, unaware of my very relaxed tasting
schedule, or wines that were submitted by invitation.
Fulcrum Winery, Sonoma, CA
2018 was a superb vintage with both high yields and excellent quality. The 2018 growing season was marked
by a cool spring, warm summer, and a long, cool harvest with only spots of rain. Pinot Noir grapes were
allowed to hang on the vines well into October.
2018 Cloisonné Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 707 cases, $24. A Napa-based negotiant producing
small lots of wines from growing areas in California. Available for tasting in the Fulcrum Tasting Room and
distributed retail nationally. 100% de-stemmed grapes, Aged in French oak barrels.
Moderate garnet color in
the glass. Aromas of black cherry, dark red berry, peppery herbs and vanilla. Better on the palate in a mid
weight style, offering a charge of black cherry, cola and anise flavors backed by gentle tannins. A reliable quaff
that shows some length on the spirited, spicy finish.
2018 On Point Winemaker’s Selection North Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 183 cases, $39. A
blend of grapes from Gap’s Crown, Hogan’s Run and Conzelman vineyards. Aged 11 months in
French oak barrels, 24% new.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black
raspberry, cherry, vanilla and mushroom earthiness. rise up from the glass. Well-endowed with
juicy flavors of spicy dark red cherry and blackberry with a modicum of oak in the background.
Nicely balanced tannins and forthright acidity with a lip-smacking finish.
2018 Fulcrum Gap’s Crown Vineyard Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 214 cases, $70. Clones “faux
828” and 667. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
garnet color in the glass. A relatively ripe, boisterous and full-bodied wine that makes a big impression. The
aromas and flavors of darker berry fruits grab attention, but the sappy fruit is not summatré. The fruit cloaks the
supportive tannins so the mouthfeel is sleek and velvety. A typical Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir.
MonksGate Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton, OR
A small family-owned and operated winery located in Carlton, Oregon, producing Pinot Noir and Riesling from
a 20-acre estate vineyard planted from 2000 to 2007. There is an interesting back story to this winery.
The name, MonksGate, was derived organically when Ron and Linda Moore, unpacking to move to their new
property, saw Monks from the nearby Trappist Abbey walking out of the woods behind what is now the winery’s
tasting room. The property at the time was covered in 20 acres of overgrown fir trees that were planted to keep
the property in Ag tax deferral, along with scrub oak and blackberry bushes. When the Monks became
concerned that the property would be fenced, Ron offered to put in a gate for them. He did, they have made
good use of it, and a name was born!
From 2000-2014 the winemaker was distinguished veteran winemaker Laurent Montalieu. Early on, the wines
were produced as a hobby and poured for festivals and big weekends. When their daughter, Rebecca, took
over the label in 2015, she also took control of the vineyard and hired Drew Voit as winemaker. Rebecca has
taken a significant role in the cellar alongside Drew, grown production, improved the property and developed a
The estate vineyard is planted to Wädensvil 2A, Pommard, 777, 667 and 115. Soils are marine sedimentary
(Willikenzie series) with fingers of volcanic (Jory series) as the property is located on the backside of the
2019 MonksGate Vineyard North Block Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir
alc.,pH 3.09, 198 cases, $22. Released February 2020. 100% Pommard. Whole cluster gently pressed. Aged 4
months in stainless steel.
Light salmon color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with scents of fresh strawberry and
red raspberry. The flavors of blood orange, red berry and watermelon are bright and satisfying. Bone dry, with
sprightly acidity, very modest tannins and a quenching finish.
2017 MonksGate Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.61, 425 cases,
$38. Released September 2019. 30% Pommard, 23% 667, 27% Wädenswil, 20% 115. Aged 10 months.
garnet color in the glass. The nose shows some volatile acidity upon opening that resolves when tasted several
hours after opening. Light in weight, with aromas of red cherry and dried herbs, and flavors of cherry and
herbal oak. A bit shallow on the mid palate with moderately firm tannins.
