PinotFile: 6.57 April 7, 2008
- Pinots from the Edge
- Laura Volkman Takes It Personally
- La Crema - A Label You Can Count On
- Lost Canyon Has New Direction
- Small Sips of Odds & Ends
- My Pinot Noir Pet Peeves
- Pinot Briefs
- The Long and Winding Pinot Road, Part IX
Pinots from the Edge
Pinot Noir is a fussy grape that thrives in areas heavily influenced by the ocean.
Although Pinot Noir grows in at least twenty-three counties in California, the
majority of the planted Pinot Noir is “living on the edge,” that is, growing in the
dramatically cool western part of Sonoma County known as the Sonoma Coast.
The cold environment of the western reaches of Sonoma County is a relatively new
frontier for viticulture. The obstacles are many. Vines take more time to develop,
even up to six years to produce fruit contrasted with a typical three years in most
other regions. Wet weather is ever present. A wet spring can interfere with
bloom and create the perfect environment for botryitis. In the fall, encroaching
rains threaten harvest. Due to close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, nighttime temperatures
are often in the 40s and daytime highs rarely exceed the low 70s. Cold
spring temperatures can result in poor vine nutrition at bloom and lead to poor
fruit set. Yields are ridiculously low, typically 1 to 2 tons per acre and in some
vintages, so little fruit is produced, viticulture costs cannot be reclaimed. Animals
such as deer, gophers, wild hogs, and birds are ever present. Gophers can destroy
as much as 20 percent of new vines. It almost seems like madness to attempt
to farm Pinot Noir in these environs and many have called the winegrowers here
the “mad men of West County.” When the weather cooperates and everything
goes well, the resultant tiny Pinot Noir clusters with a high juice-to-skin ratio are
worth the trouble and the wines can have remarkably mature tannins and flavors at
lower Brix with a high-acid profile. Noted wine writer, Matt Kramer, has said,
“Sonoma County West is an extraordinary location for Pinot Noir. It has the capacity, although not yet the achievement, of someday creating America’s grand cru
The Sonoma Coast AVA (American Vineyard Appellation), is the largest AVA in
Sonoma County, incorporating 750 square miles. This cumbersome AVA was
formed in 1987 primarily for the purpose of allowing certain wineries to include all
of their major vineyards within one boundary so they could use the “estate bottled”
designation on their wine labels. The AVA is also a distinctive climatic region
based on coolness with no more than 2,800 degree days of heat during the
growing season (low Region II) . This AVA extends nearly throughout the Sonoma
Coast from the Sonoma County borders with Napa in Carneros to the east, Marin
County to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Russian River Valley
AVA boundary in the north. (map page 2). The Sonoma Coast AVA actually over-laps five other appellations - the Sonoma part of Carneros, a sliver of Sonoma Valley, the western part
of Chalk Hill, all of Green Valley, and most of the Russian River Valley. As a result, the words “Sonoma
Coast” on a wine label can indicate a wine from a vastly diverse geographic area from Annapolis in the
north to Petaluma in the south. The Sonoma Coast has been unofficially subdivided into the “true” Sonoma
Coast (what Kramer referred to as Sonoma County West) and the “real” Sonoma Coast. The true
Sonoma Coast is roughly from Jenner on the coast in the south where the Russian River empties into the
Pacific Ocean to Annapolis in the north and from the beaches of the Pacific Ocean to 5 to 6 miles inland
including the first two ridges of the coastal range of mountains and the western slope of the third ridge.
Besides Annapolis and Jenner, Occidental and Freestone are usually included, although both are south
of Jenner. Some have even further subdivided the true Sonoma Coast, separating out the “extreme”
Sonoma Coast, located southwest of the Russian River Valley and stretching around the town of Freestone,
a mere 4.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean. There are numerous microclimates and soil types in the
true Sonoma Coast, but three things are a constant everywhere: fog, ocean breezes and coolness.
Although the Sonoma Coast AVA is 517,000 acres and almost half the size of Sonoma County, only
7,000 acres are planted to vineyards. About fifty growers and six wineries are located within the true
Sonoma Coast AVA’s borders. The vineyards are situated above the fog line or in lower reaches
where the wind blows off the fog early in the morning (see photo page 3 of Ft Ross Vineyard). Most of
the vineyards are quite isolated, and only in recent years have vineyard management companies allotted
workers to the area full-time. The price of prime land is at least $20,000 an acre now. This price is
misleading and actually much more expensive than you realize because the landscape does not lend
itself to farming and you might have to purchase 50 acres to get 10 acres that are suitable for grape
growing. Much of the area is essentially a wilderness and too steep for grapevines.
What is distinctive about Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs? The very small berries have a high juice-to-skin
and juice-to-seed ratio resulting in very concentrated flavors and amplified tannins. The wines can be
bold, dense, earthy and powerful. Ted Lemon (Littorai) has characterized Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir as
follows: “Muscle and sinew, grit, structure, more backbone and tannins than the Russian River Valley
Pinot Noirs, peppery in leaner years with sage and savory as the prominent spices. Dan Goldfield
(Dutton-Goldfield) feels that what sets Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir apart is “the mineral element and very
focused tannins compared with the Russian River Valley sweet fruit and floral elements.”
Over the past several weeks, I have had the opportunity to sample Pinot Noirs from all parts of the
Sonoma Coast AVA and a report on nearly fifty wines follows. Ripeness can be challenging in many
areas and green flavors can result. A number of the wines are quite muscular and need cellaring to
soften tannins and/or decanting to open up. Good acidity seems to be a constant. Styles are all over
the board and it is impossible to make significant generalizations from such a diverse region.
Three Fog Horns
2006 Alcina Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., $45.
Beautiful aromas of
black cherry, herbs and barnyard. Flavors of spiced cherry, brown sugar,
cookie dough. Soft in texture, light on its feet, with finely-tuned tannins, and
clean finish. A very nice elegant package.
2006 De La Montanya Flying Rooster Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 100 cases, $36.
Dazzling aromas of red cherry, concord
grape and cocoa. On the palate, there is a lovely potpourri of cherries,
strawberries, black raspberries and a subtle sidecar of oak. The finish is
clean and dry. Medium-bodied and fruit-forward, I like this wine for its
finesse and pinotypicity.
