PinotFile: 6.61 July 7, 2008

  • Pinot and the City: Pinot Days 2008
  • Sensations
  • New Faces
  • Reliables
  • Thumbnail Sketches of Major California Pinot Noir Appellations
  • Pinot Events
  • Father of California Wine
  • The Long and Winding Pinot Road, Part XII

Pinot and the City: Pinot Days 2008

I pulled into the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion parking lot in San Francisco on a foggy Sunday morning, June 29th, 2008, Pinot Noir producers were hurriedly bringing cases of wine in to the Pinot Days Grand Tasting and a line of over 100 eager and thirsty attendees had already formed at the entrance twenty minutes before opening. The 4th Annual Pinot Days in San Francisco (similar events will be held in Chicago in the Fall of 2008 and New York in the Spring of 2009) is a unique opportunity for pinot geeks to sample the Pinot Noirs of small boutique operations whose wines have limited distribution. This year there were over 160 wineries, retailers, and wine distributors offering Pinot for every palate and 3,500 pinotphiles with palates for every Pinot. With many producers pouring several wines, there was nearly 500 Pinot Noirs to sample! Needless to say, I had been in training in the weeks preceding the event, and I was determined to swirl, sip and spit as many of the wines as I could over the 5-6 hour timeframe.

At last year’s event I did a number of interviews with wine personalities for Grape Radio and these are now posted at This year I spent my time focusing on the wines. Walk-around tastings are not the best milieu for technically and seriously tasting wine, but worthwhile impressions and glimpses of glory can be obtained by the dedicated taster. Occasionally a wine will make the hair stand up on your neck and put a big grin on your face (see Pinot Noirs under “Sensations” in this issue). In addition to tasting, this event is a wonderful opportunity to renew friendships, make new ones, chat with PinotFile readers, and become better acquainted with the people and stories behind the wines. As Tim Atkin MW has said, “The character, ambition, and talent of the person who made it is highly relevant to how that wine tastes. I want to know about these things, just as I want to know about vintage conditions, personal eccentricities, and a winemaker’s take on the world. All of those things make wine different; all of these things make wine special.”

Pinot Days is more than a large walk-around tasting. On the days preceding the Grand Tasting on Sunday, special winemaker dinners were held in San Francisco including a Kosta Browne dinner where four vintages were presented. On Saturday, there were three Focus Tastings: Santa Rita Hills and Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noirs, Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs, and Russian River Valley and Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noirs. I was honored to be invited to moderate two of these tastings which were attended by over 90 people at each session. The Pinot Noirs were poured blind, discussion ensued, and the winemakers, who sat among the attendees, proudly told the story behind the wines, as questions and comments were bantered about. I said at the start of this article that “there is a palate for every Pinot,” and this was proven true at the tastings. Four Pinot Noirs were presented in each flight, and the room full of tasters were frequently split, with about 25% preferring each of the four wines. Clearly, everyone does not like the same thing, and what some people abhor, others find terrific. In the final analysis, we are all our own arbiter of taste.

Pinot Days is non-profit, and is committed to raising money for those in need. The organizers of Pinot Days, Steve and Lisa Rigisich and Eric White (all are principals in the Bay Area Wine Project), have raised over $25,000 to date for various charities in Uganda, Mexico and Albania. The 2008 Pinot Days Auction beneficiary was the Tanzanian Women’s Sewing Project. Monies from the auction were to be used to buy sewing machines for a trade school that allows destitute Tanzanian mothers to earn an income to feed and shelter themselves and their children. To attend future Pinot Days and to keep informed of Bay Area Wine Project events, or to volunteer at future events (volunteers get to drink Pinot too - see below), visit the website at

Many of the wineries were pouring the 2006 vintage and a number of these wines had been bottled only a few months prior. Most winemakers considered the 2006 vintage in California a challenging one, and although there are many fine wines to be had, 2006 does not generally match up with the 2005 or the 2007 vintage. 2005 produced great Pinot Noir up and down California and the wines are now drinking beautifully. Producers at Pinot Days who still had 2005 wines to pour and sell were quite happy to show them off. In contrast, some of the 2006 Pinot Noirs were shy and closed-down, offering reticent aromatics and reluctant upfront tasty fruit. That said, there are a number of top-flight Pinot Noirs from the 2006 vintage, especially from the state’s top producers. A number of wineries declassified a significant amount of vineyard-designate juice in 2006. The appellation wines are better for it, and worth looking at. The 2007 Pinot Noirs tasted from barrel at this event and at numerous wineries over the past few months are strikingly different. These are really showy wines that are going to be appealing and approachable from the get go. The 2007 vintage is putting wide grins on every winemaker’s face. A few wineries such as Calera, Hallcrest, Raye’s Hill and Skewis were pouring older vintages, and these wines were very special. My advice: buy all of the 2005s you can get your hands on, be selective in 2006, and save some Ben Franklins for the marvelous 2007s to be released next year.

In the pages to follow, I have highlighted some of the Pinot Noirs that caught my fancy at this Pinot pageant. Over the course of the day, I did taste nearly 100 Pinot Noirs, but obviously I could not taste every producer’s wines. It is impossible to go into depth with detailed tasting notes as the numerous distractions (smells, noise, laughter) make such an effort futile. Some wines really hit me and are listed under “Sensations.” Other Pinot Noirs that were impressive from newer producers are included under “New Faces.” And finally, excellent Pinot Noirs tasted from established wineries are mentioned under “Reliables.” I have omitted stellar producers and/or wines that I have reviewed in detail in past issues of the PinotFile to avoid repetition.


There are certain Pinot Noirs that just hit you, leaving you speechless, and groping for appropriate descriptors. When this happens, you know that you have found a great wine. These wines were the best I tasted at Pinot Days.

