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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 2018 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: 2018 BENOVIA Russian River Valley PINOT
NOIR SALE $39.99
- Bench is a label we've had from the Enos Vineyards in Sonoma.
Jason Enos runs this operation and they seem to focus on well-priced wines
of good quality.
The winery is located in Sebastopol and they've had a medium-bodied,
mildly cherryish Pinot Noir from the 2018 vintage. It's a Sonoma
Coast appellation wine. Nothing fancy, frankly, but it does
smell and taste like Pinot Noir which gives consumers their money's worth
at its $20 price.
We're told it sees French oak and there is a hint of wood here. The
tannin level is low, making this immediately drinkable.
Currently in stock: 2018 BENCH Sonoma Coast PINOT
NOIR Sale $19.99
- 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 2016 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: 2016 BLACK KITE Anderson Valley
"Kite's Rest" PINOT NOIR $39.99
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 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.
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
2012 CALERA "Jensen" Pinot Noir $94.99
2011 CALERA "Ryan" PINOT NOIR $49.99
That's an old lime-kiln, "Calera" in Spanish
- 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 2017 is a cut above normal,
showing beautiful fruit and a nice sweet wood spice from the oak.
Currently in stock: 2017 CASTALIA Rochioli Vineyard
PINOT NOIR $59.99
- 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 2017 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: 2017 DAVID BRUCE Russian River
NOIR (List $50) 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: 2017 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.
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
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
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
They have done a good job in growing this brand and its production without
damaging the quality of the wines.
The 2017 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.
The harvest began in early September and ran through early October, a bit
later (and more normal) than the preceding vintage.
Sixteen months aging in small French oak, with about 60% 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: 2017 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 (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
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 2018, 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. The
wine sees about 30% brand new wood.
can tell the wine saw a modest amount 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: 2018 EN ROUTE Russian River "Les Pommiers"
PINOT NOIR Sale $54.99
- Most customers can't seem to recall precisely the name "Enkidu,"
but they do routinely return looking for more bottles of the "E"
Enkidu is a name from Mesopotamian mythology, a sort of sidekick to a
character called Gilgamesh. Go look this up, if you like. But
if you're looking for a good bottle of Pinot Noir which doesn't cost a
fortune, here's a good candidate.
The winery was founded by Philip Staehle who got his enological start,
we're told, at the Carmenet winery when it was part of the Chalone Wine
Group. He was mentored by the late Dick Graff (of Chalone winery
The 2018 "E" Pinot Noir carries the Sonoma County appellation
and it's a small production of something like 400 cases. Staehle
likes to add some whole clusters to the fermentation tank and he's a fan
of a pre-fermentation cold soak and then extended skin contact following
the fermentation. The wine goes into seasoned French oak barrels, so
wood is not particularly noticeable here. The wine does show good
Sonoma Pinot Noir fruit...some cherries and a touch of
It's quite immediately enjoyable as well as being affordable.
Currently in stock: ENKIDU 2018 "E"
Sonoma County PINOT NOIR Sale $21.99
- 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 2017 "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: 2017 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 2017 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
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: 2017
FAILLA Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR Sold Out Presently
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 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: 2018 FLOWERS Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR
FLOWERS "Camp Meeting Ridge"
PINOT NOIR Sale $89.99
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...2016 vintage. Probably best in its
- Currently in stock: 2016 FEL Anderson Valley PINOT NOIR Sold
- 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 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir comes from seven vineyards,
with Rochioli and Hallberg being the most famed. It's a nicely drinkable,
medium-bodied Pinot. Ten months in oak...35% 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
- Currently in stock: 2017 GARY FARRELL Russian River Valley PINOT
NOIR Sale $44.99 (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 2017 in stock.
It's teeming with cherry fruit notes and an undertone of vanilla from the
oak. The fruit dominates, however. There's a beautiful sweet
fruit character to this wine with some dark cherry notes...
We suspect this is best in
its youth...how can one resist?
Currently in stock: 2017 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 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
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.)
He's resumed battling it out with Pinot Noir and found a nice Central
Coast site where the fruit is not too expensive and yet of good quality.
The wine is a delightful Pinot Noir...light, bright cherry-like fruit and
though it's wood-aged, you'll be hard-pressed to find oak in the
wine. The grape takes center stage.
It's a 2018 and yet delicious immediately and it might go well in the
cellar for a couple of years, but it's not a long-term keeper (maybe we
will be fooled by this wine?).
It's attractively priced, too.