2006 Kasuari Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $30.
Wilted red roses and red cherries in the nose and a dazzling dose of strawberry
and cherry fruit which lingers on the finish for over ten seconds. No
tannin in sight. Ready now for prime time. What Pinot Noir should be, but so
2004 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Balistreri Family Vineyard Freestone View Block Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.37% alc., 454 six-bottle cases,
$100. The original 4-acre Freestone View Block of the Balistreri Family
Vineyard was planted to a range of Pinot Noir Dijon clones in 1999. The 1-
acre Alessio Block was added in 2005, two additional blocks were planted
to Pinot Noir: Salmon Creek (3.4 acres) and the Bodega Ridge (4.2 acres).
The southern-facing property is quite special, situated one mile west of
Freestone and a mere four and half miles from the Pacific Ocean. Owned by Jack and Kathy Balistreri,
this vineyard is one of the coldest vineyards on the extreme Sonoma Coast. High density planting of
five Dijon clones (114, 115, 667, 777, 828). Yields are less than one ton per acre. 25% whole cluster.
10-day cold soak after clones blended together. Aged 20 months in 50% new French oak (36-month air
dried barrels. Sonoma Coast Vineyards plans to build a winery on the Balistreri property in the near future.
Deep reddish-purple robe. Aromatic profile is complex with intense dark plum fruit, forest
floor, steak char, roses and a little good funk. Attractive wild berry core with herbal overtones. Velvety
texture and plenty of snappy acidity at end. Still relatively young and shy, cellaring for one to two
years will reward the patient.
2004 WesMar Balletto Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Starting with the first whiff of this one, fresh raspberry jam immediately
comes to mind. I kept saying WOW! out loud. The raspberry theme carries
over from the attack to the finish. There is some croissant notes for good
measure. A flawless wine with admirable acidity and fine tannins, I could
drink this one all night long.
2005 Williams Selyem Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Deep ruby color. A big and sappy fruit attack featuring black berries complimented
by exotic woods leading to a delicate finish with lingering dark cherry notes.
Nicely crafted, smooth in the mouth, with lively and refreshing acidity.
Two Fog Horns
2006 Benovia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $45. It has been a couple
of years of anticipation and Benovia has finally released this wine, its first
Pinot Noir. Benovia has recently purchased two properties which will eventually
increase the estate vineyards to 75 acres. The first is a 40-acre parcel
adjacent to the winery property on the north side. New plantings of Chardonnay
and Pinot Noir here will come into production in 2013. An old house on
the property will be renovated to offer a reception center for wine tastings
and dinners. The second property is a cool site for Pinot Noir located on Falstaff
Road near Freestone, 3.5 miles north of the Petaluma wind gap. 12 acres of Pinot Noir will be
planted and will come into production in 2013 as well. These new properties will allow Benovia to
eventually reach 5.000 case production. In the Fall, a Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir and Savoy Vineyard
Pinot Noir will be released. I have tasted both of these a couple times out of barrel and the Savoy recently
after bottling and can tell you these wines are gorgeous, sexy Pinot Noirs. The Benovia Chardonnay,
Zinfandel and Rosé are outstanding wines in their own right. This is a cult producer in the
making and I would advise you join the mailing list asap.
Plenty of berry, earth, game and shroom on the
nose. Rich and ripe plum and blueberry flavors with hints of raisin, accented by toasty oak. The fruit driven
finish is lengthy and tangy.
2006 B Vineyards & Habitat Green Valley/Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 336
cases, $55. The organically-grown fruit for this wine was hand-picked
over six mornings within a 2½ week span. After de-stemming, a 3-5 day
cold soak ensued. Sulfur additions were kept to the bare minimum even
after MLF. The bottled wines contain less than 100 ppm total sulfur -
below the maximum allowed for organically certified wines. A proprietor’s
select Pinot Noir, “Sera,” less than 150 cases, is also produced (I will
report on this in a future issue).
Charming demure aromas of red berries with a touch of barnyard. Solid
core of black raspberry and cherry fruit with a woodsy bent. Soft and smooth with elegance to spare. Still
weighted-down by noticeable, but gentle tannins, and still a bit closed. Outstanding potential, but not
ready for prime time for another 6-12 months.
2006 De La Montanya De La Cain “Chanconne” Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 50 cases,
$55 (approx). (Sampled from unlabelled bottle, originally labeled Sonoma Coast but RRV fruit included
as well). A top-of-the-line reserve type bottling.
The aromatics are brooding and shy with dark
fruits and spice lurking. Very plush blackberry and black raspberry fruit which needs time in the glass to
blossom. Nicely spiced oak flavors as well. Velveteen texture, beautifully balanced. Plenty of potential,
but needs time to come out of its shell.
2006 Felta Creek Vineyards Flying Rooster Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 95 cases,
$24. Vinified at Laetitia Winery in Arroyo Grande for De La Montanya.
Very enticing aromas of crushed
black cherries, herbs, and oak char. On the palate, the attack of dark berry and dark stone fruits is lipsmacking
and the soft texture is alluring. The tannins are noticeable but reigned-in.
2005 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Light ruby in color. Very charming scents of red fruits including wild strawberries,
with floral notes (violets) as well. A graceful wine driven by flavors of red
Pinot fruits with herbal accents. The finish is marred by a touch of woodiness
which disappears when the wine is accompanied by food.
2004 Kistler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,328 cases, $60.
Deep purple color. Lovely perfume
of black cherries, lavender and damp oak. The flavors are driven by firm, dark fruits accentuated
with Asian spice, and dark chocolate. Nicely weighted and oaked, complex and interesting. Appealing
soft texture in the mouth, and lively acidity on the ending which is moderately long.
2004 Marimar Estate Dona Margarita Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $36. This wine comes from a 20-acre high-density planting (2,340
vines/acre) in western Sonoma County at 600 feet. Located in the Freestone
Valley between Freestone and Occidental, it is only six miles east of the Pacific
Ocean. Soils are Goldridge type. Clones are Pommard and 115.
wine has a “Burgundy” bent. Nutty, earthy nose, and dense black raspberry,
smoky, earthy and woodsy flavors. Some drying tannins still persist on the finish.
Quite enjoyable for its distinctive sauvage character.
