The world of Californian Pinot Noir is really changing. There is a whole, now generation of young winemaking phenoms which have stepped forward into the lime light & are being embraced by the wine media, sommeliers & wine professionals around the country. Here are few AND a few of the Old Timers, which you may not have heard of before.
This is a relatively new wine group, which is just now being discovered & highly lauded by the major wine press. Their current focus is on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & a smidgeon of Gamay Noir…..& their vineyard sources is quite comprehensive & includes sites in Oregon, Sonoma Coast, Santa Barbara & Burgundy. Their star studded winemaking team includes Sashi Moorman for California & French winemakers Isabelle Meunier, Christophe Vial & Dominique Lafon for Oregon & Burgundy.
To simply their many wine labels, they have recently colored coded the labels…BLUE for “regional wines”…..Silver for “Village” wines…..Gold for what they think is equivalent to “Premier Cru”….& White for what they think is equivalent to Grand Cru…..whether the wine is from any of the 4 general areas where they source/grow grapes.
It may seem confusing to most at first, but as you get used to their labelling color scheme, you will see what’s in the bottle is worth checking out on all levels & price points.
Wind Gap is the wine project of winemaker Pax Mahle. Pax made quite the meteoric rise to stardom with his dramatic, hedonistic, monumental red Rhone varietal wines under his Pax Wine Cellars label. When he parted a few years back, he went on to found Wind Gap, a wine project seemingly more focused on Chardonnay & Pinot Noir (in addition to other grape varieties) which were done in a much more refined, elegant, LOWER alocohol/extract style. (Pax has since gotten the Pax Wine Cellars label back, but that’s a whole ‘nother chapter in his saga). This particular 2009 Pinot Noir is a blend of 2 Sonoma Coast vineyards–Gap’s Crown & Griffin’s Lair, which is roughly 12.5 alcohol.
Over the past few years, business enterpeneur, Peter Knez purchased 2 side by side hillside vineyards (Cerise & Demuth) on the eastern hills of Anderson Valley above Booneville. Where the Anderson Valley is getting quite alot of recent hype for its vast potential for producing top notch Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, Knez instantly became a real player with the acquisition of these 2 highly revered & proven vineyards, along with his hiring of winemaking phenom Anthony Filiberti (of Anthill Farms) to run his operation. It is a wine project to watch.
Brothers Jim & Bob Varner oversee the Spring Ridge Vineyard located in the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA (actually located high above Stanford University’s golf course). Starting in 1980, they have planted 3 parcels to Chardonnay (Home Block, Bee Block & Ampitheater Block)…& 3 parcels to Pinot Noir (Hidden Block, Picnic Block & Upper Picnic Block). Currently 4 wines are labeled Varner (3 Chardonnays & 1 Pinot Noir)….& 4 wines (3 Pinot Noirs & 1 Chardonnay) for the vineyard’s owner Neely. each of these wines are getting crazy kinds of ratings & accolades.
Samsara is the wine project for Chad Melville…….dedicated to small batches of Pinor Noir & Syrah grown in some very interesting vineyards down in Santa Barbara. Chad’s wines are masculine & remind me of a thoroughbred, though very provocative, seamless, sopshisticated & layered. Since Chad works the vineyard for his family’s Melville winery, I think this is his way of showcasing his vision of wine from vineyard to winemaking.
Winemaker/owner Thomas Brown is probably best known for his winemaking of Napa Valley top echelon Cabernet Sauvignon, such as Schrader, Maybach, Casa Piena & Outpost, just to name a few. Interestingly his own label, Rivers Marie, would be, at least intially, focused on Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It wasn’t that long ago, that Thomas & his wife purchased the iconic, much heralded Summa vineyard out of the true Sonoma Coast, which now forms the base for his Pinots. In a recent side by side tasting alongside some of the Pinots in this blog, the Rivers Marie Pinots have much more viscosity/thickness, which stood out among their peers, along with their rich, lovely, charming nose & mouthfeel.
There is no doubt, Jason Drew is crafting some of the most lovely, delicious, seductively textured Pinots out of California today. This particular bottling hails from Burt Williams’ (THE Williams of the original Williams & Selyem) Morning Dew vineyard up in the Anderson Valley. This is a really good place to start if you had not have had one of Jason’s wines!!!!!
We first met this trio of young winemaking bucks at a Russian River Pinot Forum several years ago. Their Pinots REALLY stood out amongst at this star studded gathering of Russian River/Sonoma Coast/Anderson Valley Pinot Noir makers. The wines are lovely & well textured with a real delicious-ness. We now look back & feel so fortunate to having found them before all of the high accolades & cult-like following which has since developed for their wines.
This is a small, relatively unknown wine project featuring the immense talents of highly revered vineyard-ist, James Ontiveros & former Alban assistant winemaker Paul Wilkins. While their Native9 Pinot Noir gets all of the accolades & high praise (& deservedly so), their Alta Maria wines offer sensational quality for the dollar. This 2009 Pinot Noir, for instance, has some 39 year old N Block (Bien Nacido vineyard) Martini clone in the blend. Besides wonderful vinosity, this wine has superb character, texture & balance.
Although this is not a “new face”, Costa de Oro is grossly underrated & relatively unknown & I would be remiss therefore if I did not include them in this blog, because their wines are that good! The estate vineyard is located on a mesa 5 minutes closer to the ocean from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. The main Pinot clone here is Martini, with the early plantings having been in 1989 & thru the early 90’s. I love how elegant, suave, lovely & delicious the wines are, year in & year out. Nothing showy, nothing overstated. PLUS, the bonus? The wines really over-deliver for the dollar.
Fred Scherrer is essentially a one man show…….& makes small batches of terrific wines. His 1991 Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines” first caught my attention. It is hard to find a winemaker who produces one grape variety well, much less 5. Here is one. Fred’s Pinots deftly showcase elegance, loveliness, class & superb balance & texture. Furthermore, his wines get better with bottle age. Last Summer, for instance, we had his 1999 & 2000 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noirs & each was some of the very Pinot I have had out of California. WOW!
One of the hottest, new faces for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir out of California. While winemaker/owner Justin Willett’s wines are more about purity, transparency & elegance, I also discovered, at a recent side by side tasting of many top echelon Californian Pinot Noirs, that his wines are much more lively, ethereal & soil driven than many of his counterparts’. Furthermore, this young turk has also been able to get fruit from some of the area’s TOP sites, including Old Vine Sanford & Benedict, Bien Nacido (N Block & Q Block), which is not only quite remarkable but also says alot about how talented he is preceived to be by regional insiders. The point being this is a definitely a winemaker & winery to keep an eye on.