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Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Counoise Grenache Grenache Blanc Malbec Marsanne Merlot Mourvèdre Pecorino Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir Primitivo Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Syrah Uncategorized Viognier Zinfandel

I owe. I owe. So off to work I go.

This Labor Day was doubly supposed to be a holiday for Your West Coast Oenophile. As happens every five or six years, my birthday falls on the first Monday in September, and while this was not a milestone year for me, it did add to the usual significance of the annual rite of passage (for the chronological sleuths out there, my only hint is that the next occurrence of this overlap will echo a sappy Paul McCartney tune). But instead of devoting the three day holiday to an inexorable celebration, I found myself on Sostevinobile duty, headed north for a return, at long last, to Sonoma County’s Wine Country Weekend.

I would be hard-pressed to think of another wine festival that encompasses such an expansive panorama of what its county-wide AVA offers, not just in wine but its complementary cuisine, food offerings, and other agricultural forays. Even Flavor! Napa Valley, a truly comprehensive cross-section of Sonoma’s immediate neighbor, seems somewhat dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of this three-day event.

My invitation included the Grand Tasting at MacMurray Ranch and the Sonoma Starlight dinner the preceding night. I had last visited Francis Ford Coppola Winery in its incarnation as Souverain, back during my years advising Bacardi on winery purchases they never completed. Under the Coppola umbrella, this facility, which produces the bulk of his mid-range and popular selections, has transmogrified into a lavish, if not grandiose, reflection of his directorial style, an estate that is as much resort as it is a producing winery, not unlike Bernardus in Carmel Valley.

Friday night attendees were fêted with an array of buffet food tables, gourmet poolside fair from a selection of local culinary vendors, while the patio was aligned with tables from many of the select wineries scheduled to pour the next day. Here, however, the vastly smaller VIP crowd enjoyed easy access to the wines and the winemakers themselves, along with a handful of reserve pourings that would not be featured at the public event. Even with the undulating strains of Notorious, Sonoma’s answer to Big Bang Beat, permeating the chill of the evening air, intimate conversations with the winemakers seemed effortless, allowing me the opportunity to meet and mingle with most of the participants I had highlighted as must-visits for the weekend.

One of the most intriguing of my new discoveries was Trinité Estate, the Alexander Valley expansion of the Lurton family’s vast portfolio of wineries that include Château Durfort-Vivens, a Deuxième Grand Cru Classé estate in the Margaux region, Château Ferrière, Château Haut-Bâges Libéral, Château La Gurgue, and Château Domeyne. True to form, owners Gonzague and Claire Lurton produce remarkable Bordeaux-style wines from their Healdsburg vineyards, notably their flagship 2012 Acaibo, a blend of 53 percent Merlot and 46 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with “a sprinkling” of Cabernet Franc. Young but portending to be perhaps even more prodigious, their 2013 Amaino also focused on Merlot from the same trinity of Bordelaise grapes.

I am intrigued by the notion of wines that bear the same names as cheese, but so far, have only found Pecorino, an Italian white grape that is also produced in Temecula. Coming tantalizingly close, the Russian River Valley’s Parmeson Wines more than competently epitomized the contiguity of this AVA and the Sonoma Coast appellation with their inaugural trio of wines: 2013 Chardonnay Josephine Hill Vineyard, 2013 Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, and their 2013 Zinfandel Alegría Vineyard.

One late-registered participant I hadn’t previously sampled was Merisi, an understated albeit fledgling endeavor that derives its elusive name from Michelangelo Merisi, better known as the Renaissance chiaroscuro master Caravaggio. Nothing about Mandy and Nick Donovan’s wines, however, seemed dimmed or shadowy, as their opulent 2013 Glen Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon amply displayed.

I confess to being often befuddled by the difference between Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers and Sonoma County Vintners and will not attempt to distinguish these two largely overlapping trade associations, other than to note that the former is the official producer of this event. The latter faced a bit of hasty reorganization earlier this past year with the abrupt resignation of both Director of Marketing Communications Sara Cummings and Executive Director Honore Comfort. Honore, however, hardly extricated herself from the ranks of Sonoma County’s Vintners, with the inclusion of her Brack Mountain Wine Company at this year’s festivities. Under their Bench Wines label, Brack Manager Taylor Osborn poured a noteworthy 2013 Bench Pinot Noir and a truly delightful 2013 Fable Pinot Meunier, a single vineyard designate.

It’s not uncommon for me to taste 4-5,000 wines every year, and even with over 190 varietals produced on the West Coast in Sostevinobile’s database, such a relatively obscure wine is a great pleasure. And herein lies my contention with the Grand Tasting the following day. Don’t get me wrong—it was a wonderful, if not opulent event, and even without having to jockey among 4,000 attendees, one could never possibly have taken in everything it has to offer.

But with over 150 wineries on hand, I would have expected far more to have showcased their non-standard selections—not merely the Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, and Cabernet Sauvignons that predominate in the Valley. I realize there are vastly more labels produced in the county than this event could possibly accommodate; furthermore, for many of the smaller, cutting-edge producers—Ryme, Agharta, Idlewild, Sheldon, Castelli, Scherrer, Stark, Nico, DaVero, Two Shepherds, Porter-Bass, to name but a few—who seemed conspicuously absent, I suspect participation fees may have proved too steep vs. potential return for the time and resources they would have to expend.

Nonetheless, far better that I focus on who was there and what they poured, rather than further expound my wistfulness over what was absent. Stopping off at the Alexander Valley tent, I first sampled a trio of wines from Lake Sonoma Winery, one of Madrone Vineyards Estates’ holdings. As befits the appellation, their standout proved to be the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, an exceptional expression of both the grape and the AVA. From the other side of 101, both the 2013 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and the 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast proved rather redolent of what I would expect from this vintage.

Curiously, Lake Sonoma did not pour their 2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, a wine sourced closest to their namesake destination. Zinfandel’s Italian cousin, however, did make an appearance at deLorimier Winery’s table, a striking 2013 The Station Primitivo. On the other side of the tent, Soda Rock—like deLorimier, one of Diane Wilson’s myriad holdings—featured a more straightforward Zin, their 2012 Zinfandel Alexander Valley, alongside an equally-competent 2011 The General Cabernet Sauvignon.

The burgeoning Wilson empire includes numerous Dry Creek Valley wineries (Pezzi King, Mazzocco, as well as their eponymous label), but within this designation, arguably the crown jewel is the Rockpile AVA, which truly has to be the province of Mauritson Family Winery. Their wines are consistently deep, lush, and intense, a reputation borne out once again here with both the 2012 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile Ridge Vineyard and the 2013 Rockpile Zinfandel Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. Also pouring a highly impressive Zinfandel—Comstock Wines, with their 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.

As with Mauritson, I can always count on Lambert Bridge for consistency and excellence in their Bordelaise varietals and blends, a view reinforced here by their 2012 Cabernet Franc Sonoma County. Still, I was saddened to learn that Greg Wilcox, one of my favorite curmudgeons, no longer managed the winery. On a different front, affable owners Jann and Gerry still operate their namesake Forth Vineyards in Healdsburg, excelling in the production of their 2012 Single Vineyard Sangiovese, along with a delightfully spry 2014 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.

The broadbased Russian River Valley tent encompassed a number of districts that may soon comprise their own sub-AVA, including Petaluma Gap and Fountaingrove; the representative wineries, however, displayed a greater homogeneity. Endemic of this focus, Christopher Creek Winery, a winery whose acclaim is based on its Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc, nonetheless impressed with its highly nuanced 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve. Burgundian purists Bucher Vineyard featured its 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while my friends Bill and Betty Nachbaur kept things close to the vest with the 2012 Axiom Single Vineyard Syrah from their Acorn Winery, rather than their more adventurous Dolcetto or Sangiovese.

In contrast, the smaller boutique enterprises from Fountaingrove shared a table that showcased their diversity, starting with the excellent 2009 Petite Sirah from Chuck McCoy’s Volante Vineyards. Equally delightful yet paradoxically named—the 2010 Les Trois Rhône Blend from Margaret Foley’s Petrichor Vineyards, a deft marriage of Syrah with 15% Grenache. Atypically focused solely on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Heller Family’s H•L•R Cellars furnished an appealing 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, while their fellow Fountaingrovians, the wonderfully-named Hostage Wines, offer a superlative 2012 Cabernet Franc.

Could a winery name be more vocative than The Calling? This collaboration between winemaker Peter Deutsch and renowned sportscaster Jim Nantz dazzled with their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Served up by the equally dazzling Summer Jeffus, The Calling also offered their 2011 Our Tribute, a complex yet compelling Meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, along with the 2013 Chardonnay Jewell Vineyard.

With sharply contrasting (obscurant) nomenclature, Ektimo—either meaning alarm in Esperanto or derived from the Greek term for reckon, εκτιμώ—is a nascent venture from Chinese ownership in the Russian River Valley. New winemaking will handle future vintages; here the selection of their 2014 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, the 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Russian River Valley seemed, at best, modest efforts.

Over in the all-encompassing Sonoma Valley tent, a more representative expression of the varietal could be found in Laurel Glen’s lush 2012 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon. As compelling and as superlative, both the 2013 Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard and the 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Will Price’s fabled Three Sticks Wine. Victor Hill Wines, the reemergence of former Castle Winery owner Vic McWilliams, displayed a Phoenix-like deftness with their 2012 Barrel Select Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Bush Vineyard, a wine as big as its name, coupled with their final 2013 Belle Blanc, a most compelling marriage of Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier.

