Legendary Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Kistler Vineyards

Kistler Vineyards is a small family-owned and operated winery established in 1978 by Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler in California’s Sonoma County. Founded on the belief that California could produce Burgundy-style Chardonnay representative of each unique vineyard site, Kistler works with a single Chardonnay clone planted across 15 vineyards to produce 11 single-vineyard bottlings. In addition to Chardonnay, Kistler produces small amounts of Pinot Noir using two heritage selections sourced from a Grand Cru site in Burgundy. Kistler farms their vineyards quite meticulously, with both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones highly limited in yield in order to produce fruit of intense depth, contrentration, and focus. In pursuing wines of character and place, the winemaking team at Kistler ferments using only native yeasts with no machination of the fruit while being as minimally invasive as possible. At bottling, the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Cuvée Natalie Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2012 Cuvée Natalie Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color and almost opaque. I let the wine slow ox for about 45 minutes before letting it blossom in the glass, opening up to reveal aromas of bing cherry, pomegranate, black raspberry, licorice, red florals, leather, dried earth, savory herbs, and mild cinnamon. Once on the palate, this showcases notes of baked strawberry, cherry, raspberry, plum, rose, sweet tobacco, forest floor, underbrush, white pepper, and mild oaky spice. This silky and elegant Pinot is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. 1,065 cases produced.

Price: $150 (though you might be able to find it closer to $130). As much as I hate to say it, I think this bottling is a bit overpriced. While undoubtedly delicious, there are simply too many Pinot Noirs out there that punch well above this in terms of value. $150 is a very, very expensive California Pinot and at that price point I’d be more apt to poke around Burgundy or buy 2-3 bottles of a more value-oriented wine.

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.

Mouthwatering Single Vineyard Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Rivers-Marie

Last week I enjoyed the 2015 Silver Eagle Vineyard Pinot Noir from Rivers-Marie so much that I decided to revisit the producer for a Chardonnay.

To recap from my post last week, Rivers-Marie is a family-owned winery established in 2002 by husband and wife duo Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Welsh. Thomas and Genevieve work with vineyards throughout the Sonoma Coast (especially in Occidental-Freestone) and produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa fruit as well. All of the Rivers-Marie wines are meant to be refined and terroir driven, showcasing each unique vineyard site through single vineyard bottlings. This being said, they produce some appellation wines as well.

Today’s Wine: 2012 B. Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.8% ABV

The 2012 B. Thieriot Chardonnay is gorgeous deep gold in color and transparent. This was singing right out of the bottle but blossomed further as it opened in the glass and warmed slightly. The nose showcases aromas of golden apple, crisp pear, stone fruit, honeysuckle, flint, toasted nuts, sea shell, saline mineral, and dried vanilla bean. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of green apple skins, mango, lemon zest, tropical citrus, toffee, slight smoke, dill, wax, saline, and brioche. This is medium-bodied and well-rounded with high acidity and a long, lingering finish.

Price: $100. This is pricey for a California Chardonnay no doubt, but I would certainly buy this again. While clearly a California Chardonnay thanks to the fruit profile, there are a lot of characteristics of Burgundy here and both the quality and depth are compelling. Pair with roasted chicken, lobster, or asparagus and shaved hazelnut.

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.

Boutique Syrah for the Explorer

Today’s Story: Arnot-Roberts

Arnot-Roberts is a boutique winery established in 2001 by Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, two childhood friends who grew up together in Napa Valley. After college, Nathan started working with his father as a cooper of oak wine barrels while Duncan pursued winemaking throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. Arnot-Roberts began with a single barrel of wine the duo produced in their basement and over time grew through the purchase of fruit from renowned vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado, and Amador counties as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. When selecting vineyards, Arnot-Roberts makes sure the farmers are both “passionate and conscientious” because their goal is to produce small quantities of honest, terroir-driven single-vineyard wines which truly express their unique place.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Que Syrah Vineyard

100% Syrah; 12.2% ABV

The Que Syrah Vineyard, planted in 1993 at an elevation of 850 feet, is the oldest planting of Syrah on the Sonoma Coast. This organically-farmed vineyard is composed of sedimentary schist, shale, and fractured mudstone and Arnot-Roberts became the steward of the site in 2013.