2006 Benovia Winery Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

$60. I have tasted this wine several times both in barrel and in bottle and I can’t wait until August 19 when this and two other equally superb 2006 Pinot Noirs (Cohn Vineyard and a Proprietary Blend from purchased fruit) are released to the mailing list. · This wine is the whole package. Charmingly dark red fruited with nicely spiced aromatics, a full onslaught of fresh fruit, an appealing elegance, and an ending so refreshing that it makes you reach for more. I had to swallow this one.

Benovia Winery is owned by Jim Anderson (left), who has provided the financial support to create a state-of-the-art winery at the site of the original Mary Edwards winery in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Anderson has resurrected the aging Cohn Vineyard, acquired land adjacent to the winery, and is planting new Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards. A hospitality center is also planned. Talented winemaker Mike Sullivan (who previously starred at Hartford Family Winery, second from left) is in charge and manager Bob Mosby (far right) keeps the operation running smoothly. The wines are sold through a mailing list at 707-526-4441.

2005 Bink Wines Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir

$40. The 7-acre Weir Vineyard is farmed meticulously by Bill and Susan Weir. Planted about 15 years ago at 850-1000 feet in a unique cool microclimate, the vineyard is divided into older plantings (DRC suitcase clone and Wadenswil 2A) and newer plantings (Pommard Rochioli Riverblock). Williams Selyem has bottled a superb vineyard designate Pinot Noir from this vineyard for several years and Drew Wines bottles a terrific example. · A Pinot Noir with a Burgundian soul with plenty of earthy and mineral underpinning. The dark red fruits are juicy and pure and the wine is beautifully balanced and composed.

Bink Wines is a partnership between owners and winemakers Deborah Schatzlein (pictured right who was pouring at Pinot Days) and Cindy Paulson. All of the wines come from the Yorkville Highlands appellation, which is located just south and inland of the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. The name, Bink, comes from the Manx cat with a black coat and beguiling eyes. The lineup includes a Syrah and Merlot as well. All of the wines are crafted at Bin to Bottle in Napa. The wines are sold on the website at 707-246-4468.

2006 Black Kite Cellars River Turn Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

$48. Four Pinot Noirs are offered from the Black Kite Estate Vineyard in the cool deep-end of the Anderson Valley. The talented winemaker is Jeff Gaffner (left) and the viticulturalist is Paul Ardzrooni (right). The Kite’s Rest bottling was favorably reviewed in PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 60. Three other bottlings are from special blocks in the vineyard (River Turn, Stony Terrace, and Redwood’s Edge). I found the River Turn the most approachable now of the block-designate Pinot Noirs. · Like the Kite’s Rest, it offers flashy and showy dark red fruits, mouthwatering acidity, and a lingering aromatic finish. I wrote excellent with an exclamation point.

Owned by Donald and Rebecca Green, Black Kite Cellars is named for the beautiful but endangered Black Shouldered Kite that is native to the Anderson Valley. Pinot Noirs from the 2006 vintage are available on the website. A Four Pack containing one bottle of each Pinot Noir is offered as well as a Mixed Case of all four. A rising star in the Anderson Valley. Consult the website at 415-923-0277.

2005 Clary Ranch Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

$50. Paul Clary farms a 15-acre vineyard at the headwaters to Chileno Creek in the hills of Petaluma and produces one Pinot Noir. · The 2004 vintage was quite good and well received in the wine press. The 2005 is even better with more elegance, less heft and ripeness, and softer tannins. It is drinking beautifully now.

Clary Ranch Wines are sold through the website by e-mailing Paul Clary. Visit the website at 707-773-3884. The history of Clary Ranch is quite interesting and has been previously detailed in the PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 12 devoted to the Petaluma Gap producers of the Sonoma Coast.

2006 Derbès Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., 428 cases, $47. Derbès Wines produces Russian River Valley Pinot Noir purchased from the Moore and Sweeney vineyards. Dijon clones 115 and 777. Barrel aged for 15 months in 50% new French oak. · I have been a fan of Cècile’s wines for a few years, but this is her best effort to date. A prototypical Russian River Pinot Noir showing Bing cherry, red berries, baking spice, and cola in the aromas and flavors. Slippery tannins and a seamless texture. Extremely user-friendly now. One of the top three I tasted at Pinot Days.

Derbès Wines was founded in 2001 by a husband and wife team from diverse backgrounds. Billy Derbès is an aerospace engineer from New Orleans, and Cécile Lemerle-Derbès is a French-born winemaker who has worked at Champagne Bollinger, Schug, and Opus One. Wines are available on the website at A high-density, hillside, spring-fed vineyard has been planted at the Derbès estate, and plans are afoot to build a winery. The Chardonnays from Double T Ranch in Carneros and Heintz Vineyards in the Russian River Valley are very French styled and quite good. Les Pinots is also offered, an unusual 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

2007 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Cleary Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

(barrel sample). Kent Humphrey has been crafting beautiful Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the Russian River Valley for three years now. His vineyard sources have been the Stiling Vineyard and the Windsor Oaks Vineyard. The Cleary Vineyard is his first foray into the Sonoma Coast. · Like so many 2007 Pinot Noirs from the North Coast that I have sampled, this one jumps out of the glass with enchanting aromatics and perfectly ripe fruit that hits all of the high notes. Kent seems quite pleased with this one and he should be.

Eric Kent vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from the Stiling Vineyard and the Windsor Oaks Vineyard from the 2006 and 2007 (barrel samples) vintage were being poured as well. The 2006 wines have good structure and plenty of sweet, ripe fruit, but are higher in alcohol and not as expressive as the 2005 and 2007 vintages. Eric Kent wines are sold primarily through a mailing list with generous discounts to wine club members. Visit the website at 707-527-9700. The original artwork on the labels compliments the excellent wines inside. Kent’s sister, Renee Humphrey, (pictured on page 6), is Director of Wholesale & Distribution.

