Not Your Typical Cali Zin

Today’s Story: Joseph Swan Vineyards

Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded during the early 1970s by Joe Swan, a man whose passion for wine spawned at an early age through reading. However, Joe’s career did not begin in wine but rather as an artist, a flight instructor for the Army Air Corps during WWII, and ultimately a pilot for Western Airlines. Though Joe retired in 1974, his passion for wine remained strong through those middle years and he even produced Zinfandel when stationed in Salt Lake City and made friends visiting the Enology and Viticulture department at UC Davis following the war. In 1967, Joe purchased a small farm planted with 13 acres of Zinfandel, fruit trees, and a pasture near Forestville in the Russian River Valley with a plan to follow his dream of operating a small vineyard and winery. Though Joe made Zinfandel in 1968, he quickly received encouragement from André Tchelistcheff (a highly influential winemaker I discussed in my BV posts, as well as Joe’s friend and mentor) to replant his vineyards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With significant inspiration from French winemakers and the belief that lower production would increase his quality, Joe selected low production clones and both pruned and thinned his vines to significantly reduce yield. In 1987, Joe’s son-in-law Rod Berglund worked the Joseph Swan harvest with him and this would unfortunately be Joe’s last vintage. Joe fell ill during 1988 and passed away January, 1989 but his perfectionism and love of wine carries on with his daughter Lynn and son-in-law Rod today.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel

100% Zinfandel; 12.9% ABV

The 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel is moderately opaque and medium garnet in color with ruby hues. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of tart cherry, strawberry rhubarb, dried raspberry, aged leather, forest floor, truffles, smoked red meat, savory green herbs, baking spice, and cedar. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, cherry pie, dusty strawberry, red licorice, dried tobacco, damp earth, mushroom, cinnamon, pepper, and slight oak. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall this is very well-balanced and a complex depiction of old-school Zinfandel that upon tasting does not seem like anything from California.

Price: $32. Joseph Swan produces some of my favorite Pinot Noir in the $35-$45 price-point, and I can now add their Zinfandel to this list of great values. This is a gorgeous Zin unlike many I’ve had from California and demonstrates the restraint this grape can display. Pair this with barbecue chicken, leg of lamb, or tomato-based pasta.

Pioneer of the Russian River Valley

Today’s Story: Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Gary Farrell is one of the great pioneering winemakers in the Russian River Valley, playing a big role in marketing the area and Sonoma County as a whole as one of the greatest regions for Pinot Noir before the Russian River Valley even had its own AVA status. During the 1970s, Gary apprenticed under legends including Joe Rochioli, Robert Stemmler, Davis Bynum, and Tom Dehlinger before landing his first winemaker gig at Davis Bynum Winery in 1978. Though Gary shortly became involved in early releases at Rochioli Winery, Limerick Lane, and Moshin Vineyards, he produced his first namesake wine, a Pinot Noir, in the 1982 vintage using fruit from the famed Rochioli Vineyard. Making a name for himself by producing quality RRV Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Gary expanded his winery during the 1990s by developing the Starr Ridge and Cresta Ridge vineyards before ultimately constructing a production facility in Healdsburg. Gary sold his namesake brand in 2004, however, and later sold his vineyard properties and started Alysian Wines focused on small quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Westside Farms Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.9% ABV

The 2014 Westside Farms Chardonnay is medium gold and almost straw in color while being completely transparent. On the nose, this wine showcases aromas of golden pear, apricot, white peach, lemongrass, honeysuckle, butter, toast, vanilla, and some white spicy minerality. Once in the mouth, this Chardonnay displays notes of green apple, tropical citrus, lemon and lime zest, starfruit, jasmine, vanilla cream, and saline minerality. This is medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity leading into a crisp finish that lingers with you for quite some time.

Price: $50. I could see almost any California Chardonnay drinker enjoying this wine for its classic notes while being not too overly butter-bombed, however I think at this stage it seems to be a little out of balance and needs a couple more years of cellaring to settle. Pair this with lobster, crab, citrus-spiced chicken, or asparagus salad.

