PinotFile: 5.52 October 2, 2006
- Merry Edwards: Pinot Noir Royalty
- Pinot By the Numbers
- Le Cadeau Vineyard
- 2007 World of Pinot Noir
- Pinot Noir IQ Test: Some Clarifications
- Pinot Pimp
- Screw Cap Chronicles
Merry Edwards: Pinot Noir Royalty
As she harvests her 33rd vintage as a winemaker, Merry (Meredith) Edwards has
become deservedly widely known as the “Queen of Pinot.” Throughout her career,
which began at Mount Eden in 1974, she has made some benchmark California
Chardonnays, Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs. But her passion is Pinot Noir, her
heart is in the Russian River Valley, and her legacy will say she was the first
woman to make a really credible Pinot Noir in California.
Edwards grew up in Southern California and went north to University of California
Berkeley to study physiology. Her interests shifted to food science and enology
and she transferred to University of California Davis to complete her education.
Her first job was as the winemaker at Mt Eden in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1974.
This was a winery made famous by Martin “Rusty” Ray who first planted Pinot Noir
at the top of Mount Eden in the early 1940s. Edwards produced now legendary
Pinot Noirs from 1974-1976. Her pioneering work in clonal selection while at Mt
Eden led to the now widely planted UCD 37 certified clone of Pinot Noir. Her work
at Mount Eden was remarkable for the time, because there were few winemaking
jobs offered to women and only a handful of notable Pinot Noirs were being produced
in Northern California. It was a time for discovery. Joe Swan released his
first Pinot Noir in 1973, Davis Bynum bottled his Rochioli Pinot Noir in 1972 from
vines Joe Rochioli planted in 1968, Bob Pellegrini planted the Olivet Lane Vineyard
in 1972, and Tom Dehlinger, Forrest Tancer at Iron Horse, and Marimar Torres
were starting their own Pinot Noir programs in the Russian River Valley.
In 1977, Edwards left Mt Eden and moved on to Matanzas Creek, which she led to
the top echelon of California wineries. Briefly she had her own
project, Merry Vintners (now DeLoach Vineyards), and was a
principal and winemaker at Domaine Laurier, both of which
turned out to be financially unfeasible. She also made wine for
Liparita, Fritz, and Lambert Bridge. She crafted Pinot Noir for Olivet
Lane Vineyard (Pellegrini Family Vineyards) for a time and
continues to source grapes from this heritage vineyard. In 1996,
she finally found stable footing and a vineyard of her own when
she purchased a 24-acre fruit orchard in the southern part of the
Russian River Valley and formed a partnership with her husband,
Ken Coopersmith and others, under the Meredith Vineyard Estate name. She
planted this property in the Sonoma Coast appellation in 1997 with a field selection
of Swan and her own UCD 37 along with three clones from Burgundy.
Her first vintage from Meredith Estate Vineyard was 2000. In 1999, Edwards purchased the 9.5 acre
Coopersmith Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. In addition to the Meredith and Coopersmith vineyards,
she now sources Pinot Noir from Olivet Lane Vineyard, Klopp Ranch Vineyard and Tobias Glen
Vineyard, all located in the Russian River Valley. Her Sauvignon Blanc, made in the popular style she
developed many years previous at Matanzas Creek, comes from two Russian River Valley vineyards.
Edwards releases seven Pinot Noirs and one Sauvignon Blanc under the Merry Edwards Wines moniker.
The Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellation bottlings and the Oliver Lane Pinot Noirs
are Spring releases, and the four other vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs are released in the Fall. Production
in 2006 is expected to be 15,000 cases. Most of the Merry Edwards wines are sold to an eager
mailing list and a lengthy list of restaurants. The name Merry Edwards is among the most popular restaurant
labels and has a similar caché as Sonoma-Cutrer and Cakebread on restaurant wine lists.
Fall 2006 release wines were listed in the PinotFile, Volume 5, Issue 48. Currently, tasting is available
by appointment at the business office in Windsor, but ground has been broken on a new winery to be
constructed on the Coopersmith Vineyard property, expected to be completed for the harvest in 2007
Edward’s winemaking emphasizes careful vineyard management, punch downs in 6.5 ft x 6 ft fermenters,
and generous use of new oak barrels. Her style has been described as “sporting lavish dark
fruits, powerfully concentrated, jammy, and brimming with sweet oak.” All of her Pinot Noirs retain a
distinct sense of place, a feature that stems from her pioneering work on clonal diversity and importance
of site (terroir).