My last stop of the afternoon, Bart Hansen’s Dane Cellars, closed out the day with another superb Rhône blend, their 2013 Valeria, a GMS augmented with 8% Counoise. My to-do list had also included Idell Family Vineyards, which regrettably had closed down their station nearly an hour, and Steven & Walker, which failed to appear at all (though I did manage to insinuate myself into their release party in downtown Healdsburg that evening).

Looking over my notes from Wine Country Weekend, it seems I barely scratched the surface with the wineries on hand for Taste of Sonoma. Part of the reason surely was the sheer volume of the attendance, which made jockeying for a winery’s attention more than a challenge; part may have been that I had sampled nearly 90% of these wineries in the past year or two; and part was, most assuredly, the superb selection of food pairings throughout the four tents! As such, my assessment of the breadth of wines served may be skewed. Still I offer these comments not as criticism but a wish that, collectively, the Sonoma winemakers might be more ambitious next time around and truly showcase the vast panoply of what is claimed to be the most diverse wine region in California.

Categories
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Grenache Malbec Marsanne Merlot Mourvèdre Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon Syrah

Quō vasisti, vēritās?

Let me state from the outset, Your West Coast Oenophile is not trying to cast any aspersions. Sostevinobile may be a passion—even an intellectual pursuit as I strive to develop an encyclopædic knowledge of the wines grown and produced along the northeast rim of the Pacific. But I initially trained as a Classics scholar, a pursuit with little practical relevance outside of academia or a post at the Vatican, and so I resort to any pretext I can find for dusting off twelve years of Latin studies (what does irrumabo mean, Sister Frances?) as a language and corpus of literature.

At another point, I may regale readers with some of the more piquant tales of my academic pursuits, particularly those relating to the tutelage of renowned Plautine and Euripidean scholar, the late Erich Segal. Suffice it to say that my response to his intellectual pretense became encapsulated in a full-length drama I wrote to fulfill the requirements for my other academic major in Creative Writing: (The Love Story of Big Daddy’s) Пошлость. OK, so I needed a pretext to dust off my knowledge of the русский язык, as well.

But before I go off on yet another endless digression, let me redirect focus to a trio of intimate wine tastings I attended to kick off the opening round of wine releases for 2014. All of these events, of course, are familiar to frequent visitors here, but the prospect of sampling numerous bottlings from the highly-anticipated 2012 vintage portended to promise “never having to say you’re sorry.”

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I) Every January, the collective known as In Vino Unitas holds its annual trade tasting in several venues around the Bay Area, including San Francisco. In many ways, it’s exactly what a trade tasting should be: intimate setting (Press Club), a moderate crowd delimited by staging in multiple alcoves, a leisurely pace that allowed ample time to interact with each of the winemakers or representatives from the wineries, and a discrete selection of wines neither overwhelming in its scope nor predominated by the more familiar selections each winery typically featured at other events.

I, of course, have sampled and cited each of the 14 wineries pouring here numerous times now; as such, let me simply highlight the most noteworthy selections from each, starting with a surprising 2010 Malbec Napa Valley, a three vineyard assemblage from Buoncristiani. This opulent rendering was accompanied by the four Buoncristiani brothers’ signature 2009 O.P.C. (Ol’ Pa’s Cuvée), a proprietary blend of four varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec. And as exquisite were the 2012 Chardonnay Napa Valley, blended with grapes from both Hyde Vineyard and Pahlmeyer Waters Ranch, and the limited production 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, combining fruit sourced from the Howell Mountain, Coombsville, and Atlas Peak appellations.

Like Coombsville, Atlas Peak is a sleeper sub-AVA in the Napa Valley that is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. Although Antinori has replaced the extensive Sangiovese plantings that gave this region its early renown, the current roster of Atlas Peak vineyards is achieving prominence for all five of the primary Bordeaux varietals, Syrah, the resultant Meritages and blends, plus a number of Rhône and other varietals. Perhaps the most prominent tract from Atlas Peak, Stagecoach Vineyard is the centerpiece of Krupp Brothers viticultural expanse. While myriad labels source their grapes from Stagecoach, here Krupp’s own eclectic labels showcased a number of exceptional selections, including their 2009 Black Bart Syrah and 2011 Chardonnay. Krupp’s true stars of the afternoon came from their (slightly) waggishly-named 2008 Veraison Red Wine, a claret-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah, and the superb 2008 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard, a pinnacle of Atlas Peak œnology.

The name Stagecoach may be a conceit for Krupp but certainly holds validity for Fisher, a winery whose forebears revolutionized carriage production. With a viticultural craft as meticulous as their branded Body by Fisher, their immensely appealing 2011 Mountain Estate Chardonnay poured here served as bold prelude to the phenomenal 2010 Coach Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot from their Calistoga estate.

A couple of more understated Napa Valley estates focused on their 2011 releases. Organically farmed Ehlers Estate, a trust holding of the Leducq Foundation (Ehlers was deeded by late founder Jean Leducq), showcased their 2011 120/80 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon. Michael Marks’ Gemstone highlighted an exceptional 2011 Estate Red Wine, a Meritage focused on 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 23% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. 

It seems to early to formulate a consensus on the 2011 Cabernet vintage; so far, after four consecutive excellent, if not monumental, years, the 2011 Pinot Noir vintage has tested the mettle of winemakers across the state and in Oregon. Donum Estate in Carneros, now owned by a Danish partnership but still overseen by Anne Moller-Racke displayed their forte with both the 2011 Anderson Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard and the less ponderously labeled 2011 Russian River Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir. Also excelling with this vintage, Soledad’s Manzoni Estate Vineyard, impressing with their 2011 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Home Vineyard and startling with the luxuriant 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands Home Vineyard.

Jericho Canyon in Calistoga should not be confused with the Sanel Valley’s Jeriko Estate, two wineries as much dedicated to sustaining the integrity of the environment as much as their devotion to their viticulture. Jericho Canyon’s meticulous focus on Bordeaux varietals most evidenced itself in both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and a striking 2010 Jericho Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. And, of course, I would never compare Meyer Family Cellars to Löwenbräu, Munich’s 631 year old brewery, despite the overt similarity of their leonine logos. Heralding from Yorkville, near Mendocino’s Hopland (as opposed to Bavaria, Germany’s “Hopsland”), their iconoclastic bottlings prominently featured the 2009 Reserve Syrah High Ground and a voluptuous 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Bonny’s Vineyard 10-Year Anniversary Release.

Little question whether redheads like Christina Hendricks embody the very definition of voluptuous. Nearly as luscious—Los Gatos’ titian tribute, Testarossa, a winery whose name clamors for Italian varietals but nonetheless flourishes with a striking portfolio of Burgundian bottlings. From its hillside perch along the Santa Cruz Highway where Novitiate used to make sacramental wines, Rob and Diana Jensen produce consistently elegant vintages, evidenced here by both their 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay and the 2011 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.
67th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals

Streaks of red highlighted the asymmetric coiffure Remi Barrett sported for this event, but there was little, if any, bottleshock detectable in the stellar lineup from La Sirena that she poured here. Winemaker Heidi Barrett, Remi’s mother, while renown for her Cabernets, here excelled with a pair of Syrahs: the 2010 Le Barrettage Napa Valley and the 2007 Syrah Barrett Vineyard. Nevertheless, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved every bit the equal of both these bottlings, but the true standout here undoubtedly came from the 2010 Barrett and Barrett Cabernet Sauvignon, a sumptuous collaboration between Heidi and husband Bo, winemaker for Château Montelena.

I wish Heidi’s considerable repute would carry over to her winemaking at Kenzo. It’s not that the wines aren’t good, but neither the 2012 Astasuyu, an estate-bottled Sauvignon Blanc, nor the 2010 Rindo, Kenzo’s traditional Meritage, astounded—something I expect from a $200 million winery that lavished on every aspect of its production.

Back when I started out in the wine industry, I was acquainted with Heidi’s father Richard Peterson, as well as the Mirassou brothers in San Martin, who had offered to provide the juice for my George Herbert Walker Blush. While Mirassou is now firmly in the clutches of Gallo, Steven Kent Mirassou, the family’s sixth generation winemaker, is serving notice that the Livermore Valley is a force with which to be reckoned (beyond its nuclear capabilities). Certainly the Russian River Valley 2012 Pinot Meunier Saralee’s Vineyard his La Rochelle label produces deserves a nod, but both the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Livermore Valley from this Steven Kent Winery and the extraordinary 2010 Lineage, a proprietary bottling of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec, also from Livermore, could easily hold their own against higher priced Napa bottlings..

As wonderfully unpredictable as a Livermore venture of such exceptional caliber may seem, a mediocre bottling from the fabled Far Niente, along with sister labels Nickel & Nickel, En Route and Dolce, would be equally surprising. Yet the opulence of the Far Niente label hardly belies the richness of its viticulture. Its 2012 Chardonnay Napa Valley Estate proved utterly splendid, as did its 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Estate. Equally enchanting: the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Branding Iron Vineyard from Nickel & Nickel. As the baby sister of the family, En Route still needs time to equal these peaks, but the 2007 Late Harvest Wine from Dolce, a botrytis-laden blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, most definitely warranted its “Liquid Gold from Napa Valley” moniker.


II) My extensive Latin studies coincided with 12 years of pedantic exercises regurgitating les précis de grammaire française. Add to the mix six years of ancient Greek and several terms of Russian along the way. If memory serves, there was actually a master plan behind all this, though precisely what eludes me at this stage.