2006 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $34.
This wine is all
about black cherry and black raspberry fruit with a healthy dose of oak. It is an
in-your-face gulp of fruit that will appeal to lovers of this style. There are still
some unresolved tannins (the wine is quite young and one of the first wines released
each vintage - rushed to the market because of the huge demand). This
is a wine you can count on for consistency year in and year out.
2004 Ridgeway Family Vineyards Two Pisces Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 295
cases, $26. Crafted by winemaker Dan Goldfield.
Still nice with another year of bottle aging. Charming
aromas of black cherry, nutmeg and smoke. Plenty of red and black fruits to delight with a slight tobacco
edge. Balanced beautifully, nice acid backbone, fine tannins and a lingering finish.
2005 Ridgeway Family Vineyards Two Pisces Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 425
cases, $30. The Two Pisces Vineyard is located in southwest Petaluma. The winemaker is Dan Goldfield
Very complex aromas of berries, vanilla, mushroom and flowers with a hint of
ethyl acetate. Terrific berry and cherry flavors nicely spiced with a touch of oak. Well-crafted and easy to
drink because of suede-like tannins. There is something special about this vineyard.
2004 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.23% alc., 1,043 cases, $60. From seven
vineyards in the extreme Sonoma Coast. Clones are Dijon 113, 114, 115, 667, 777, 828, and Pommard
3. Aged 20 months in 50% new French oak.
Deep ruby robe. Intense and rich but reticent nose of dark
berries and allspice. Big plush fruit offers a fullness on the palate with notes of lavender, dark chocolate
and herbs. Always changing in the glass. This wine reminds me more of Burgundy than most California
Pinot Noirs. Obvious sophisticated breeding and winemaking. Needs more time to fully appreciate.
2005 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Peterson Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 760 six bottle
cases, Unreleased. Clones 115, 667 from the Peterson Vineyard. Aged 50% in new French oak
for 10 months. This wine is offered for earlier drinking than the Sonoma Coast Vineyards and Balistreri
Family Vineyard Pinot Noirs.
Lighter violet in color than the Balistreri. Ripe strawberries, black cherry
and tar compose the aromas. Elegant presentation of pure and well-defined red berry and cranberry fruit
with a touch of mint. Brisk acidity and a pillowy softness in the mouth. Ready for enjoyment now.
2006 W.H. Smith Marimar Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
$48. Note: with first pass, the W.H. Smith
Pinot Noirs from the 2006 vintage were disappointing to me. I re-corked the bottles
and re-tasted the next day. What a difference! This was a lesson in wine tasting and
a realization that wine is almost a living, breathing organism. All of the wines were different and much
better the next day, showing a softer and smoother side with fruit more front and center. I think the
lesson to be learned here is that if you don't particularly like a wine at first, try it later or even the next
day and sometimes you will be surprised. That said, the W.H. Smith Pinot Noirs are endowed with
plenty of fruit and tannin, and are structured in a California Neuvo style that may not appeal to everyone.
Ex-Cab drinkers will probably find the wines quite attractive. (Smith formerly produced Cabernet-based wines at La Jota).
The nose is closed down but with coaxing there is a hint of black cherries, spices
and forest floor . The flavors shine with very nice raspberry, black cherry and plum fruit
with deft oak highlights. Well-balanced with reserved tannins and lively acidity. The
best of the 2006 W.H. Smith Pinot Noir lineup.
One Fog Horn
2005 Alesia Falstaff Road Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., $62. Ron and Judy
Loughred farm this vineyard on the extreme Sonoma Coast. This is the second label of Rhys vineyards
and features several bottlings from purchased fruit.
Dark violet-red in color. Aromas start off with barnyard
and diaper and evolve to cherry, root beer, hay and oak. Woody, earthy, and meaty at heart. With
air, the flavors evolve with more black cherry charm. Tannins are well-integrated and the texture is reasonably
soft. The finish is a touch sour.
2004 Alesia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $39. Two bottles sampled
- the two were completely different.
One bottle showed nice black raspberry,
tobacco smoke and oak char scents with a healthy fruit core of blackberries,
raspberries and a hint of herbs and wood. Silky in texture and clean
on the finish. The second bottle showed a similar aromatic profile but oak
char dominated the flavors and the finish was sour and unpleasant. Oh, the
trials and tribulations of tasting wine.
2006 Auteur Sonoma Stage Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
146 cases, $50. The Auteur wines have been highly touted in the wine
press and are sold by meager allocations through a mailing list.
An earthy aromatic profile featuring forest floor and a little oak
char with fruit lingering in the background. Earthy on the palate as well, with
dark fruits featured. The fruit is pent-up and flat at present. Soft in the mouth
with fine-grained tannins and tangy acidity and prominent oak. This is a wine
waiting to get out.
2006 Brogan Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $45.
Light reddish-purple in color. Some
grassy and barnyard accents to the red fruit. Tasty red cherry flavors with the grassy theme carrying
through to the finish. Light and more feminine than many Brogan Pinot Noirs, it is well-balanced and easy
to drink. Not winemaker Margi’s best wine, but still quite decent.
2004 Clouds Rest Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
$100. This unique one and
three-quarter-acre vineyard is actually on Sonoma Mountain but carries the
Sonoma Coast appellation. Frequent fog drifts in from the ocean forming a
billowy blanket about 50 feet below the vineyard fence. The Clouds Rest
Vineyard is situated at 1250 feet and is the most intensely planted vineyard in
the Sonoma Coast AVA and may be the most difficult and expensive to farm.
The vines are planted 3 ft x 3 ft (an arm’s length apart) in volcanic soils and
farmed completely by hand. The planted clones are Pommard 3 and 115, 667, and 777. The wines are
aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak and bottle aged an additional 18 months to 3 years. The
noted winemaker is Anthony Austin. I also sampled the 2003 vintage (dark in color, woodsy, earthy,
pruney in flavor) and the 2005 vintage (excellent aromatics of black raspberry and spice, pepper accents,
soft texture, toned-down from previous vintages and showing a refinement lacking in other
The aromatics benefit considerably from decanting. A blackberry
bombast. Fruit-driven style with gobs of plush ripe fruit and a mountain-inspired earthy influence. Big,
bold and definitely Caliesque in style
2005 De La Montanya Sonoma Coast Pinot Meunier
13.4% alc., $34. One of the few wineries in
California that bottles this varietal as a stand-alone wine. I tasted this in barrel last year and like it and it is really showing beautifully now. A great wine to stump your wine geek friends with. fruits delicately
spice. Straight forward, soft, clean and easy to drink.
