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.

Refreshing Sauvignon Blanc for the Last Days of Summer

My Apologies…

Before I jump into today’s story, I would like to apologize for the lack of wine content lately. The work from home life has caused the demands of my “day job” to rise (thanks to my desk being about 6 feet from my bed) and has eaten into the time I can spend on my passions. Thanks to this long holiday weekend I am able to reset a little bit, and hope I can find a way to revive the more regular sharing of my love of wine.

Today’s Story: Quintessa

Quintessa was established in 1989 by Agustin and Valeria Huneeus in the Rutherford AVA of the Napa Valley. Though Quintessa was the Huneeus family’s first venture into Napa, both Agustin and Valeria were wine industry veterans in Chile. Agustin helped build Concha y Toro into the largest winery in Chile as their CEO, while Valeria is a microbiologist and viticulturist who discovered the land that ultimately became Quintessa’s home. The property consists of 280 acres, 170 of which are planted to vine with the balance home to the winery and 100 acres of natural woodland. The vineyards are farmed organically with the occasional use of biodynamic practices, while wines are made utilizing gravity flow to maximize the gentleness of the winemaking process. Quintessa produces one premium Cabernet Sauvignon wine each vintage, while also bottling limited quantities of Sauvignon Blanc under the Illumination label.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Illumination Sauvignon Blanc

56% Sauvignon Musqué, 34% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Sémillon; 14% ABV

The 2018 Illumination is transparent pale to medium yellow in color with straw hues in the bowl. On the nose, this aromatic white emits aromas of apricot, white peach, honeydew melon, citrus rind, honeysuckle, and stony mineral. The palate showcases notes of pear, golden apple, grapefruit, lemon zest, grass, wet slate, and vibrant minerality. This is medium-bodied with high acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish that makes the wine perfect for a hot day.

Price: $39. This is certainly a higher quality Napa/Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc blend and I think the price is justified. Is it overpriced? No, but it’s also not underpriced.

Powerful Zinfandel-Based Blend From Sonoma County

Today’s Story: Bedrock Wine Co.

Bedrock Wine Co. was established in 2007 by Morgan Twain-Peterson in a converted chicken coop in his friend’s backyard. Though Bedrock has grown over the years, Morgan stays true to a mission of working with respected growers throughout the state of California in preserving and breathing new life into old vineyards dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Working with vineyards from Contra Costa County, Sonoma Valley, Oakville, Lodi, the Russian River Valley, and beyond, Morgan produces wines with Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris, and Riesling. He also works with a handful of other varieties and is always on the hunt for more to explore. Though his blends can seem pretty eclectic, Morgan keeps his winemaking simple by gently handing the fruit, fermenting with whole clusters and only native yeasts, and rarely or never fining the wines.

For more on Bedrock’s history, the vineyards they work with, or the portfolio of wines, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Pagani Ranch Heritage

Zinfandel dominant blend with Alicante Bouschet, Lenoir, Grand Noir, and Petite Sirah (no tech sheet); 14.5% ABV

The 2018 Pagani Ranch Heritage is opaque deep purple in color with dark fuchsia near the rim. I decanted this for about 2 hours, allowing the expressive nose to showcase blackberry, blueberry, plum, anise, leather, chiseled rock, cracked pepper, chocolate, and oak. Once in the mouth, this bold and powerful wine displays notes of black plum, black cherry, cassis, unlit cigar, wet slate, tar, peppery spice, and charred oak. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) chewy tannins, and a long finish. Fantastic now with some air, but will only get better with age.

Price: $50. Without a doubt worth the price, but would be immensely more rewarding if you have the patience to lay this down and check on it in another five years. This is a bold, thought-provoking wine that will pair with barbecue pork ribs, bacon-wrapped ribeye steak, or lasagna.

Incredibly Versatile Trousseau Gris

Today’s Story: Jolie-Laide

Jolie-Laide is a small, boutique winery established by Scott Schultz in Forestville, California, though he sources his fruit from various California winegrowing regions and appellations. I previously wrote about Jolie-Laide’s history and reviewed their 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache in A Journey for the Mind and Palate, and I highly encourage you to read this post if you haven’t already. For now, let’s get onto the tasting notes of today’s remarkably fun wine.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Trousseau Gris

100% Trousseau Gris; 12.4% ABV

The 2019 Trousseau Gris is transparent peach/salmon in color. The nose showcases aromas of tangerine, melon, stone fruit, white florals, cream, white peppery spice, and saline mineral. On the palate, I get notes of white peach, nectarine, melon, pink rose, honeysuckle, white tea leaf, and crushed stone minerality. This is medium-bodied with crisp medium (+) acidity and plush mouthfeel into a fully rounded and long finish.

