Sky-High Quality From a Regional Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Paul Hobbs Winery

Paul Hobbs Winery was founded in 1991 by Paul Hobbs with his initial release of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon from purchased fruit. I previously wrote about Paul and his winery’s history in The Steve Jobs of Wine when I reviewed the 2015 Katherine Lindsay Estate Pinot Noir, but I will recycle it here for ease…

Paul grew up in upstate New York on a working family farm and orchard, so one could say agriculture was in his blood from an early age. Though Paul helped plant, harvest, and sell crops at nearby farmers’ markets before school each morning, his first foray into wine was helping his father achieve his dream of replanting some of the apples, peaches, and nuts in their orchards to wine grapes.

When it came time for Paul to go to college, his father encouraged him to study viticulture and enology but instead Paul followed in his great-grandfather’s footsteps by studying medicine and graduated with a BS in Chemistry from Notre Dame. His father’s persistence paid off, however, and Paul moved to California after graduation and studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis where he received his Master of Science three years later. Fresh off his new degree, Paul was hired by Robert Mondavi for his advanced knowledge of oak aging and he was quickly promoted to the inaugural Opus One winemaking team. Following his experiences at Robert Mondavi and Opus One, Paul joined Simi Winery as their winemaker before beginning consulting roles for Peter Michael, Lewis Cellars, Bodegas Catena, and soon other wineries around the world.

Throughout these experiences with wine, Paul Hobbs crafted a dream of his own to produce vineyard designated wines under his own name. In 1991, Paul spoke with Larry Hyde in Napa and Richard Dinner in Sonoma about purchasing some of their fruit, and the resulting 5 tons of fruit from each vineyard culminated in the first Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc of Paul Hobbs Winery. Paul’s dreams entered their next phase in 1998, however, when he purchased his family’s first estate vineyard and established the Katherine Lindsay Estate (named after his great-grandmother) in Sebastopol, CA. The first vintage of this wine came with the 2003 harvest, and today Paul Hobbs consists of seven estate vineyards in some of the preeminent Californian regions for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paul Hobbs practices sustainable farming in caring for his vineyards and a minimalist approach in producing his wines. To sustain the integrity of his fruit and each vineyard block, Paul demands a constant flow of communication and knowledge from the vineyards to the cellar. When it comes time for harvest, all Paul Hobbs fruit is hand-harvested using hand sheers to keep the fruit in pristine condition. During the winemaking process, all wine is fermented using only native yeasts that originate in the vineyards and the cellar and the wine is aged in finely grained French oak barrels. With his finished product, Paul bottles the wine unfined and unfiltered in an effort to display the purity of the fruit and the place of each wine with elegance and transparency.

Fun fact: Paul Hobbs is widely known as “the Steve Jobs of wine” thanks to his “ardent exactitude” and immensely high demands for quality.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is opaque medium ruby in color with purple hues. Given about 45 minutes to open up, the nose showcases aromas of brooding wild blueberry, dark cherry, plum, red licorice, dry charred earth, saturated gravel, hickory smoke, cinnamon, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of tart red cherry, black raspberry, pomegranate, blackberry liquor, scorched earth, slate and clay, dried cooking herbs, and cola. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Overall pretty ripe and somewhat opulent, this will only improve with a few more years of cellaring.

Price: $60. I will say there are better “value” Pinot Noir bottlings out there, but I do think this is a great entry opportunity into the Paul Hobbs portfolio and is remarkable in terms of quality and ripeness of fruit for a regional wine.

Opulent Pinot Noir From One of California’s Most Famous Vineyards

Today’s Story: Bien Nacido Vineyards

Bien Nacido Vineyards traces its history to 1969 when brothers Bob and Steve Miller (whose family had been farming in California since 1871) acquired what they thought was an ideal plot of land to plant vineyards. Bien Nacido, as the vineyard was named, was planted by 1973 (the first vintage) and consisted of about 300 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Though the estate’s vineyards have grown dramatically over the years and now include varieties of Syrah, Merlot, Viognier, and others, it is the initial 300 acres that demonstrated the immense promise of winemaking in the Santa Maria Valley. Situated at high elevations and not far from the Pacific Ocean, Bien Nacido is one of the most famous and revered vineyards in California winemaking for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In addition to Bien Nacido Vineyards crafting estate wines, there are a number of producers each leasing their own rows or blocks and crafting wines from this historic land.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not discuss the history of the Bien Nacido land before it was planted to vineyards. In 1837, the land was actually part of one of the first Spanish land grants where two square leagues went to Tomas Olivera. Tomas named his land Rancho Tepusquet after a nearby creek, and later sold the property in 1855 to his son-in-law Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros who built a home on it. Alongside his wife, Don Juan raised horses and some livestock, planted grains, and produced small amounts of wine from grapes they planted. Though the vineyards of Bien Nacido today surround Don Juan’s home, the initial estate planted by the Miller brothers in 1969 sprung from grazing lands.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Estate Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2016 Estate Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color and mostly opaque. Given 30 minutes or so to open up in the glass, the wine showcases a nose of black cherry, black raspberry, red and purple florals, dried tobacco, forest floor, underbrush, baking spice, and pepper. Moving onto the palate, I get notes of cranberry, pomegranate, wild strawberry, leather, loamy earth, game, crushed rock, green herbs, and iron. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. 415 cases produced.

