Small, tiny, miniscule production levels for most of the domestic Pinot Noirs we carry can equate to producers who are less known. Here are three outstanding Pinot Noirs from the 2009 vintage made by dedicated, driven Pinot-centric winemakers:
One of my favorite wine brokers (MK you know who you are!) requested a tasting appointment and said to me that I really should taste these wines. MK rarely imposes his opinions and is not at all pushy, traits that I appreciate in a person who sells wine, so I knew that when he said “should taste”, I should indeed taste. Within minutes of introducing me to Robert Brittan, I knew I was tasting wine from a winemaker who was the real deal. Robert quickly understood that I love to talk dirt so he was off describing the various soils of his vineyards and how the soil impacts the fruit and ultimately the finished wine. I was so engrossed in what he was telling me, I had failed to write down any notes. This is really naughty of me, however the wine left such an indelible print on my mind and palate, I can still taste it. Robert Brittan has made wine for over thirty years for such Napa Valley luminaries as Stags’ Leap Winery and Far Niente. In 2004, along with his wife Ellen, Robert ventured north, settling in Oregon’s McMinnville AVA, to realize his dream of growing and making wine for himself. His vast experience places him at the level where artistry meets with skill. The 2009 Gestalt Block Pinot Noir is beautifully fruited with a solid backbone of acidity giving the ripe fruit something to lean on. The aromatics are a mélange of red fruits, dried herbs and spice. It’s quite impressive.
Jason Drew makes tiny lots of Pinot Noir from north coast vineyards and appellations. The 2009 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir is dominated by juicy black cherries, some spice and just a whiff of mushroom all wrapped up into a plush textural mouth-feel. The Weir Vineyard is nestled within the redwoods of Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands AVA. The clonal selections for this bottling include one called New Pommard Rochioli Riverblock and another a Domaine Romanee-Conti Selection. I was introduced to this wine at a trade tasting. It was poured from a decanter, I was so mesmerized by it that I barely had time to swallow before I exclaimed, “send it!” I was told I was too late, it had already sold out. Figures, right? However, as luck was on my side, some poor fool didn’t take their allocation and I was first in line to swoop it up! Drew has been garnering lots of accolades and has been spotlighted numerous times by SF Chronicle’s wine editor Jon Bonne; seems I am the one who was late (again) on the scene. I am now closely following Drew wines and happy to offer their 2009 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. Only 180 cases produced.
This new-ish winery is a collaboration between two very young winemakers who focus on making single-vineyard Pinot Noirs (they also make a terrific unoaked Chardonnay that we also carry). Micah “Joseph” Wirth and Adrian “Jewell” Manspeaker met while working for Gary Farrell in the Russian River Valley. I guess no one told them how hard it is to start a winery because in ’06 they thought it would be fun to buy their first batch of grapes along with a basket press and some barrels and try to make a go of it. Ah, youth! But you know what? These guys are making some very fine wine from some of California’s most elite vineyards. Our staff was particularly drawn to the 2009 Elk Prairie Vineyard Pinot Noir. Elk Prairie Vineyard lies at 1200 feet in Humboldt County. The vineyard is at such a steep incline that hand-harvesting the fruit is the only option. The fruit struggles to ripen and yields are incredibly low. The 2009 Elk Prairie is medium-bodied with lots of red fruit nuances and a thread of earth that shows up on the palate and nose; it is a wine that will appeal to those who prefer aromatics over concentration. This is a very pretty Pinot that speaks of a place. Only 100 cases produced.
Phew, I didn’t think I would finish my review today. It was busy here at TWH. Pete was super excited because not only did Chelsea win, but customers were asking lots of questions about Bordeaux. I have to say, there is nothing I enjoy more about being a wine merchant than having the opportunity to talk wine with customers! And to top it all off, Bob Varner, yeah, the Bob Varner, was our last customer of the day. Now that’s what I call a perfect day at TWH! —Anya Balistreri