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CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIRS

 

 

BENOVIA
We've had this winery on our radar for a number of years now, as they've been making good Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

The winery is owned by a married couple who made their fortune in the health insurance industry.  Joe Anderson ran Schaller Anderson (now under the Aetna insurance umbrella), while his wife Mary Dewane was with the Office of Medicaid Managed Care.

The winery is named after their fathers, Ben Dewane and Novian Anderson.  

They own 3 vineyard sites, two in the Russian River Valley and one on the Sonoma Coast.

Pinot Noir is their claim to fame, though they also cultivate a bit of Chardonnay and Zinfandel.

The winemaker is a Sonoma-born fellow named Mike Sullivan, who made wine for the Hartford Court brand for a number of vintages.

Grapes from the Cohn Vineyard used to be sold to Kosta Browne and Williams Selyem.   The Martaella Vineyard, (named after their mothers) is a Russian River Valley vineyard once owned by the DeLoach family.   Tilton Hill is a cool Sonoma Coast site near the town of Freestone.

We're fans of their 2016 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  It's a blend of four different vineyard sites (all three of their estate properties, plus some fruit from the nearby Martinelli vineyard).  There are at least seven clones of Pinot Noir in the mix, several of those being propagated from sources such as Mount Eden, Calera, Joseph Swan and Chalone.

The wine displays a beautiful red fruit character, hinting at raspberry and cherry and it's got a wonderfully woodsy frame of French oak.  This can be opened immediately and enjoyed tonight, if you like, though it should do well with a few more years of bottle aging.

Currently in stock:   2016 BENOVIA Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR $39.99

 

 
 
 
 
BLACK KITE
I'm sure some people will be confused by the name Black Kite associated with a logo depicting a bird instead of some fabric-covered frame flown in the wind.

But there's a majestic bird called a Black Shouldered Kite and you might see it if you're in the wilds of Mendocino County.

The enterprise was founded by Donald and Maureen Green.  He's a telecom engineer and ornithologist who purchased a 40 acre parcel in Mendocino near the Navarro river.  Since buying the place, they're replanted some vines and extended the vineyard.  Now their two daughters and a grandson are involved in this family business.  They hired Jeff Gaffner as their winemaker.  Jeff has his own brand, Saxon Brown, as well as consulting for a number of wineries.


We've skipped but one vintage of Black Kite Pinot since its inception...the smoky, smoke-tainted 2008 vintage.  

The 2013 comes from their Anderson Valley vineyard called Kite's Rest.  It's typically matured for close to a year in small French oak, with about one-third of the cooperage being brand new.  In a year when the fruit is nicely ripe, the wood tends to be in the background and showing just a touch of oak on the nose and palate.  

We typically have enjoyed Kite's Rest as a young wine...might have to stash a bottle, or two, of this to see how it develops.  We suspect it can do well with a couple of years in the bottle.

Currently in stock:  2013 BLACK KITE Anderson Valley  "Kite's Rest" PINOT NOIR  Sold Out

 
 
 

CALERA  WINE COMPANY
wpe61.jpg (5027 bytes)Calera is the work of the flamboyant Josh Jensen and it specializes in Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay and Viognier.  The climate is rather warm in San Benito County, hotter than Burgundy, for example.  Jensen chose this site as the soil is similar to Burgundian soils.  They make a Central Coast bottling of Pinot Noir from purchased fruit and they offer several single, estate vineyards. 

We have found the wines to often display vegetal notes, rather than the ripe cherry or strawberry character of many Pinot Noir wines.   In any case, the wines reflect some of the flamboyant personality of proprietor Josh Jensen.  Whether or not they're to your taste, we cannot predict.  


Calera's wine has achieved "cult status" in Japan.  It seems a Japanese "adult comic book" (called a 'manga') features a crime-fighting sommelier.   In one episode, the hero is given a couple of wines to taste and has concluded that it must be a Domaine de la RomanÚe-Conti wine, only to remember at the last second that there is only one other wine of similar character and quality:  Calera's "Jensen Vineyard" Pinot Noir from California!  Propelled by this little boost, Calera sells thousands of cases of wine annually in Japan!   I even noticed a Japanese web site, while spelling the Calera name correctly in their editorial text, had the web page named "Carela."  I don't make up this stuff.







We have found some of the Calera Pinots to often have a vegetal tone and some vintages combine that with a somewhat raisined note.  

But a new vintage of a blend of single vineyards called "Mount Harlan CuvÚe" was a wonderfully balanced bottle of Pinot Noir.  It's got classic elements of tea, cola, cherry and plum with a hint of underbrush...quite drinkable now and it may last a few years.

We currently have their Jensen Vineyard Pinot in stock...2012


There's also a relatively new vineyard called Ryan (Jim Ryan is the Calera vineyard manager)...vines planted in 1998 and 2001...rhubarb and hints of a woodsy note.  

Currently available:
2012 CALERA "Jensen" Pinot Noir $94.99
2011 CALERA "Ryan" PINOT NOIR $49.99



That's an old lime-kiln, "Calera" in Spanish




CASTALIA WINES

Terry Bering has been in charge of the cellar at the Russian River Valley winery called Rochioli.  You'll see wines from Rochioli here and there and the name appears on numerous Pinot Noirs, as they sell a bit of fruit to other winemakers.

Bering is privileged to purchase a small quantity and he makes his own wine called Castalia.   

The wines have routinely been good...the 2015 is a cut above normal, showing beautiful fruit and a nice sweet wood spice from the oak.