2017 MonksGate Vineyard Trinity Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.58, 194
cases, $50. Released September 2019. A limited production
barrel selection. 50% 777, 38% Pommard and 12% 667. Aged
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Shy, but
pleasing aromas of dark red cherries and berries, and enticing
riffs of rose petal and spice. A middleweight style that is juicy
and bright, offering a chewy core of dark Bing cherry fruit.
Adroit winemaking with a light touch of oak, gracious tannins
and a satisfying, moderately long finish.
Phelps Creek Vineyards, Columbia Gorge, OR
The winemaker at Phelps Creek is Alexandrine Roy, a fourth generation winemaker at Domaine Marc Roy in
Gevrey-Chambertin. The Cuvée Alexandrine bottling is a winemaker’s barrel selection from the estate
vineyard. Pommard and Dijon clones. Native yeast fermented, aged in French oak barrels, about 25% new.
2015 Phelps Creek Cuvée Alexandrine Columbia Gorge Oregon Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 245 cases, $54.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose opens slowly to reveal appealing aromas of earthen
blackberries. Both black cherry and blackberry fruits and botanical elements for the mid-weight core of this
wine that exhibits noticeable tannins creating a modicum of astringency on the finish. Considerably more
appealing when sampled the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with more fruit to the
forefront and tannins to the rear.
2016 Phelps Creek Cuvée Alexandrine Columbia Gorge Oregon Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 264 cases.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. A complex nose offers scents of cherry, earthy flora, and oak-driven spice
and toast. Charming black cherry and black raspberry fruit flavors in a middleweight style backed by noticeable
oak. Supportive and integrated tannins with a sleek and silky mouthfeel and a grand finish that leaves an
2017 (not produced due to fires)
2018 Phelps Creek Cuvée Alexandrine Columbia Gorge Oregon Pinot Noir
Unreleased, unlabeled bottle.
light garnet color in the glass. Alluring aromas of black cherry
and mushroomy earth. Light to mid-weight in sap and quite
fruit forward, displaying flavors of purple grape, cherry and
spice. Excellent harmony with notable elegance, and a
substantial grip of black cherry fruit that persists on the lengthy
finish. More desirable when sampled the following day from a
previously opened bottle with more prancing fruit engaged with
very fine-grain tannins and bashful oak.
2017 VIE North Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.62, 150 cases, $35. Released
October 2019. Winemaker Bryan Kane seeks out small vineyards using organic and sustainable
farming practices in the North Coast including Los Carneros, Sonoma Coast the Anderson Valley.
Indigenous yeast fermentation. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 17% new.
color in the glass. The nose leads with an oak-kissed red cherry aroma. Easygoing, with gossamer
tannins, featuring red and blue berry flavors in a light-to-mid-weight style. The wine develops more
charm and interest over time in the glass although it was less appealing when tasted the following
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, so probably not a cellar candidate.
Ponzi Vineyards Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary with a Memoir “Pinot Girl,” released
May 6, 2020 is an intimate memoir of Anna Maria Ponzi, the daughter of one of Oregon’s earliest wine families.
Dick and Nancy Ponzi were among the first to grow and produce Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. Anna
Maria, one of the three children in the family, tells the story of a young girl who grew up among the vines and
how a family that were neither farmers, winemakers or businesspeople, developed into a world-renowned wine
business. $17.95 from the usual sources.
Alcohol-related Facial Flushing Linked to Alzheimer’s The Oriental Flushing Syndrome
occurs in hundreds of millions of Chinese that have a mutation in the gene for aldehyde-dehydrogenase-2
isoenzyme, ALDH2, needed to metabolize ingested alcohol. The mutation is rare outside of East Asian
populations, except in the Polynesian people. Having the gene that impairs alcohol metabolism could increase
a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Stanford scientists recently found that cells from Alzheimer’s
patients contained more free radicals and toxic by-products than cells from control groups did, leading to a
viscous cycle of cell damage with neurodegenerative consequences. Adding alcohol increased the level of free
radicals in all cells, but more so in those with the alcohol-related mutation. Chinese with the ALDH2 mutation
are also at a significantly higher risk for esophageal and oropharyngolaryngeal cancers. So, although the
potential market for wine sales among China’s newly affluent consumers is large, up to half of the population
who suffer from the Oriental Flushing Syndrome are unable or unwilling to drink wine. The avoidance of wine
for health reasons makes this imperative.