Pinot Noir From the Team Behind Far Niente

Today’s Story: EnRoute Winery

EnRoute was founded in 2007 by the partners behind Far Niente Winery thanks to their passion for Pinot Noir. Since they stick to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon at their Far Niente estate, the owners decided it best to create EnRoute in the Russian River Valley, an AVA within Sonoma County known for their Pinot Noir. While EnRoute produces one blended Pinot Noir under the name Les Pommiers, their current releases focus on four single vineyard bottlings from Amber Ridge Vineyard, Bucher Vineyard, Marty’s Vineyard, and Northern Spy Vineyard. The first single vineyard offerings came in the 2013 vintage from Amber Ridge and Northern Spy. Also in 2013, EnRoute released their first Chardonnay under the name Brumaire for the morning fog. To check out some details about the EnRoute vineyards including maps, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Northern Spy Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Northern Spy Pinot Noir is deep ruby in color and actually almost purple at its core while being nearly fully opaque. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of cranberry, black cherry, dried raspberry, leather, bergamot, mint, cola, sweet tobacco, and rose. In the mouth, this wine offers notes of blackberry, strawberry rhubarb, ripe cherry, black tea leaf, baking spice, earth, tar, peppery spice, and oak. This Pinot is medium-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish which is shorter than hoped.

Price: $85. Not my favorite single vineyard bottling from EnRoute, though this could be a vintage story. I’ve heard good things about the 2014 Hop Kiln Vineyard though, but have yet to pop it. Check out their Les Pommiers for $60 if you’re interested in exploring the brand. Pair this with roasted chicken, smoked salmon, or pork loin.

One of the Most Important Women in Wine

Today’s Story: Merry Edwards Winery

Merry Edwards Winery was established in 1997 by Merry Edwards and her husband Ken Coopersmith. However, Merry experienced quite a successful career before creating her namesake winery starting with her master’s degree in Food Science with an emphasis in Enology from UC Davis in 1973. After graduation, Merry fought to become a winemaker (not a lab technician like many women in the field during that time) and she was ultimately hired by Mount Eden Vineyards in February 1974 as winemaker. Merry spent three vintages with Mount Eden and during 1975 selected some of their Pinot Noir cuttings to send to UC Davis for heat treatment and propagation which resulted in UCD clone 37 (the “Merry Edwards selection”) that is planted in the Georganne Vineyard which sources fruit for the wine I am reviewing today.

In 1977, Merry Edwards spent time in France studying clone research at the University of Beaune and later moved to Sonoma County to become the founding winemaker of Matanzas Creek Winery. Shortly thereafter, Merry purchased property in the Russian River Valley in 1981 with plans for a family winery and built Merry Vintners Winery (focused on Chardonnay) in 1984 alongside her consulting business. Several years later, in 1996, Merry purchased 24 acres of what would become the Meredith Estate Vineyard and, in 1997 after meeting her would-be husband Ken, co-founded Merry Edwards Winery and produced her first namesake Pinot Noir.

Over time, Merry and Ken grew their holdings through vineyard purchases and leasing agreements and today produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The Sauvignon Blanc is Merry’s favorite white wine from what I’ve heard, and it is indeed a must-try for any Sauvignon Blanc fan particularly those made in a Bordeaux Blanc style. This being said, Merry’s winemaking career that almost spans 50 years is dominated by her being a self-proclaimed perfectionist with a goal of producing wines that reflect the terroir rather than her own hand. Coupled with her winemaking philosophy, Merry also believes in sustainable farming and energy practices that help prolong both her own land and the environment around it. For more on Merry Edwards, check out the very extensive website here, as I could surely write an entire novel on this blog post and bog down your emails.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Georganne Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.2% ABV

The 2015 Georganne Pinot Noir is medium to deep purple/ruby in color and almost entirely opaque. I simply let this open up in the glass for 15-30 minutes to reveal aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, blueberry, acai, charred cedar, damp forest floor, wet gravel, blue and purple florals, and a hint of wild herbs mingled with peppery spice. Once in the mouth, this wine displays notes of cherry, dried raspberry, tart wild blueberry, red florals, sweet tobacco, loamy soil, mushroom, chocolate, clove, and oak. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish dominated by herbaceous and cranberry tones.