Currently in stock: 2018 HARRINGTON Central
Coast PINOT NOIR Sold Out
HITCHING POST (HARTLEY OSTINI)
- For many people in the environs of Santa Barbara County, the Hitching
Post was long known as a steakhouse which was located in Casmalia near the
Vandenberg Air Force Base. Now there's a second dining spot, that
one located in Buellton.
Owned for years by the Ostini Family, a winery came into being back in the
1980s when Frank Ostini teamed with his buddy Gray Hartley to make a
little bit of wine.
Things really took off for them when the Hitching Post restaurant was
featured in the movie Sideways.
- Actress Virginia Madsen with non-actor Frank Ostini
The winery has since grown thanks to all the publicity from the
movie and we have periodically had some Hitching Post Pinot Noir in the shop.
Currently we have their 2018 Hometown bottling. It's an entry-level Pinot
Noir and this vintage it carries a Central Coast appellation as we suspect they
purchased some wine vinified outside their hometown area of Santa Barbara.
It's a simple, good quality, light Pinot Noir which is well-priced and
represents good value.
Currently in stock: HITCHING POST 2018
"Central Coast" PINOT NOIR $21.99
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
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 2018 Russian River Pinot Noir is a terrific wine. It's a blend of four
different vineyard sites, though 65% of the blend if their home vineyard in
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 just 13% of the barrels being brand new (previous vintages saw a higher
quantity of new wood).
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 2018 is quite drinkable now...maybe it will cellar well, but we'll probably
enjoy it in its youth.
Currently in stock: KANZLER 2018 Russian River
PINOT NOIR $59.99
- We've had a long history with Francis Mahoney and his vineyards and
wines. He worked at a little San Francisco wine shop called
Connoisseur Wine Imports when, in the early 1970s he partnered with store
owner Balfour Gibson and attorney Art Formichelli to establish the
Carneros Creek winery.
He studied various clones of Pinot Noir and partnered with UC Davis to
research Pinot Noir. Eventually he sold the Carneros Creek wine
brand (Michael Mondavi bought it and we've lost track of the brand.
Apparently so has Mr. Mondavi as it's no longer in his Folio Wine Partners
portfolio.), but retained the winemaking facility and extensive acreage in
Mahoney handed the winemaking reigns to Ken Foster and the Pinot Noir
remains good quality and it's, once again, sensibly-priced. They had
signed up with some marketing company a few years ago and this caused an
increase in pricing, so we stopped carrying the wine.
They've taken back the marketing themselves and so we're back onboard with
The 2017 vintage is presently in stock. It comes from two vineyard
sites, one on the Napa side of Carneros and the other from the Sonoma
There's classic Pinot fruit and flavor here, with the grape taking center
stage rather than oak. It's drinkable in its youth, so you don't
have to wait to open a bottle. And it's well-priced.
$28 at the winery. We offer it for $19.99.
Currently in stock: MAHONEY 2017 Carneros PINOT
NOIR Sale $19.99
- 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. It's
not their usual "Santa Barbara County" bottling. This comes
from the Kick On Ranch vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley.
This is a little region where we tasted some astonishingly good Chardonnay
and Pinot Noir wines back in the 1970s.
Kick On Vineyard was a cattle grazing property back in the day but in 1991 a
fellow planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir there. In 2007 that property
changed hands and the new owner added acreage and planted Riesling and GrŘner
It's a site that really challenges the vines to thrive. There are
strong winds which can chill the region, for one thing. But for
another, as Adam says "It really messes with pollination."
The soils are sandy and well-drained. Crop levels tend to be fairly
meager and they typically produce maybe eight to ten barrels of this.
What it lacks in body and color, it makes up for with tremendous aromatic
intensity. The nose immediately recalls fragrances one associates with
good French Burgundy. The grapes were de-stemmed for the most
part. The wine saw about 20% new French oak and this balance is
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:
2016 THE OJAI VINEYARD "Kick On" PINOT NOIR SALE $41.99
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 2015 vintage of Mount Eden Pinot produced all of a ton-and-a-half 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 50% 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: 2015 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 2015 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: 2015 NAUGHTY BOY Potter Valley PINOT NOIR
- 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 a handful of vineyard sites.
Papapietro matures the wine for nearly a year in barrels from the famous Franšois
FrŔres cooperage. About one-third of the barrels are brand new giving
the wine a lovely sweet fragrance. 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: 2016 PAPAPIETRO PERRY Russian River PINOT
NOIR Sale $55.99
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 2015 La Neblina is presently in stock. Very
Currently in stock: 2015 RADIO COTEAU "La
Neblina" PINOT NOIR $54.99
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 Sold
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