By Bruce Cochran
This week we’ll take a look at the state of California pinot noir today. We’ll discuss the various styles coming from the many different microclimates from north of San Francisco down to Santa Barbara. And, I’ll recommend a good one that’s also a good price considering its quality. Taste something good this week! Bruce
For the past two years wine purveyors have had to hustle to try to keep pinot noir on the shelves, as America’s thirst for its cherry-like flavors and food-friendly nature have soaked up supplies like a thirsty sponge. There are lots of pinots from which to choose, but not much of any one kind, so consumers have had to shift from one to another as nimbly as they could.
Improved quality and consistency, especially the latter, are two reasons for pinot’s popularity. Increasingly high alcohol content from riper, sweeter grapes, are in some instances causing heavy, overextracted wines. But we’ve talking about this situation before, caused by recent warmer growing seasons and ameliorated to some extent by extracting excess alcohol.
Finding the cooler places that pinot prefers, at least in California, usually means moving north or moving closer to the ocean breezes. A lot of new vineyards have been and continue to be established in areas that fit these descriptions.
The Russian River Valley is one of my favorite pinot places. It’s the westernmost part of Sonoma County, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. Morning fogs persist well into the morning, sometimes even longer, reducing temperatures in the vineyard and allowing grapes to ripen slowly and completely.
North of there, in northern Sonoma County and southern Mendocino County, local wineries are becoming very interested in pinot noir, and I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about places like Anderson Valley in the future. Monterey County is enjoying a similar situation, being naturally cooler than many of the more established wine regions.
Being the scene of the movie, Sideways, that focused the country on this grape, Santa Barbara County (especially Santa Maria Valley, Santa Rita Hills, Solomon Hills) and southern San Luis Obispo County (Edna Valley), have benefited more than anyone.
But for a place that’s been home to fine, Burgundian-style pinot noir for years, with the vineyards to back it up, look to the Carneros District. It stretches across the southern reaches of both Sonoma and Napa valleys. Lying next to an offshoot of San Francisco Bay, it enjoys cool, foggy mornings and sunny afternoons, just the combination that can make pinot noir the memorable experience that has brought it so many fans.
I like Schug Cellars, owned by Napa Valley veteran Walter Schug. As winemaker at Joseph Phelps Vineyards for many years, he was a pioneer of many wines from many grapes, and for his own endeavor he picked Carneros pinot noir. Price: approximately $25.
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