I first met Edwards in 2002 at a wine dinner in Orange County, California, at Mr
Stox Restaurant . At that time, I was privileged to taste some of her early Merry Edwards Pinot Noirs:
including the 1999 Merry Edwards Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir and 1999 Merry Edwards Windsor
Gardens Pinot Noir (Windsor Gardens unfortunately has been subsequently bulldozed for home
development). Both were outstanding with the Windsor more feminine and my favorite. I also sampled
the 2000 Merry Edwards Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2000 Merry Edwards Meredith Estate
Pinot Noir (from fourth-leaf vines and a little light but promising), and the 2000 Merry Edwards
Olivet Lane Pinot Noir ( my notes say “wonderful” and that pretty much sums up this vineyard
source). I was impressed with her passion for Pinot Noir. She has become a spokesperson for Pinot
Noir in general and the Russian River Valley in particular. Since that wine dinner, I have been enamored
with several of her Pinot Noir releases (especially the Olivet Lane), but I have found some wines
too ripe, oaky and tannic on release. I wish now I had aged a few bottles to see how the spirit of these
wines develop over time.
I recently tasted through the Spring lineup of Merry Edwards wines and my impressions are on the
following page. The wines are sold through a mailing list at www.merryedwards.com.
2004 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc
14.1% alc., $27 A unique example of
this variety sourced from thirty-year-old vines at Hopkins Starr Road Ranch and the Cohen Vineyard,
west of Sebastopol. Both vineyards are planted to the Sauvignon Musque clone.
This pale strawcolored
wine has a nice nose of tropical fruits, herbs and roasted nuts. Good acidity and a mildly creamy
texture. I get a little smoked fish on the clean finish. A workhorse Sauvignon Blanc that everyone needs in
the cellar for shellfish and white fish dishes.
2004 Merry Edwards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $30. The grapes for
this wine were sourced from the Meredith Estate Vineyard. Aging was in 63%
new French oak for 10 months.
This beauty attacks the nose with dark cherries,
spice box, and a kiss of oak. The flavors follow in step with added earthiness, tea,
and luscious tart red fruit flavors. The balance is perfect. Plenty of finesse here, but
not a “girlie” wine. The finish explodes in the mouth.
2004 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $36.
Sourced from five Russian River Valley vineyards including Meredith, Klopp and
Olivet Lane and aged 10 months in 52% new French oak.
The aromatics feature
dark crushed cherries and toasty oak. This medium-bodied wine has a plenty of
structure and notable flavors of dark stone fruits and rhubarb. The finish is marked
by smoke, generous oak and slightly bitter tannins. An oak lover’s dream.
2004 Merry Edwards Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $57. This
heritage vineyard is over thirty years old and still pumping out quintessential Russian River Pinot fruit.
Merry Edwards has been making Olivet Lane Pinot Noir since 1989 and this may be her best vintage
yet. This Pinot Noir was aged 10 months in 80% new French oak but you would never know it as the
oak is so well integrated.
A reference standard for Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Oh that Bing cherry
and cola and Asian spice. Demure and perfectly balanced. A finish that is ridiculously long. Lively acidity
brings out the fruit beautifully. This is why I get excited about Pinot Noir. This is a wine you want to go
one on one with - find a time when you are alone, uncork a bottle, and spend the evening in a monogamous
Pinot By the Numbers
As of 2004, the acreage of Pinot Noir in the major growing regions of the world (total vineyard acreage
for all varietals is in parentheses):
Champagne 31,283 (81,196)
Burgundy 26,016 (66,287)
California 24,055 (440,296)
Oregon 7,637 (13,700)
New Zealand 3,239 (17,809)
Nearly all of the Pinot Noir grown in Champagne goes into one of three styles of Champagne: nonvintage
brut, vintage brut, and rosé. Champagne does produce a small amount of still Pinot Noir
labeled as Coteaux Champenois.
In Burgundy, production is 105 million bottles of Chardonnay and 75 million bottles of Pinot Noir
annually. There are 4,000 Domaines in the Cote d’Or which stretches 31 miles and has 59 different
types of soil.