2005 Ft. Ross Vineyard & Winery Ft. Ross Vineyard Reserve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 531 cases, $49. Well-known winemaker Ed Kurtzman (Freeman, August West) crafts superb Pinot Noirs from this vineyard, one of the closest (less than one mile) to the Pacific Ocean in the Sonoma Coast appellation. This bottling is from the most distinctive barrels, many of which are very shy-yielding old clone blocks. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. · Still a youngster and will need a good year or two to come in to its own, but it is showing huge promise at this time. Silky entry, richly layered dark fruits, and mouth-coating fine-grain tannins. Immensely satisfying.

Ft. Ross Vineyard & Winery is owned by Lester and Linda Schwartz who came to the true Sonoma Coast from South Africa. Linda has studied viticulture and has an affinity for working the soil and operating farm equipment. Along with Lester, the two of them developed their 44-acre vineyard beginning in 1994. The vineyard has nice mixture of clonal variety with field selections of Calera, Pommard, and Swan and Dijon clones 115 and 777. The Schwartz’s also planted Pinotage, a varietal unique to South Africa and their Ft. Ross Pinotage is the best made in this country. The sales office is 550 Indiana St, San Francisco, CA. In addition to limited retail distribution, the wines are sold through the website at . Vintages dating back to 2002 can be purchased from the winery’s library.

2005 george Vintage IV Nuptial Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

$50. George Levkoff is a Williams Selyem offshoot who crafts his Pinot Noirs in the image of those that Burt Williams produced in the early 1990s. He uses 100% new Francois Freres French oak but the oak is never intrusive. His Pinot Noirs are quintessential Russian River Pinot Noir and every year make my All American list. · Balance and finesse with power is the hallmark of george Pinots and this one is right in step. The aromatics feature crushed strawberries, dusty cherries, and spice. The flavors are long in the mouth and echo the aromas. A fine, velveteen texture is complimented byperfectly integrated tannins. A wine that caresses. Had to swallow this one.

George Levkoff tells me that he will be offering five different Pinot Noirs in the next vintage. The Nuptial Vineyard has had a name change to Ceremonial Vineyard (I was kidding him that this sounded like a mortuary plot). The wines are sold in many of the top restaurants in San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York - often at $250 a pop. Somehow this just doesn’t seem fair, as george’s profit is about $20 a bottle when he sells a bottle wholesale to a restaurant. You have to be on the mailing list to get your allocation: visit 707-495-7783. A picture of george (he prefers all lower case) is on the following page (right) with his buddy, Joey Manfre, a graphic designer of wine labels.

2004 Hallcrest Vineyards Barrel Select Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

437 cases, $35. Veteran winemaker John Schumacher crafts multiple exquisite Pinot Noirs from purchased grapes. This wine is a vintner’s reserve from special barrels. · I have tasted this wine previously on several occasions and it has always showed well. A bold wine with plenty of showy ripe fruit, but with defining acidity and a smooth texture. A complete wine.

Hallcrest Vineyards dates to the 1880s when the Hall family named the property in Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains. John Schumacher, a University California Davis trained winemaker, took over and resurrected the property beginning in 1987. He has been a pioneer in organic viticulture and winemaking. John is a lot better at making wine than maintaining his website and I have urged him to update it (he plans to do so in the near future). In the meantime, you can visit the Hallcrest Vineyards tasting room to obtain the excellent lineup of Pinot Noirs or call 831-335-4441. His prices are very sensible. If you visit, try to get an appointment with John for the full experience.

2006 Kenneth Volk Garey Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

$48. This vineyard was planted in the late 1990s to be the premier vineyard of the Robert Mondavi Corporation’s Santa Maria Valley holdings. It is named for the tiny township of Garey on Foxen Canyon Road adjacent to the vineyard. Sourced from a vineyard block planted to clone 777. · This wine has been big and intense in the past, but this vintage is toned down. Discreet spicy cherry nose with a serenade of juicy and ever-expanding red and blue fruit flavors. This one has the full arsenal. Check for future release date.

Kenneth Volk is a Central California winemaker legend who is best known as the founder of Wild Horse Winery where he crafted superb Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for year. He has now scaled down with his own label sourcing fruit from premium vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley. His years of experience serve him well and he continues to retain an energetic enthusiasm for his craft. His winery, located at 5230 Tepusquet Rd in Santa Maria, was the old Byron Winery. A tasting room here is open daily. The wines may be ordered online at 805-938-7896.

2006 Paul Mathew Vineyards Ruxton Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., 275 cases, $35. The Ruxton Vineyard is located on the western edge of the Green Valley appellation. A two-acre block planted on Goldridge soils with Dijon clones 115, 667, and 777 was sourced for this wine. · This sturdy beauty is marked by lush black cherry fruit from start to finish. Earth and truffle notes add interest. Integrated tannins and a long, opulent finish.

Paul Mathew proprietor and winemaker Mat Gustafson (his great smile is pictured below) is an accomplished winemaker who developed an interest in Russian River Pinot Noir while working as the Wine Buyer and Sommelier at John Ash & Co. Restaurant (see PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 58). Subsequently, he became the winemaker at Sebastopol-Dutton Estate Winery (2001). He believes in slow, indigenous fermentations with minimal use of sulfur dioxide. His involvement with the Duttons allows him special access to top vineyard sources for his own label. Mat’s other Pinot Noir offerings include a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and a vineyard-designate TnT Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. All are worth trying as well. The wines are offered on the informative website at

2006 Pleasant Valley Vineyards Dylan David Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., pH 3.65, 75 cases, $85, released February 2009. From a small estate vineyard planted to Dijon clones in the Corralitos region of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Dijon clones 113, 114, 115. Whole berry and whole cluster fruit. Aged 19 months in 100% new French oak barrels. · This is an outstanding example of the tremendous potential for Pinot Noir from this small growing region at the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Rich, sumptuous crushed wild berries in the nose. Bursting with fresh raspberry flavor enhanced by subtle oak overtones. Endless echo of aromas and fruit on the finish. The alcohol is well-integrated from start to finish.