Currently in stock:  2015 CASTALIA Rochioli Vineyard PINOT NOIR  $59.99

 

 

 


 

 

DAVID BRUCE WINERY
wpe8.jpg (4974 bytes)This small Santa Cruz Mountains winery was established in the mid-1960s by Dr. David Bruce, a former dermatologist.  I have not asked his position regarding "skin contact."  He offered wines which were certainly unusual....we remember Black Muscat, Grenache, high alcohol Zinfandels and other assorted curious bottlings.  We can't pinpoint the change precisely, but a decade, or so, ago this winery started turning out well-made wines as a matter of course.  Before that, they often had the most curious bottlings of really amazingly curious wines.  Maybe hiring a winemaker was a good idea!

Today they offer a range of Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and a Petite Syrah.  They've even been offering a Chalone Vineyard bottling of Pinot Noir, made from vineyards from which the cuttings came from David Bruce's Santa Cruz estate vines.
 


The wines are perfectly okay and each seems to be "fortified" with something other than Pinot Noir.  We suspect the wines are blended with something such as Petite Sirah, given their color and impact on the palate.

We currently have a 2015  Russian River Valley Pinot Noir in stock.  This is a nice, medium-bodied Pinot with hints of cherries and cranberries.  There's a touch of wood, but more brown spice notes than overt oak.  It's smooth enough to drink now and should remain in good condition for several years.

Currently available: 2015 DAVID BRUCE Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR (List $43) SALE  $35.99


The tasting room at the David Bruce Winery...

 


DEHLINGER

We first met Tom Dehlinger in the mid-1970s at his little winery in Sebastopol.  His father, a dentist (I think), had helped him get established.  

The vineyard consisted of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.  I can't recall if the Zinfandels Tom made were home-grown or made from purchased fruit.

Dehlinger always made good wines.  Friends in Italy were incensed when they learned Cabernet Sauvignon was no longer the focus at Dehlinger.  Tom, I suspect, was a fan of the wines of his legendary neighbor, an old codger named Joe Swan.  

Over the years, the Dehlinger wines slowly caught on.  But Tom is such a low key fellow, he never was one for the "show business" of the wine industry.  I know he preferred hanging out at home to attending "Meet The Geek" events.  As a result, it took a long time to become an "overnight success."  

Today the wines are sold, predominantly, to those on his mailing list.  We're fortunate to have a few bottles of Dehlinger Pinot and we remain fans of the wines.

I have found Dehlinger's Pinots to actually have a solid "center" and be capable of aging handsomely.  The wines are not made with the palates of various wine writers in mind and I don't think Dehlinger is bothered by the critics.  
 


In mid-2007 I brought a 12 year old bottle of Dehlinger Pinot to dinner with a friend who makes good wines in Alsace.  This winemaker is a fan of Pinot Noir and I think he was surprised (shocked, more likely) to find the wine still needed a bit of time to soften and blossom.  

A friend has a nice cellar with older vintages of Dehlinger Pinots...and the wines are thoroughly delicious whether young or with ten years of aging...this is an elite producer in California.

Anyway, we like the Pinots from this estate.  They're really good examples of Russian River Valley fruit and they are made without the idea of providing instant gratification.  Chardonnay, by the way, is also made with great care here...

Currently in stock:  2014 DEHLINGER Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR  "Altamont"  $61.99


Tom Dehlinger on the tractor.


Carmen Dehlinger, one of Tom's daughters, in the vineyard.

 


Carmen and her Pop, Tom Dehlinger

(If you made wines of Dehlinger Quality, you'd be smiling, too!)


Their vineyards have two soil types, so they make two different Pinots, both being in the category of "delicious."


Carmen with the world famous German wine aficionado, Claus Bonifer.

 

 





 

DONUM ESTATE

The story of this smallish winery begins with Anne Moller-Racke who emigrated to the US from her native Germany with her husband Marcus, whose family owned a wine company called Racke.

The Racke company had purchased Sonoma's Buena Vista in the late 1970s and the couple had come to California to run the enterprise.

Things didn't go some smoothly on a variety of levels and Buena Vista was sold a couple of times.  These days it's owned by Jean Charles Boisset whose main interest seems to be marketing, with winemaking taking a backseat.

Anne Moller-Racke was able to retain a portion of the vineyards she had worked while involved in the Buena Vista project.  From there she launched the Donum label.  These days she's still involved though the brand is owned by some Danish friends who are both wine and art lovers.

They like to compare the project to a Burgundian "grand cru" caliber endeavor.  We appreciate their lofty goals but can't honestly compare the Donum wines to upper echelon Burgundy.  Yet.

The wines routinely get good critical acclaim, so we confess to not quite being on the same wavelength.  
 

We tasted through a number of Donum wines and selected the 2015 Carneros bottling.   It's a three clone blend if you consider their "Donum clone" to be a particular type of Pinot Noir.  It's a clone from Roederer Estate we're told.  
The wine is matured in French oak from several cooperages.  
It's a medium-bodied Pinot with mild cherry notes...


Currently in stock:  2015 DONUM "Carneros" PINOT NOIR  Sale $65.99

 

 

 

 
 
DUCKHORN'S "GOLDENEYE"
Our friends Paul and Sandy Obester started this estate in Mendocino's Anderson Valley, having decided to invest in vineyard property.  They had their original winery, of course, on Highway 92 along the road to Half Moon Bay here in San Mateo County.
They worked tirelessly making Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc and, eventually, they thought about Pinot Noir.  Mendocino's Anderson Valley was an ideal spot at the time for a couple of reasons:  land cost less than it did in Napa and Sonoma.  And the Anderson Valley is a cooler climate region, so it allowed for longer hang-time for Pinot Noir.


The Anderson Valley is a cool climate region and Pinot Noir, Riesling and GewŘrztraminer seem to be ideal for this location.  One of the Obester's two sons was wine-interested and graduated from U.C. Davis with a degree in enology.  But he soon realized winemaking is "work" and this soured him for assuming the reigns of one of their two cellars.

