4th of JULY:
CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIRS
- 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
They own 3 vineyard sites, two in the Russian River Valley and one on the Sonoma
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 2013 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: 2013 BENOVIA Russian River Valley PINOT
- BLACK KITE
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
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
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 $47.99
CALERA WINE COMPANY
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 Romanée-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.
a new vintage of a blend of single vineyards called "Mount Harlan Cuvée"
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...2010. Nice,
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
2010 CALERA "Jensen" Pinot Noir Sold Out
2011 CALERA "Ryan" PINOT NOIR $49.99
- DAVID BRUCE WINERY
- 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 2013 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
- Currently available: 2013 DAVID BRUCE Russian River
NOIR (List $40) SALE $35.99
The tasting room at the David Bruce Winery...
first met Tom Dehlinger in the mid-1970s at his little winery in
Sebastopol. His father, a dentist (I think), had helped him get
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: 2012 DEHLINGER Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR
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.
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.
The Anderson Valley is a cool climate region and Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer
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
They have done a good job in growing this brand and its production without
damaging the quality of the wines.
The 2012 Goldeneye comes from five vineyard sites. The grapes were
picked over an extended time frame, the first fruit coming in the second
week of September and the last parcels arriving the third week of
Sixteen months aging in small French oak, with about half the barrels being
brand new...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: 2012 GOLDENEYE PINOT NOIR SALE
- 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.
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 (2013 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: 2013 EASKOOT Marin County PINOT NOIR $38.99
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
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
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 2013, 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
Currently in stock: 2013 EN ROUTE Russian River "Les Pommiers"
PINOT NOIR Sale $57.99
- 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
The 2013 "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: 2013 Etude Carneros Pinot Noir
Picking Bins at Etude
- 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,
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.
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 2013 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. Some of the wine then goes
into barrel (only 10% new oak) and it spends about 9 months in
wood. They kept 25% out of oak and solely in stainless steel to
keep the fruit focus of the wine.
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: 2013
FAILLA Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR $35.99
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
We have a couple of Pinot Noir wines and an interesting Pinot Noir-based
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.
Also in the line-up is a proprietary red called Perennial. This
also has some Pinot Meunier, Syrah and a drop of Chardonnay. We did
not find the most recent offering to be of interest...
Currently in stock: 2013 FLOWERS Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR
2006 FLOWERS "Cuvee Andreen-Gale"
PINOT NOIR Sold Out
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
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
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
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...2013 vintage. Probably best in its
- Currently in stock: 2013 FEL Anderson Valley PINOT NOIR
- 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 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir comes from maybe ten vineyards,
with Rochioli and Hallberg being the most famed. It's a nicely drinkable,
medium-bodied Pinot. 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
- Currently in stock: 2013 GARY FARRELL Russian River Valley PINOT
NOIR Sale $38.99 (750ml)
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
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 2013, "The Estate Vineyards" 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: 2013 WALTER HANSEL Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR
- 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 Côte 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
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
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
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 $34.99
Hitching Post is a famous steak place in the Central Coast. The Ostini
family actually has two restaurants, one near Santa Maria and the other near
If you're visiting Santa Barbara wine country, you ought to be sure to have
dinner at the Buellton place.
Ostini and partner Gray Hartley have been making good Pinot Noirs for quite
a number of years. Frank used to have the wine made at the Qupe/Au Bon
Climat facility, but has moved operations to Central Coast Wine Services in
Santa Maria where he's got a bit more autonomy to do what needs doing when
it needs doing. This has helped improve wine quality.
They make a number of vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs and these are usually
pretty nice. They are not the Syrah-like, tannic monsters so many
people seem to make in the Central Coast.
It's been a few years since we've had a Hitching Post Pinot in the
store...recently tasted bottlings have been nice, but there's a lot of
competition these days....
The restaurant, by the way, gets a nice bit of notoriety in the new film
called "Sideways." It features a couple of guys spending
some days in wine country before one of them gets married. Along the
way they meet a couple of Santa Barbara women, one of whom is a waitress
at...The Hitching Post! Her character, Maya, is played by actress Virginia
- That's Ms. Madsen with her hand on the derriere of chef/winemaker/bon
vivant Frank Ostini.
- Currently in stock: 2005 Hitching Post Santa Barbara "Highliner"
Pinot Noir Sold Out
Mahoney has been affiliated with a wine shop in San Francisco back in the
late 1960s and early 1970s.