Pleasant Valley Vineyards was founded by Craig and Cathy Handley (next page) in 1996. By 2010, they will be expanding their Pinot Noir production with fruit from nearby Deer Park (Lester) Vineyard. The 2005 vintage Estate Pinot Noir is currently offered on the website at The Corralitos Wine Trail Open House Event will be held again in September this year. 831-728-2826.

2005 Raye’s Hill Vineyard & Winery Henneberg Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 280 cases, $26. This is the first vineyard-designate from the Henneberg Vineyard for Raye’s Hill. This 14-acre vineyard is farmed by Matt and Jeannie Henneberg and is in close proximity to the Raye’s Hill estate. Clones are 115 and Pommard. · This is a very charming wine with plenty of spice and vim. On the demure side, with impeccable balance. Very high quality for this modest price.

Raye’s Hill was founded by Raye and Dan Sokolow, Chicago refugees who planted their estate vineyard in 1997. They currently produce about 1,000 cases of wine, primarily Pinot Noir, from their estate vineyard and several other vineyards in the Anderson Valley. The wines, including vintages back to 2003, are available on the website at Tasting is by appointment. 707-895-3439.

2006 Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Comptche Mendocino County Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 400 cases, $40. The Oppenlander Vineyard is located 8 miles from the Mendocino Coast as the crow flies and is just north of Anderson Valley. Pommard and Dijon clones 114 and 115 are planted in Oppenlander (510) heavy clay loam which is unique to Comptche. Several wineries are producing superb vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from this vineyard including Adrian Fog, Baxter, and Phillips Hill Estate (see PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 60). Fruit is also sourced and blended by Handley, Navarro and Harmonique. · I am fascinated by the Pinot Noirs I have sampled from this special vineyard. The wines have an exotic reach to them and really show off the unique terroir. This is a beguiling Pinot Noir with scents of fresh berry fruit, oak vanillin, and violets. The sweet-fruited palate of red berries coats the mouth and earth notes add interest. Robust and virile, but discreet.

Oppenlander Vineyard is owned and farmed by Bill and Norm Shandel (below). The winemaker is

John Pepe (below). This is the best wine you probably have never heard of but if you look closely in the picture below, you will see a long list of awards the wine has accumulated in major wine competitions. The Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noirs have been produced since 2002. There is currently no website or online sales. This is one of those rare finds that you have to work to locate. This is not a beautifully-landscaped and highly-profiled vineyard and the Shandel’s label is plain and simple. What is important here is what is in the bottle and that is great down-to-earth Pinot Noir. The Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir is distributed locally in Mendocino, but your best bet is to call to order: 707-937-5400. John tells me the wines age extremely well and become “pure silk” in five years. John also told me that the Shandels produce a Wild Himalayan Blackberry Jam from fruit harvested on the ranch. John notes, “Harvesting is a bitch, but WOW! Is that stuff good.

2005 Talisman Thorn Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 339 cases, $50. This vineyard is located on the northern edge of the Petaluma Gap, a very cold and foggy site. It is essentially dry-farmed. The clones are 115, Swan selection, and Pommard. 25% whole cluster. Aged 18 months in 60% new French oak. · This is currently the most showy of the 2005 Talisman Pinot Noir lineup, but even this wine will benefit from decanting if drunk now. Plenty of showy ripe black cherry and wild berry fruit, hints of oak, earth and tar. Mouth filling richness with excellent balance and length and a defining acidity which portends a long life ahead.

Talisman is a family affair with Scott Rich (below) handling the winemaking and Marta Rich the sales and distribution. Scott was the winemaker at Etude for a number of years. I call Scott a “terroir-ist” because he purposely seeks out unique vineyard sites where farming is challenging and on the edge. He feels these sites provide the most interesting wines. His wines need a couple years in the bottle to full blossom. I also sampled the 2005 Adestra Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir, the 2005 Hawk Hill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and the 2005 Red Dog Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir. All were beautifully crafted. The wines are offered on the Talisman website at Tasting by appointment. Like most winemakers, he is a very affable guy to hang with. 707-258-5722.

2006 Tantara Evelyn Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

150 cases, $90. This wine was first produced in 1998 and honors Evelyn Waldron, co-owner Bill Cates’ mother who passed away in 1998. This wine is a cuvee, meant to represent the pinnacle of the vintage. It is not always the biggest wine in scale, but with great balance and finesse. It contains a bit more whole cluster than the other Tantara single vineyard wines. The wine is built around Pinot Noir from Block 1 at Bien Nacido Vineyard, planted to Mt. Eden and 115 clones. The particular block the grapes are sourced from is extremely stressed and low yielding, producing intense fruit. Some fruit is also blended from Dierberg Vineyard and/or Solomon Hills Vineyard, and some from Santa Rita Hills, depending on what best harmonizes. Release date is July 26, 2008. · This wine almost brought me to my knees. Seamless in every way, it was brimming with pinotosity. An extroverted nose, tannin so fine as to be imperceptible, and a long, chewy finish. The velvety mouth feel was remarkable. Worth every penny.