Eventually they sold the property to the Duckhorns, Merlot specialists from St. Helena.  Dan Duckhorn realized the Anderson Valley provides a potentially wonderful microclimate for Pinot Noir.  The original site is called "Confluence" and they've added several other small vineyards to the roster.  

They have done a good job in growing this brand and its production without damaging the quality of the wines.

The 2015 Goldeneye comes from vineyards near the winery where it's viewed as a "warm" site with fruit from what locals call the "deep end" of Anderson Valley closer to the Pacific which is a cooler area.  As the growing season was an early one, they started picking fruit around the middle of August and finished the harvest by the middle of September.  

Sixteen months aging in small French oak, with about 55% of the barrels being brand new...they use wood from three forests.  This gives a nice wood spice tone to the wine and its very charming presently.  As the acidity is not especially high, we view this as a wine for immediate drinking and short term cellaring.   It's a medium+ bodied Pinot and we like the dark fruit notes here.


Currently in stock: 2015 GOLDENEYE PINOT NOIR SALE $49.99

 




 
 

EASKOOT
Ellen suggests they've named this Marin County Pinot Noir "Easkoot" because it sounds like someone saying "It's Good!"
 
But that's not quite right.  Easkoot is a family name and it's the name of the first land surveyor in Marin County.  Alfred Derby Easkoot was his name and he came from the East Coast in 1851.  He settled in the area of what is now Bolinas and Stinson Beach where he built a home for he and Mrs. Easkoot, though in them thar days it was known as Willows Camp.

The Easkoot brand, though, is the work of some wine lovers who've invested with a local couple who import wines from Europe.  The locals are Marinites, he being born in Austria and she being "local."

The grapes are grown by a fellow named Mark Pasternak...you might not know his name, but foodies will certainly have seen the "Devil's Gulch" name on many a local restaurant menu...you might find their products (pork, quail, rabbit or lamb) on your dinner table.

So this group, having a European sensibility towards wine, looks to make a Pinot Noir of modest alcohol and something capable of pairing well with food, without it being a "cocktail" or requiring one of the drinks umbrellas in the glass.
 
The grapes are transported to a custom crush facility in Santa Rosa about an hour from the vineyard.  

Winemaker Matt Duffy did a fine job in producing this wine.  It's not a dark-colored, big, robust red, fortified with some other grape variety to give color and body.  It's a pure expression of Pinot Noir and despite its youth (2015 vintage!), the wine is showing handsomely at present.

It ought to continue to grow a bit and develop in bottle, but don't feel guilty about opening one tonight!
It's a bright, cherryish Pinot...not much in the way of oak, either...they allow the grapes to take center stage.  Charming in its youth...

I brought a bottle to dinner with a visiting sommelier from Italy and this was a big hit.  The somm appreciated having, finally, a California wine of good acidity and not so high alcohol.  Plus, they said "It tastes really good."
 
Currently in stock: 2015 EASKOOT Marin County PINOT NOIR $38.99



 

 

 

EN ROUTE

En Route is a relatively obscure label made by the family that founded Napa's Far Niente winery.

They now have three vineyard sites in Sonoma's Russian River Valley appellation and have been making En Route Pinot for a number of years.  

While Far Niente started out as a "good" quality wine with a steep price tag, En Route started out at close to top-of-the-market pricing but with "Damned Good" quality.
(I think today's Far Niente wines come close to justifying their lofty prices and the wines are actually rather impressive.)

Much of the fruit comes from vineyards in the "Green Valley" area of the Russian River.

The winery fact sheet will put you to sleep unless you're seriously geeky and keeping track of the precise clones of Pinot Noir as well as the type of root-stock.  

Does knowing those bits of minutiae lead to greater appreciation or enjoyment of this wine?  (I routinely nod off when marketing people or winemakers start telling me they're using "clone 115, 667 and 777" like I'm going to remember this or be impressed.)

I'm more impressed by the quality and complexity of the wine, however.

The 2016, like most of the previous vintages, is a medium-full Pinot.  It's got deep garnet color in the glass.  The fragrances are of dark red fruits:  cherries, raspberry and maybe a hint of plums.  There's a really polished oak element to this wine.  You can tell the wine saw a fair bit of new wood, but it's really nicely woven into the wine.  I'd peg this as medium+ bodied.  It's quite drinkable now and it ought to continue to develop for another three to five years.  Superior to the 2015, for sure.


Currently in stock:  2016 EN ROUTE Russian River "Les Pommiers" PINOT NOIR  Sale $54.99

 

 


ETUDE WINES
The Etude label was started by winemaker Tony Soter after he left his full-time gig at Chappellet in 1981 and began his consulting business.

Soter, who had been associated Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Stonegate and Spring Mountain, took over for Joe Cafaro as winemaker at Chappellet and then launched his little Etude project in 1982.  He has since moved to Oregon, having had his fingerprints on wines such as Araujo, Spottswoode, Dalla Valle, Viader and Niebaum Coppola.  

The Etude wines, predominantly Pinot Noir, have long been popular and somewhat of a benchmark for Napa Pinot.  Of course, this is rather ironic, since most of Soter's winemaking experiences have been with Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties.  Yet he really had a marvelous 'touch' with Pinot Noir, routinely make good wine.  

Having grown tired of all the demands of the consulting business and financing his own place, Soter sold the Etude brand to the Beringer Blass folks.  This week the brand is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, the same folks who own Penfolds in Australia and BV, Beringer and Sterling in Napa.  They own numerous other brands, some making good wines and some cranking out plonk.

Though production numbers have escalated since the early days, Etude's winemaking team now have access to some remarkable fruit sources thanks to the Treasury ownership.  

Etude's Pinot Noirs tend to be from vineyards situated in the northwest part of the Carneros region...this locale has different terroir than most of Carneros.  The vineyards are more volcanic and well-drained, rocky soils. 

