This is a great time to be a fan of pinot noir in the Bay Area which is ground zero for Pinot Days — the biggest winetasting event in the country featuring a single varietal.
A series of smaller events have been held over the past two weeks leading up to the Pinot Days Grand Tasting on Sunday (June 27) at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Tickets are available online for $60 each. Walk-up tickets will also be for sale at the venue, where more than 200 wineries will be pouring their best bottles from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The list of wineries — starting alphbetically with organic producer Adastra from the Carneros region and running to Santa Rosa-based Zepaltas — is heavy on California entries. There’s also a contingent from Oregon, including Archery Summit and Domaine Serene, both leading pinot noir producers in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve attended a few pre-event tastings, including a special media-only preview of some of the top producers.
With more than 1000 different wines to choose from at the main event, there’s no way to taste everything in sight. I look for new faces in the crowd and also hope to find values coming from anywhere, especially some of the smaller wineries currently flying under the radar.
Of course, no big tasting would be complete without a chance to sample the newest offerings from award-winning producers.
My top pick from all of the wines poured at Pinot Days is Hanzell Vineyards 2006. Most wineries are pouring 2007s and 2008s, but this four-year-old bottle of $70 juice shines like a beacon with brilliant red fruit and a nose that is intoxicating. It needs decanting, at least a couple of hours, to really hit it’s stride, but it’s well worth the wait!
The fruit comes from a mountainside vineyard about a mile north of Sonoma, first planted to pinot noir in 1953. The estate now contains more than 42 acres of vines, with one-fourth planted to pinot noir and the rest chardonnay.
An old favorite of mine, Scherrer Winery in Sebastapol, is showing well with its 2007 Platt Vineyard pinor noir. The wine is immediately approachable, open and luscious with red cherry fruit and a whiff of sassafras. Winemaker Fred Scherrer sources the grapes for this wine from a 15-acre parcel that sits at 400-800 feet above sea level, about five miles from the Pacific Ocean near the town of Bodega.
Moving north, to Mendocino, we find the home of Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard pinot noir. The 2007 vintage, released just this week, is a marvelous effort. It’s a darker pinot, thanks to some Pommard clone in the mix, with a nice spicy mint element to the nose and on the tongue.
Oppenlander winemaker John Pepe points to the wild Mexican sage growing near the vineyard as one reason for the spiciness.There are about 20 acres of vines on the Surprise Valley Ranch property, which also operates as a timber and cattle ranch and is the source of award-winning blackberry jam.
From Z to A
I first heard about winemaker Ryan Zepaltas while tasting wines from Suacci Carciere Winery. He’s the winemaker for this boutique winery and consults with other small wineries.
I liked both versions of this wine from the 2008 vintage. The first, labeled Russian River, is a bit darker and heavier due to addition of about 20 percent whole clusters (stems and all) during fermentation of the juice harvested from the 6.5-acre vineyard. It has great raspberry fruit and a delightful spice-tinted nose.
No whole clusters were used in the 2008 Suacci Vineyard wine, which is lighter in appearance and taste. I sense cherry blossoms on the nose and a nice tartness on the approach to balance the pomengrante and cherry flavors.
Zepaltas makes interesting pinot noir under his own label, too.
His own 2008 pinot noir ($44) from the W.E. Bottoms Vineyard in the Russian River region is outstanding. It’s a dark red wine with strong concentrations of cherry fruit to go with an earthy feel and flavor. It’s ready to go now (please decant this wine and let it sit for an hour to unleash its potential!) but the winemaker also believes it will get better with a few more years of age.
Making Marvelous Wine at Martinelli
I also liked a trio of amazing wines from Martinelli Winery, a six-generation family winemaking operation whose pinot noir and zinfandel programs are world class.
The 2007 Three Sisters pinot noir ($60) exhibits great spiciness with a long, firm finish that shows off great cherry/berry fruit. The 2007 Moonshine Ranch ($70) takes that great taste a step higher and the 2008 Zio Tony Ranch ($60) is just amazingly good with cola/tea flavors against a strong cherry component with a finish that just lingers in the mouth for minutes.
Looking to the Stars
While Martinelli controls hundreds of acres and has been a fixture in wine country for more than a century, Adastra has a much shorter time and space impact on the wine world.
Adastra (which means “to the stars” in Latin) has just 20 acres of vineyards in the Carneros region, where the operation is strictly organic. Owners Chris and Naomi Thorpe bought the property in 1984, thinking it would be a good site for cattle ranching. By 1989, they dropped the cows and began planting vines.
Today, Adastra grows chardonnay, merlot and six acres of pinot noir. The 2007 pinot noir is a very good wine ($40) but a bottle of the 2006 reserve pinot noir (Proximus, $56) is outstanding. Made from a mix of Pommard and Dijon clones, this big wine features a hint of spice against a long, dark elegant flavor that is hard to resist.