Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My (current) favorite Pinot Noir winemakers by James Strohecker

I recently read the Wine Spectator's review of California Pinot Noir makers. And, though the article and featured winemakers were both interesting, I don't believe they've identified some of the smaller, niche or consistent Pinot Noir purveyors in our area. Frankly, the Spectator knows Cabernet Sauvignon -- but they don't know jack about Pinot Noir!

So I thought I'd share with you my own little private, opinion-laden email Blog about my current favorite Pinot Noir makers and their wines. Check these wines and wineries out -- I promise you'll be happier for the effort.

1. Ancien Vineyard
--> Ken Bernards is a hot, up-and-coming winemaker. He's made consistent, excellent Pinot Noir for the past seven years for Ancien, and prior to that, he was the winemaker at Truchard. Ken flies all over the world -- called in as a consultant for wineries who're desperate to find the magic that he brings to controlled, focused winemaking. And there's no doubt that they're turning to one of the (current and) future winemaking stars for help. If you can find the Mink Vineyards Ancien, you'll thank me for it.

2. Joseph Swan Winery
--> Rod Berglund is as steady as they come. He focuses on creating and producing terroir-defined wines, including their fine Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. This is a hard winery to find -- and the wines are even harder to locate (generally they are in stock at Draeger's and Beltramo's). Well worth the effort. Excellent.

3. Alloro Vineyard
--> Actually, I went to High School in Oregon with the winemaker, David Newmarnik, of all things, who's a great guy with a passion to create excellent Pinot Noir. After he graduated from the University of Portland, he bought land in Sherwood, Oregon and started growing grapes. For years, he's been growing and selling grapes to the Ponzi Winery, a notable leader in the Oregon Pinot Noir industry. And for the last four years, he's made his own Estate and Vineyard select wines. Similar to Ken Bernards of Ancien (who, by the way, grew up in McMinnville, Oregon), Dave focuses on hand-crafting his wine.

4. Adrian Fog Winery
Jane Farrell & Stewart Dorman believe in creating small, hand-crafted, cool-climate (they check on fog patterns in the vineyards), small vineyard fruit-based Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley. The result is tremendous -- small lot, vineyard-reflective Pinot Noir that ages and drinks incredibly well. This, unfortunately, makes for higher end Pinot Noir, not everyday drinking wine . . . well, unless you've won the Lottery. But it's excellent for a good meal or if you want to win a Pinot Noir tasting event.

5. Babcock Winery and Melville Winery
OK, these two wineries are actually right next to each other. You drive down the same driveway and have to decide, "Hmmm . . . what do I want to try first -- the deep, dark, complex Babcock Pinot Noir made by Bryan Babcock, or the layered, granite and elements-wild Pinot Noir made by Melville's Greg Brewer?" The current Melville Estate Pinot Noir is one of the best-kept secrets around -- and it's just sitting on Draeger's shelves, for the taking, at under $30.

6. David Bruce
The man, the myth, the legend. What got me really angry about the recent Spectator's article on Pinot Noir, was that they ignored David Bruce. He practically invented high-end, precise Pinot Noir wine creation and development in California, after he finished Med School in Oregon, and realized he had two choices -- start his practice, and his winery, in Oregon or in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Since then, he's never looked back -- and if you've tracked his Pinot Noir productions over the years, you've noticed the intricacies of every vineyard-select wine, every Estate wine and every blend he creates from Bien Nacido, Carneros, Russian River and the Santa Cruz hillsides. Quite frankly, the latter are far more complex and lasting than most of the Pinot Noirs from other California regions. I've tended towards David's Bien Nacido and Windsor Gardens Pinot Noir over the past years -- and have always been pleased. If you haven't tried his wine lately, it's worth circling back to check it out again, for the first time, as they say. He truly is, the man, the myth and the legend.


James Strohecker

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