The 2014 "Grace Benoist Ranch" is the current release.  It's a medium-bodied Pinot, a bit more "plump" than many from Carneros.  You'll find dark cherry notes and maybe a hint of a plummy note along with some sweet oak and brown spice tones.  It's lovely now....Charming...it's what Pinot Noir is all about.  If I were selecting a wine to illustrate in the glass precisely what to look for in Pinot Noirs, this would be a good choice.
It even has a bit of aging potential, too!


Currently in stock:  2014 Etude Carneros Pinot Noir SALE $41.99


Picking Bins at Etude





FAILLA
 
Winemaker Ehren Jordan found the initials E & J were taken by some other vintner and the Jordan name was being used by some little Alexander Valley enterprise, so he and Mrs. Jordan chose to use her family name, Failla.

 

 

 

The Original label...which got them sued by Jordan...
the winery, not the country.
Ehren Jordan, as a kid, had a job in a wine shop and from there was further exposed to wine with a restaurant job.  He eventually came to California and was affiliated with the Joseph Phelps winery before heading to France's Rhone Valley.  

When he came back to California, Jordan's old friend from Phelps, Bruce Neyers, enlisted Ehren to be winemaker at Neyers Vineyards.  One thing led to another and he was soon assisting winemaker Helen Turley at her little cellar...she introduced him to her brother (are you following this?), Larry Turley and soon Jordan was the winemaker for Dr. Turley.  

What's especially amazing is Jordan's ability to create such a broad spectrum of wine styles.

With Turley, the wines are big, "gobs of fruit bombs."  With Neyers, you'll find a tremendous range (Chardonnay, Cabernet, Syrahs and other assorted Rhone varietals along with Zinfandel).  And then we have the Failla wines.
 


We've tasted numerous vintages of Failla and if you had no clue about Turley and Failla, you couldn't possibly imagine the various, diverse bottlings actually have the same fingerprints on them.

And that's to Ehren Jordan's credit.

We have the 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot in stock.  It's from an impressive roster of vineyards:  Hirsch, Floodgate, Keefer Ranch, Sonoma Stage, Whistler and Failla's own estate vineyard.  Jordan does a five day cold soak, followed by a short, vigorous fermentation using indigenous yeasts.Twenty-percent whole clusters help retain intense cherry-like fruit of the Pinot Noir.
Some of the wine then goes into barrel (only 15% new oak) and it spends about 9 months in wood. 
The result is a bright, fruity Pinot Noir with lots of cherry notes.  It's dry, fairly smooth and ready to drink.  We like this served at cool cellar temp...roasted chicken, grilled lamb that's mildly seasoned, duck, pork, etc.
 

Currently in stock:  2016 FAILLA Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR  $38.99

 

 



 


FLOWERS
Joan and Walt Flowers started this place, buying an amazing piece of Sonoma Coast property as a retreat from their east coast nursery business.  Now they've sold an interest in their winery enterprise to Augustin Huneeus, the Napa vintner who ran Franciscan for some years and who, today, owns the Quintessa property and a South American brand called Veramonte.

The couple had been kept busy, years ago,  with their Pennsylvania-based enterprise, but they had a hankerin' to see about growing grapes.  After searching, they bought a chunk of land near Cazadero. 

They've planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in rather rugged terrain.  One feature of their vineyards is they're above the fog line.  The sun shines for much of the day, but temperatures tend to be cooler than neighboring vineyards that are less than a mile farther inland!   As a result, Flowers' wines tend to be the product of grapes which have had a lot of "hang time."

We have a couple of Pinot Noir wines presently.

Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is a blend of various vineyards, including some from their Sea View Ridge Vineyard. The wine matured exclusively in French oak, about one-sixth of the cooperage being new barrels (less than they used to have).  This is a supple, yet nicely structured wine.  It's got modest acidity, so I suspect it will cellar for a few years if you don't drink it tonight.




Currently in stock:  2016 FLOWERS Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR  Sale $46.99
 FLOWERS "Camp Meeting Ridge" PINOT NOIR Sale $89.99
 
 
 

 


FEL

The FEL brand is a new one and it comes from Napa's Cliff Lede winery.  Mr. Lede purchased the Breggo Cellars winery (and brand name) of Mendocino and he also bought the Savoy Vineyard in the Anderson Valley.

Maybe you've seen these names previously?

The Breggo label, then, has been abandoned in favor of the FEL label.  The initials for FEL are those of Cliff Lede's mother, Florence Elsie Lede.

The FEL label features Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and, happily, Pinot Noir.  

They make some single vineyard Pinot Noirs which we can special order for you, if you like.  Those go for $60-$70 a bottle.

But if we're spending a buck on a $40 Pinot Noir, this one is a good choice. 

The juice was cold-soaked with the grape skins for a brief spell prior to the fermentation.  The wine also spent a short time on the skins following the fermentation, which was done using indigenous yeasts.  

Some wine people won't buy wines which have been fermented using cultured yeasts.  We've heard wine sales people moan about some buyers for stores or restaurants taking this position and sometimes missing out on some really good wines.  We suggest to the reps that when asked they should pour the wine and say "You're the expert...taste it and you tell me!"

The FEL Pinot is then matured for a bit more than a year in small French oak barrels.  Slightly more than one-third of the cooperage is brand new.  We like the contribution the oak makes to this wine...not enough to overwhelm the fruit, but enough so you can sniff the wood spice notes.

The fruit comes through with classic Pinot tones...cherry, a touch of pomegranate and maybe a bit of a cola note.  Coke, not Pepsi.  ;)

It's very nice now...2016 vintage.  Probably best in its youth.  