Jeff Fink (next page with Michele Bassett) and Bill Cates are co-proprietors and co-winemakers at Tantara Winery which is located at Bien Nacido Vineyards. They are both from Virginia who met up in California and founded Tantara in 1997. The two produce a broad range of Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, and Chardonnays from multiple sources primarily within Santa Barbara County. They farm 14 acres in Bien Nacido Vineyards. The label prominently features a horse once owned by Bill Cates named Tantara. The wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and online at Tasting is by appointment. 805-938-5051.

2005 Donum Estate Carneros Pinot Noir

850 cases, $65. This is the fourth release of this superb wine which is among the best Carneros has to offer. Average bloom to harvest time for The Donum Estate Vineyard is 115 days, but in 2005 it was 130 days. The extended hang time has produced a special wine. 100% de-stemmed, aged in 75% new French oak. · Attractive and vigorous red cherry and red current fruits filled out with herbal overtones and lavish oak. Powerful, but yet silky and elegant. Beautifully balanced. I have tasted this wine on several separate occasions and it has always grabbed me.

The Donum Estate is meticulously farmed by winegrower Anne Muller-Racke who is passionate about precision viticulture. Kenneth Juhasz (also Auteur) is the talented young winemaker. For 2006, a new offering will be released: 2006 The Donum Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This was also tasted at Pinot Days and is sourced from a special block at the Nugent Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. This is a showy and lavish wine that is big and virile. Robert Stemmler wines are also produced in conjunction with The Donum Estate, also crafted by Kenneth Juhasz. The 2005 Robert Stemmler Nugent Vineyard Pinot Noir was sampled as well and definitely worth your interest. The Donum Estate wines are sold on the website at

New Faces

C. Donnatiello Winery This new winery on Westside Road (at the site of the former Belvedere Winery was) debuted in June. I visited the day after Pinot Days and will report on this Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist in the next issue. Currently, there are three Pinot Noirs offered: a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Maddie’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and Floodgate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. For a peak, consult the website at

Anglim Winery A small Paso Robles winery owned by Steve and Steffanie Anglim that produces primarily vineyard-designate Rhone varietals from Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles appellations. I recently tasted the 2006 Anglim Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir at the annual Fiddlefest and will report on this wine in the next issue. Suffice it to say, it was one of my favorite wines at Fiddlefest. Visit the website at

Couloir Wines This brand new producer was pouring its inaugural wines, 2007 barrel samples of Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs. Founder and winemaker Jon Grant offered his 2007 Monument Tree Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir (8 barrels, $44) at a focus tasting and it was extremely well-received by the attendees. Jon is the assistant winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars, having learned his trade at various wineries including Plumpjack, Corison, and Robert Mondavi. The wines will be offered to a mailing list at The phone is 1-800-COULOIR.

Enkidu Wine The name Enkidu comes from the oldest story every written - Gilgamesh. Winemaker Phillip Staehle learned his craft working at Carmenet Winery for several years. I sampled the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (which was also poured at Pinot Days) at home so I can give a full tasting note. There is also a 2006 vineyard-designate from Tina Maria Vineyard. The wines are sold on the website at

2006 Enkidu Wine Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., 225 cases, $22 (sold out on the website). From two vineyards in Green Valley heavily influenced by maritime fog. Aged 10 months in 30% new oak. · The aromatics feature dark red jammy fruits with a pleasant touch of oak. A crisp, juicy Pinot Noir showing lavish dark red cherry fruit accentuated by oak spice, particularly vanilla and cinnamon. Light on its feet with gossamer tannins and a fairly long finish. Pretty darn good for this price.

Foursight Wines This winery was pouring their second event (they were at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival and were profiled in the PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 60). Kristy Charles and her fiancée, Joseph Webb (pictured on the next page) have partnered with Kristy’s parents, Bill and Nancy Charles, to produce a good 2006 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from their Charles Vineyard. Kristy writes an excellent winery blog at It seems they were shopping for a weddingress in San Francisco in conjunction with the Pinot Days event. A website is forthcoming. To purchase wines, contact Kristy at 707-895-2889.

Keefer Ranch Keefer Ranch Vineyard has been supplying grapes for years to many prominent Pinot Noir specialists including Kosta Browne, A.P. Vin, Failla, Freeman, and Loring Wine Co., This vineyard is very special and has produced stellar Pinot Noirs in many vintages. In 2006, owner Marcy Keefer joined with her son Craig Strehlow to launch their own Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir. I recently did a tasting of several vineyard-designate Keefer Ranch Pinot Noirs including the 2006 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir and will report on these wines in the next issue. In advance, I will tell you the 2006 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir is superb and is still available from the website at Marcy Keefer (left), and Craig and Julie Strehlow are pictured below at Pinot Days.

Lutea Wine Cellars Suzanne Hagins crafts feminine-styled Pinot Noirs from organic and/or biodynamic fruit that feature judicious use of oak and plenty of elegance. Her vineyard sources are in Carneros and the Russian River Valley. I have enjoyed the wines and favorably reviewed them in the PinotFile in the past. At Pinot Days she was pouring something new just to show that she could produce a bolder expression of Pinot Noir. Lutea wines are sold on the website at

2006 Lutea Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 50 cases, (Fall release). The two best barrels in her cellar from B Vineyards & Habitat Vineyard. · This is clearly the most structured and tannic of Suzanne’s wines and will certainly hold up longer in the cellar. That said, it is a decadent wine packed with luscious dark red fruit that grows in the mouth. This is serious juice that will appeal to lovers of a hedonistic style of Pinot Noir.