Very nice aromatics
of wild berries, oak spice, buttered toast and new-mown hay. Very juicy darker fruits delicately
spice. Straight forward, soft, clean and easy to drink.
2004 Hamel Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
$31. The 2006 vintage has been released.
A reliable source of restrained, nicely-crafted Pinot Noir.
The nose is composed of toast, black cherry, roasted nuts and a hint of alcohol. Very gentle and soft red
cherry flavors with a clean finish. An easy drinker.
2005 Hartford Court Land’s Edge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $30.
Primarily sourced from Annapolis Vineyard with several other coastal vineyards.
Unusual aromas of BBQ smoke, green olive along with strawberry and
cherry notes. The smoke continues through on the palate highlighting the darktoned
fruits. The tannins are gossamer creating a silky feel in the mouth. The flavors
trump the nose.
2006 Kutch McDougall Ranch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 90 cases, $48 The
McDougall plantings are 3.4 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean at 935 feet. 25% whole cluster. Aged
on the lees for 16 months with no new oak.
Moderately light in color. Red cherries and brown spices on
the nose. Lighter-styled, with red fruit profile, herbal notes and graham. Lively acidity. Still reserved from
2004 Littorai The Haven Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $75.
Darkly colored, this wine offers a very unique aromatic profile of sweet smoke, tar,
herbs, char and hay. The brooding fruit is darkly colored and there is a curious
whiskey taste. Full-bodied, plenty of woodsy notes, soft tannins, and a lingering
2004 MacPhail Pratt Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 250 cases, $54. Clones 2A, 23,
114 and 777.
Wine-soaked wet oak, dark cherry and musky notes on the nose. Really delicious black
raspberry and graham flavors which make you sit up straight. As it opens, the flavors veer toward raisin.
Nice tang, grip, length and finish.
2003 Peay Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 575 cases, $45.
orange tinge to the rim. Initially there are captivating aromas of cherries, anise and
dried roses. Over time, the nose takes on notes of prune and cigar box. Tart cherry
flavors veering toward raisin with staunch acidity, and a clean, dry finish.
2005 Sonoma Cutrer Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Darkly fruited from start to finish with plenty of oak and
char throughout. Blackberries and boysenberries saturate the palate. Attractive farmyard and herbal accents.
Very clean finish. Still some tannins to shed.
2006 Stephen Vincent Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., $18. Sourced from the Four Sisters Vineyard
on the Sonoma Coast.
Light in color, light in the mouth, and very silky. Flavors of red fruits, primarily
cherry, with a grassy edge. Kept wanting more, but can’t complain for the price.
2006 W.H. Smith Maritime Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $54. No website. 707-965-9726. See notes on Marimar Torres Pinot Noir.
A woody bent to the
nose and flavors. Shy red fruits a medicinal note in the aromatics followed by black cherry, earth and iodine
flavors. After drinking this, I said, “What’s the fuss about?” This was a reference to the generous
scores this wine received in past. Not so fast! The next day from a re-corked bottle, the wine was quite
good with deep dark showy fruit and exotic wood accents. The medicinal note had completely resolved.
The mouth feel was pure velvet and the wine was quite enjoyable.
2006 W.H. Smith Umino Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., $48. See notes on Marimar Estate Pinot Noir.
Upon early sampling
the nose featured spiced dark fruits which carried over on the palate. Finishes with plenty of fruit energy.
The next day from the re-corked bottle the fruit was more integrated with a nice smoky accent and the
texture had softened. Much more appealing the following day.
Other wines tasted but lacking a foghorn
2005 Alesia Chileno Valley Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $58.
Aromas of strawberry, juniper
berry and sandalwood are appealing, but a woody and herbal greenness overwhelms the fruit. Like sucking
on a wood branch. The green flavors could resolve to some degree with bottle age.
2006 MacMurray Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $19.
Smoke, tar and confected cherry aromas lead to
oak-infused dark fruits with a herbaceous edge. Soft but notable tannins. Drink with grilled meats.
2003 Wild Hog Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
16.1% alc., $25. I tasted the 2005 vintage of this
wine as well and it was very similar in style albeit with more refined tannins.
Dark ruby in color. Scents of earth,
tobacco, pencil shavings and grass lead off. There is a strong attack of potent ripe fruit tending toward
raisin. Aggressive tannins. For fans of big tannic zinfandel-like wines.
Laura Volkman Takes It Personally
In a recent issue of the PinotFile (Volume 6, Issue 52 ), I featured this new boutique producer located in
Newberg, Oregon. I was quite impressed with the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay and looked forward to
sampling the winery’s top-of-the-line estate Pinot Noir bottlings which were recently released. The
two Pinot Noirs turned out to be lavishly soft, offering pure pleasure and silk that was astonishing. After
drinking the wines, I had to call Laura Volkman and find out the story behind these fantastic wines.
I spoke with Laura on a snowy day in the Willamette Valley in
late March. She told me that she makes ALL the winegrowing
decisions herself, performs practically all of the physical work
in the vineyard, and for the most part, won’t let anyone else
touch the vines. In the winery, she is so intense in everything
she does, her tolerant husband (bless him!) kids that “she
takes every bottle personally.” She likens her passion and
dedication to an author writing a great book who locks her self
away and entirely focuses on the job at hand. “I have blinders
on from April until the end of crush,” she said.
Of all the many grape varietals, Pinot Noir is the most temperamental, a fickle prodigy if you will, and
the one that can be brought to perform brilliantly only through meticulous parenting in the vineyard
and in the winery. This explains why some of the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs come from very small
producers who can personally nurse the frivolous grape every step of the way. Laura Volkman personifies
this ideal and her wines show the results.
The Laura Volkman Vineyard is located about a ¼ mile from August Cellars (a cooperative facility
in which several winemakers lease space) in Newberg. Together with her husband, she purchased
a small farm several years ago, cleared the land and planted vines. Her first releases were from the
2004 vintage. The labels are quite striking and display artwork depicting Laura in her vineyard (from
watercolor artist Terry Peasley).