 
Currently in stock:  2016 FEL Anderson Valley PINOT NOIR  $39.99


 

 


 
 
 

GARY FARRELL
Gary Farrell was a political science back in the 1970s at Sonoma State University.  With the Russian River Valley in the vicinity, Farrell got sidetracked thanks to fellows such as Tom Dehlinger, Davis Bynum and Robert Stemmler.  After a number of years of being a cellar rat, Gary took an official job as winemaker for the Davis Bynum winery.  In the ensuing years, he also launched his own label, trading winemaking work for grapes.

His Pinot Noirs were much sought-after and the wines were of good quality.  He made Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, but Pinot was the highlight of the range of Gary Farrell wines.
 
 
 


In the early 2000s, Farrell sold his name and winery to the Allied Domecq company.  Quality remained good, though.  The Allied-Domecq firm morphed into Fortune Brands.  The winery was under the roof of "Beam Wine Estates" (as in Jim Beam).  They recently sold off a number of their wineries, including Gary Farrell, to Constellation (the humungous firm that purchased Robert Mondavi's little winery a while ago).  These days it's in the hands of an investment company called Vincraft.  

The 2015 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir comes from eight vineyards, with Rochioli and Hallberg being the most famed.  It's a nicely drinkable, medium-bodied Pinot.  Ten months in oak...40% new barrels contribute a mildly wood spice to the wine.   It doesn't really need any further cellaring and we suspect it's probably at its best now and over the next year, or so.  It has the typical strawberry and cherry notes of Russian River Pinot Noir.  There's a light touch of wood to the wine.  
 
Currently in stock:  2015 GARY FARRELL Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR  Sale $41.99 (750ml)  



 
 
 


WALTER HANSEL
The Hansel name if well-known to Sonoma County residents, as the family owns a car dealership.  Walter Hansel invested some of his profits in vineyard land and his son Stephen was seriously bitten by the wine 'bug."

Vineyards are near Sebastopol.  The first wines were made in 1996 and these were truly "garage" wines.  We found early vintages to demonstrate Hansel had good vineyards, but the winemaking was a bit too "natural" and the wines had too much sediment early on.  

Over the past few years, there's been a good learning curve and the wines today are usually pretty damned good.  

They tend to displays lots of red fruit notes.  I find hints of pomegranate and red cherry to the wines.  They're easy to identify as Pinot Noir and show Russian River or Sonoma County terroir as well.

We have a delicious 2015, "Cahill Lane" bottling.  It's teeming with cherry fruit notes and an undertone of vanilla from the oak.  The fruit dominates, however.  There's a beautifully "sweet" aspect to this wine...I even thought it might have some residual sugar, but in running a sugar test, it came up 'negative.' 
Serving the wine a bit cool (or lightly chilled in hot weather) offsets this sweet element and it's a delight!

We suspect this is best in its youth...how can one resist?  

Currently in stock:  2015 WALTER HANSEL Russian River Valley "Cahill Lane"  PINOT NOIR  $38.99



HARRINGTON

Bryan Harrington was bitten by the wine bug at the turn of the century, or shortly before.  We knew there was something immediately appealing about this guy when we learned he was such a maniac, he had friends planting Pinot Noir in their backyards in San Francisco!  One friend was living in Bernal Heights and the other in the Potrero Hill neighborhood.  Who knew that one day there might be a C˘te de Bernal or a Potrero-Vergelesses?

Our late colleague Bob Gorman, who loved good Pinot Noir, was always enthralled by Harrington's wines.  And for good reason:  the wines displayed classic Pinot fruit, good balance and a sense of the much ballyhooed term terroir.  

Over the years Harrington realized it's not only difficult to make good Pinot Noir, it's damned difficult to sell the wine.  There are so relatively few people who actually understand this is a variety that doesn't make dark-colored red wine.  It doesn't have a ton of tannin.  It's not the most robust red wine on the planet.  

These are all factors in gaining high numerical scores.   And scores sell wine.  
Maybe not in our little wine shop, but wholesale reps and most shops need the crutch of some guru's numerical score to be able to sell wine.
Tasting it and recognizing its features and maybe its flaws is not a skill possessed by these people.

We recall Harrington being somewhat distraught when he made the mistake of sending some samples to The Wine Spectator for their "expert" critique.  Oh my...I think his wine received a score of 72 Points!  Most wines seem to get scores of 85-92 simply for being well behaved and not jumping out of the glass!  
Our colleague, the late Mr. Gorman, patted Bryan on the back and congratulated him, saying something like "What do you expect of those rubes?  The wines they often prefer are wines we do not like because they're un-Pinot~like."  

And we tasted that vintage (now maybe 6 or 8 years ago) and were dumb-founded as to how such a wine could be rated so unfairly.  Well, either unfairly or incompetently.  

Having beaten his head against the wall with Pinot Noir and realizing it's a "tough sell," Harrington has embraced all sorts of other grape varieties.  If you love Pinot Noir, you probably enjoy Nebbiolo wines and Harrington is a big fan.  He even has been making Nebbiolo and discovering what a joy that is to try to sell.
Lagrein is another Harrington offering.  (We actually found these to be enjoyable wines in tasting through his portfolio in 2016.)

But we also found his 2014 Pinot Noir from a tiny vineyard near Bonny Doon in the Santa Cruz Mountains to be rather enchanting.  This patch is a mere two miles from the Pacific Ocean and, remarkably, it's on limestone and the vineyard faces south.  The morning fog tempers ripening a bit and the cool ocean breezes further challenge the vines to produce ripe grapes.  

We found this to be a wonderful expression of Pinot Noir.  There's a mildly floral quality on the nose along with cherry and pomegranate tones.  The oak is well-integrated with the fruit.  There's a fine-ness to the wine thanks to a lovely balance of fruit and acidity.  You can certainly enjoy this wine tonight and we think it will continue to develop with a few more years in the bottle.  Maybe more than just a few.