Price: $63 upon release (I’m now seeing closer to $85 average online). Georganne is one of Merry Edwards’ newest vineyards and I am surprised by the elegance and finesse this wine displays as compared to some of her other vineyard designated wines that take more time in the bottle to blossom. Pair this with salmon, duck, or Panko-crusted rack of lamb.

The Steve Jobs of Wine

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. 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 farmer’s markets before school each morning, his first foray into wine (if you will) 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 degrees 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: 2015 Katherine Lindsay Estate Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.3% ABV

The 2015 Katherine Lindsay Estate Pinot is pale to medium ruby in color and is moderately transparent. This requires about 30-45 minutes to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of cranberry, cherry, dried strawberry, cola, violet, clay, leather, baking spice, and a hint of oak. Once in the mouth, this Pinot offers notes of black cherry, pomegranate, juicy ripe strawberry, black truffle, forest floor, and black pepper. The wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $100. This is certainly an upper-echelon RRV Pinot but it needs some extra time in the cellar to fully come together. If you buy some, open some more reasonable Pinot in the $35 sweet spot I’ve mentioned before while this sits a few more years. Pair this with duck, pork loin, roast chicken, or charcuterie.

Striking [Red] Oil in the Russian River Valley

Today’s Story: Twomey Cellars

Twomey Cellars was founded in 1999 by Ray Duncan and his son David following Ray’s successful founding of Silver Oak Cellars in 1972. Though Ray’s background is in oil entrepreneurship (he founded Duncan Oil in Colorado), he started buying land in the Napa and Alexander Valleys during the 1970s with the goal of planting vineyards and selling fruit to wineries. With Justin Meyer as his co-founder of Silver Oak, however, Ray started producing his own wines and Silver Oak became famous for their Cabernet Sauvignon. After a few decades of running Silver Oak, Ray wanted to explore varieties besides Cabernet Sauvignon and founded Twomey with David in pursuit of producing Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.

With a goal of producing vineyard-focused wines, Twomey has wineries in Calistoga in the Napa Valley, Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley, Philo in the Anderson Valley, and a soon-to-open winery in Dundee, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. From this vast geography, Twomey produces six single-vineyard and three regional Pinot Noirs, one single-vineyard Merlot, and one single-vineyard and one estate Sauvignon Blanc. In producing these wines, Twomey practices sustainable farming in all of their vineyards with major emphasis on water and energy conservation. This not only helps protect the land for generations of winemakers to come, but improves fruit quality while allowing the wines to showcase their unique place.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.9% ABV

The 2012 Russian River Pinot is pale ruby/cherry in color and moderately transparent. This Pinot needs about 30-45 minutes to open up, but once it does the expressive nose emits aromas of cherry, raspberry, saddle leather, smoke, forest floor, a hint of barnyard, white pepper, dried green herbs, rose, and a pinch of cinnamon. On the palate, the wine showcases notes of dark cherry, dried cranberry, strawberry, tobacco, damp earth, peppery spice, rosemary, slight coffee bean, and a hint of vanilla. This gorgeous and easy-drinking Pinot is medium-bodied with medium acidity, light (almost nonexistent) tannins, and a medium (-) length finish. The finish could be a bit longer to truly impress me, but nonetheless this is a delicious bottle of wine.

Price: $50. This is a solid price-point especially when compared to some of the other RRV Pinots I’ve enjoyed that are twice as expensive but only marginally better. Nonetheless, $35 is always a sweet spot for me for quality Pinot Noir and you can find bottlings in that range up to par with this Twomey. Pair this with salmon, roasted chicken, duck, lamb, or charcuterie.