The two bottlings below are distinguished by their different clonal components and the use of different
yeasts. Both are charming in their own way and highly (that’s HIGHLY) recommended.
2006 Laura Volkman Vineyards Rachel Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 100 cases, $38. From the west block of the Volkman
Vineyard, clones 114, 667 and Pommard. The 114 provides the
aromatic floral component and the 667 imparts a certain femininity.
One type of yeast is used to create a more fruity profile and a Burgundian
yeast to create a drier finish.
Everything is perfectly in order here.
Black cherries, truffle and barnyard in the aromas, soft black cherry fruits
delicately spiced on the palate. Very elegant and demure with the kind of
plush and velveteen texture that only great Pinot Noir can offer. All I could
do was shake my head and smile after tasting this one.
2006 Laura Volkman Vineyards Jacob Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 200 cases, $42. This is the Volkman “flagship”
wine sourced from the east block of the Volkman Vineyard. The clones
are 114, 115 and 777. Yeasts were manipulated to produce a more edgy
The aromas are very enticing and include fresh-baked cookies, Bing
cherries, and chocolate. I went ga-ga over the aromatics and would have
been perfectly happy just to smell this wine. But when you taste it, you are
led on a journey of pleasure featuring red Pinot fruits with terrific grip and
edginess and a lavish black cherry finish that comes and goes in waves.
This is the kind of wine that makes you wonder how mere grapes could
ever have made such nectar.
Laura Volkman Vineyards address is 13000 N.E. Quarry Road (off Highway 99W), Newberg (August
West Cellars). Tasting by appointment. The wines are sold through a mailing list at
www.volkmanvineyards.com or by contacting Laura at 503-806-4047. These are the best Pinot Noirs in
this issue for current drinking and you would do yourself a favor by grabbing some for your cellar.
La Crema - A Label You Can Count On
La Crema Winery is a family-owned estate in the Russian River Valley that specializes in handcrafted,
Burgundian style Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from cool climate vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino
counties. Established in 1979, the winery has never allowed visitors, but the label quickly gained a
reputation for quality and is a label you can always count on for consistently fine wines. The owners
are Laura Jackson-Giron and her sister Jennifer Jackson.
Several winemakers developed the La Crema Winery style through the years, including
Dan Goldfield (Dutton-Goldfield). In 2004, La Crema hired Melissa Stackhouse to
oversee all aspects of winemaking and the wines have reached a level of remarkable
high quality considering the relatively large production and value-pricing. The popularity
of the label has never been higher. In the latest Wine & Spirits Restaurant poll
(April, 2008), La Crema was #12 in the Restaurant Top 50 of wines selling best at
polled restaurants. Pinot Noir has become the biggest seller on many winery lists
(even in Napa Valley) and La Crema Sonoma and Sonoma Coast bottlings are the
most popular (#1) Pinot Noir poured at restaurants.
Stackhouse joined La Crema in 2000 as Associate Winemaker. Prior to La Crema, she had worked at
Peter Michael Winery, Hardy’s Tintara Winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia and Joseph Phelps
Vineyards. She holds a BS degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California Davis.
She has been able to focus on cool-climate vineyards and terroirs, creating finely-tuned wines of admirable
elegance and balance. You might see her as well cycling along a road in Sonoma County, as she
is a resident of Healdsburg and participates in triathlons. Not surprisingly, she also turns her artistic
winemaking flair to creative pursuits such as the symphony and ballet.
At least one of the La Crema bottlings is usually available on your local supermarket or wine retailer
shelves. When friends new to wine, and recently that included my son who was invited to dinner, want
a suggestion of a Pinot Noir to bring, I often recommend La Crema. They usually thank me afterwards,
but it is, in fact, no secret, and an easy recommendation to make.
La Crema has been supporting sustainability since 1999 when they were among the first wineries to
become a certified Sonoma County “green business.” La Crema has also been selected to participate
in a pilot project with the California Public Utility Commission to develop an Environmental Management
System for wineries. 75% of La Crema’s vineyards are farmed using “non-tillage” practices to
reduce carbon dioxide output. In all of the estate vineyards, composted grape pomace and chipped
vegetation are added to build up organic matter. Habitat boxes in the vineyards for owls, bluebirds
and falcons help to naturally control vineyard pests. Riparian areas that border vineyards are planted
and maintained. Finally, they use integrated pest management to introduce beneficial insects, helping
to eliminate the need for pesticides.
I tasted through the lineup of 2005 appellation designated Pinot Noirs. The wines were more similar
than different, despite being sourced from diverse regions, and the unifying features included beautiful
balance and attractive textures. They are fashioned for early drinking. The appellation series Pinot
Noirs are reliable wines that are well-crafted and consistently fine, but none will really launch you into
2005 La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $22. Gold Medal
Sonoma County Harvest Fair.
Complex aromatics of wet leaf, mown hay,
char and dark fruit. Some appealing minerality and notable herbs and dirt
enhance the slightly muted dark Pinot fruits. Velvety mouth feel and a lingering tang, even high strung,
2005 La Crema Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $34. Dijon
clones 115, 667 and 777. 33% new barrels.
Fairly dark ruby color.
Rather flamboyant scents of dusty cherries. Soft in the mouth, the dark red
cherries are highlighted by herbs and spice and a touch of earth, ending
with a refreshing acid lift. Delivers more on the nose than in the mouth.
2005 La Crema Los Carneros Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $34. Pommard, 115, 667 and 777 clones.
Deeper, darker and denser than the other wines in the lineup. This one really pumps out the aromas of
rich black cherry and boysenberries. The black fruits carry the theme to a slightly dry and tannic finish.
2005 La Crema Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $34. 47% new barrels. Dijon and Pommard
This is the most showy wine and has the most appealing velvety texture in the lineup. Starts
off with black cherry, honey and green herb scents leading to flavors of Bing cherry with herbs, and
woodsy accents. Clean finish and very drinkable.