Currently in stock:  2014 HARRINGTON Santa Cruz Mountains "Coast Grade" PINOT NOIR Sold Out

 

 



KANZLER

Steve Kanzler has a most interesting history, having been in the US Navy back in the early 1970s.  He was a nuclear reactor operator on the USS Enterprise, a ship with which we were vaguely familiar.  Our family used to host some servicemen from the USS Enterprise back in the 1960s when the ship would dock in San Francisco.
We recall these navy men being smartly dressed and oh-so-polite and thankful for a good, home-cooked meal.
No wine was served if we recall correctly.

Well, back to Mr. Kanzler...once he left the service, he signed up for a gig at the Lawrence Livermore Lab but not to work with nuclear energy.  He was researching solar energy!

By the mid-1980s he switched gears again, working for some little company in Seattle called Microsoft.

Tiring of the weather, though, he and Mrs. Kanzler returned to Northern California and they bought an old apple orchard in Sebastopol.  

A neighbor and a local farming expert nudged him to pulling out the apple trees (the neighbor told him "You can grow apples anywhere...but premium wine grapes are different and this is a good place for those."  

So, when he wasn't busy launching a high-tech, internet syat-up, he was planting a vineyard.   Bearing fruit by the early 2000s, they sold grapes to Landmark, Garry Farrell, Flowers, Kosta Browne and a few others.  Encouraged by the wines made from their own fruit, Kanzler made a small amount of wine just for kicks.  He wasn't thrilled initially, but found the wine had actually developed handsomely with some time in the bottle.  

That helped launch a more serious winemaking adventure.

These days the Kanzler's son Alex is the winemaker.  

Lucky kid.  He has good fruit to work with right from the start.

The 2015 Russian River Pinot Noir is a terrific wine.  It's a blend of five different vineyard sites, though 60% of the blend if their home vineyard in Sebastopol.

They employ a pre-fermentation cold soak and about 5% of the fruit is uncrushed, whole clusters.  They employ indigenous yeasts and some tanks are inoculated with a cultured yeast strain.  They're fans of punching down the cap and say they avoid pump-overs.  They keep free-run and press wines separated at the outset, blending the wines as they see fit.  All French oak cooperage with half the barrels being brand new.  

The resulting wine is nicely showy.  We like the red fruit notes of the Pinot Noir and there's an intriguing, delightful spice element that we think likely comes from the oak barrels.  It's a medium-bodied Pinot Noir...berryish with some sweet wood tones.
The 2015 is quite drinkable now...maybe it will cellar well, but we'll probably enjoy it in its youth.

.

Currently in stock:  KANZLER 2015 Russian River PINOT NOIR  $55.99

 

 

 

 

 


NEYERS

I would not have thought we'd be posting a piece about Pinot Noir under the Neyers' banner!

We've known Bruce Neyers since the first days of the Joseph Phelps winery in the Napa Valley.  Bruce had gone to work for Mister Phelps when we met him, as he was the sales manager for that fledgling outfit.

Years later, Bruce left Phelps and went to work for Uncle Kermit at Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.  He's the National Sales Manager for Kermit and this gives him great exposure to all sorts of interesting wines.  I have to believe that job has influenced, in a very positive manner, the wines made under the Neyers label.

We're know the Neyers wines for Chardonnays, Cabernets, Zinfandels and, especially, Syrah.  (They make a dynamite Syrah called Cuvee d'Honneur, one of California's top versions of that grape and worthy of comparison with good Rhone reds!)

And now we know Neyers for Pinot Noir.

I'd seen they had some Pinot listed in the distributor's catalogue, so I ordered a bottle to include in a blind-tasting.  I did not know what to expect, so I was a bit stunned when I had the Neyers as my top wine, ahead of some fairly pricey bottles.

The 2016 Roberts Road Pinot comes from a small parcel of vines owned by the Sangiacomo family.  It's within the Sonoma Coast appellation, west of Jack London State Park and east of Cotati and Rohnert Park.  Bruce explained recently that the vineyard from which he gets these grapes is less than an acre and it is planted with a Joe Swan clone of Pinot Noir.

I recall someone explaining about how this clone came to be:  Swan would rip out any vines that produced what he thought to be too many grapes.  As a result, Swan's vineyard was devoted exclusively to shy-bearing Pinot Noir vines.  The Sangiacomo family got budwood from Swan's vineyard instead of planting a particular numbered clone of Pinot.  
"I'm encouraging them to plant a bit more, but since the vines produce such a small crop, they're not enthusiastic for this."

But that may be the secret of the wine.  And Swan didn't think much of the vines available from nurseries back in the 1960s.  He ended up propagating the vineyard from a small Oakville vineyard run by UC Davis and they had gotten cuttings from the old Martin Ray vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Ray's vines were from cuttings brought from France by Paul Masson.  And Masson was a friend of Burgundy winemaker Louis Latour and it's thought Latour furnished the French cuttings ages ago.

Well, all of this is simply intended to say this Neyers Pinot Noir from Roberts Road is damned good and you'd do yourself proud to put a bottle on the dinner table for your guests who will praise you as a scholar, if not genius!

Less than 200 cases made.

Currently in stock:  NEYERS 2016 Sonoma Coast "Roberts Road" PINOT NOIR $41.99

 

 



THE OJAI VINEYARD
Adam Tolmach used to be in partnership with "The Mind Behind" at Au Bon Climat.  Adam sold his share of the winery to Jim Clendenen and now concentrates on his own winery in the Ventura County town of Oakview near Ojai.  His wines have been in the realm of "very good" to "excellent" and we've featured Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir since the winery's inception. 

Adam is a real fanatic when it comes to making wines.  He pays attention to the quality of the fruit people are attempting to grow,  working diligently to create the world's best wines.  Since he's been making wine for so long, I suppose he's a graybeard alongside the furry-faced "kids" who seem to catch the attention of wine geeks.  People, of course, want to be amongst the first to "discover" new wines.  

