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: What does he want?
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.
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.
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.
Vigneron: He for whom we wait.
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…
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 Noir, grown 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…