Cult Cali Pinot

Today’s Story: Williams Selyem

Williams Selyem is another winery with a homegrown, almost comical, origin story. During the 1970s, Burt Williams received several tons of free grapes from a grower with an abundance of fruit that would otherwise most likely go to waste. With his friend Ed Selyem, in 1979 the pair started making wine at Burt’s house over the weekends with Zinfandel grapes from the Martinelli family. Though the two set out to make wine only for themselves as a hobby, Burt and Ed fully devoted to the endeavor in 1981 and named their winery Hacienda del Rio.

They bottled their first vintage in 1982 and released it commercially in 1983, however Hacienda Winery quickly sent a cease and desist letter that resulted in removal of “Hacienda” from Burt and Ed’s labels. In 1984, Burt and Ed moved production to a nearby garage in Fulton and released the first vintage with the now famous and globally-recognized Williams Selyem label.

Williams Selyem picked up steam very quickly for a new winery in California. In 1985, they released their first vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard and in 1987 that wine won the California State Fair Sweepstakes Prize for top red wine. With its status blown open, Williams Selyem grew a cult following and they needed to create a waitlist that immediately spanned 2-3 years. In 1989, Williams Selyem relocated to the Allen Ranch facility on Westside Road and in 1992 Burt and Ed quit their day jobs to focus 100% on their wine.

Six years later, however, in 1998 Burt and Ed sold Williams Selyem to John Dyson who was a longtime customer. John and his wife Kathe still own the winery today, and throughout their proprietorship greatly expanded winemaking by adding estate vineyards along the way. In my opinion, their crowning and historic achievement came in 2009 when Wine Enthusiast Magazine rated the 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Pinot Noir 100 points. This was the first North American Pinot Noir in history to achieve a perfect score by a major wine publication, and while I do not buy wine simply based on score and have my issues with the scale, I can appreciate the historic achievement.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Ferrington Vineyard

100% Pinot Noir; 13.4% ABV

Over the years, I’ve had a number of different wines from Williams Selyem (both red and white) but this is my first from the famous Ferrington Vineyard. Today’s Pinot is pale/medium ruby in color and fairly transparent. On the nose are aromas of dried strawberry, crushed cranberry, mint, aged leather, gravelly road after a rainstorm, and a hint of oak. The palate showcases notes of ripe red raspberry, strawberry jam, cinnamon, lightly scorched earth, and slate. Medium-bodied with medium (+) bright acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long mouthwatering finish.

Price: $100, getting up there with the Kosta Browne I reviewed about two weeks back. This is an exceptional quality Pinot that I highly recommend (I love every wine I’ve had from them), though there are some great options for half the price. Pair this with salmon, chicken, pork, or charcuterie.

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