I can tell you we've tasted a lot of these "new" producers who may be enthusiastic in making and marketing their wines, but whose products are not quite to the level of quality needed to compete in this fierce market.

 Anyway, we have a really nice Pinot from the 2016 vintage...  The wine is medium-bodied and tastes like Santa Barbara Pinot Noir (which it should)...It's beautifully cherryish and there's a faint "forest floor" sort of character here, too.  


Adam, by the way, doesn't "augment" his Pinot Noirs with the addition of Syrah.  So many producers seem to beef up their Pinots with a bit of some stronger red variety...here you'll taste "Pinot Noir."

Currently available:  
2016 THE OJAI VINEYARD "Santa Barbara"  PINOT NOIR $32.99
 



 
 

 



 

MOUNT EDEN VINEYARD
Mount Eden Vineyard remains a gem of an estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation.  It's situated about 2000 feet above sea level within the zip code of Saratoga.

While so many people have the idea that California's wine history centers on the Napa Valley, in fact, there are many fascinating stories from other regions.  The Santa Cruz Mountains has a colorful history and names such as Paul Masson, Charles LeFranc and Martin Ray are early pioneers in this area.

Martin Ray was a real character.  He had been a stock-broker before turning to real estate.  As a budding wine geek, he purchased a winery from the  Paul Masson, a fellow of Burgundian heritage.  Masson had imported vine cuttings from his old buddy, Louis Latour in Burgundy.  Ray eventually sold the Paul Masson winery and brand to the whiskey company, the House of Seagram back in 1942.

Ray, though, had other extensive vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, cultivating about a hundred acres.  He enlisted the help of investors and, apparently, this was his undoing.  I gather he was not an especially easy-going character and he felt his were the only wines in California worth premium prices.  He apparently charged serious money for his wines and many were, in fact, highly regarded by experts back in the day.

Ray's conglomerate fell apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s and in 1972 "Mount Eden Vineyards" was born, splintering from the Martin Ray Winery.  Ray's step-son, Peter Martin Ray, made wine for a while, but eventually the brand was sold to Courtney Benham and the wines made using the Martin Ray label today are a far cry from those old time wines.

Mount Eden's winemaker was a young lady named Merry Edwards.  She made superb wines in tiny quantities starting with the 1972 vintage.  We purchased her wines back in those days and the quality was very fine.  Merry worked there until shortly before the 1978 vintage when she went to work at Matanzas Creek in Sonoma.  A fellow named Bill Anderson took over and in 1981, Jeffrey Patterson assumed the reins.

Patterson continues to make some exceptional wines at Mount Eden (not to be confused with Napa's "Villa Mt. Eden" winery).  

He cultivates about seven acres of Pinot Noir and the yield of these vines is quite low.  I believe they produce a mere one ton to a ton-and-a-half per acre.  Patterson does minimal cellar treatment on the wine, trying to guide as much character of Pinot Noir and terroir into the bottle as possible.  

The wines tend to age quite nicely, having higher acidity than most California Pinots.   We opened a 1990 and a 1994 at a dinner in the Fall of 2008.  The 1990 was a delightfully Burgundian-styled Pinot--loads of cherry fruit and a touch of forest floor...the 1994 was a more ripe, big wine.  It was difficult to imagine the two were related, but that illustrates how much the character of a wine can change based upon the growing season.

They recently purchased a neighbor's vineyard, a property about a mile away from Mount Eden's home base.  Unfortunately, there's not a direct road and you have to go out to Pierce Road and then along Highway 9 to access the new vineyard site. 

They call it Domaine Eden and the label, as you can see here, looks like a knock off of the Mount Eden Vineyard label.  And the wine tastes like a relative of the Mount Eden Pinot!



The 2014 vintage of Mount Eden Pinot produced less than one ton per acre and the fruit was picked around the start of August until nearly mid-month.  It didn't get the usual hang-time of a normal vintage, but with the tiny yield this vintage, it still manages to have good concentration.  This was matured in small French oak for about a year with 75% of the barrels being new.  It's showing well now and is a nicely cherryish Pinot with a touch of pomegranate...nice acidity, too, so it should age well.  



Currently in stock:  2014 MOUNT EDEN Santa Cruz Mountains PINOT NOIR  $59.99

 

 

 

NAUGHTY BOY
The Naughty Boy label is from Emjay & Jim Scott, a couple of old hippies who escaped The City for the sunnier climes of Mendocino's Potter Valley.

Here we've been selling this nice little "bad boy" for more than a year now and, despite the funny name for the wine, it's become one of our most popular Pinot Noirs.  Good fruit, organically-farmed, by the way, and a sensible price are proving to be a winning combination.
 
The wine comes from the Scott's 6 acre vineyard in the Potter Valley, northeast of Ukiah.  The valley floor is at an elevation of roughly 1000 feet.  Temperatures can be rather warm during the day, with a major drop in the thermometer at night.  This is ideal for Pinot Noir.

The labels always depict one of the canines...the early vintage we had showed their Boxer, "Little Ricky."  We don't know what the name of the current pooch is...

Naughty Boy Pinot is vinified under the watchful eye of winemaker Greg Graziano.  

Greg has been making wine in Mendocino and environs for decades (since we were both young fellers...now we're both old coots!).  He prefers "old school" wines to big, flashy, fruit bomb renditions and so you will find the 2013 Naughty Boy smells and tastes like un-fussed-with Pinot Noir.  No blending in Syrah or Petite Sirah to give the wine darker color.  No adding unfermented juice or concentrate to make a wine with a bit of residual sugar.  No oaking the wine to a fare-thee-well.  Just good, "bare bones" Pinot Noir from an interesting terroir.
 