The 2016 Que Syrah is mostly opaque medium purple in color heading toward fuchsia at the rim. I decanted this for 1.5 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of plum, blueberry, licorice, rocky soil, black olive, green beans, ground herbs, and smoke while screaming of whole cluster fermentation. Once on the palate, this displays notes of brambleberry, black plum, cola, wild blueberry, mild sweet tobacco, crushed rock, ground green pepper, olive, and exotic spice. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, elegant medium tannins, and a long finish. 4 barrels produced.

Price: $70. While not the greatest California Syrah I’ve had, I would be comfortable putting this up with the greatest “natural” California Syrahs I’ve had. While not for everyone, I would suggest the explorers and Syrah lovers looking for something new give this a shot. Pair this with a good burger, herb-roasted lamb, or braised beef.

Velvety Smooth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Davies Vineyards

Davies Vineyards is one of the most storied wineries in the Napa Valley, tracing their roots back to 1862 when Jacob Schram purchased 200 acres and began developing hillside vineyards. The winery, at the time called Schramsberg, greatly ramped up production by the late 1800s and proved a success, however after Jacob Schram died in 1905 the winery sold in 1912 and fell out of prominence. Jack and Jamie Davies purchased the 200 acre Schramsberg property in 1965, however, and resurrected the great vineyards and Schramsberg name. Known for their Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Davies also produces sparkling wine under the Schramsberg label and an assortment of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast to the Anderson Valley and beyond.

I first reviewed Davies wines with the 2012 Ferrington Pinot Noir in Who Wants Pie?, then the 2012 JD Cabernet Sauvignon in Easy-Drinking Cab, the 2013 Jamie Cabernet Sauvignon in The Matriarch of Diamond Mountain, and the 2005 J. Schram Sparkling Rosé in Premier American Sparkling. Check them out if you haven’t already for more history of the winery as well as tasting notes across other portfolio offerings.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Piedra Libre Vineyards Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.2% ABV

The 2015 Piedra Libre Pinot Noir is medium ruby/purple in color with rose petal variation near the rim and is moderately transparent. On the nose, this wine showcases aromas of red cherry, blueberry, plum, violet, damp earth, tobacco, baking spice, white pepper, vanilla, and oak. There is also some heat from the alcohol. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of cranberry, raspberry, wild strawberry, cassis, cola, loamy soil, chocolate, coffee grounds, and rose. This is medium-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a long finish that ends in notes of cherry liqueur and mocha. 225 cases produced.

Price: $65 direct from the winery. Certainly one of my favorite Davies Pinots I’ve tried, but I can never get around to justifying the price-point on these wines. Pair this with pork stir fry, a bacon cheeseburger, or herb-roasted chicken.

Buttery Surprise

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.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard of this cult winery before or read my prior post Cult Cali Pinot back in October, 2019 when I reviewed the 2014 Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir. If you haven’t read my prior post or Williams Selyem is new to you, check it out for the remainder of their story including the explosion into cult status.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Three Sisters Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.9% ABV

The 2016 Three Sisters Chardonnay is pale to medium gold/straw yellow in color and completely transparent. The nose showcases aromas of yellow apple, pear, melon, white wildflowers, hazelnut, spice, vanilla cream, and buttered toast (which is a little strong in my opinion). Once in the mouth, this wine displays notes of green apple, white peach, lemon peel, beeswax, snap peas, white pepper, white lily, vanilla, and butter (again, a little strong). This Chardonnay is full-bodied with high acidity and a lush, medium length rounded finish.

Price: $65 direct from winery upon release. Perhaps this needs more time to come together, but for now I’d suggest taking a look at their Chenin Blanc or Unoaked Chardonnay due to the surprisingly high butter notes in today’s bottling. Pair this with lobster, crab, or roasted chicken.