Le Cadeau Vineyard
Just when you least expect it, something comes along that knocks your socks off and reaffirms your
belief and trust in the small artisan producer of Pinot Noir. While in Oregon for the IPNC this past summer,
I heard a little buzz about Le Cadeau Vineyard. I tucked it away in the back of my mind until I
recently came across a bottle at a local wine store (Hi Time Cellars in Costa Mesa, California). I
bought a bottle based on my recollection and was I surprised!
Le Cadeau Vineyard is situated on the southern edge of Parrett Mountain, near Newburg, Oregon.
Newberg is just north of Dundee on Highway 99W and the home of another favorite Pinot Noir of mine,
Privé Vineyard. The Le Cadeau Pinot Noir vineyard is 10-acres in size and situated at 610-725 feet.
The owners, Tom and Deb Mortimer, are from Minneapolis, Minnnesota. They are devoted pinotphiles
who searched and searched until they found this steep, rocky and undeveloped land that needed
some love and attention. The vineyard was planted to a mix of rootstocks and clones (several Dijon
clones, Pommard, and Mariafeld from Switzerland) in 1999 and 2002. Planting here has been
challenging and expensive. The owners joke about naming their property, “Black Hole Vineyard.”
The initial releases from 2002 and 2003 have attracted many fans. The wines were vinified by Isabelle
Dutartre, a French winemaker who assisted Veronique Drouhin at Domaine Drouhin for five vintages.
Dutartre was trained in classical Burgundian enology and viticulture in Beaune, France, and has also
worked extensively at Maison Joseph Drouhin. She is one of France’s leading experts on wine barrels
and is a consultant for a famous French oak barrel producer. She currently resides in France, but travels
frequently to Oregon to oversee winemaking at two family-owned wineries, DePonte Cellars and
Lachini Vineyards. Dutartre left Le Cadeau after the 2003 vintage, but she may remain in a consultant
capacity. In 2004 and 2005, there were three bottlings from Le Cadeau Vineyard made by three different
winemakers: Sam Francis and Cheryl Tannahill (Francis Tannahill), Josh Bergstrom (Bergstrom),
and Harry Peterson-Nedry (Chehalem). Production is tiny so far, with 630 cases in 2003, 480 cases in
2004 and 750 cases in 2005.
2003 Le Cadeau Vineyard Oregon Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 630 cases, $40.
This Pinot Noir is rich and vivid and reflective of the warm vintage in Oregon. A
full and opulent nose of dark cherries, espresso, and oak really draws you in.
There is a hint of alcohol which is not intrusive. The flavors echo the aromatics,
with added raspberries and chocolate for good measure. There is detectable
minerality at work here also. The mouth feel is plush and silky, the tannins finegrained.
Oak treatment is very judicious. The finish features mouth coating
chocolate-covered cherries and stone fruits that linger until the next sip. As the
wine warms in the glass over time, the alcohol peeks out, so best to drink this
one cool. This Pinot will appeal to those who prefer a fat and opulent style of Pinot Noir that is interesting
to drink on its own or can match up with a big hunk of grilled beef.
This is a young vineyard of great promise and with several winemakers at work, will offer a unique
interest to those who look to winemaking style for added variety from a single vineyard (similar to the
Shea Vineyard). Wine may be ordered on the website at www.lecadeauvineyard.com. There is also
some retail distribution (www.hitimewine.net, www.avalonwine.com).
2007 World of Pinot Noir
Registration for the 2007 World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) in Shell Beach, California, slated for Friday,
March 2 and Saturday Mar 3, 2007, is now open. Event information and tickets are available now at
I have attended this event in the Central Coast of California practically every year
since its inception and I consider it one of the top Pinot Noir Festivals for pinot
geeks. This year the featured Burgundy tasting on Saturday morning with Allen
Meadows (aka the burghound) is The Wines of Domaine Comte Georges de Vogué
and Domaine Michel Gros ($225-$285 pp). This is always the highlight of WOPN.
Meadows interacts with the French winemakers (in this case Jean-Luc Pépin of de
Vogué and Michel Gros) to offer an instructive and insightful tasting of these superb Burgundian wines.
Lunch follows the presentation, accompanied by more wines from the two Domaines.
Friday night is the Gala Pinot Noir Dinner at The Cliffs
Resort. This year the featured chef is Mark Peel whose
resume includes Wolfgang Puck’s Ma Maison and Spago,
as well as Chez Panisse and his own Campanile Restaurant
in Los Angeles. He was honored as Chef of the Year
2005 by the California Restaurant Association. Pinot Noir
producers host individual tables and bring library wines
to sample. Participants also bring Pinot Noirs to share.