Connoisseur Wine Imports was a shop not far from today's Giant's baseball
stadium in an underground warehouse on Bryant Street (if I recall
They had Bordeaux and a lot of Burgundy back in those days and
Mahoney was especially interested in Pinot Noir. With some financial help
from the owner of Connoisseur Wine Imports (Balfour Gibson), Mahoney purchased a
property in Napa's Carneros region and built a smallish winery
They planted numerous clones of Pinot Noir and right from the start, the
Carneros Creek Winery was well-regarded for its wine.
So the Mahoney's sold their winery and intended to retire, but
having so much passion for wine, they could not stand being
"retired." And so they started another winery, this time called
And so today we've been featuring the Mahoney label of Pinot Noir as it's made
by an old master and it sells for an old-fashioned price. This is a
marvelous combination appreciated by Weimax customers.
We currently have their 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir. It's not
made with the idea of impressing those critics who rate wines on a 100 Point
Scale. It's made for people who like to spend a normal amount of cash for
an honest bottle of wine (and who pop the cork, pour it in a glass and enjoy
It's nicely mature and ready to drink. We like the red fruit notes of
Pinot Noir and there's a hint of wood here as well. The wine is smooth and
medium-bodied...and it's below 14% alcohol (old time winemaker, old time
Currently in stock: 2010 MAHONEY Carneros PINOT
NOIR Sold Out
- I would
not have thought we'd be posting a piece about Pinot Noir under the
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
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
The 2012 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!
Only 210 cases made.
Currently in stock: NEYERS 2012 Sonoma Coast
"Roberts Road" PINOT NOIR Sold Out
- 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 2012 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.
- The vineyard blocks at Bien Nacido for this wine are said to be of the old
Louis Martini clone of Pinot Noir...it makes for a terrific wine, with
fragrances reminiscent of some ethereal, fragrant French Burgundies.
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
- Currently available:
2012 Santa Maria Valley "Bien Nacido" PINOT NOIR Sold Out
- Rob Lloyd got a degree in Economics way-back-when, but ventured to the
Napa Valley and worked as a Cellar Rat before taking on responsibilities as
a Tasting Room staffer.
This led him to UC Davis and a Master's Degree in enology which took him to
the La Crema winery and then Rombauer.
Along the way he began to set plans in motion for his own brand and here we
- The Lloyd brand has been a very popular Chardonnay at Weimax and we were
curious to taste his Pinot Noir.
It's from the Santa Rita Hills (a legal entanglement with the Santa Rita
winery of Chile precludes Santa Rita from being written on the label...thus,
they all say "Sta. Rita Hills" to satisfy that mess) in Santa
We like the dark cherry fruit of the Pinot Noir and there's a nicely woodsy,
toasty oak component here, too. Though the alcohol level, we now see,
is rather elevated, this did not strike us as being nearly as high-octane as
claimed on its label (15%!).
We like this wine for immediate enjoyment and do not view it as a candidate
for cellaring more than a year or two.
Currently in stock: 2013 LLOYD "Santa Rita Hills" PINOT
MOUNT EDEN VINEYARD
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
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.
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
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 2010 vintage produced less than two tons per acre and the fruit was
picked around the third week of September, so it had a nice, long 'hang
time.' This was matured in small French oak for close to a year with
half 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. Sold out, though.
Currently in stock is a lovely Estate Pinot Noir from the 2012
Vintage. The wine is showing beautifully now, but Patterson says
this reminds him of his 1991, which aged handsomely.
We like the red berry fruit of this wine and there's a nice bit of French
oak here, as well. It's certainly approachable now and a few years in
bottle should add a measure of complexity.
Currently in stock: 2012 MOUNT EDEN Santa Cruz Mountains PINOT
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
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 2011 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
- 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: 2011 NAUGHTY BOY Potter Valley PINOT NOIR $22.99
- 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
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 Peter's 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 François
Frères 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
- Currently in stock: 2013 PAPAPIETRO PERRY Sonoma PINOT
NOIR "Peters Vineyard" SALE $49.99
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
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
The 2012 La Neblina is presently in stock. Very
Currently in stock: 2012 RADIO COTEAU "La
Neblina" PINOT NOIR $52.99
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
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 SALE
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
The fruit for his Pinot Noir comes from the Devil's Gulch Ranch, a property
near the Point Reyes "peninsula" in Western Marin
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
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 $44.99
More Pinot Noirs