It wasn’t until I completed my various courses of study that I decided to tackle a language with practical implications. Others in my position might well have opted to learn Spanish, but for myriad reasons I may elucidate in another post, non voglio parlare spagnolo

My choice finally to learn the tongue my grandparents grew up speaking continues to open doors for me in San Francisco and throughout the wine realm, but at times my predilection for Italian puts me at odds with the realities of a state that had formerly been part of Mexico. And so I must catch myself from the pronouncing ci as ch (instead of the Spanish si) when speaking of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

But, of course, Sostevinobile concerns itself with the pleasures of wine, not the minutia of morphology, and once again, the annual trade tasting for the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans abundantly demonstrated why this AVA is so prized. And perhaps more than any other AVA in California, its renown predominantly relies on select, highly-revered vineyards even more than its acclaimed labels, notably Soberanes, Pisoni, Garys’, Rosella’s and Sierra Mar Vineyards, farmed collectively or individually by the Pisoni and Franscioni families, well as Tondrē Grapefield and the Hahn Family’s Doctor’s Vineyard.

The youngest tract in this cluster, Soberanes, found ample representation within this tightly-bonded alliance, as evidenced by newcomer Cattelya, with their introductory 2012 Syrah Soberanes Vineyard (at $70/bottle, a surprisingly high price for a first release, were it not crafted by a winemaker with Bibiana González Rave’s pedigree). Also sourcing from this plot, my friend Rebecca Green Birdsall’s Black Kite, a winery that, until now, had sourced its Pinot strictly from Mendocino. Here the 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard paired nicely with their first white offering, the 2012 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard.

One of my central tenets in developing the wine program for Sostevinobile has been my belief that the boundaries between the West Coast states have now blurred in terms of the quality and prominence of their viticulture—an admission I would certainly never have made when I began
my wine career in 1982. Perhaps no other artisanal endeavor transcends the artifice of these territorial delineations more than Hawks View Cellars, an Oregon-based winery specializing in distinctive varietals from all three states. Here they showcased their California selections, a 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard along with an equally luscious 2011 Syrah Garys’ Vineyard. Their apex, however, was the 2011 Syrah Cellar Series—Garys’ Vineyard, a masterful expression of the grape.

Like many of today’s wine writers, I maintain a scoring system, not for purposes of publication, per se, but rather to maintain a hierarchy for my own notes. I haven’t scrutinized the methodologies 100-point scoring systems Wine Spectator and Robert Parker employ, but I would be hard pressed to make such fine distinctions between say a 96 vs. 97 in their ratings; rather, mine roughly correlates to the 4.0 scale academies use in their grading. As such, so many of the wines here warranted scores substantially greater than the proverbial A-, I am going to restrict inclusion only to those in the top tier for the day, like the aforementioned Cellar Series Syrah.

All six of the wines Lompoc’s Loring Wine Company poured showed extraordinary complexity, but even among this collection, the 2012 Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard outshone. McIntyre, which only sources estate fruit for its Pinots and Chardonnays, radiated with its “old vine” selection, the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir 25th Anniversary Santa Lucia Highlands. Similarly, Dan Morgan Lee, who produces the quasi-eponymous Morgan label, flourished with a pair of bottlings from his proprietary vineyard blocks: the 2012 Pinot Noir Twelve Clones and the equally spectacular 2012 Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard, where he also grows Syrah, Chardonnay and, atypically, Riesling.

Another winery that notably veers from the orthodoxy of the SLH trifecta: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, Chris Weidemann’s Pelerin, which I last encountered at Wines of Danger, hit their apex here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Manzoni made a reappearance at this tasting, with the same lineup as they had poured at In Vino Unitas, while La Rochelle showcased their SLH selections, highlighted by a spectacular 2010 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and their version of 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard.

Both of the Garys excelled in their own right at this tasting. Gary Franscioni highlighting the 2012 Pinot Noir under his Roar label, Gary Pisoni with the 2012 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard from his Lucia line. And Tondrē Alarid more than proved his mettle with his 2010 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield from his eponymous Tondrē Wines.


III) Shifting focus, my next foray took me to the Oakland outpost of Campovida, the Hopland retreat center that produces a line of organic wines under its various Mendocino labels. The tasting here served as one of the several regional preludes Rhône Rangers has been hosting prior to its revamped Grand Tasting in Richmond, with select wineries from its North Coast chapter.

As with the SLH Artisans, exceptional wines were largely rule of the day, starting with the 2006 Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard from Arrowood, a winery that, along with Byron and Freemark Abbey, was bounced around in an acquisition juggernaut following Constellation’s purchase of Robert Mondavi, before finally settling in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio. Although Richard Arrowood has moved onto Amapola Creek, this splendid wine still bore his imprimatur. Charlie Dollbaum’s Carica Wines has also seen a changing of the guard, as well as the vineyards it had originally sourced, and so his superb 2009 Syrah Kick Ranch will not have a successive vintage. Nonetheless, his 2010 Siren, a Sonoma County Syrah-focused GSM blend proved even more compelling.

I tend to regard Craig Camp’s Cornerstone as a Cabernet-focused house, but here they abundantly demonstrated their versatility with Syrah. starting with their 2009 Stepping Stone Syrah, blended with 10% Grenache, followed by their showcasing of the subsequent 2010 Stepping Stone Syrah, atypically rounded out with 5% Merlot. Another Rhône iconoclast from Napa, Miner Family Winery, excelled with a bone-dry yet subtle 2011 La Diligence, their 100% Marsanne. Equally appealing—the 2011 Marsanne from JC Cellars. Complementing this white delight, winemaker Jeff Cohn reached back to his Rosenblum roots to craft an elegant 2010 Syrah Rockpile Vineyard and a stunning mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Petite Sirah he modestly labeled the 2011 Misc Stuff.

Another JC’s compatriots from the East Bay Vintners Alliance, Bob Rawson’s Urbano Cellars, vastly impressed with both their 2009 Grenache Lodi and the 2010 Côte du Clements, a blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 25% Mourvèdre. Urbano’s frequent tablemate at these tastings, Oakland’s Urban Legend, similarly is a label I tend to associate more with Italian varietals; here, they flourished with their Rhône offerings: the 2010 Grenache Shenandoah Valley, the 2011 Syrah Cooper Ranch, and the 2020 Cuvée Lola, a distinctive blend of 45% Mourvèdre, 42% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah.

I have striven, throughout the years I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile, to maintain an utter objectivity about the wines we will select. Granted, I may display a small degree of partiality toward a number of wineries and winemakers who abetted my previous tenure in winery Mergers & Acquisitions (eventually, I will recount here how a series of coincidences involving Frog’s Leap and a comedy sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore led me to the wine field) while the collapse of Katselis Wines has rendered my vow never to serve Αστέρι Μου a moot point; still, I ought to have a predisposition towards Kent Humphrey’s Eric Kent Wines based on our mutual renunciation of the kakocracy known as advertising to pursue the collegiality of the œnological realm. No bias needed on this day, however, to luxuriate in both his 2011 Kalen’s Big Boy Blend (100% Syrah) and the 2011 Barrel Climber Grenache—both for the wine inside the bottles and the amazing commissioned art gracing the individual labels.

If I had one, albeit slight, complaint about this tasting, it was that most of the wineries poured conservatively, not veering from the GMS mainstays on the red side, along with Petite Sirah, and the Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier triumvirate for their whites. Christian Stark, however, showcased his 2012 Carignane Trimble Vineyard alongside impressive bottlings of the 2011 Petite Sirah Damiano Vineyard and the 2011 Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch. And William Allen, one of the prime movers on the current Rhône Rangers Board of Directors, featured Two Shepherds’ signature 2012 Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, complemented by the 2011 Syrah|Mourvèdre.

It took a bit of prodding to get host Campovida to pour their rendition of the 2012 Carignane Mendocino County from behind the bar, but it proved well worth the effort. Among their official selections for the afternoon, the standouts were the 2012 Grenache Mendocino County and a proprietary blend, the 2012 Campo di Rossa, a sublime marriage of 67% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 16% Carignane and 4% Petite Sirah.

I concluded the afternoon with Melinda Doty’s Stage Left Cellars, an Oakland winery given to some wondrously unorthodox blends, like Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon/Mourvèdre, but here electing to prove their forte with unadorned yet excellent single varietals: the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard from Mendocino, their 2010 The Escape Artist, a Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah, and a 2009 Petite Sirah, blended from the Yorkville Highlands’ Theopolis Vineyard and HoppeKelly Vineyards in the Russian River Valley.

Whither the truth in all these forays? Will my ceaseless efforts to catalogue the entire panoply of sustainable West Coast wines finally bear fruition in 2014 or merely serve as another intellectual pursuit? Rest assured, there was method to my madness back during my academic tenure that adapted to the rigors of my current pursuit, will carry my vision for Sostevinobile to fruition.

Quod erit demonstrandum.

Categories
Alicante Bouschet Bastardo Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Cinsault Counoise Gouais Blanc Grenache Malbec Merlot Moscato Mourvèdre Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir Rosé Roussanne Royalty Sauvignon Blanc Souzão Sparkling Wine Syrah Tannat Tempranillo Tinta Cão Touriga Nacional Vermentino Viognier Zinfandel

Discoveries 2011½

If Ernest Hemingway hadn’t existed, some high school English teacher would have had to invent him. And maybe one did. Think about it for a moment: imagine having to read and critique 40 or so 10th grade essays every week. Ponder what that might be like if students were exhorted to write like Pynchon. Or Laurence Sterne. Or—shudder—James Joyce.