Price: $30 direct from winery. This is a great value for several major reasons. Its quality and precision are impeccable, it is very fun (drinks like a cross between a rosé and white wine), and the versatility is profound. Pair this with lobster, herb-grilled chicken, or a turkey sandwich.

A Journey for the Mind and Palate

Today’s Story: Jolie-Laide

Established by Scott Schultz, Jolie-Laide is a small, boutique winery crafting wines in Forestville, California. Jolie-Laide is a French term of endearment for something unconventionally beautiful that translates to “pretty-ugly,” and Scott decided to use it in naming his winery following experiences in the restaurant business. When he worked at Bouchon in Yountville, Scott realized that the majority of people didn’t seem to explore the wine list but rather stick to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon. He thought this was a travesty of sorts, given the wonderful varieties including Gamay, Valdiguié, Vermentino, or Trousseau Gris. Eventually Scott transitioned out of the restaurant business and found himself working alongside Pax Mahle, a wildly skilled winemaker in his own right. One year, Pax allowed Scott to make a wine of his own using 1-2 tons of fruit and he decided to use none other than Trousseau Gris because of how fascinating of a variety it is to him. Alas, Jolie-Laide was born and continues to produce magnificent and wildly fun wines today.

When it comes to sourcing his fruit, Scott works with farmers he has known for years who largely follow organic practices and work incredibly unique sites. After harvest, all of the Jolie-Laide red fruit is foot crushed and left whole cluster with some of the varieties (like Gamay) seeing carbonic maceration. Thanks to Scott’s selection of incredible sites, he can be pretty hands-off during the rest of the winemaking process and let the terroir and fruit speak for itself. Jolie-Laide lets their wines ferment naturally and, instead of using temperature control, says “we stick things in the sun if we need to get them warm” (source). Furthermore, Scott adds little SO2 when necessary in part because his wines tend to be bottled young to both preserve freshness in the fruit and provide barrels for the following year’s harvest.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache

100% Grenache; 12.8% ABV

The 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache is pale ruby/garnet in color and moderately transparent. I drank this over 4.5 hours (don’t ask me how I restrained myself) and it is remarkable how drastically this picked up weight over time. The nose showcases aromas of candied strawberry, juicy raspberry, black cherry, red licorice, sweet tobacco, granite, oregano, and cinnamon. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of muddled strawberry, tart red raspberry, candied plum, anise, tobacco, dark leather, crushed rock, green herbs, and peppery spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. While this started off thin and falling off by mid-palate, my patience was handsomely, handsomely rewarded.

Price: $38. Buy it. All I can say is if you can find this bottle close to the price, it is supremely worth the adventure. If you do though, and haven’t taken heed of my commentary above, I implore you once again to give this air. Pair with braised pork, wild boar, or smoked charcuterie.

Classic Sonoma County Zin

Today’s Story: Joseph Swan Vineyards

I very recently wrote about Joseph Swan Vineyards when I reviewed their 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel in Not Your Typical Cali Zin, so I wanted to check in on another bottling today while it is fresh in my mind. Today’s wine will be a very different experience, what I expect largely due to its 15.3% ABV versus the 12.9% of the 2012 Mancini Ranch bottling.

To recap……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: 2013 Bastoni Vineyards Zinfandel

100% Zinfandel; 15.3% ABV

The 2013 Bastoni Zinfandel is opaque medium to deep garnet in color with medium ruby variation. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of boysenberry, wild blueberry, cherry, leather, sweet tobacco, rocky soil, cinnamon, a hint of chocolate, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of juicy blackberry, pomegranate, plum, bing cherry, ripe raspberry, pipe tobacco, loamy earth, white pepper, dried green herbs, and a touch of oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish with added notes of iron and crushed rock.

Price: $30. This is an incredible value, similar to the 2012 Mancini Ranch I just had and Joseph Swan wines as a whole. This bottling certainly drinks more like your “classic” Californian Zin whereas the Mancini Ranch was more “old-school.” Pair this with barbecue pork sandwiches, pepperoni pizza, or roasted leg of lamb.

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.

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.

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.