Small Vines Wines Paul and Kathryn Sloan released their first Pinot Noir with the 2005 vintage. They also are owners of Small Vines Viticulture, established in 1998 to plant and farm ultra high-density planted vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Their wines are sold through a mailing list at 707-823-0886/

2006 Small Vines Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

375 cases, $50. Sourced from three vineyards planted in 1999. The winemaker was Paul Sloan and consulting winemaker Anthony Austin. · This wine showed nicely at a focus tasting and created some buzz at Pinot Days. Sleek and seductive with lush cherry fruit, lively acidity, and a caressing texture.

Suacci Carciere Wines A brand new boutique winery founded by the Suacci and Carciere families which released its first wines with the 2006 vintage. The Suacci Vineyard is 6.5 acres located in the Blucher Valley of Sonoma County. The winemaker is Ryan Zepaltas (see below). Call to order as the website is developed. 707-829-3283.

2006 Suacci Carciere Wines Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir

114 cases, $48. · A perfectly fine first effort with nicely composed cherry and raspberry fruit with gentle oak overtones. The tannins are well-integrated making the wine smooth and easy to drink.

Zepaltas Wines Ryan Zepaltas is one of the young hounds in the Pinot race. He is the assistant winemaker at Siduri and crafts very appealing Pinot Noirs from purchased fruit for his own label. His wines are available on his website at A Suacci Vineyard bottling is available from Zepaltas as well. Tasting is by appointment. 707-235-3491.

2006 Zepaltas Wines La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 137 cases, $47. Clones 114 and 115 picked one month apart. Aged for 11 months in 50% new oak. · Rich and sumptuous cherry nose. Sleek, silky and seductive. Plentiful red Pinot fruits nicely spiced from start to finish. Sampled at home and was still drinking beautifully the next day from a recorked open bottle. Highly recommended.


These producers are referred to as “reliables” because they have been around awhile and year in and year out are pillars of consistency. Sometimes in the rush to try the next new star or potential cult Pinot Noir, we forget about the established producers whose Pinot Noirs are like Tiger Woods at a Major: a sure bet. These are wines I sampled at Pinot Days and were typically easy to recommend.

2006 Alma Rosa La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

2005 Davis Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

2006 Clos Saron Texas Hill Vineyard Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir

2006 Dutton-Goldfield Freestone vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

2006 Elke Vineyards Donnelly Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

2006 Freeman Keefer Ranch Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Ken and Akiko Freeman)

2006 Esterlina Estate Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Wow!!

2006 Fess Parker Ashley’s Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

2006 Flying Goat Cellars Dierberg Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

2006 Pey-Lucia Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

2006 Saintsbury Brown Ranch Los Carneros Pinot Noir

2006 Siduri Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and 2007 Novy Blanc de Noir (white Pinot Noir).

2005 Silver Mountain Mun’s Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

2005 Sonnet Mun’s Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir Winemaker Jerold O’Brian of Silver Mountain (pictured left) and winemaker Tony Craig of Sonnet (pictured right) at Pinot Days.

2001 Skewis Wines Salzgerber Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Hank Skewis below).

2006 Robert Stemmler Nugent Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

More photos from Pinot Days: top, Byron Kosuge, B. Kosuge Wines (The Shop Pinot Noir), middle, Jonathan and Susan Pey, Pey-Marin and Pey-Lucia Wines, bottom left, Larry Londer and Richard Davis, Londer Vineyards, and bottom right, Bob and Joanne Riskin of Lost Canyon winery. Great people, great Pinot.

Thumbnail Sketches of Major California Pinot Noir Appellations

Anderson Valley

The Numbers

    2,300 acres of vineyards, 1,128 acres of Pinot Noir

    30 wineries; 28+ wineries outside Anderson Valley source Pinot Noir grapes from the Anderson Valley AVA.

The Terroir

    10-15 miles from the Pacific Ocean so that the valley receives fog incursions and ocean breezes, particularly the northern or deep-end of the valley. A wide diurnal range in temperature of up to 40-50° F allows acid development to remain in line with sugar and flavor formation during the long, warm Mediterranean summers. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes in the northern end of the valley), and Region II (2,500-3,500 degree-days to ripen grapes in the southern end of the valley.

The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

    “Classic”: Fresh red berries, cherries, white pepper, spice, hint of cedar. Firm, yet feminine, moderate oak.

    “Neuvo”: Dark berries, jammy, high extraction, color and tannin, overt oak with caramel and baking spice, dark herbs including anise, more masculine. Neuvo style is frequently made with Dijon clones.

Sonoma Coast

The Numbers

    Over ½ million acres: 7,000 acres of vineyards (<1,4% of the total area), the largest Sonoma County AVA.

    228 wineries; 56 wineries outside the AVA source grapes from Sonoma Coast.

    The “True” Sonoma Coast has 6 wineries and >50 growers

    The Sonoma Coast AVA approved in 1987.

The Terroir

    The Sonoma Coast AVA extends from the coastline up to 30 miles inland all the way to the base of Sonoma Mountain east of Santa Rosa and in the north from the Mendocino County border extending south to the north shore of the San Francisco Bay. As a result, the Sonoma Coast AVA is composed of adverse number of microclimates. A sub-division of the Sonoma Coast AVA has been labeled the“true” Sonoma Coast, extending from the Pacific Ocean to 4-5 miles inland (the first two ridges). Some have characterized the “true” Sonoma Coast as follows: “You should be able to see the ocean,” and, “It’s a long way from anywhere,” and, “ “Most Sonoma Coast vineyards are soaked with sun and waiting for the fog to come in. The “true” Sonoma Coast is in the fog waiting for the sun to come out.” In the “true” Sonoma Coast, there is a cool climate (primarily Region I, <2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes) and relatively high rainfall leading to slow grape maturation. In Cazadero, the annual rainfall of 55 inches makes it the second wettest measuring station in California. The true Sonoma Coast vineyards are primarily above the fog line on slopes or hilltops.