At the quaint New England institute where Your West Coast Oenophile was incarcerated during his formative years, the author I most idolized was Thomas Love Peacock, whose parlor novels satirized the Romantic poets and other luminaries of 19th century Great Britain. Granted, those among my schoolmates who were fifth- or sixth-generation Hotchkiss legacies showed a pronounced predilection for F. Scott Fitzgerald, but the virtues of such works as A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea were rarely extolled as paragons of emulative composition.

Perhaps if they had been, I might now be able to contain my entries for Sostevinobile to a concise 750 words, instead of the opus interminatum each one of these postings turns out to be. Allora! After three years grinding my fingertips on a Mac keyboard, I am still trying.

My overdue reports on these rounds of tastings started with a long overdue event, a Paso Robles trade tasting in San Francisco. The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance had previously sponsored an intimate though curiously situated tasting amid the leading venture capital firms on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, an enclave where substance tends to be measured more in bytes than in brix. Here, amid the more familiar environs of the Presidio, the Golden Gate Club offered Trade and Media an intimate tasting before holding its oversold public event, the 2nd Annual Lamb Jam, a pairing of lamb with an array of wines from this Central Coast stronghold.

Yet there was nothing sheepish about the wines themselves, as my introduction to Bianchi, the masculine plural of the attributive terminus of my surname (but no familial relation) quickly showed. Tanto peggio per me, it would have been nice to qualify for the Friends & Family discount on their 2008 Moscato, a delightfully sweet wine with kumquat overtures, and their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles, a varietal rounded with 2.3% Syrah (a blend quite prevalent in Paso). Their most intriguing wine, the 2008 Zinfandel, consisted not only of 3% Syrah, but a 2% touch of Royalty, a varietal I not encountered before.

Another revelation, Riverstar, offered a diverse range of wines that also reflected the staunchly independent spirit of the AVA. Wines like the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Syrah, and even the 2009 Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon presented straightforward expressions of their single varietals, but the winery’s truest creative expression manifest itself in the NV Sunset Red, an uncommon blend of equal proportions of Merlot and Syrah. And while I also greatly enjoyed the Twilight Vintners Reserve, a non-vintage Port-style wine, my true affinity, coincidentally, was for the 2007 Affinity, an artful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with 20% Zinfandel.

After twilight, of course, comes Midnight Cellars, an astrological endeavor from Rich Hartenberger that. somewhat ironically, leaves nothing about their wines in the dark. I know of no other winery, including the ultraspecific wine labels from Ridge, that lists not only the volume of alcohol and the percentage of residual sugar, but also the pH and “titratable acidity” for each of their wines (even with a strong background in chemistry, I have no idea what the distinction between these latter two measurements means). Certainly this winery’s expression of straight varietals, like their 2010 Estate Chardonnay and the 2007 Estate Zinfandel, proved more than admirable, but it would not be overstatement to say they reached for the stars (and came rather proximate) with both the 2007 Nebula, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded with Malbec and Merlot and their standout, the 2007 Mare Nectaris, a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend balancing 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec, and 12% each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Ironically, with all the precision of their labels, the 2008 Full Moon lists itself merely as a red blend (with pH: 3.67 and titratable acidity: 0.625); nonetheless, an eminently approachable wine!

I didn’t think to ask whether Kim & Jeff Steele of Roxo Port Cellars were related to Shoo
ting Star
’s Jed Steele, but their meticulous approach to producing authentic Metodo Portugues fortified wine certainly belies a strong kindred spirit. Their 2007 Magia Preta proved a more than interesting variant on the 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah so prevalent in Paso, while even more delightful was the 2007 Paso Mélange, a Port-style blend of 71% Cabernet Franc with 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. Best, though, inarguably had to have been the 2007 Ruby Tradicional, a traditional blend of 34% Souzão, 25% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 18% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tinta Cão, and 8% Bastardo.

Having begun this post with a literary riff, I can be forgiven for presupposing Steinbeck Vineyards had ties to the famed Central Coast chronicler and author of Grapes of Wrath. Despite my erroneous assumption, the wines proved as rich and complex as any of John Steinbeck’s literary opera. The superb 2008 Viognier set the tone for this lineup. Other equally compelling single varietal bottlings included the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Petite Sirah, and a wondrous 2007 Zinfandel. Even more compelling, however, was Steinbeck’s 2006 The Crash, an atypical blend of these four grapes, along with the 2007 Voice, a 2:1 mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.

Twenty-nine other wineries featured their diverse vintages this particular afternoon, and it is by no means a disparagement not to detail each here, along with the panoply of wines they offered. Certainly, I have covered each of these ventures numerous times in this blog, but, in the interest of (relative for me) brevity, I am electing now only to highlight the premium echelon of these selections, starting with the 2008 Version from Adelaida, a Mourvèdre-focused GMS blend balanced with 9% Counoise.

No overlap in the blended varietals could be found in Ancient Peaks2008 Oyster Ridge, a Meritage composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Petite Sirah. Cypher Winery pulled no punches in labeling its Zinfandel/Mourvèdre/Syrah blend the 2008 Anarchy, but I can only defer to their own description of the dodecahedron known as the 2008 Louis Cypher: 15% Teroldego, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Souzão, 13% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, 9% Alicante Bouschet, 6% Syrah, 5% Tinta Cão, 5% Tinta Roriz, 5% Tannat, 4% Touriga Nacional, 2% Zinfandel = 100% Seduction! Even if they did forget the Touriga Francesa…

I’d be dishonest if I didn’t concede that the true pleasure of Derby Wine is the chance to revisit with Katie Kanpantha, but their standout vintage had to have been the 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir Derbyshire Vineyard from San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle. And it seemed only fitting that San Simeon would also feature the Hearst Ranch Winery, whose Rhône selections stood out among its eclectic choice of varietals. In particular, the 2008 Three Sisters Cuvée, a straightforward Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre blend outshone such curious nomenclature as Chileano, Babicora, and Bunkhouse—all of which beg the question: why not Rosebud?

Always a prominent presence at events where they pour, Paso’s Halter Ranch truly excelled with a pair of their wines, the 2008 Syrah, rounded with Mourvèdre, Viognier, and, uncharacteristically (for a Rhône blend), Malbec. Esoteric, but in proper keeping with the genre, their stellar 2008 Côtes de Paso added both Cinsault and Counoise to the standard GSM composition. Another of Paso’s revered wineries, Justin, must be finding itself in quite the conundrum, its overt commitment to sustainability in stark contrast with new owner Stewart Resnick’s other signature venture, Fiji Water. Nevertheless, Justin’s iconic Meritage, the 2008 Isosceles, proved itself worthy of the myriad accolades it has received.

My friends at L’Aventure managed to garner a Sostevinobile trifecta here, impressing across the board with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2008 Côte à Côte (their GMS blend), and the crossbreed, the 2008 Estate Cuvée, a mélange of 50% Syrah, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 14% Petit Verdot. Despite its insistence on lower -case lettering, kukkula once again proved there is nothing diminutive about its œnology, excelling with its own Syrah-dominant GMS, the 2009 sisu, and the Mourvèdre-less 2009 pas de deux.

One of the afternoon’s most striking wines came from Ortman Family Vineyards: the utterly delectable 2007 Petite Sirah Wittstrom Vineyard. Meanwhile, the Rhône virtuosos at Tablas Creek veered beyond their forte and produced a stunning 2010 Vermentino.

But Paso will always remain the realm of Syrah and Roussanne, Tannat and Viognier, Grenache and Picpoul Blanc, Picpoul and Grenache Blanc, with a wide smattering of Bordeaux, Spanish, Italian and local varietals thrown into the mix. Whether its the joyous blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault Terry Hoage bottles as their 2008 5 Blocks Cuvée or the Shel Silverstein-ish GMZ blend, Thacher’s 2008 Controlled Chaos (42% Mourvèdre, 35% Zinfandel, 23% Grenache), California’s largest and most diversified AVA continues to delight with its unfettered approach to winemaking.


Ah, if only my own writing could possibly be fettered! I keep trying to keep things here succinct, and yet…

I seem to be going backwards, not forward. I should have completed my June notes æons ago, but somehow I let the reformulated Pinot Days slip through the cracks. Nonetheless, I need only remind my readers (as well as myself) that the primary purpose of this blog is to share all the wondrous wines that I sample—at least until I am able to have them actually poured for my readers’ delectation!

After such strong showings across California and Oregon for both the 2007 and 2008 Pinot vintages, the tendency might have been to expect a letdown in 2009. Among those who would prove to the contrary was Ed Kurtzman’s August West, dazzling with its 2009 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. And if my trepidation needed further debunking, Wes Hagen generously featured a five-year vertical of his Clos Pepe Pinot Noir. My preference ran to the unheralded 2005 Estate Pinot Noir, a wine that completely withstood the test of time, as well as the benchmark 2007 vintage. But the much younger 2009 bottling held its own against these, portending, with further aging, to equal or excel its predecessors. And though I was less sanguine about both the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé and the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Brut Rosé, the contrast came as extremely welcome.



Not to be confused with Justin Harmon—Justin Herman Plaza

Command of a sesquipedalian vocabulary is usually my forte, but sometimes I confuse simpler terminologies, like ingot with argot. Ingot, of course,refers to the rounded, rectangular die cut of gold that, had more investors acquired a few years back, would have eased my struggles to finance Sostevinobile. Argot, on the other hand, is Justin Harmon’s Sonoma wine venture, with a penchant for whimsical labels and even sounder œnology. His 2009 Over the Moon displayed touches of elegance, while the 2009 The Fence proved a far more structured Pinot Noir. Most alluring, however, was his clandestine pour of his 2009 Happenstance, an uncommon blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay.