The evening has a ribald atmosphere of conviviality and
unmitigated Pinot Noir indulgence ($185).
Saturday night the event concludes with a Santa Barbarastyle
Paulée Dinner at Au Bon Climat Winery at Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria. Every attendee
brings a special bottle to share here also, many large formats are uncorked, and an all-star team of
local chefs provide a buffet feast. Bus transportation to and from the Paulée is offered and absolutely
On Friday and Saturday afternoons there are walk-around Pinot Noir tastings in two large tents erected
on the grounds of The Cliffs Resort overlooking the ocean. The list of participants reads like a who’swho
of Pinot Noir including Arcadian Winery, Au Bon Climat Winery, Belle Vallee Cellars (Oregon),
Bryce Vineyard (Oregon), Byron Winery & Vineyard, Domaine Alfred, Elk Cove Vineyards (Oregon),
Etude Wines, Fiddlehead Cellars, Flowers Vineyards & Winery, Goldeneye Winery, Hitching Post
Wines, Koste Browne, Lane Tanner Winery, MacPhail Family Wines, Melville, Miner Family Vineyards,
Native 9 Vineyards & Winery, Papapietro Perry, Patz & Hall Wine Co, Paul Hobbs Winery, Peay
Vineyards, Saintsbury, Sea Smoke, Talley Vineyards, Testarossa Vineyards, The Donum Estate, Vision
Cellars, and many, many other small boutique producers. A full list is posted on the website.
Do NOT procrastinate as attendance is limited and tickets sell out quickly every year. The Cliffs Resort
(800-826-7827) is holding a block of rooms ($180-$220) and is a good place to stay for convenience,
but there are many other inexpensive accommodations within walking distance. Also, the new luxury
Blue Dolphin Bay Resort next door has modern condo-style one and two bedroom rentals available
($280-$600) as well as Chef Evan Treadwell’s new Lido Restaurant.
Pinot Noir IQ Test: Some Clarifications
Through my years of experience in teaching (ocular disease to optometrists), I realize that test
questions must have iron clad specificity and correctness. It was no surprise to me that several readers
responded to the recent Pinot Noir IQ Test challenging some answers (correctly so) and requesting
clarification of other questions. I wanted to share this information as a useful learning experience and
truly appreciate those who took the time to write. There are many whose knowledge of wine knows no
bounds and I am reminded of the old saying, “Knowledge (experience) is something you don’t get
until just after you need it.” I have posted the revised Test in Volume 5, Issue 51on the website
(www.princeofpinot.com), with all of the correct answers on page 10 of that issue.
Question #1 The question now reads: “All of the following are mutations of Pinot Noir except:” Rod
Berglund, winemaker at Joseph Swan Vineyards correctly pointed out that Pinot Noir is not a parent,
that is, did not cross pollinate with another grape to produce Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier.
These three varieties are pigment phenotypes which are genetically identical to Pinot Noir and differ
only in pigmentation. They are mutations rather than offspring. Grenache, of course, is the answer as
it is genetically unrelated to Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a genetic parent of Chardonnay, Gamay, Aligoté,
Melon, Auxerrois, and several other varieties. The other parent is Gouais, a white grape now practically
extinct in northern France.
Question #2 I left this question as is and the correct answer is that the juice of Pinot Noir is colorless.
Technically, this is not always the case. Rod Berglund noted that a “tenturier” version of Pinot Noir exists
whose juice is red. In an aerial photograph of the Cotes de Nuits, Rod noticed a block of vines that
appeared to be totally virused. He was told that they were not virused, just an illegal planting of Pinot
Noir tenturier. Rod suspects that he also has a mutant vine in the oldest block of his vineyard, since
every year he notices a red splotch in a picking box that is way too dark to be normal Pinot Noir juice
(he has yet to find it, however).
