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THURSDAY THORNS
05/24/2012
Thursday Thoughts
The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival: A Report

A Guest Report by Norman Roby

Too bad you couldn’t make it to the Pinot Noir Festival in Anderson Valley last weekend. It is one of those rare opportunities when both the winemakers based in the Valley and those outsiders making Pinots from the region get together to show their wines. For the rest of the year, they tend to keep to themselves and do their own thing.

News trickles out, usually long after the fact as Anderson Valley winemakers tend to focus on making wines, not headlines. Because I live a relatively short thirty-minute drive away, I pass through the Anderson Valley frequently, visit wineries often, and am in contact with winemakers during the year through my involvement with the annual charity auction, Winesong. But despite all of this, I learn a lot each year at the Pinot Noir Festival. This time around, I am happy to share my observations on what went on and offer my take on trends and highlights.

Among newsy stuff, the Edmeades winery has been reinvented by the Jackson Family as a Pinot Noir specialist, under the “Champ de Rêves” (Field of Dreams) name. It was not long after Jess Jackson passed away that locals noted vineyards for sale were being checked by Jackson Family reps. Barbera Banke, Jess’ wife, is said to be behind the revival, and now the family owns four blocks of high elevation vineyards known collectively as “Boone Ridge.”

The debut Pinot, the 2010 Champ de Rêves, is an excellent beginning. As I learned over the weekend, the 2010 vintage is one to watch carefully as a big, rich, but not over-ripe year with plenty of supporting acidity. Since 2009 was also above average, the Anderson Valley Pinot folks now have two consecutive vintages to help them and everyone else forget about the smoke-plagued 2008 Pinots. I’m certain there’s a word in Bootling, the local patois, for bad luck and being totally screwed by Mother Nature, but as a “Fogeater” (coastal resident) I’m not aware of it.

Champ de Rêves is not alone as a new kid in the Anderson Valley neighborhood. With 8 acres planted in 1998 in Philo, Balo Vineyard also debuted with its 2010. Jason Drew is the winemaker getting Balo smoothly off the starting blocks. Fulcrum produced its 2010 Pinot from the Londer Vineyard, and the winemaker did justice to that established site too.

Twomey, Silver Oak’s sister, seems poised to become a major player. Harvesting fruit from three of the finest vineyards—Ferrington, Savoy, and Monument Tree (which I believe it owns) Twomey showed a lovely 2009 and a lovelier, deeper 2010. The fact that 1,853 cases (copious for the region) of 2010 Twomey Pinot will be available makes this a story well-worth sharing.

Then there was the new Pinot Noir from “Walt.” That’s right, simply labeled “Walt.” That sounds about as low-budget as a wine named “Charlie” or, worse yet, “Norm.” But it turns out that Walt is the family name of Kathryn Hall. Best known for its Cabernet Sauvignons, her Hall winery in Napa needs no backgrounder or introduction here.

“Walt” is a partnership between Hall and Roger and Richard Rosseler whose family has been sourcing Pinot for years from all of the esoteric sites along the West Coast. Rosseler’s own “Hein Vineyard” located in the “Deep End” of the Anderson Valley provides fruit for one of three 2010 Walt Pinots from Anderson Valley. This one had a slightly closed-in nose, but the texture was silky smooth and the flavours right on target. The Walt Pinot that had everybody talking was the 2010 “The Corners,” a vineyard that looks directly down on the Fairgrounds in Boonville. This show-stopping Pinot is rich with explosive flavors and, well, it has it all. The third Pinot which wasn’t available for tasting is “Blue Jay,” a blend of several vineyards.

Ambitious enough to warrant a digression here, Walt’s gameplan is to focus on Pinot Noir from four regions: Sonoma, Santa Rita Hills, Willamette Valley, and Anderson Valley. The Sonoma Pinots originate from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley. All told, in 2010 Walt bottled 12 Pinot Noirs with quantities ranging from 68 cases to just over 1,000 and retail prices in the $50-$70 range.

What’s interesting is that with practically unlimited resources, the Walt team considers the Anderson Valley as one of “four legendary appellations” for Pinot. Nothing from Napa, no mention of the Carneros or Santa Lucia Highlands.

While “legendary” is a little over the top language, the Anderson Valley has definitely gotten its Pinot Noir act together and deserves to be upgraded. Goldeneye has brought national attention to the region and has helped raise the bar, but today, it faces some tough, friendly competition. Williams Selyem’s 09 Ferrington Vineyard, Copain’s 09 Monument Tree Vineyard, Breggo’s 09 Savoy, Saintsbury’s 09 Cerise Vineyard, the 09 Expression 39 (Bill Hill redux), and Londer’s 09 are all first-class Pinots by any standard. However, my personal favorite was Goldeneye’s 09 “Gowan CreekVineyard.” It is the complete Pinot package, and one for the cellar. But I would easily settle for any of the others listed here.

And that’s the difference today: it is now difficult looking over Pinots from two fine vintages to find a cut-off point in a list of Anderson Valley favorites. I have yet to mention the likes of truly fine Pinots from Lazy Creek, Lula Cellars, Foursight, Handley’s RSM Vineyard, Black Kite, and Claudia Springs. Littorai might have made my list, but after trying several times to sample the latest Pinots, I couldn’t get through the pushy crowd trying to get on that winery’s mailing list. Arista, which has been favorably reviewed in Connoisseurs’ Guide, was not at the Festival.

But it is also reassuring to see some things haven’t changed. Navarro Vineyards maintains its “good value” label by pricing its top-end “Methode a la Anciene” under

$30. And Alan Green of Greenwood Ridge still retains a boyish sense of humor. At the Festival, he announced that after 30 years he is releasing his first “Hundred Point” wine. The 2010, he says, is “named after a rocky promontory on the coast where legend has it, one hundred ships were wrecked” on the point.

And if you swallow that one...maybe on your next trip you should consider heading to Philo to tour the Marijuana Museum and check out The Rock Shop.

 

Norman Roby has been a friend of Connoisseurs’ Guide for too many years to mention. Not only did he guide the production of our very first book back in the 1970s and sit on our tasting panels, but he preceded Steve Eliot as Wine Instruction functionary at the California Culinary Academy, and spent several decades writing in Vintage Magazine and Decanter.


 

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Comments

Hmmmmm...
by TomHill
Posted on:5/25/2012 7:42:36 AM

Hmmmmm....Vintage Magazine??? Now there's a name I've not heard of in a few yrs. Wonder whatever happened to PhilipSeldon.

Nice report, Norm. Thanks for sharing it with us. Sounds like a lot going on up there in the AndersonVlly.

Tom

 

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