In the same orbit, Lompoc’s Hilliard Bruce contrasted their estate bottlings, the 2009 Pinot Noir Moon with the slightly preferable 2009 Pinot Noir Sun, while adding a 2009 Chardonnay for good measure. ADS Wines, which seems to change its corporate identity every time I encounter one of their ventures, added to this lunacy with their 2007 Howling Moon Pinot Noir, along with their similarly lackluster 2007 Silver Peak and 2009 Odd Lot bottlings.
Basically, I had a dual agenda this afternoon—first, as always, to connect with the wineries that were either new to Sostevinobile, like Aeshna, or that I had previously bypassed at other events because of time constraints (or inadvertently), like Arcadian. To the best of my knowledge, the former has never participated in the numerous Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association events, nor in the sundry Pinot-focused tastings held each year; named for the dragonfly genus that is part of the Odonata order (coincidentally, the name for another notable Santa Cruz Mountain winery that produces Chardonnay, Malbec, Durif, Syrah, and Grenache), this single-vineyard-focused venture debuted here with six distinctive bottlings, headlined by an exceptional 2008 Pinot Noir Two Pisces and the 2007 Pinot Noir Split Rock,
both grown on the Sonoma Coast. Meanwhile, Solvang’s Arcadian
contrasted two 2007 bottlings with a pair from 2005, the most
distinctive being its 2007 Pisoni Pinot Noir.
 

Among other previously overlooked labels, Napa’s Elkhorn Peak Cellars comported itself admirably with their 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé, as well an acceptable 2007 Estate Napa Valley Pinot Noir. Sebastopol’s Fog Crest Vineyard shone through the mist with both their 2009 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir and the splendid 2009 Laguna West Pinot Noir.

Newcomers this afternoon included Los Angeles-based Inception Wines, with a splendid 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County they surreptitiously counterbalanced with an even-keeled 2009 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County. Miracle One may be better known for its Bluebird Wine-in-a-Pouch; nonetheless, their 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir Truchard Vineyard offered a well-structured bottled varietal. Sebastopol’s Sandole Wines debuted here with a most impressive 2009 Oehlman Ranch Pinot Noir, while Windsor’s Joseph Jewell, a familiar pourer at other affairs, showcased a trio of Pinots: the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, the 2009 Pinot Noir Floodgate Vineyard, and the utterly superb 2008 Pinot Noir Elk Prairie Vineyard from the verdant confines of Humboldt County.
While certain reactionary elements will claim that partaking in Humboldt’s most popular “substance” leads to hardered addictions, it is only coincidence that I transitioned next to Poppy, not the opiate-bearing bud but the King City viticultural venture out of Monterey Wine Country’s custom crush operations, here featuring a surprisingly good 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands and an even better 2009 Pinot Noir Monterey County. At its neighboring table, Santa Maria’s Presqu’ile shared an equally striking 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley and their estate grown 2009 Pinot Noir Presqu’ile Vineyard, along with one of the afternoon’s most appealing pink efforts, the 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley.

My other principal target here was to connect with the broad representation of Oregon wineries, both new to Pinot Days and old hands, as exploration of this enormous swath of AVAs does not present itself as readily as my frequent jaunts to the wineries in a 100-mile radius of San Francisco. First up was the deceptively simple-sounding Big Table Farm out of Gaston; their 2009 Pinot Noir Resonance Vineyard (Yamhill-Carlton AVA) proved an elegant entrée to this segment of my tasting. Another epiphany here came from the more mellifluously named Carabella Vineyard from the Chehalem Mountains AVA, dazzling with their 2008 Inchinnan Pinot Noir and proving more than correct with their 2008 Pinot Noir Mistake Block.

Ironic labeling seems to abound north of the state line, as witnessed by the wholly appealing 2009 Provocateur, a J. K. Carriere-crafted wine that overshadowed its more generically named 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Nor I could detect any ambiguity in the wines from Monks Gate Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, a single varietal endeavor that contrasted its 2007 Pinot Noir with a more robust 2008 Pinot Noir.

Part of my impetus in selecting the architects who will render the design for Sostevinobile was their work on Sokol Blosser, the first winery to receive LEED certification, but until this Pinot Days, I had not had the opportunity to sample their Dundee Hills wines. My consensus: I could easily sustain myself with both the 2008 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and the special bottling of the 2008 Cuvée Pinot Noir. Another Dundee Hills winery that has achieved Gold LEED Certification, Dayton’s Stoller Vineyards focuses exclusively on the Burgundian varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay), represented here by a disparate contrast between the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir and their superb 2007 Estate Pinot Noir.
Dundee’s twinless Lange Estate Winery produced a triplet from their inventory of seven distinct Pinots, beginning with their generic 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. The 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve proved incrementally better, but principal kudos belonged to their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Three Hills Cuvée. Similarly, White Rose showcased their 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir alongside their 2008 Dundee Hills AVA Pinot Noir and a somewhat lackluster 2008 Estate Pinot Noir.
It would have been most interesting to try the Hand Picked Pinot Noir, as well as the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir White Rose produces, but these wines were not made available here. On the other hand, I was underwhelmed by the 2010 Whole Clust
er Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley Vineyards presented (perhaps, in time, this jejune wine will finds its expression); their 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and the 2008 Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley mitigated tremendously, while the 2009 Pinot Gris proved a welcome contrast to the red orthodoxy of the afternoon. So, too, did Dundee’s Winderlea, with its crisp 2008 Chardonnay, blended from 50% Carabella Vineyard (Chehalem Mountain AVA) and 50% Hyland Vineyard (McMinnville AVA) fruit. Equally impressive—their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, while their eponymous 2008 Pinot Noir offered much to admire.
My friend Craig Camp seems ubiquitous these days, but I was pleased to sample the 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from his Cornerstone Cellars Oregon. Other familiar Oregonians here included Domaine Serene, splendiferous as ever with their 2008 Jerusalem Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir and the exquisite 2007 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir. Dusky Goose, a name I’ve never quite fathomed but still enjoy, featured a three year vertical, starting with their 2006 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, a somewhat tepid bottling compared to the exceptional 2007 and 2008 vintages.

Out of Newberg, Raptor Ridge sounds more like a vineyard that might have flourished on Isla Nublar (Jurassic Park), but, like Dusky Goose, its name is ornithological, its flavors, unmistakably Oregonian. Both the four vineyard blend that comprised its 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and its 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, a six vineyard mix, flourished at this stage. And Le Cadeau, though not blending such a diverse range of fruit, still gifted attendees with six distinct bottlings: two from 2008 and four from the ensuing vintage. Of the former, both the 2009 Côte Est Pinot Noir proved a formidable entry-level selection, while the 2008 Aubichon Pinot Noir Reserve, Le Cadeau’s second label. showed every bit its equal. The 2009 vintage excelled across the board, with the 2009 Aubichon Pinot Noir Reserve, the 2009 Diversité Pinot Noir, and the 2009 Équinoxe Pinot Noir all enormously impressive; the “champion,” however, had to have been the 2009 Rocheux Pinot Noir, crafted by winemaker Jim Sanders, Le Cadeau partner in Aubichon.
With that, I had one more Oregon house to sample before completing my predetermined agenda. A couple of years ago, I did report on the delightful 2007 Pinot Gris Dundee Hills’ Torii Mor had produced, so was happy to revisit with them and sample both the 2007 Olson Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2008 Chehalem Mountain Select Pinot Noir (maybe I’ll get to try their Pinot Blanc at our next encounter).
Technically, I suppose all varietals prefaced as Pinot ought to be fair fare for Pinot Days, including the semi-archaic “Pinot Chardonnay” (genealogists at UC Davis have determined that Chardonnay resulted from a cross between the proximate plantings of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc in Burgundy). Though an essential component in Champagne, Pinot Meunier rarely finds expression as a distinct varietal, a notable exception being La Follette’s striking 2009 Van der Kamp Pinot Meunier. While I found the 2008 Van der Kamp Pinot Noir a notch below its cousin, both the 2009 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir and the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir equaled its prowess.
Its remote perch in Oregon House has neither proximity nor correlation to California’s northerly neighbor; still, natural wine proponent Gideon Beinstock’s Clos Saron brought out a decidedly mixed collection of his Pinots, with the perfunctory 2009 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard contrasting dramatically with its predecessor, the more elegant 2000 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard, while the 2005 Pinot Noir Texas Hill demonstrated how truly superb a natural wine can be when it hits its mark. Another vintner with deep French roots, De Novo Wines’ Hervé Bruckert showed greater consistency and an incremental increase in quality from his 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County to the 2008 Pinot Noir Bennett Valley to his delightful non-Pinot, the 2009 Bastille, a Right Bank-style Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.
CRŪ is not Vineyard 29’s Cru in St. Helena, but nonetheless this Madera vintner produced an impressive lineup with its 2009 Appellation Series Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, the 2008 Appellation Series Santa Mara Valley Pinot Noir, and an exceptional 2008 Vineyard Montage Central Coast Pinot Noir. St. Helena’s own Couloir introduced its own triple play, excelling with both the 2009 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley (Marin) and the 2009 Pinot Noir Monument Tree (Mendocino), followed closely by their second label, the 2009 Straight Line Pinot Noir.
One of Mendocino’s most revered ventures, Londer Vineyards, held true to its reputation with a stellar array of wines from their 2007 vintage, starting with more generic 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. As always, both the 2007 Estate Valley Pinot Noir and the 2007 Ferrington Pinot Noir soared with intense flavor, but perhaps the best wine of the afternoon had to have been the 2007 Paraboll Pinot Noir, an effusion of delights. Slightly below Philo, Santa Rosa’s Lattanzio Wines, an understated yet accomplished winery cum custom crush facility in Santa Rosa, hit a zenith with the 2008 Pinot Noir W. E. Bottoms Vineyard and its 2009 successor; even more compelling was their 2009 Pinot Noir Manchester Ridge Vineyard, a name that begs no punning.
My other nomination for this tasting’s Palme d’Or most assuredly belonged to my friend Hank Skewis, whose 2008 Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast drank like a wine thrice its price. Slightly overshadowed by this monumental bottling, yet every bit as prodigious, were his 2008 Pinot Noir, Montgomery Vineyard Russian River Valley, 2008 Pinot Noir North Coast Cuvée, and the 2008 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast. Nearby in Sebastopol, Small Vines impressed me once again with their Pinot trio: the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, the 2009 Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and, most notably, the 2009 MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Meanwhile, heir neighbors at Suacci Carciere snuck in another “illicit” diversion for the afternoon, their 2008 Chardonnay Heintz Vineyard (somehow I managed to miss their always appreciated Pinot selections).
Nearly every AVA provides a distinct pocket for Pinot, as exhibited by Belle Glos’ Meiomi, with its authoritative 2009 Meiomi Pinot Noir, a blend of fruit from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara. Heron Lake’s Olivia Brion is nestled in Wild Horse Valley, a semi-obscure AVA that straddles Napa and Sonoma; here their 2008 Pinot Noir Heron Lake Vineyard made its presence known with quiet aplomb. And San Rafael’s Peter Paul Winery offered its excellent 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Mill Station Road.
Winding down for the afternoon, I resampled Ray Franscioni’s 2007 Puma Road Pinot Noir Black Mountain Vineyard before cooling down with his delightful 2009 Puma Road Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard. My final stop turned out to be the East Bay’s highly vaunted Stomping Girl, which rounded out the afternoon with two superb vintages: the 2009 Pinot Noir Lauterbach Hill from Sonoma (Russian River Valley) and their equally wondrous 2009 Pinot Noir Beresini Vineyard from Napa Valley (Carneros).