La Crema Winery
is located at 3690 Laughlin Rd, Windsor. A tasting room is
located in Healdsburg, at 235 Healdsburg Avenue and is open daily from 10:30 AM to
5:30 PM. The 2006 appellation wines from the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley
and Los Carneros have been released and are available for purchase on the website
. The phone is 800-314-1762. The winery also produces a limited
amount of Nine Barrel Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (200 cases, $75). These wines
are sold out quickly due to high demand and will be allocated strictly to Wine Club
members starting next year. By reputation, the Nine Barrel wines are exceptional.
Lost Canyon Has New Direction
I have tasted the fine Pinot Noirs from this producer yearly for several years now, and have always
been happy to recommend them. The 2006 vintage is no exception. The wines continue to exhibit impeccable
balance but this vintage shows a drift toward more restraint and elegance, making them
even more suitable for the dinner table.
Lost Canyon Winery was founded in 2001, and like many small new wineries, two of the founders, Jack
States and Randy Keyworth, had a background in home winemaking for many years. A third founder,
Bob Riskin brings his marketing expertise to the label. Production is small at 3,000 cases. The urban
winery is located in a turn-of-the-century warehouse south of Jack London Square in Oakland, California.
The winery focuses on small-lot vineyard-designated Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier from vineyards in
the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Los Carneros appellations.
2006 Lost Canyon Las Brisas Vineyard Los Carneros Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., <400 cases, $42.
aromas of red and black fruits with grilled meat, smoke and iodine notes. Light in body and showing considerable
finesse, the soft and demure red fruit has a gamey and smoky edge. There is a refreshing kick
of acid on the finish. My least favorite.
2006 Lost Canyon Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
<525 cases, $42. Lost Canyon has accessed fruit from Saralee’s Vineyard since 2002
(actually three of Saralee’s vineyards including Richard’s Grove and Saralee Vineyard
Block, Trenton Station Vineyard, and Catie’s Corner Vineyard). Clones are 115 and
Lightest in color in the lineup. A charmer with nice scents of cherry pie, cream
soda and smoke. Red cherry leads the red fruit parade complimented by cocoa and
coconut notes. Elegant in style and marvelous in taste.
2006 Lost Canyon Widdoes Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., <350 cases, $42.
The first year for this vineyard bottling.
Very demonstrable black cherry and candy cane aromas followed
by showy and intense black cherry and blackberry fruit shot through with notes of wet oak and
spice. A real charmer that is beautifully balanced with no intrusion of alcohol. The wine has enough
acidity to compliment food beautifully.
Lost Canyon Winery is located at 2102 Dennison Street, Oakland. A nicely appointed tasting room is
open at the winery daily. The wines are available on the website at www.lostcanyonwinery.com.
Magnums and even Jeroboams of some wines are now available. The phone is 650-703-1496.
Small Sips of Odds & Ends
Over the last few months I have tasted a number of Pinot Noirs that do not fit neatly into a feature category
in the PinotFile. There are some gems in the list so check it out.
2006 A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $20, screw cap. This wine is from A to
Z Wineworks in Newberg, Oregon, a fast growing negocient that sources and
blends juice from all over Oregon. Founded by Sam Tannahill, Cheryl Francis, and
Debra and Bill Hatcher. Very popular daily drinker that is widely available. Byline
is “Aristocratic wines at democratic prices.”
Pleasant cherry and strawberry fruit in
a straightforward style with a likeable smoky accent. Light-bodied and easy to drink, it has decent acidity
and is a perfect accompaniment to an Easter ham.
2006 Malm Cellars Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., $24. Wax seal. Brendan Malm
grew up close to where I live here in Orange County, California and left at an early age for Sonoma to
learn winemaking. Note, the label is a peculiar robin’s egg blue, but a retailer told me it really
stands out on the shelf and attracts women buyers like flies.
Confected (almost too candied) strawberry, red raspberry and cotton candy scents
with a touch of alcohol. Silky, noble and round with lovely strawberry flavors enhanced by spice and graham.
Very fine-grain tannins and an appealing soft texture. The flavors trump the aromas.
2006 Kutch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 287 cases, $39. 60% Kanzler Vineyard and
40% La Jouls Vineyard, both located in the Green Valley sub-AVA of the Russian River Valley. 30%
whole cluster. Aged 16 months on its lees. The website is
Bright and dark reddish-purple color. Reserved aromas of
black cherry and oak char. The fruit is shy but tempting with black cherry and blackberry flavors highlighted
by herbs and subtle oak. Only recently bottled, the wine is still reticent. The Kutch style is a work
in progress and I like his desire to emphasize elegance, texture and power with restraint.
2006 Lynmar Winery Jenkins Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 460 cases,
$60. From a 20-acre vineyard planted to Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777 overlooking the town of Sebastopol
in the Russian River Valley. Heavy coastal fog and Goldridge soils. Second Lynmar vineyard
designate wine from this vineyard. The website is www.lynmarwinery.com. Lynmar wines are world class and highly desirable.
This wine is all about red cherries, fraise de bois as well as black
fruits like plums and blackberries. Restrained and delicate, it is finely spiced and beautifully constructed.
2005 Kiara Private Reserve Sylvester Vineyard Paso Robles Pinot Noir
$25. From one of the few Pinot Noir vineyards in the Paso Robles appellation.
scents of cherries, red raspberries, spices and oak. Light in weight, with simple and
shallow fruit flavors and respectable acidity. An easy drinker for fans of a more elegant presentation of
2005 Athair Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 600 cases, $28. I wrote about this wine
previously and praised it (PinotFile volume 6, Issue 31). This time around with the same wine I wasn’t
Attractive bottle with embossed label. Dark red-purple in color. Very nicely composed aroma
profile of cherries, earth, and oak. Plenty of luscious dark fruits and spice, but encumbered by a woody
aftertaste that persists despite lengthy air time. Very nice acidity for the table.
2005 Gundlach-Bundschu Rhinefarm Vineyard Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 4,900 cases,
$38. Clones are Pommard 5 and Dijon 115, average vine age 16 years, yields 1.8 tons/acre. This year
the winery is celebrating its 150th anniversary (1858-2008). Website: www.gunbun.com.
A middleweight with a green vegetal note in
the nose. Heavily oaked fruit. Decent acidity on the slightly bitter finish.