International Pinot Noir Celebration Postponed The International Pinot Noir Celebration
(IPNC) has had to be postponed until July 23-25, 2021 due to the uncertainty posed by the novel corona virus.
Those holding tickets for the 2020 IPNC have been automatically updated for the new date in 2021. Visit
www.ipnc.org or follow on twitter @IPNC or Instagram @ipnc-pinot for updates.
Pegasus Winery Lightens Up the Restroom One of my readers, who is a fan of Pegasus
Winery Pinot Noir, copied me a photo of a sign above the urinal at the winery located in Christchurch, New
Benovia Winery Honors Veterans with Release of 2018 Liberation Pinot Noir The
winery has just released the 2018 vintage of its popular Liberation Pinot Noir. The wine is available for $50 per
bottle and $10 from each purchase will be donated to the Gary Sinise Foundation which honors and supports
defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need. In addition, Chairman Joe Anderson will
contribute an extra $5 through his Anderson Family Foundation to the Gary Sinise Foundation. The Liberation
Pinot Noir was originally created to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the 2018 is now the third vintage.
Anderson owns a WWII-era airplane called The Spirit of Benovia, that he and his pilot flew to Normandy last
year to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On Memorial Day this year, The Spirit of Benovia will join 17 other
historic planes in formation, as they honor veterans and healthcare workers in Southern California. A dramatic
label was created for Liberation Pinot Noir, designed by pilot and artist Craig Kodera. The label depicts an
airborne D-Day squad. Benovia’s 2018 Liberation Pinot Noir is a blend created by winemaker Mike Sullivan.
The grapes come from an estate property near the town of Freestone in the Sonoma Coast AVA. can be
purchased on the winery’s website at www.benoviawinery.com.
Drinking Older Domestic Pinot Noir Has Taught Me A Few Lessons
I have been trying to drink down my wine cellar that contains quite a bit of aged domestic Pinot Noir. Most
domestic Pinot Noir is ready to drink upon release because the wines are usually not created with aging in
mind. The winemaking techniques in fashion over the past two decades favor fruitiness and freshness, not
the extraction of the polyphenols such as tannins needed for a wine to age well.
Only quality Pinot Noir evolves into something more interesting than it was in its youth. Wines that are of poor
quality when young will not be expected to improve simply by cellaring them - a wine cellar is not a wine
hospital. Poorly balanced Pinot Noir may show exaggeration of elements that were not harmonious upon
release, such as oak and alcohol as the fruit fades. In addition, faults in wine may exaggerate over time.
1. Decanting is always advisable unless the Pinot Noir is over ten years of age. I find that Pinot Noir almost
never shows its true character immediately upon pulling the cork. Remove the cork in the morning on a day
you plan to drink the wine with dinner. Decant it and put it back in the bottle with a funnel and re-cork until
2. I believe many winemakers feel their Pinot Noir wines are best drunk in the 5 to 7-year post-vintage range
and I agree with this dictum as domestic Pinot Noir will not usually improve beyond this time. Aging beyond
seven years is only an option for gamblers or those who delight in tertiary characters.
3. That said, I have found more surprises than disappointments after opening well-aged bottles recently and
many wines are still superb 10 to 15 years after the vintage. I must qualify this by pointing out that I am only
opening ultra-premium examples of Pinot Noir stored since release at 55º.
4. Old corks are fragile and may be dried out so use caution and patience in extracting them.
5. Always have a backup wine because you never know.
No one can predict Pinot Noir’s apogee. Do not be encumbered by worrisome thoughts about how long to
cellar a domestic Pinot Noir. Just pop the cork when you feel like drinking the wine. It is the gospel truth that it
is better to drink a domestic Pinot Noir too early than too late. Better to revel in the joy of youthfulness than the
decrepitude of old age!