No slight intended to the many, many other wineries I failed to include here—with 179 labels on hand for this event, I couldn’t possibly sample and cover all. Add to that the fact that I am behind close to 179 wine tastings I’ve attended on behalf of this blog, and can there be little wonder that I have the stamina to make it through any of what Sostevinobile has promised to cover? But soldier on I do, and perhaps I will even record all of 2011 events in 2011 (of course, restricting my entries to under 4,000 words would expedite matters tremendously).
In closing, I would b
e remiss in not thanking Steve and Lisa Rigisch for revamping their Pinot Days format after the debacle of 2010’s non-contiguous affair. The reversion to a single day’s Grand Tasting with overlapping trade and public sessions made accessing so many of the wineries vastly easier, and I am honestly looking forward to 2012’s celebration.

Categories
Auxerrois Blanc de Noir Brut Rosé Gouais Blanc Lagrein Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir Riesling

Marc’s flat-out mean & lean post-Thanksgiving slimdown

No more interminable digressions! No more anecdotes from my checkered past! From hereon until the New Year, I have vowed to keep my Sostevinobile blog tight, sparse, and directly to the point. Call it what you will, but Your West Coast Oenophile is commencing his annual post-Thanksgiving ritual.
To be honest, this isn’t a response to my overconsumption. Rather, it’s the realization I must devote December to the unenviable task of raising the capital Sostevinobile needs to launch in 2010. After months of laying the groundwork, it’s time for a full-fledged assault, casting aside my “arduous” schedule of four-five wine tastings a week.
Before Thanksgiving, I was able to sandwich in a pair of tastings, however: PinotFest in San Francisco and Holiday in Carneros. Many fans of this blog will surely be clamoring for me to include my next installment of Waiting for Pinot before launching into my findings at Farallon’s 11th annual “Public Tasting of a Sexy Wine,” but, like Vigneron and Donatello, they will simply have to bide their time. I will preface my remarks, however, by commending Peter Palmer and his staff for always staging an impressive event (even though the tray of Ahi tuna medallions on fried wontons made its way by me only once). The private rooms in the Kensington Park Hotel where Farallon holdings its periodic industry tastings are warm and capacious, with presenter tables spaced amply apart. The catering is splendid (as one might expect from Farallon); the servers, more than accommodating; the crowd, knowledgeable and professional. In short, all the right elements for a splendid wine tasting.
The best part of this event, besides unexpectedly running into Yvonne Cheung, was the chance to meet with so many wineries from Oregon. The A-List of Oregon Pinot producers starts with Argyle and Adelsheim, a pair of wineries whose high profile sometimes tends to belie just how spectacular their wines can be. Argyle has, of course, gained as much of its reputation of late from its line of sparkling wines as it has for its Pinot Noir, and the 2007 Argyle Brut Rosé, blended from both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier deftly showcased their prowess in this area. Their 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was as strong a vintage of this particular bottling as I can remember. Likewise, Michael Adelsheim demonstrated his family’s winemaking and artistic prowess with their popular 2007 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and their single-vineyard 2007 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir. Veering slightly off-course, he also poured the 2007 Auxerrois Willamette Valley, a fairly obscure white varietal resulting from cross between Pinot Noir and an ignoble (!) varietal known as Gouais Blanc.
Tony Soter gained considerable acclaim for his wines at Étude, before pulling up stakes and establishing his eponymous winery in Carlton, Oregon to make Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Soter obviously studied well in Carneros, judging by the pair of Oregon Pinots he poured: the 2007 Pinot Noir North Valley and a dazzling 2006 Pinot Noir Mineral Springs. Also staking its claim to “Oregonically grown” royalty was the aptly named Rex Hill, with noteworthy selections in their 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve Willamette Valley and the 2006 Pinot Noir Jacob-Hart
Domaine Drouhin sounds like a name that might have been lifted from Le Morte d’Arthur or Chaucer (coincidence I subsequently discovered from their Website—their Chardonnay is called Arthur); this Oregon branch of a 13th Century Burgundian house having not previously come to my attention, I was especially pleased to sample their flagship Pinot, the 2006 Laurène and the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. Chehalem, on the other hand, is a name that could only come from Oregon; their trio on hand from the numerous Pinots they produce included the 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir Reserve, the 2007 Corral Creek Pinot Noir, and a distinctive 2007 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Despite my exhortations,
I could not convince owners of Ponzi Vineyards that they ought to produce a wine called Madoff. In contrast, Dick Ponzi produces wines that are incredibly straightforward and honest, “neither fined nor filtered…crafted to be delicious upon release,” as ably exemplified by the 2008 Tavola Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley that he poured. Though the Wine Spectator declares that “all Oregon Pinot Noirs are measured by the Ponzi yardstick,” I suspect Domaine Serene may feel their wines warrant similar accolade. The Wine Spectator and Robert Parker may differ over whether they prefer the 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir to the 2006 Jerusalem Hill Pinot Noir, but it will require a bottle of their 2005 Monogram to get me to reveal my choice!
Bridging the divide between Oregon and California stands, Siduri/Novy, Adam Lee’s sister labels. My fondness for his Siduri Pinots has been noted several time in this blog, but I was extremely please to see that he had brought along the 2008 Novy Blanc de Noir, an exceptional white wine crafted by gingerly pressing the Pinot Noir grape to extract its juice without skin contact. Descending latitudinally, I made the acquaintance of Greenwood Ridge, an organic winery in Mendocino. If only it were possible to describe their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge better than Wine & Spirits’ citation as “a meaty Pinot Noir for Coq au Vin with Morels!” Still, my appreciation for this wine pales in comparison with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Meyer Vineyard (a wine I discovered subsequently at the Green Wine Summit)—perhaps the best expression of this varietal I can recall enjoying.
I managed to taste Kosta Browne’s 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and 2007 Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard for the second time each in as many months and found my appreciation for these wines still enormously favorable. The treat this afternoon, however, was sampling the private efforts of associate winemaker Shane Finley and his much-storied Spell label; his 2008 Spell Pinot Noir Weir Vineyard shows how well he has taken Michael Browne’s tutelage to heart. His utterly splendid 2007 Shane Syrah Mendocino, however, shows an artistry all his own.
Like Kosta Browne, Littorai was a winery whom I had sampled at Pinot on the River; their 2007 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard was a superb discovery this time around. Pey has poured their fare at several tastings I attended this past year, but I still relished my first sampling of their 2007 Pey-Marin Pinot Noir Trois Filles Marin County and the equally spectacular 2007 Pey-Lucia Frisquet Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands. The real treat, however, was the 2008 The Shell Mound Riesling, Marin County that Jonathan Pey managed to smuggle in.
Another familiar presence, though one I do not usually associate with Pinot, was Thomas Fogarty. The debate over the efficacy of angioplasty may be somewhat nascent, but his efforts with this varietal proved undeniable. Besides, I would far prefer to unclog my arteries with his 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz or the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Rapley Trail and most certainly via the catharsis of his extraordinary 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Windy Hills. I have no idea whether Costa de Oro has any medical affiliations, but their Pinots were beyond therapeutic. Apart from their soothing 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County, the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Gold Coast Vineyard and especially the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Riserva Oro Rojo would provide extraordinary palliative therapy for almost any condition.
Some names in the Pinot world need no introduction, but an opportunity to taste their wine can never be overlooked. Robert Sinskey’s renowned organic winery in Napa falls into this category and came through with flying colors on their 2005 Pinot Noir Vandal Vineyard. Similarly, the highly-touted Williams Selyem from the Russian River Valley showed why 2007 has proven such a banner year for Pinot, with their 2007 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir and their triumphant 2007 Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir (having missed out on my WS List member allotment this fall, I was doubly pleased to enjoy this sample).
Sometimes you are predisposed to like a band even before you hear their music, simply because they have such an appealing or quirky name, like Foo Fighters or Death Cab for Cutie. I was similarly drawn to Radio Coteau and, ultimately, far from disappointed. Of the four Pinot Noirs I tasted, the 2007 Terra Neuma stood out, followed closely by the 2007 Savoy. The 2006 Savoy presented a classic contrast between these two vintage years, while the 2007 La Nebalina lagged a tad behind its 2007 counterparts. While Lynmar Estate is not a particularly esoteric name for a winery, its 2007 Terra di Promissio lures one in automatically to this splendid Pinot, a worthy Sonoma Coast variant to Lynmar’s home-based 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
The Napa Valley usually is not considered a stronghold for Pinot, so sampling El Molino’s efforts with this varietal was most illuminating. As in Sonoma and on the Central Coast, the comparison between vintages was quite stark, with the 2007 Rutherford Pinot Noir clearly preferable to its nonetheless admirable 2006 Rutherford Pinot Noir. Moving forward, I tasted was the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley from Foxen Vineyard, who also furnished their highly-specific 2007 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Block 8. Ah, if they had only brought along their selection of Sea Smoke bottlings!
A number of Central Coast wineries made strong impressions with this tasting, starting with Barbara Banke’s hands-on project for her Jackson Family Wines, Cambria Winery, offered its own highly-specific 2007 Pinot Noir Clone 2A. Michael Michaud’s eponymous winery bottles its wines with varied, alluring pastel labels that most certainly do not belie the quality of his Chalone appellation wines, notably the 2004 Pinot Noir he sampled. Even more enticing was the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley from Talley Vineyards, producers of the trendy Bishop’s Peak label.
In my quest to find California producers of Lagrein, I had recently uncovered Santa Barbara’s Whitcraft Winery, but was dismayed to learn from founder Jonathan Whitman they had discontinued the varietal. I nonetheless allowed myself to be consoled with a quartet of his Pinots, starting with the 2006 Melville Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills, then moving onto the 2007 Aubaine Pinot Noir from Nipomo. The 2006 Morning Dew Ranch from Anderson Valley represented Whitcraft’s “northern” excursion, the 2006 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir N Block his pinnacle. My palate reached its threshold with Cobb, a Pinot specialist from the Sonoma Coast. Their wines proved that their considerable advance accolades were no hype, as I greatly relished both the 2007 Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Coastland Vineyard. One can only wonder whether their 2007 Pinot Noir Joy Road Vineyard would have completed a trifecta.
I promised Yvonne I would see her in Carneros the next day, and as my next installment will attest, I was true to my word. Fortunately, I had not promised a similar timeline for completing this entry. My overwhelming schedule for Sostevinobile these past few weeks has set me woefully way behind.