2005 Neely “Holly’s Cuvee” Spring Ridge Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
$39. Dr. Kirk Neely owns the Spring Ridge Vineyard and the wines are made by Varner. Hard to swallow for this tariff.
The nose offers
shy fruit with a woody bent and some alcohol peaks out. Light-bodied and elegant with very shallow
fruit and flavors of dried cherry, oak and citrus. The best I can say about this wine is that it has some
finesse and a silky texture.
2005 Radio-Coteau Alberigi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
436 cases, $50. Winemaker is Eric Sussman for this small 3,000 case label.
darker fruits run through this wine which has a healthy tannic backbone. On the
palate, there is quite intense and chewy fruit which is well-rounded. A touch awkward
now, I have had better bottles of this wine. That said, it was still good.
2005 Red Car Amour Fou Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 273 cases $55.
Deep violet color. Black fruits, cigar box and toast in the nose and a little heat peaks out as well. Heady,
concentrated and sweet black cherry fruit with forest floor and earthy accents. Very powerful wine of intriguing
nuances with a charming cherry fruit note on the finish.
2005 Ken Wright Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $60.
Terrific nose of brown-spiced cherries, cola and deft oak. A seamless wine which is
black cherry driven, but with charming spice and earthy sidecars. This is pure pleasure
and silk that is luxurious. I would look for this one every vintage.
2004 Robert Stemmler Ferguson Block Carneros Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 400 cases, $35. This wine
is sourced from the oldest portion of the Donum Estate, planted in 1974 to Martini selection on St.
George rootstock. Yields are .9 tons/acre. Aged 11 months in 50% new oak.
This is a wine for fans of
dirt. Very earthy with a mushroom and woodsy edge. Plums, blackberries and boysenberries make up
the fruit profile. A decent, but not extraordinary wine.
2003 WesMar Piner Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $35.
This one comes at you full bore the minute the cork is pulled. Sexy aromas of Bing
cherry, Xmas spices, clove, exotic woods and oak char. Beautifully composed and
balanced dark berry and cherry fruits that flow over the tongue like Mobil 1. An
honor to drink,
My Pinot Noir Pet Peeves
- Retailers who self score the wines they sell.
- Wax closures. These are the devil in disguise. They charm you with their sexy look, but the ensuing
hassle negates the glamorous appearance. Haute couture with a vengeance.
- Overpriced wines. Winemaker says I have to charge a lot for the wine or people won’t think it is
any good. $50 sounds about right and plenty expensive.
- One bottle allocations. Brother can you spare a bottle.
- Zero bottle allocations. The winery sends you their mailing touting the wines, but your allocation is
zero, zot, zilch, nada.
- Magnum depression. Why are magnums rarer than recent Elvis sightings? What’s the BIG deal?
- Single vineyard overload. Mom and pop are farming two acres because they are retired and need
something to do. Another vineyard designate wine for the taking.
- Invisible winemakers. Come out of the closet (winery)!
- Scores. The only scores that matter are those in sporting events where the winner proves his
metal. Why is it that those who can’t make wine, score them?
- Limited production. Since when did this equate with high quality? It usually means the production
was limited by the amount of grapes the producer was allocated by the rock star grower or reduced
by the amount of wine that had to be declassified.
- Newbies. Would you buy a house from someone who made their first one? Or hire a surgeon who
has only done a few operations?
- Hard to get. Just make it clear how to buy it and we can develop a business relationship.
- Winemakers of the moment. It is what is in the bottle that matters - no pretenders please.
- State shipping restraints. If you love wine, move to California - no bitching, moaning or griping
tolerated. Quit your job, pack up your family, and move. Leave the teetotalers behind.
- Where are the monks when we need them. We have to classify all of those vineyards that are
springing up like weeds in my law
- Appellation overload. Thank goodness the government has put a stop to all this nonsense. Let’s
face it, many of these appellations are publicity stunts that are served to tout wines from a particular
- Wineries that are chronic no shows at tasting events. They leave an impression that they are too
good. Remember, we are the world (of Pinot Noir).
- Hackneyed descriptors. Long finish, unfined and unfiltered, classic, great structure, organic
Note: This list was composed after a couple glasses of good Pinot and is meant to be tongue and cheek.
Grape Radio Wins!! Tom Wark of Wark Communciations announced today that Grape Radio was
awarded Best Podcast or VideoBlog by the American Wine Blog Awards.
Check out my posted interviews from last year’s IPNC and Pinot Days and last week’s interview with
the Grape Radio crew of Scott Paul Wright of Scott Paul Wines Also, Grape Radio has been named one
of the top wine blogs by Guy Kawasaki on his website, www.wine.alltop.com.
Top Ten Restaurant Pinot Noirs According to Wine & Spirits latest restaurant poll (April,
2008), the top ten most popular Pinot Noir labels in restaurants are in order: La Crema, Maison Joseph
Drouhin, Maison Louis Latour, J Wine Company, Sea Smoke, Kenwood Vineyards, Merry Edwards, Argyle,
Evesham Wood, Flowers and Gary Farrell. Pinot Noir is now second only to Cabernet Sauvignon
in popularity in American restaurants. Overall average price for restaurant Pinot Noir from Oregon,
California and Burgundy is $67.17.
Pinot Noir Prices According to Wines & Vines, (March 2008), Sonoma-Marin Pinot Noir production
was down in 2007 (9,000 tons lower), and up in price by more than $300 per ton to $2,831 (average
statewide was $2,104). Wineries are seeking out Pinot Noir over all other varietals.
Stop the Nonsense! Richard Grant Peterson, PhD, a chemist, has written an interesting article at
www.appellationamerica.com (March 10, 2008) that attempts to dispel the myth that corks “breathe.”
He notes, “We did the lab work almost five decades ago! It’s been repeated more than once in Australia
and all those who've checked this in the lab tell the same story: Sound corks do not transmit oxygen!
Even more important, neither is oxygen transmission through closures what we want! Wine aging is
anaerobic, never aerobic. Wine aging never takes place under aerated conditions. It’s because those
are the conditions that will lead only to oxidation in time, and destruction of the good things in wine.”
Vineyard Development Costly They often say that to make a small fortune in the wine business
you need to start with a large fortune. The price for bare prime vineyard land in Yamhill County, Oregon,
is around $25,000 an acre. Planting vines, trellising etc. to produce a functioning vineyard, add
another $50,000 per acre. To have the vineyard managed by professionals will cost at least $5,000 per
acre. Then you have to wait three years to get your first crop of usable grapes.