The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

    More backbone, structure, grit, muscle, and sinew; mineral element; more tannin than the RRV; dense and concentrated with tightly wound acidity; black cherry, sage, savory, earthy, peppery; tomato, beet, and rhubarb if unripe.

Russian River Valley

The Numbers

    126,600 acres; 15,000 acres of vineyards, 1/6 of total Sonoma County vineyard acreage.

    4,600 acres of Pinot Noir, >1/3 if all Pinot Noir in Sonoma County, 19% of the state.

    155 wineries; 171 wineries outside the RRV AVA access fruit from the RRV AVA

    RRV appellation approved in 1983. The RRV AVA overlaps Green Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs.

The Terroir

    Fog is drawn inland each day and dissipates by late morning. This reduces photosynthesis in the grapevine leaves creating a shorter daytime period - the result is the grapes gain sugars more slowly and have brighter natural acidity. The growing season is long. Region II (2,500- 3,500 degree-days to ripen grapes. The Middle Reach is warmer and produces ripe and voluptuous fruit. The southern Russian River Valley is cooler and creates wines with crisper elegance and greater age ability.

The Aromas and Flavors of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    Bing cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, plums; roses and smoke scent; Asian spice, c clove, cola, lavender, violets. Typically a voluptuous texture.


The Numbers

    90 square miles. 8,000 planted grape acres (exact figure unavailable).

    37 wineries; 75 growers; 124 wineries from outside the Carneros AVA access fruit from the Carneros AVA.

    AVA approved in 1983, one of the first AVAs to be based on climate rather than political boundaries. Amended in 1987 and 2006.

The Terroir

    Carneros is adjacent to San Pablo Bay and is heavily influenced by the Bay and the Pacific Ocean. As the sun heats up the more northerly parts of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, the rising hot air draws in cool breezes and fog from San Pablo Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The winds slow the activity in the leaves and dry the dew left by the morning fog. The evening fog moderates vineyard temperatures the next morning. The result is a moderately long growing season. The soils are thin and full of clay which holds water but is slow to release it This factor in addition to the low rainfall make it necessary to irrigate. Mostly Region I (<2.500 degreedays to ripen grapes).

The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Carneros Pinot Noir

    Tight, crisp and lean structure. Spicy berry and dried cherry flavors. The older style featured more herbal, sandalwood, underbrush and earthy notes. The newer styles can have more black fruit, higher alcohol, and be more jammy.

Marin County

The Numbers

    38,000 acres of land, 52 family farms and ranches.

    171 acres of vineyards, 152 acres of Pinot Noir; 7 major grape growers.

The Terroir

    The climate is influenced by the Pacific Ocean on the western border and the San Pablo Bay on the eastern border. Winters are warmer than Napa or Sonoma due to winter precipitation. As a result, bud break is accelerated, but persistent cool weather in the spring and summer push flowering set and harvest weeks beyond other cool climate areas in California. Long hang times are the norm. Farming is a challenge due to the cool weather and lack of water. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes).

The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Marin County Pinot Noir

    High natural acidity and lower alcohol levels. Typical Pinot Noir aromatic profile but not especially showy. Small berries, wild and exotic concentrated flavors

Santa Cruz Mountains

The Numbers

    350,000 acres over 3 counties

    1,350 acres of vines; 90 wineries; 7 wineries outside the SCM AVA access grapes from the SCM AVA.

    AVA approved in 1981 - the first defined by geophysical, altitudinal, and climatic factors.

The Terroir

    Marriage of fog and sun. Extended growing season. Mountainous terrain with many vineyards located in remote and rugged locations. Harsh climate. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes). Irrigation water is limited. Top soil is poor in many areas. Yields are low.

The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

    Lovely aromatics, red and dark fruit flavors, easily approachable tannins, lively acidity, and light to medium bodied.

Santa Lucia Highlands

The Numbers

5,523 grape acres; 2,500 acres planted to Pinot Noir

34 growers, 11 wineries; 62 wineries from outside the SLH AVA source fruit from the SLH AVA.

AVA established in 1991

The Terroir

    Natural southeast exposure overlooking the Salina River Valley. Cool mornings with fog and afternoon breezes from Monterey Bay. Long growing season. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes). Well-drained granitic soils. Higher vineyards (up to 1,200 feet) have the benefit of more direct sun.

The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

    Rich, subtle and complex with demure herbal, mineral and fruit characters. Some vineyards produce very bold and highly structured wines.

Santa Maria Valley

The Numbers

    80,000 acres, 7,500 acres of vineyards.

    33 wineries; 50 wineries outside Santa Maria Valley source fruit from the SMV AVA.

    AVA approved in 1981, amended in 1985.

The Terroir

    The Santa Maria Valley has an east-west orientation and Pacific fog and coastal breezes permeate the valley leading to an extended growing season (typically 4 weeks longer than many other California wine regions). The Santa Maria Valley is the most southerly point on the California coast affected by summer fogs. Low rainfall (essentially a desert on the ocean) and warm summers. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes).

The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

    Similar to the southern Russian River Valley but more spicy. Red and black raspberry, strawberry, red and black cherry, earthiness, truffles, forest floor, savory herbs, cola, soy sauce. More color than the Russian River Valley in most years probably due to longer hang time. The signature feature is, as the locals call it, Santa Maria spice.

Sta. Rita Hills

The Numbers

    30,720 acres: 1,700 grape acres, primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

    AVA approved in 2001, amended in 2005.

The Terroir

    The mountains run east-west instead of north-south here creating a gap which allows cool Pacific Ocean winds to flow inland. Fog hovers over the vines until mid-morning and the temperature barely gets about 75°F in the western reaches of the appellation. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes). The soils are calcerous and well-drained.