Price: $50. I think this is right around fairly priced, but on a value perspective it doesn’t blow me away. The wine offers everything I love in California Pinot Noir (lower ABV, solid depth, and Burgundian feel), but there are some less expensive options that achieve the same. Pair with herb-roasted chicken, duck breast, or turkey sausage and mild blue cheese.

Burgundian Pinot Noir From Willamette Valley

Today’s Story: Cristom Vineyards

Cristom Vineyards was founded in 1992 by Paul and Eileen Gerrie in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. I previously wrote about them when I reviewed their 2016 Estate Viognier in Textbook New World Viognier and I am excited to explore one of their single vineyard Pinot Noirs today. Cristom consists of eight estate vineyards totaling just over 100 acres, four of which are planted to Pinot Noir (Eileen, Jessie, Louise, and Marjorie) and four that are planted to Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah. Using sustainably farmed estate fruit, winemaker Steve Doerner practices minimal intervention in the cellar to produce wines that transparently showcase the terroir of each site.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2013 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir is slightly translucent pale ruby in color with hints of garnet. Given 45 minutes or so to open up, the wine blossoms with a nose of cherry, black raspberry, stemmy strawberry, cola, bacon fat, dried tobacco, forest floor, dried green herbs, and cinnamon. On the palate, I get notes of sweet plum, black cherry, licorice, worn leather, tobacco, sous bois, nutmeg, rocky mineral, and light oaky spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) and slightly chewy tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $40. I got this for an incredible deal, which makes it a fantastic value proposition for my tasting. With an average price closer to $60 or more in the marketplace, however, this falls into the category of “worth it” but not classified as a great value. Pair with herb roasted chicken, rack of lamb, or charcuterie and cheese.

One of California’s Most Famous Cult Pinot Noirs

Today’s Story: Marcassin Vineyards

Marcassin Vineyards is an incredibly small “cult” winery established by Helen Turley and her husband John Wetlaufer in 1990. Focusing entirely on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Marcassin produces around 2,500 to 3,000 cases of wine annually and a large majority goes to mailing list customers (with the waiting list said to be thousands of names long). The estate Marcassin Vineyard consists of 20 acres on the Sonoma Coast and, thanks to its growth from 10 acres over time, is now the main source of Marcassin’s fruit. With her vineyards planted very densely, Turley intentionally limits yields to produce healthier and more concentrated fruit which she then harvests on the riper side. Turley ferments her wines using only native yeasts, keeps them on the lees for 6-8 months, and ages them in 100% new oak barrels. When it is time for bottling, the wines are unfined, unfiltered, and do not see cold stabilization. The wines typically hit the market (or rather their collectors’ cellars) five years after the vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2007 Blue-Slide Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.9% ABV

The 2007 Blue-Slide Ridge Pinot is opaque pale to medium ruby in color with purple hues. This took some time to open up in the glass, but once it did the incredibly complex nose changed overtime to showcase black cherry, blueberry, black raspberry, black licorice, dried tobacco leaf, forest floor, black pepper, black olive, cinnamon, charred green herbs, and crushed rock. On the equally complex palate, the wine changed with each sip to display notes of sweet raspberry, red cherry, wild blueberry, strawberry jam, red licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, underbrush, mushroom, mild baking spice, and charred oak. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Still a lot of life left in this wine, though it is pretty well balanced already given the high ABV.

Price: $275. While this is certainly one of the best California Pinot Noirs I’ve had, I can’t say it is a good value at the price I paid. I understand the incredible rarity of this wine, but it is simply a treat that has been on my bucket list that I don’t see myself spending the money on again. If you are on the mailing list, however, that is a completely different story. Pair this with seared duck breast, roasted chicken, or rack of lamb.