DuMOL Building New Winery The founders of DuMOL, Michael Verlander and Kerry Murphy.
met in 1990 when Murphy was dining in Verlander’s restaurant in Walnut Creek, California. Murphy
had been a hard core Burgundy lover for years. Together, they started DuMOL Wine Co in 1996 with
the aim of producing ultra-premium wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The first year they
produced 300 cases total of both varietals from Dutton Ranch grapes. Their label took off, fueled by
high scores in the wine press and the high quality of the wines. The winemaker, Andy Smith, trained
under Paul Hobbs. Each vintage is quickly sold out to a prelease mailing list and DuMOL was recently
invited to be a member of the prestigious Mayacamas Gold Club’s vintner program. Production is now
14,700 cases per year from multiple Russian River Valley vineyards and includes Viognier and Syrah.
DuMOL has outgrown the Copain Custom Crush facility in northern Santa Rosa so they have begun
construction on a nearly 20,000 square-foot winery in Conde Business Park in Windsor. At a cost of $5
to $10 million, this will be a state-of-the-art facility with four barrel rooms with different temperatures.
The winery’s website is www.dumol.com.
AgriVino Wine Center In May, 2008, AgriVino Wine Center will open at Abbey Road Farm in
Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Owners John and Judi Stuart refurbished an old equestrian barn on their
82-acre farm and installed a state-of-the-art Enomatic wine tasting system. 56 separate wines will be
featured for sampling, including many of the Willamette Valley’s small production wines. The Enomatic
dispensing system uses argon that pressurizes and displaces oxygen in the bottle. Since air
does not come into contact with the wine, the wine stays fresh and bottles can remain open for several
weeks. The dispenser is self-service, but a sommelier will be on staff to guide and educate visitors.
AgriVino will be open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Abbey Road Farm also includes a popular wine
country B&B with five guest suites housed in converted grain silos. Abbey Road Farm is surrounded
by 22 wineries in Carlton and more than 200 wineries in the close vicinity of the Willamette Valley.
Visit the websites for more information: www.agrivino.com and www.abbeyroadfarm.com.
The Oregon Wine Explorer The Oregon Wine Board has created an online portal to assist travelers
in planning their trips to Oregon wine regions. The website, www.explorer.oregonwine.com,
provides a virtual tour of the state’s wine regions with turn-by-turn directions. The associated Wine
Finders Tool links with the Explorer and allows consumers to search and order Oregon wines. The
Oregon Wine Board also has a new “Discover Oregon Wine Country” tool kit that includes a brochure
of the state, regional maps with winery/vineyard listings and further assistance in planning a trip. To
view and order, visit www.oregonwinebrochure.org
Wine Village in Santa Cruz Mountains Eight wineries have joined together in an old industrial
park in western Santa Cruz that has been named, “Westside Wine Village.” Bonny Doon will form
the nucleus of the group, having used the location for wine production for years. They will vacate
some space which will be occupied by other wineries including Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Sones
Cellars, and Vino-Tabi (a custom crush facility). Bonny Doon will shutter its existing tasting room and
move it to this location. Nearby will be Beauregard Vineyards, Pelican Ranch Winery, and Alexander
Cellars. The wineries plan to have tasting rooms and market their location together.
Sonoma Winemaking Complex A warehouse complex near downtown Sonoma is now home to
as many as fifteen wineries including Patz & Hall, Talisman, Castle, Three Sticks, Kamen Estate Wines,
Saintsbury, Ledson Winery & Vineyards, MacRostie and Tin Barn Vineyards. The aim with many of
these wineries is to have an unglamorous, but well-equipped, spacious and efficient facility to make
wine and use capital that would have been spent on a fancy winery and tasting room to buy the best
possible grapes and invest in the most useful winemaking equipment.
The Long and Winding Pinot Road, Part IX
American Pinot Noir was proving its worth and my passion for it had been vindicated. But it was time to visit the
cradle of Pinot Noir, the slopes of the Cote d’Or. Master Sommelier, Rene Chazottes, led a small group of wine
enthusiasts on a wine and gastronomique tour of France in June of 2000. Our group’s battle cry was “Mon verre
est vide!” (my glass is empty). 1 Bus, 2 drivers, 4 hotels, 18 wineries, 22 cities, 24 meals, 185 wines, 370 bottles
of wine from Champagne to Burgundy to the Loire Valley and finally Bordeaux. For me the highlight of the trip
was the heartwarming sight of the almost unbroken vista of vines carpeting the slope of the Cote d’Or on a glorious
sunny day. As we drove leisurely along RN 74, the most evocative signs to villages appeared, the names
of which sounded like a roll call of the most voluptuous red wines in the world: Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot,
Vosne-Romanee, and Nuits St. George.
At Louis Latour in Aloxe-Corton I drooled over the library of Burgundies dating to the 1800s. Bottles with no
labels and covered in mold. The winemaker’s thief was put into action and I tasted some terrific 1999 vintage
wines including Corton Charlemagne and Chambertain. Needless to say, I did not spit these wines out. Later
that day, we continued south along the Cote de Beaune to the lovely, old, and very rich town of Beaune. Perilously
narrow streets, medieval houses, grandiose mansions and a Romanesque church. We settled in at the
Renaissance mansion hotel, La Cep, close to the action in central Beaune. It was then off to Vougeot for a tasting
and dinner at Domaine Bertagna. With only 200 inhabitants and 67 hectares of vines, Vougeot is the smallest
commune in the Cote d’Or. Vougeot’s reputation rests principally on the vines from the walled vineyard known
as Clos de Vougeot, the largest clos in the Cote d’Or. A spectacular dinner ensued at Domaine Bertagna. Featured
wines included 1995 Domaine Bertagna Corton Charlemagne, 1995 Domaine Bertagna Clos St Denis
(Magnum), and 1995 Domaine Bertagna Vougeot Clos de la Perriere, Monopole, 1er Cru. We drank and ate
and sang the “Ban de Bourgogne.” I was beginning to feel at home in Burgundy. To be continued… … … … ...