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.

Luxurious but Terroir-Driven Oregon Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: North Valley Vineyards (Soter Vineyards)

North Valley Vineyards is a partnership between Tony & Michelle Soter, winemaker James Cahill, and Director of Sales & Marketing Brian Sypher. Though the wines are produced and bottled by Soter Vineyards, North Valley Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rosé are in a sense the “regional” wines coming from sustainably-farmed vineyards in the Willamette Valley rather than Mineral Springs Ranch, Soter’s estate vineyard. Diving a bit deeper, the team sources their fruit from the Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carolton, and McMinnville viticultural areas with vineyards including Roe & Roe, Beacon Hill, Momtazi, and Zena Crown. Though Tony and James are highly involved in the farming of these vineyards (affectionately referred to as “satellite estate vineyards”) and they could certainly yield exceptional single vineyard bottlings, North Valley Vineyards carefully blends the wines from each site into the finished product. Tony and James produce their North Valley wines with gentle, traditional winemaking practices and age them in French oak typically only 5-15% new.

Today’s Wine: 2017 North Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.8% ABV

The 2017 North Valley Reserve Pinot Noir is moderately opaque pale ruby/purple in color. This needs an hour to breathe, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, dried blueberry, blood orange peel, leather, rocky soil, wet slate, pine, and cola. There is some slight heat but I think it’s due to the young age. On the palate, I get notes of black raspberry, baked cherry, juicy blackberry, blue florals, silt, mushroom, eucalyptus, allspice, and stony mineral. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60 from the winery (though I paid $42 retail). I think this is somewhere between fairly priced and a good value at $60, but if you can find a deal like I did it is an absolute steal. This has all the characteristics of great Oregon Pinot Noir and, while it has that luxurious feel to it, doesn’t seem too heavy handed by the winemaker. Pair with duck breast, herb roasted pork, or dark chocolate.

Chacra’s Experimental Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Bodega Chacra

I was so thoroughly impressed with the 2018 Chacra Mainqué Chardonnay that I reviewed almost two weeks ago (Beautiful Union of Burgundy and Patagonia) that I decided to try another wine from them today.

To review, Bodega Chacra is a small winery established in the Río Negro region of Patagonia in 2004 by Piero Incisa della Rocchetta. Piero’s goal is to create transparent, honest wines that showcase his unique terroir through organic and biodynamic viticulture, so he eschews the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Instead, Piero uses vegetable and mineral preparations in his compost alongside a range of biodynamic practices ranging from the horn manure preparation and horn silica preparation to the German chamomile preparation and oak bark preparation. Detailed explanations of each biodynamic preparation can be found here. Chacra’s vineyards produce low yields and fruit selection is incredibly rigorous come harvest, so only the best and healthiest grapes make the wine. Maceration and fermentation occur in small tanks with an emphasis on skin contact, and the wines age in extra fine grain French oak barrels. All of the Pinot Noir is bottled 100% natural and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Sin Azufre Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Sin Azufre Pinot Noir is opaque pale purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of dusty red cherry, brambleberry, violet, leather, tilled rocky soil, slight barnyard, crushed rock, graphite, and a hint of oak. There was some olive on the nose but that blew off after an hour. On the palate, I get notes of dried tart cherry, dusty raspberry, brambly blueberry, rose petal, sweet tobacco, black tea leaf, dried earth with finely crushed rock minerality, green underbrush, and clove. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $35. This is a difficult one for me on a value perspective. When it comes to the majority of today’s wine drinkers, this would not be a good value simply because I don’t think the average consumer would like it. When it comes to the explorers or those who want to liven up their palate and are familiar with “natural” wines, I think this is a great value. Pair this with rosemary and thyme chicken, roasted duck breast, or charcuterie with Brie or Gruyère cheese.

Exploring a Red From a Legendary Producer of White Burgundy

Today’s Story: Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet

Domaine Ramonet was established in Chassagne-Montrachet in the late 1920s by Pierre Ramonet, and quickly became one of the preeminent producers of white Burgundy. The 1934 Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Ruchottes, for instance, was the first estate-bottled white Burgundy imported in the US and catapulted the domaine to international fame and admiration. Ramonet remained one of the most highly-sought producers throughout the 20th century, until issues with premature oxidation damaged their status like many other producers in the mid to late 1990s. The domaine ultimately passed to Pierre’s son André until he passed away in 2011, and then to Pierre’s grandchildren Noël and Jean-Claude who worked in the vineyards since 1984. Since 2013, Domaine Ramonet labels bear Jean-Claude Ramonet alone following Noël’s semi-retirement and his wines, particularly the whites, remain a force to be reckoned with.

In the vineyards, Ramonet likes to work with older vines and keep his yields low. Most of the wines are produced from vines 12 to 50 years old, though they typically like to use vines 18 years or older. The domaine’s vinification practices are traditional in nature, with the whites starting in tanks before transfer to French oak barrels and the reds in cement vats for maceration and fermentation. New oak usage varies by wine and vintage, with the whites typically seeing 10-15% for village wines, 30-40% for 1er Crus, and 50%+ for the Grand Crus. Reds typically see 10-20% new oak for village wines and 30-40% for 1er Crus. None of the white wines are bottled fined or filtered.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos Saint-Jean

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Clos Saint-Jean is pale to medium ruby in color and moderately transparent. Once this opens up in the glass, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, lavender, raw leather, slight barnyard, black tea, cinnamon, rosemary, and mineral. There is some slight heat as well. On the palate, I get notes of red plum, cranberry, black cherry, tobacco, forest floor, charred herbs, underbrush, chalky minerality, and blood. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Not as balanced as the 2014 vintage I had in November, 2019.

Price: $100. This is not a bad price, but I can’t go as far as saying this is a good value because there are many outstanding Red Burgundy options at or less than $100. That being said, I’d be curious to try this again in a few years. Pair with seared duck breast, herb-crusted lamb, or mushroom stroganoff.

Elegant Pinot Noir From Santa Barbara County

Today’s Story: Chanin Wine Co.

Chanin Wine Co. was established in 2007 by winemaker Gavin Chanin, and his goal is to produce single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. Gavin selected the vineyards to source his fruit based on their organic (or at minimum sustainable) farming practices while also seeking older vines. The current vineyard selections include Sanford & Benedict in the Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley, and Duvarita just west of the Sta. Rita Hills. Gavin eschews higher alcohol levels in his wines to foster balance and finesse, while practicing gentle winemaking methods and avoiding additives such as commercial yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes. All of Chanin’s wines are bottled unfiltered.

Fun Fact: The artwork featured on Chanin’s labels is Gavin’s own.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.28% ABV

The 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color and moderately transparent. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of strawberry, red cherry, rosehip, leather, tobacco, loamy earth, smoked game, green herbs, and exotic spice. On the palate, this displays notes of bright red cherry, muddled strawberry, black raspberry, violet, worn leather, charred earth, stemmy underbrush, and cracked pepper. Light- to medium-bodied with a velvety mouthfeel, medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. 34 barrels produced.

Price: $50. Not really the style I was expecting, as this reminds me of a Kosta Browne or Williams Selyem, but this is certainly a delicious Pinot Noir. This is very well-made and the lower alcohol content does seem to help bring out the elegance and finesse of the wine. Pair this with seared tuna, grilled quail, or herb-roasted chicken.