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Friday Fishwrap
Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir: “More Is More” or “Less Is More”. A Debate.

By Stephen Eliot

It is more than a little fascinating to see the difference in winemakers’ perspectives and conclusions when viewing the same picture. A couple of winemaker interviews by Blake Gray over the last couple of weeks caught my eye, and they reveal two different and intriguing views about preferred style and winemaker rationale doing what they do. A peripatetic pair of Pinot Noir winemakers, Adam Lee of Siduri and Sashi Moorman of Evening Land, Sandhi, Peidrassa and Stolpmann spoke, and Pinot Noir was the topic.

Now, Mr. Moorman has a very clear idea what he wants in a wine and definitively talks of complexity that is apparently only born of lower ripeness and less alcohol. He very curiously seems to find complexity and what he calls “deliciousness” as somewhat antithetical. He likens grapes to peaches and strawberries and argues that extra ripeness will make them more delicious but that the loss of certain “unripe elements” leaves the grapes and the resultant wine from which they are made less interesting. He is also very clearly far from being a fan of those “financially successful” producers who go for power and ripeness and, I presume, deliciousness, and he states rather matter of factly in his championing of the Santa Rita Hills as a unique enclave for elegant Pinot that “you can make opulent wines anywhere”. I confess to very much liking some of Sashi’s Pinots, most notably his 2009s under the Evening Land label, and to me they are delicious and not in the least green. I have also from time to time enjoyed the very rich wines of Sea Smoke, that very same financially successful estate that Moorman does not revere.

Adam Lee, on the other hand, is far more circumspect in his opinions about style. He may or may not have a preference for just how Pinot should taste, but he declines to state it and instead believes that it is ultimately up to the grapes to dictate style as opposed to the winemaker’s hand. He offers up the rather startling observation that he is less concerned with adhering to a fixed stylistic model than he was in the past and that allowing a vineyard to express itself in any given vintage is now his aim. Ripeness and/or alcohol are not inherently good or bad, the health and balance of the grape is the key. When queried about the Santa Rita Hills, he lacked Mr. Moormon’s unquestioning evangelism and warned of difficult tannins in grapes that were less than fully ripe. Given the success of the brilliant 2009 Siduri Pinot from the Clos Pepe Vineyard, Adam apparently knows something about the appellation as well.

Now it may be that the Santa Rita Hills has enough varying circumstance as to defy the notion of any singular style as best, and it may simply be that there is the potential for a good many successful variations on the Pinot Noir theme. Is the potential for Santa Rita Hills Pinot entirely dependent on lower alcohol wines? Are those that achieve higher ripeness and deliciousness failures? Can “delicious” and “complex” as defined by Moorman find peaceful coexistence in the same place. These are questions being asked in a good many of California’s fine wine regions these days. I, for one, am tired of bi-polar conflict and am ready for detente between the more-is-more and less-is-more crowds.


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by Adam Lee/Siduri Wines
Posted on:5/12/2012 6:55:45 AM


Thanks for your thoughts on this subject.  I think that your last paragraph is really the key.  I believe that we would be better served to celebrate quality Pinot Noir, no matter the style.  And as producers we are better served to talk about what we do, and why we do it, without needlessly criticizing others in the process.

Again, thanks for your thoughts.

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines

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