Question #7 This question now reads: “Pinot Noir as a stable variety is probably indigenous to:” The
exact origins of Pinot Noir are not known, but John Haeger, author of North American Pinot Noir, has
stated that Pinot Noir originated as a stable variety in Burgundy. In his book, Haeger writes that “the
accepted opinion of most wine historians and paleobotanists was that all vinifera had a common geographic
origin - in Transcaucasia, between the Black and Caspian Seas, where modern Turkey, Iraq
and Iran share borders.” Greek and Roman travelers then brought cuttings, wine and culture into
Western Europe. Haeger goes on to point out that there is some conflicting information. There is evidence
that grapes were cultivated and wine made in some parts of France before the first Greek settlements
could have had such an impact. Also, there are extensive populations of wild vines throughout
large parts of Western Europe and it is unlikely that migrants from the eastern Mediterranean would
have carried wild vine cuttings on their travels. Wild vines of Vitus vinifera could have existed long
before the Greeks and Romans came to Western Europe.
Question #19 This question now reads: “The approximate number of days from bud break to harvest
in North America is:” The original answer of 100-110 days was incorrect as pointed out by an astute
reader. 100-110 days would be the number of days from bloom to harvest rather than bud break to
harvest which is much longer. There are four markers in the vine’s annual growth: bud break, bloom
(berry set), veraison (the change in grape’s color), and harvest. Bud break can begin as early as the
end of February in the south central coast of California and as late as the first week of May in the Finger
Lakes region of New York. The number of days from bud break to harvest can have a range of roughly
170-200 days. The period from bloom to harvest is known as hang time and will range from 90-125 days (answer c). Long hang times are correlated with cool summer daytime maximum temperatures
as found in the south central coast, the Sonoma coast, and cooler parts of the Russian River Valley. The
period from veraison to harvest is 28-49 days. Pinot Noir at veraison photo below.
Question #23 The correct answer is d (pineapple). The secondary flavor characteristics of Pinot Noir
are varied and can include leather, game, rotting vegetables, beef bouillon, pencil shavings, loamy
earth, pipe tobacco, old library books, brown sugar, mushrooms on a grill, beef stew, smoked bacon,
vitamin tension, rust and iron, root beer, anise, fig, sherry and molasses.
Question #32 Amber Ridge Vineyard is located in the Russian River Valley and is the correct answer
(b). The Sangiacomo Family vineyard holdings require some clarification. The family’s original plantings
were in the Los Carneros AVA on the western side of Sonoma Creek (now over 1,000 acres). The
family also farms vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and in 1998, they planted Pinot Noir in the Sonoma
Coast AVA on Roberts Road. As a result, you will see Sangiacomo Vineyard on vineyard-designate
Pinot Noirs from both the Carneros and Sonoma Coast appellations. Angelo Sangiacomo, now 76 years
old, was inducted into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Hall of Fame last year. Considered a pioneer
in the wine industry in Sonoma County, Angelo takes pride in the fact that his vineyards have remained
a family-owned business since his parents planted their first fruit orchard in 1927. Sangiacomo grapes
are highly prized by winemakers.
Look for Pinot Noir IQ Test #2, in a future issue of the PinotFile.
One of my subjects, Mark Wells, has accused me in the
past of being a Pinot pimp. I was just yanking him
around recently because he hadn’t drank up all the
Koste Browne Pinot in his cellar. I said, “What are you
drinking, Zin?” I think I rankled his manhood when he
replied: “As far as what I am drinking, it’s Pinot you
bastard, and it’s your damn fault. Now I empty my
bank account at wineries nobody has ever heard of, on
wines nobody has ever drank except you, you pr**k.
You have ruined me….and I love it.”
Screw Cap Chronicles
One of my astute readers corrected me when I wrote in the last issue that Bernard Ambroise was the first to use
a screw cap in Burgundy. He wrote, “One small correction - Patrice Rion offered some 2002 and 2003 vintage
wines with screw caps. Now the importer can choose before bottling which
closure he wants. I don’t think Patrice was the first either.” To set the record
straight, anyone know who the first was?
Aussie wine writer, Tyson Stelzer, writing in Wines & Vines, May, 2006 said: “I
am confident that the rate at which mature characters develop in screwcapped
wines is in fact absolutely no different than under traditional closures.
This is evidenced by the fact that wines under screw cap age at a similar rate
to those with the very best corks. For a wine under an average cork, however,
oxidation effects give the impression of accelerated aging, which has led to
the notion that wines mature more slowly under screw caps. Perhaps the
absence of oxidized characters in screw capped wines has given the mistaken
impression of slower aging?”
It may be old news to some, but it still brings a smile to my face. Bonny Doon’s
irreverent winemaker, Randall Grahm, staged funerals for the cork in New
York City and San Francisco in 2002. Go to www.deathof thecork.com for full
coverage and photos.