Rockstar Single Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot

Today’s Story: Rivers-Marie

Rivers-Marie is a family-owned winery established in 2002 by husband and wife duo Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Welsh. Thomas is well-known throughout California winemaking thanks to his consulting practices and winemaking stints with names like Schrader, Maybach, and Outpost, however Rivers-Marie is a personal project born in Pinot Noir. Working with vineyards throughout the Sonoma Coast (especially in Occidental-Freestone), Thomas crafts Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (Calistoga, St. Helena, and Oakville) in a more restrained, terroir-driven style than can be expected from his other ventures. The Pinot Noir bottlings consist of appellation wines and a number of single vineyard offerings, all produced with native yeasts and partial whole cluster fermentation. Thomas’ Chardonnays are made in similar minimalistic fashion with whole cluster barrel fermentation, no stirring, limited sulfur additions, aging in 0-25% new French oak, and are bottled unfined and unfiltered. The Cabernets are made to walk the fine line between power and elegance, showcasing classic Napa Valley fruit but not overpowering the terroir expressions.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Silver Eagle Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2015 Silver Eagle Pinot Noir is opaque medium purple/ruby in color. This takes some time to open up in the glass, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of cherry, black raspberry, dried strawberry, forest floor, game, cola, mint, baking spice, and crushed rock. On the palate, the wine displays notes of plum, black cherry, licorice, blue florals, tobacco, charred earth, dried green herbs, and iron. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $75. Not cheap for California Pinot Noir and getting up there with some of the bigger “cult” brands, but this is very elegant and definitely worth the price. This seems to be made in a slightly more refined style than many of the opulent, “in your face” Pinots that command similar or higher prices. Pair with herb-roasted chicken, mushroom risotto, or assorted charcuterie.

Clean, Honest, and Burgundian Cali Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Ceritas Wines

Ceritas Wines is a small, family-owned winery spearheaded by husband and wife duo John and Phoebe Raytek. John and Phoebe source their fruit from trusted vintners mainly in the West Sonoma Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains, with all sites practicing sustainable or organic viticulture. John is highly involved in the vineyards they source from, and in many cases the vintners only sell fruit to Ceritas and are labeled “Monopoles.” Considering himself a winemaker of the Old World style, John believes that fruit should lead the way throughout the winemaking process and he is merely there to watch over, listen, and learn about each unique site. In the cellar, John practices minimal intervention but “flexible” winemaking, with the wines meant to showcase with honesty and transparency the terroir of each specific vineyard site.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Porter-Bass Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.3% ABV

The 2017 Porter-Bass Vineyard Pinot Noir is mostly opaque pale ruby in color with hints of purple. This took a good hour to open up in the glass, with the nose showcasing aromas of red cherry, strawberry, blueberry, rose petal, forest floor, stemmy underbrush, crushed rock, flint, and mineral. On the palate, I get notes of dusty raspberry, dried cherry, crunchy pomegranate, plum, slightly stale licorice, violet, garden herbs, and stony mineral. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Gorgeous wine and very Burgundian in style, though 3 more years in the bottle will do it wonders.

Price: $75. Though not an inexpensive Pinot Noir, this still offers strong QPR when compared to the “big boys” of California Pinot Noir and the quality is impeccable. Pair this with roasted chicken, duck breast, or charcuterie.

Beautifully Honest Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Whitcraft Winery

Whitcraft is a small, family-owned and operated winery in Santa Barbara, CA known for their traditionally made and “unadulterated” Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Established in 1985 by Chris and Kathleen (Barnato) Whitcraft, the winery started as a passion for both the craft of winemaking and the lifestyle. Chris learned from California greats including Joe Heitz, Dick Graff, and Burt Williams while simultaneously hosting a radio show about wine from 1978 to 1989. Chris and Kathleen’s son Drake joined the family winery and took over in 2007, maintaining the traditional practices of hand-harvesting, foot-pressing, no added enzymes, and native yeast fermentation. Whitcraft’s wines are pure, well-balanced, and honest representations of the fruit and terroir, often remaining low in alcohol and not seeing much added SO2. Drake hand fills and corks his wines, with production incredibly limited and often reserved for mailing list clients or restaurants. Though Chris passed away in 2014, his vision and passion live on through Drake to this day.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.49% ABV

The 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir is translucent pale ruby in color. Once this opens up, the nose displays aromas of ripe red cherry, wild raspberry, forest floor, stemmy underbrush, mint, dusty dried rock, and light baking spice. Moving to the palate, the wine showcases notes of strawberry, black cherry, cranberry, licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, white pepper, and green herbs and vegetation. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) finish. Would love to revisit this wine with a few more years of bottle age.

Price: $68. Whitcraft Pinot Noirs are some of my favorites out of California, and while they don’t have that opulence found in a lot of cult Cali Pinots I think they strike up right with some of the big dogs and therefore make a good value play. Pair with grilled duck breast, herb-roasted chicken, or goat cheese and salami.