Categories
Chardonnay Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir Pinotage Syrah

Waiting for Pinot (an œnostential comedy)

Two desolate characters, Vigneron and Donatello, lean heavily back-to-back in an empty field. The midday sun blazes overhead. Donatello is sweating profusely and repeated takes out a handkerchief to mop his brow. Though wearing a black bowler, Vigneron seems impervious to the heat.

Vigneron: Have we arrived here again?
Donatello: It would seem so.
Vigneron: As we have done every time.
Donatello: As we will continue to do… 
Vigneron: Shouldn’t we go onto something different…go somewhere else?
Donatello: You know that we can’t.

Vigneron holds his empty wine glass up toward the sun, as if examining a pour. He swirls, examines it for legs, then holds it to his nose as if inhaling its aromas.

Vigneron: What is it that he wants?
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: Him!
Donatello: What does he want?
Vigneron: Exactly!
Donatello: What does he ever want?
Vigneron: He told us to meet him here.
Donatello: Was it today?
Vigneron: He said to meet him at noon.
Donatello: I am beginning to develop a tremendous thirst.
Vigneron: We must wait.
Donatello: There is a large bead of sweat dangling from the tip of my nose. If I extend my tongue as far as it will go, I might just be able to catch it. (Donatello sticks out his tongue, but is unable to reach his nose.) Drat! I was sure I could reach!
Vigneron: I am sure he will provide.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: (adamantly) Pinot! We are waiting for Pinot!!
Donatello: Perhaps I should face West.
Vigneron: All things must face West eventually. It’s inevitable.
Donatello: How do you know?
Vigneron: The azimuth of the sun.
Donatello: It is at its apex now. From here, we cannot tell which way is which.
Vigneron: Pinot will tell us.
Donatello: But when?
Vigneron: When he arrives.

Long pause.

Donatello: Switch places with me. I want him to see the back of my head as he approaches.
Vigneron: I don’t see how that matters.
Donatello: Everything matters, Vini. Everything.

Both men simultaneous try to aright themselves, but keep falling back into their interdependent posture. After four or five attempts, they realize the futility and make a 180° turn, backs pressed against each other, in order to switch places.

Vigneron: Which of us is facing West?
Donatello: Does it matter?
Vigneron: He might be concerned.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: He for whom we wait.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: Pinot!

A loud commotion is heard offstage. Miljenko, a Croatian field hand pushes a large field crusher, piled to the brim. A radiant child, Agostin, sit atop the clusters, squeezing grapes one by one, in order to shoot the seeds. A small donkey ambles beside them…

to be continued?


Your West Coast Oenophile segued into writing this blog after many years of pursuing fame & fortune as a playwright. Not that I’ve abandoned the vocation, mind you, but it has been a year or more since I’ve open up my Quark Xpress template (no writer worth his or her salt would even consider using the utterly execrable MS-Word) and set to typing.
Most of my plays constitute mordant satires, farces on the human condition as seen through wine-colored glasses, as it were. To be honest, thinly-veiled parody, as illustrated above, doesn’t really lend to expressing a distinctive voice, and, as those who have seen me toil to create Sostevinobile well know, I at all times refuse to be derivative! Still, I suppose I am a long way from putting the final touches on The Straight of Messina and seeing it mounted at The Magic Theater or Mark Taper Forum while the monumental tasks of creating this enterprise preoccupy me.
Admittedly, I derive enormous satisfaction from my forays into the wine world—an artistic pursuit unto itself—and the trip to the Pinot on the River Festival at Rodney Strong Vineyards last weekend was no exception. Like my Beckettian excerpt, the Grand Tasting began just before noon, beneath a blistering sun against which the rows of white tents could only tenuously shield. Along with the intense heat of the setting, my pulchritudinous partner-in-crime inexplicably displayed a most unwarranted petulance that quite had me taken “aback,” but rehashing of such matters are best played out offstage.
What differed this day from the preceding theatrical script was a distinct absence of waiting—Pinot Noir flowed readily and bountifully. With more than 100 wineries in attendance, it would have posed an insurmountable challenge even on a mild afternoon to cover all within the five hours allotted (roughly one visit every three minutes), so I must apologize in advance to all the places I could not cover. Certainly, there will be future opportunities to make amends.
The configuration of the pouring tables immediately thrust us upon Olson Ogden, which certainly was no misfortune. I have cited, if not lauded, their array of Pinot Noir and Syrah several times in this blog, and the 2007 Olson Ogden Pinot Noir Russian River Valley deliciously set the tone for the afternoon. A deft 180° turn brought us face-to-face with the table for Hirsch Vineyards, a grower whose lots were featured by numerous other vintners throughout the afternoon. Tasting their eponymous 2007 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir was a rare treat, while their 2008 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir offered a tantalizing glimpse into its future.
Hook & Ladder pays tribute to owner Cecil De Loach’s days as a San Francisco firefighter in the 1970s; at times, the extreme afternoon heat led one to wonder whether he might have to don his red helmet yet again. Nonetheless, his 2007 Pinot Noir Third Alarm Reserve was a marvelous complement to the festivities. Reach back a tad further, owner James Ontiveros’ Native⁹ Wine is a homage to his family’s nine generations in California since 1781! Looking ahead, his estate-grown 2008 Native⁹ Pinot Noir Ontiveros Vineyard was a wine of considerable portent, while both the 2007 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard and the 2007 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Vineyard proved eminently drinkable now.
There were a few wineries at this festival with whom I had no previous contact. Moshin Vineyards, the first I encountered this afternoon, made a strong initial impression with their much-heralded 2007 Pinot Noir Lot 4 Selection, as well as the 2007 Moshin Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River. Though I had tried Morgan Winery’s other varietals on prior occasions, I was not aware that they were the only certified organic winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Dare I say that their 2007 Double L Vineyard Hat Trick Pinot Noir was quite a mouthful?
Merry Edwards has long been revered as on of the wine world’s pioneering women for her fabled Pinot Noirs. Her 2007 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir proved excellent; the 2007 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir, spectacular. It seems that at every Pinot tasting I attend, Kosta Browne is always the first to run out of wine. We wound our way to their table before the public tasting crowd filtered in and greedily two tastings each of their superb 2007 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the vineyard-designated 2007 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir. Let’s just say that I do not intend ever to be denied again!
We sauntered along the row of artisanal cheesemakers, fortifying ourselves with some much-needed sustenance before reaching the back section of tables and the multi-latitudinal offering of Expression. Like Siduri/Novy (whom I’d wished would be on hand), Expression operates in both California and Oregon; this blurring of boundaries underscores the reason why Sostevinobile elected to embrace the entire West Coast as our locale. The 2007 Expression 39° Annahala, their Anderson Valley Pinot Noir figuratively seemed the more elevated of the two Pinots they had brought, though the 2006 Expression 44° Eola-Amity Hills was certainly a superb wine in its own right. Next up, Sojourn Cellars debuted their 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyards, one of the most notable wines of the afternoon. At their neighboring table, the aptly-named Small Vines, a boutique Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producer out of Sebastopol, brought their striking 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast MK Vineyard and an appealing 2007 Small Vines Pinot Noir Russian River.
I’ve known Andy Peay (like myself, as well as my vexatious tasting companion, a fellow Dartmouth alum) for quite a number of years; I can always count on him to bring a little something outside of his announced pourings, especially at these single varietal affairs. A sip of his 2007 Peay Vineyards Estate Chardonnay provided a welcome palliative to the mounting heat, and it was a treat to preview his 2007 La Bruma Estate Syrah. And, of course, befitting this event, his 2007 Sea Scallop Estate Pinot Noir did nothing to disappoint. Another longtime acquaintance, journeyman winemaker David Vergari brought a wide selection from his own label, including a couple of side-by-side comparisons. His extraordinary 2007 Pinot Noir Marin County offered an amazing contrast to the previous vintage of the same, while his well-aged 2003 Pinot Noir Van der Kamp Vineyard displayed tantalizing hints of where the 2006 bottling would be headed.

