San Benito County Pinot Noir Drinking Beautifully Right Now

Today’s Story: Williams Selyem

Williams Selyem is a highly-regarded 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.

Williams Selyem picked up steam very quickly for a new winery in California. In 1985, they released their first vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard and in 1987 that wine won the California State Fair Sweepstakes Prize for top red wine. With its status blown open, Williams Selyem grew a cult following and they needed to create a waitlist that immediately spanned 2-3 years. In 1989, Williams Selyem relocated to the Allen Ranch facility on Westside Road and in 1992 Burt and Ed quit their day jobs to focus 100% on their wine.

Six years later, however, in 1998 Burt and Ed sold Williams Selyem to John Dyson who was a longtime customer. John and his wife Kathe still own the winery today, and throughout their proprietorship greatly expanded winemaking by adding estate vineyards along the way. In my opinion, their crowning and historic achievement came in 2009 when Wine Enthusiast Magazine rated the 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Pinot Noir 100 points. This was the first North American Pinot Noir in history to achieve a perfect score by a major wine publication, and while I do not buy wine simply based on score and have my issues with the scale, I can appreciate the historic achievement. In early 2021, Domaine Faiveley of Burgundy purchased a minority stake in Williams Selyem which may one day lead to their ownership. So far though, there doesn’t appear to be any major changes in the production of wine.

I previously reviewed the 2014 Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2016 Three Sisters Vineyard Chardonnay from Williams Selyem.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Vista Verde Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.6% ABV

The 2013 Vista Verde Vineyard Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color and rather youthful in appearance. Given some time in the glass, this opens with aromas of medium (+) intensity and a nose of dried cherry, black raspberry, muddled strawberry, lavender, leather, scorched earth, charred green herbs, and smoke. The flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, with the palate showcasing notes of black cherry, plum, cranberry, black tea, smoked meat, a hint of black olive, dried herbs, crushed stone, smoke, and clove. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light and fully-integrated tannin, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $110 (paid $75 from the winery). While there are better values out there especially at today’s market pricing for this bottle, the $75 level we purchased these at is rather fair. This wine is complex, well-balanced, and finishes long while being of incredible quality. Drinking beautifully right now.