The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noirs

    Darker fruit expression is the rule. Blueberries and wild berries are common. Deep, concentrated fruit, substantial tannic structure, minerality, high acidity, and usually high alcohol (but can be in balance).

Pinot Events

13th Annual Grape To Glass Weekend

Sponsored, created and organized by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, The Grape To Glass Weekend will be held August 15-17, 2008. Special events include the following. A tour of the historic Bacigalupi Vineyards, farmed by Charles and Helen Bacigalupi for over 50 years. A presentation at De Loach Vineyard of biodynamic farming with a tasting of different biodynamic wines. The first ever public tour of Hop Kiln Winery and the vineyards. A caviar and sparkling wine tasting at J Vineyards & Winery with Tsar Nicoulai, California’s most esteemed caviar producer. An exploration of artisan grape growing and winemaking at the 700 acre private estate, Windsor Oaks Vineyards, with a tasting of five different Pinot Noir clones right off the vine. Panel discussions will be offered including “Pinot- Rembrandt vs Picasso,” a review of the merits of the modern and traditional Pinot styles. Plus Winery Poker Run, Wine Tasting, Dinner and Movie at MacMurray Ranch, Ballooning over the Russian River Valley, Tour De Vine Bike Ride, Kayak the Russian River, and Hog in the Fog - an elegant BBQ and Silk Purse Auction. Something for everybody. For more information and to register, visit If you can’t attend, but plan to visit the Russian River Valley in the future, request the thorough free guide to the Russian River Valley at the same website.

Wine Camp

How about a three day adventure in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, surrounded by picturesque vineyards, quaint wineries, apple orchards, and ancient redwoods? Limited to eight “campers,” Wine Camp is hosted by six camp “counselors” who are very knowledgeable and passionate about wine. The first day at camp includes a sensory evaluation workshop, an exploration of the vineyards, barrel tasting, an extravagant picnic lunch, and an in-depth seminar on Anderson Valley grape varietals. End the day with a fabulous dinner and fall asleep dreaming of Pinot in a cottage in an orchard. The next day you will be blending your own Pinot Noir, learning about food and wine pairing, and participating in a cooking class with renowned chef Sally Schmitt, the founder of the French Laundry, followed by more food wine, and superb company. To find out more and to register, visit or phone 707-937-9912.

Sonoma County Grape Camp

Experience the 2008 grape harvest up-close and hands-on from September 29 - October 1, 2008. Harvest grapes, meet the grape growers and winemakers, blend your own wine to take home, and most of all, indulge in the wine and food that makes Sonoma County wine country famous. For details, visit or call Relish Culinary Adventures at 877-759-1004.

Winesong! 2008

Now in its 24th year, Winesong! Is the premier Mendocino Coast celebration of wine, food, art, travel and giving. To be held September 5-6, 2008, the event kicks off on Friday, September 5th with a tasting of library wines, new releases and barrel samples of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir in an intimate bluff-top setting overlooking the Pacific, accompanied by foods crafted by local artisans. The main event on Saturday, September 6th, features a Grand Tasting in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. On hand will be wines from over 100 wineries from California, Oregon, Washington, South America, Australia and Italy. The Grand Tasting is followed by the annual Charity Auction with an array of spectacular wine lots including rare vintages, verticals, large formats, wine vacations, and one-of-a-kind art from acclaimed artists (many work feature grapes and wine themes). Winesong! is produced by the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation and all proceeds benefit the Mendocino Coast District Hospital. To purchase tickets, visit or call 707-961-4909. The 2008 auction catalog will be posted on the website in August.

Father of California Wine

California winemaking began in San Diego County. Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra planted the first vineyard in Alta California at Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769. Additional vineyards were planted at missions up the coast and the winery established at Mission San Gabriel Arcangel in Los Angeles County became the largest winery in California. The grapes planted in early California were the blackskinned Mission variety. When Alta California gained its independence from the Spaniards in 1830, the mission vineyards were abandoned and all but disappeared. One vineyard planted to the Mission grape still thrives in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation at Gypsy Canyon Vineyards. Here, proprietor and winemaker Deborah Hall crafts a dessert wine, Ancient Vine Angelica, from her Dona Marcelina’s Vineyard in the style of the Spanish padres who made a similar wine from Mission grapes for their own consumption.

The Long and Winding Pinot Road, Part XII

After 53 issues sent out in a one to two page format, the PinotFile took on a four page newsletter look in June of 2002. In one of the early newsletters, I wrote a feature titled, “Lust and Pinot,” reproduced here.

Pinot’s powerful smells can bring men and women together, and maybe that is why God invented wine. Wine is powerful both from the effects of alcohol, and from the smell. There are only four basic tastes, but the average person can perceive thousands of different smells (some very sensitive noses can detect up to 10,000). Hundreds of different smells from organic compounds have been identified in wine.

The olfactory glands in the nose are directly connected to our frontal lobes in the brain which do most of our serious mental work as well as functioning as the emotional part of our brain. Smells, then, can set off very powerful memories and feelings and help unlock natural urges. When combined with the psychological effects of alcohol, smells can turn any plain mousy blond into Madonna.

Research has suggested that the pheromones in certain grape varieties, especially Pinot Noir, are very similar to human sex pheromones. All of the smells in the Pinot Noir grape such as spice, earth, and musk are smells associated with the principal male smell, andosterone. The key female smells are thiethylamine and isovaleric acid which are characterized by fish and cheese odors respectively. Australia’s randiest winemaker, Max Lake, once suggested that isovaleric acid can be simulated in Champagne and soft cheeses.

What all of this proves is what we have know for years: Champagne and Burgundy will get you a sure thing. If it wasn’t for all of those pheromones and wine, we probably would still be apes.

To be continued… ...