Speaking of tantalizing, San Rafael newcomer Claypool Cellars turned more than a few heads with their uplifting costumes, as well as their inaugural Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, the 2007 Purple Pachyderm. Also debuting at this event was Healdsburg’s Gracianna Vineyards, with an exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Bagiacalupi Vineyard. Formerly known as Green Truck, the rechristened Road 31 Wine Co. shared a few last bottles of their sold-out 2007 Pinot Noir Napa Valley. The newish Pillow Road, sister winery to Ladera, translated their well-established virtuosity to this Pinot-only venture with a remarkably smooth 2007 Pillow Road Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.

Another recent single-varietal foray, Joelle Wine Company, offered a trio of vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs, including the 2007 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir and an enchanting 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noirgrown organically in the Santa Rita Hills. George Levkoff’s eponymous George Wine Co. has bottled nothing but Pinot since 2003, their array of single-vineyard wines labeled by their respective vintage. 2007 produced the Vintage 5 Pinot Noir Ceremonial Vineyard, quite the pleasing effort from this solo endeavor.

Former Benziger winemaker displayed his most efforts under his twin Ooh and Ahh labels. The 2006 Ahh Brickhill Vineyard had considerable merit, while the 2004 Ooh Bien Nacido clearly stood out as his most significant bottling this afternoon, a wine meant to be enjoyed over candlelight dinner, the means for which were generously furnished by his chandelière wife, Krassimira. Another Benziger offshoot, Signaterra represents their fusion of the forces of Earth, Man, and Nature to create distinctly sustainable wines. Their trio of vineyard-designate wines poured here included the 2007 Pinot Noir Bella Luna, the 2007 Pinot Noir San Remo and their standout, the 2007 Pinot Noir Giusti.
Nearby, Ketcham Estate is closely allied with Kosta Browne, sharing the same winemaker. Here his efforts shone brightly in the 2007 Ketcham Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley but utterly glistened with the 2007 Pinot Noir Ketcham Vineyard. Glistening may have been the visual effect the web designers for Cloud Rest hoped to achieve; instead, the bloat of this infuriatingly slow multimedia presentation brought my Safari browser to a crashing halt. However, I have nothing but praise for their winemaking pyrotechnics, both with the 2004 Cloud Rest Pinot Noir and the superb 2005 Cloud Rest Pinot Noir.
I hope that other wine bars will see Sostevinobile as a comrade-in-arms, not a competitor; a number of these have introduced me to wines that were pour at Pinot on the River. I’ve had the occasion to try several of Sea Smoke’s wines at on of the clubby Monday night Meet the Winemaker tastings at California Wine Merchant, but was quite disappointed they had exhausted their supply of 2007 Pinot Noir Southing by the time I made it to their table. Similarly, I’ve tossed back a few glasses of Roessler’s 2006 Pinot Noir La Encantada at San Francisco’s District; both their 2007 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown and 2007 Pinot Noir Widdoes Vineyard held up with equal aplomb.
I can’t remember a major tasting I’ve recently attended where Santa Cruz’ Sarah’s Vineyard wasn’t a presence; nonetheless, I was more than happy to revisit their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains and the utterly splendid 2007 Pinot Nor Santa Clara Valley. A few tables over, I made the acquaintance of brothers Aaron and Jesse Inman, nephews of Pinot legend August Briggs and founders of Romililly, a 350 case operation that featured the highly commendable 2008 Romililly Pinot Noir Russian River Valley. Not much further down the row of tables, I followed David Vergari’s suggestion and visited with Pali Wine Co., a Lompoc undertaking. Like Elevation, Pali sources single vineyard fruit from major Pinot Noir AVA from the Central Coast to Oregon. Their 2007 vintage alone included 13 different Pinot bottlings, represented this afternoon solely by the 2007 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard, a Santa Rita Hills selection. The next vintage was pared down considerably, with two of the four Pinots produced present: the commendable 2008 Pinot Noir Huntington from Santa Barbara and, de rigueur, the 2008 Pinot Noir Bluffs from Russian River Valley. Much to my relief, a chilled 2008 Pali Chardonnay offered a respite from both the heat and the orthodoxy of the Pinot focus.
Don’t get me wrong—I am not disparaging of Pinot Noir; eventually, however, any tasting with but a single varietal makes making distinctions a considerable challenge. Happily, the best counter to this monolithicism was the ever-popular Fort Ross, cooling things down with both their 2006 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard and their 2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir. Their 2006 Pinotage Fort Ross Vineyard easily matched the numerous versions of this varietal I had sampled at a recent South African wine tasting, while their true Pinot, the 2006 Pinot Noir: Symposium easily rated among the top ten wines of the afternoon.
A sparkling wine, like a Blanc de Noir from Rodney Strong’s onetime affiliate, Piper Sonoma, or Marimar Torres’ Gloria Ferrer, would have been both welcome and appropriate at this stage, but, alas, it was not to be. Still, her namesake Marimar Estate managed to keep this temperate with their organically-farmed 2006 Pinot Noir Don Miguel Vineyard and its maternal corollary, the 2006 Pinot Noir Doña Margarita Vineyard. In 1999, sparkling wine producer Domaine Chandon found they had an excess of Pinot Meunier and bottled it as a single varietal; we were so impressed with this bottling, we bought a case just for Thanksgiving dinner. Tasting the 2007 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier at this festival proved more than nostalgic.
While on the subject of nostalgia, this afternoon afforded me the chance to taste C. Donatiello, a rebranding of the former Belvedere Winery where I did my first bottling in 1990. The head of Bill Hambrecht’s restructured wine operations, Chris Donatiello held forth at his table with his 2006 C. Donatiello Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the more distinctive 2007 Pinot Noir Maddie’s Vineyard. Just down the row, Cécile Lemerle-Derbès offered her 2006 Derbès Pinot Noir Russian River, while Sebastopol’s DuNah showcased both the 2006 DuNah Estate Pinot Noir and the 2006 Dunah Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard.
In addition to its lineup of seven different Pinot Noirs, De La Montanya Estate produces a dizzying array of varietals from Primitivo and Zinfandel to Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. I was content to limit myself to their 2007 Pinot Noir Tina’s Vineyard and the formidable 2007 De La Montanya Pinot Noir reserve. At the other end of the spectrum, I delighted in sampling the 2007 Desmond Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, a single production of only 80 cases.
A couple of Pinot Noir superstars came through like—well, Pinot Noir superstars. Hank Skewis showed off a quartet from his Skewis portfolio, ranging from Anderson Valley’s 2007 Pinot Noir Corby Vineyard and Russian River’s 2007 Pinot Noir Lingenfelder Vineyard to the 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve and the wondrous 2006 Pinot Noir Salzgeber-Chan Vineyard. Likewise, Gary Farrell’s renowned dedication to Russian River fruit was exemplified by his 2006 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and his 2007 Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard.
K & L Wine Merchants are exclusive wine purveyors renowned throughout the Bay Area. Fittingly, I concluded the 2009 Pinot on the River Festival with my own K & L’s. First up was a revisit with Kokomo Wines, a recent acquaintance from the Dry Creek Festival, and their just-released 2007 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard. Landmark Vineyards followed with their highly-rated 2007 Pinot Noir Grand Detour and the 2007 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills.
Winding down, I felt self-proclaimed vigneron Eric Ladd comported himself nicely with the 2007 Ladd Cellars Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and his 2007 Pinot Noir Cuvée Abigail, a tribute to his wife. Named in homage to Roman goddess of gaiety, Laetitia Vineyards paired its 2006 Pinot Noir La Colline with its distinctive 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine. I sprinted to the finish with four wines from Littorai,: their 2008 Les Larmes Pinot Noir, the 2007 Pinot Noir Mays Canyon, and the 2007 Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard, along with a final 2007 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard.
A good time was had by all—but one, apparently. My erstwhile date felt compelled to unleash a torrent of invectives that, if not vituperative, felt quite officious. Importuned to drive back to San Francisco at a speed that could well have earned us an evening’s accommodation in the beneath the Marin Civic Center, I nonetheless managed to maintain both my equanimity and the posted legal limits. Call it the perceived entitlement of a latter generation or a fundamental difference in our personal ambitions; nonetheless, I can fathom no cause for her discontent nor did I receive any semblance of an explanation for such. I am still waiting…