We like this served at cool cellar temp.  It may age nicely, but we suspect most bottles are taken home and opened immediately rather than stashed in a wine rack to become dusty and old.
 
Currently in stock:  2013 NAUGHTY BOY Potter Valley PINOT NOIR Sold Out
 




             

PAPAPIETRO PERRY
Here's a new winery started by a couple of home winemakers who made wines in their garages in San Francisco, as well as "volunteering" (this is a polite term for "cellar slaves") during the harvest at a little winery called Williams-Selyem in Sonoma.  

Both Ben Papapietro and Bruce Perry worked as slaves anyway, working for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency (SF Chronicle).  That's where they met winemaker Burt Williams, whom was a pressman for the newspaper.  "He's a real pioneer." proclaimed Ben Papapietro of the now-retired Williams.

Ben Papapietro told us they want to remain rather small in the quantity of production so they don't lose the quality.  "We've seen some producers get too big and that's when it's difficult to maintain the quality of the wines."

Currently in stock is a Pinot Noir from the Peters Vineyard a few miles west of Sebastopol.  It's been their main vineyard-designated wine and has a good track record. 

Papapietro matures the wine for nearly a year in barrels from the famous Franšois FrŔres cooperage.  Sixty-percent of the barrels are brand new, the other 40% are one or two year old wood.  This contributes the wonderfully sweet, vanillin note to the cherry-like Pinot fruit.  Minimal cellar treatment is employed, so the wine is not fined and not filtered.  

It's a delight right now, in its youth.  Limited production.  
Currently in stock:  2014 PAPAPIETRO PERRY Sonoma PINOT NOIR "Peters Vineyard"  SALE $52.99

 
 
 
 
 
 



 
 

RADIO COTEAU

Winemaker Eric Sussman hails from New York state and he got bitten by the wine bug while studying agriculture at Cornell University.

He then came to the West Coast and found himself working for a small producer in Washington State.  From there he traveled to the Old World and took a job working in Bordeaux.  After that, he ventured to Burgundy and studied winemaking at Comte Armand in Pommard and Jacques Prieur in Meursault.  

Returning to the US, Eric was ensconced at Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz before enrolling at The University of Dehlinger in Sebastopol.  Working with Professor Tom Dehlinger, Sussman really got his bearings and after four years of "schooling," he launched his Radio Coteau project in 2002.

The term Radio Coteau is some sort of French expression Sussman heard while working in Burgundy and it refers to the notion of "word of mouth."  Those French!

His wines found an early audience as they were really good, beautifully balanced and oh-so-drinkable!  And he continues making that sort of wine today.  

We often have his La Neblina Pinot Noir in the shop.  It's a Sonoma Coast wine, based on fruit grown by the Hallberg Vineyard.  It's a five clone mix of Pinots and sees a nice amount of new French oak which adds complexity to the snappy red cherry and pomegranate-like fruit.  It makes for a nice comparison to Dehlinger's Pinots, too...you can see a bit of resemblance.  

The 2013 La Neblina is presently in stock.   Very nice.  

Currently in stock:  2013 RADIO COTEAU "La Neblina" PINOT NOIR  $52.99

 







 

TALLEY VINEYARDS
The Talley's have been growing terrific produce in California's Central Coast since the late 1940s.  The family took note of new vineyards being planted in nearby Santa Barbara and Edna Valley regions and decided to test the waters with some of their own vineyards.  The results were, to put it mildly, rather positive and now things are really out of hand!

We first met Brian Talley, if memory serves, in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  It's been quite a few years that we've had his Chardonnay featured in the shop.  Some of our Santa Barbara area pals buy fruit from the Talley's, one remarking "You know, it's one of the few vineyards I get fruit from that I don't have to tell them how to grow the grapes so I can make a high quality wine."  

Pinot Noirs from this estate can be quite good.  The Talley's seem to prefer showcasing the "fruit" character of their Pinot Noir, rather than the artistry of the barrel builder.  As a result you'll find more the "beet root" and black cherry than wood, though they do use a bit of new French oak.  I find the wood tends to be more in the background with Talley's Pinot Noirs.  

The 2013 Estate is a blend of fruit from their Rosemary's and Rincon vineyards with a few drops of Las Ventanas Vineyard fruit.  This vintage is superb...a really stellar example of Talley Pinot Noir!  It's drinkable now and it ought to cellar well for another three to six years, maybe longer.  Remarkably intense fruit and the wine is beautifully balanced.

We sometimes have their single vineyard wines.   A few bottles periodically make it to the shop...Rosemary's Pinot is available presently...
 
Currently in stock: TALLEY 2013 Estate PINOT NOIR Sold Out






SEAN THACKREY

The scholarly winemaker Sean Thackrey has been making his famous "Orion," a wine thought to be Syrah, for many years.  He's recently bottled a Pinot Noir which comes from Marin County fruit.

Thackrey is a legendary winemaker, practicing his artistry in Marin County's little village of Bolinas.  Sean's wines are the work of someone who makes wine by feel and by taste, not so much by science or technology.  He studied art history in college and opened a gallery in San Francisco in the 1980s.  Needless to say, he's not your average "Joe Winemaker."

The fruit for his Pinot Noir comes from the Devil's Gulch Ranch, a property near the Point Reyes "peninsula" in Western Marin County.  

While this is not a wine one might mistake for a top appellation of French Burgundy, it is a wine which has the fingerprints of the winemaker.  Those familiar with Thackrey's other wines will probably notice his imprint on this.


The 2007 is a wine which displays more character of the winemaker, perhaps, than of the Pinot Noir grape. Still, it's quite a nice red wine, even if it's not especially reminiscent of a red Burgundy.

Limited availability, of course.

Currently in stock: 
2007 THACKREY "Andromeda" PINOT NOIR Sold Out
 
 

 
 



 




 
 

 

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