High Quality New Zealand Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Fromm Winery

Fromm Winery was established in 1992 by Georg Fromm and winemaker Hätsch Kalberer, with the intent of producing European-styled wines of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer. The vineyards and wines are 100% organic, and Fromm believes in allowing the fruit and terroir to speak for themselves rather than being heavy-handed in the cellar. The vineyards are densely planted, they do not use any artificial chemicals, and refrain from irrigating the vineyards so the vines struggle and produce quality, terroir-driven fruit. Though Georg Fromm returned to his native Switzerland in 2008 to tend to his family winery, Fromm Winery today is under the watchful eyes of family friend and owner Pol Lenzinger, co-owner Stephan Walliser, and George Walliser.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Cuvée H Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Cuvée H Pinot Noir is pale to medium ruby in color and translucent. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, strawberry, licorice, forest floor, gravel, mixed herbs, mild baking spice, and vanilla. On the palate, the wine displays notes of plum, pomegranate, wild raspberry, strawberry licorice, lightly smoked game, loamy earth, finely crushed rock, and light oak. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) finish.

Price: $35. This wine offers great QPR, drinking with both quality and depth while coming across quite Burgundian in style. Pair with roasted chicken, Beef Wellington, or quail.

Burgundian Pinot Noir From South Africa

Today’s Story: Storm Wines

Storm Wines was founded in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley of South Africa by Hannes Storm, and his first vintage on his own was 2012. Hannes worked for 12 years in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay before discovering two small vineyards for sale and establishing his namesake winery. He produces his wines with a goal of showcasing terroir above all else, practicing careful viticulture and minimal intervention in the cellar to craft these small production wines. Hannes produces his Vrede Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vines planted in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the Ignis Pinot Noir from vines in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and the Ridge Pinot Noir from vines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. He also crafted his first Ridge Chardonnay with the 2019 vintage. Total production sits around 1,800 cases annually.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Vrede Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Vrede Pinot Noir is pale to medium ruby in color and mostly opaque. After opening up for about 30 minutes, the very Burgundian nose showcases aromas of ripe red cherry, black raspberry, boysenberry, tobacco, barnyard, forest floor, gravel, and dried green herbs. On the palate, I get notes of redcurrant, raspberry, stemmy strawberry, leather, sous bois, black tea, smoke, saline mineral, and light oak. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. 550 cases produced.

Price: $40. I think this is very appropriately priced, and while more expensive than other South African Pinot Noirs I’ve tried this offers more depth, elegance, and the Old World style I prefer. Pair with seared duck breast, pheasant, or venison filet.

Perhaps the Most Interesting Wine I’ve Ever Had

Today’s Story: Hiyu Wine Farm

Hiyu Wine Farm, established by Nate Ready and China Tresemer, is a 30 acre working farm in the Hood River Valley of Oregon. The property consists of 14 acres of vines, 4 acres of fields and pastures, 4 acres of forest and a pond, and 0.5 acres of market garden with the balance devoted to food forests. Guided by the practices of biodynamics and permaculture, Hiyu tends very little to their vines and they do not hedge or green harvest. Rather, all mowing or tilling is accomplished by pigs, cows, chicken, ducks, and geese that live in the vineyards in cycles throughout the year. Hiyu does not use any sulfur in the vineyards and claims to spray 85% less material than a standard organic or biodynamic vineyard, with the majority being cinnamon oil or herbal teas. Interesting to note, the vineyards are divided into 0.5 acre blocks each planted to a field blend of varieties. There are 80 different varieties and even more clones planted on the farm! In the cellar, Nate practices minimal intervention winemaking and prefers long aging in oak before the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal SO2 (5ppm max).

Today’s Wine: 2015 Ramato

80% Pinot Gris, 15% Gewürztraminer, 5% Pinot Noir; 15% ABV

The 2015 Ramato is medium copper/amber orange in color while being transparent yet hazy. Once this blossoms in the glass, the nose showcases aromas of tangerine, orange rind, peach, rose petals, hibiscus, fresh cut wheat, hazelnut, and bright mineral. In the mouth, this intriguing wine displays notes of apricot, grapefruit, orange marmalade, cantaloupe, mixed wildflowers, ginger, and white pepper. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, and a thought-provoking medium (+) finish.

Price: $80. The value perspective is a bit difficult with this one, because I feel this wine is more about the experience. Yes, it is of supreme quality and so well-balanced you will say “wow;” but this is certainly a wine for the explorers who want to shock their palate back to life and compare prices more for how a wine makes them feel. With that out there, I would certainly buy more of this…if I could find it. Pair with salmon, oysters, or Parmigiano-Reggiano amongst other strong cheeses.