Harvest 2011: Cold Summer, Late Rains and Bears, Oh My! by valleyfog

Russian River Valley pinot noir arriving at the winery

It’s October 15 and we still are waiting for more pinot noir fruit to get picked and sorted in this 2011 vintage. Today, we sorted our Russian River Valley pinot noir fruit from the vineyard formerly know as Archer Family Vineyard (it was recently sold and new vineyard name is TBD). Usually RRV fruit comes in sometime in mid-late September.

The fact that you have Sonoma fruit getting picked in mid-October tells you what a crazy growing season this has been. Not only did the cool summer push back the phenolic development of the grapes, but the rains in early October caused ripening to stall momentarily. In some cases, it pushed back the ripeness, with sugars going down.

And then, when you get a region like Anderson Valley, where our grapes have come in normally in late September to early October, things are getting pushed back even further. We are still awaiting another lot of Anderson Valley pinot noir, with our Wentzel fruit scheduled for pick on Monday the 17th.

Evidence of a hungry bear at Wentzel Vineyard

And did we say bears? Yes, bears. A little visitor has consumed a few pinot noir clusters at Wentzel Vineyard, further challenging the final yield of the vineyard. Suffice it to say, we are lucky to get our little ton of pinot with all the challenges the year has brought.

Despite all the challenges or idiosyncrasies of the 2011 vintage, the fruit looks *and* tastes good. For growers overall, yields are down due to shatter, dropped fruit because of mold or lack of ripeness and general damage from the rains, but what remains after this close attention to quality are excellent grapes that hopefully are benefiting from an additional two to three weeks of hang time. As Bonne notes in his own 2011 harvest update, more hang time (and cooler growing conditions) means more complexity and more balance.

We’ll see – as Tom Petty growls in his hit from the 80′s, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

Fall Release Now Available: 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir by valleyfog

2009 Oppenlander Pinot Noir

At long last the wait is over. It’s always the hardest part of wine making. You get excited about a particular vintage and how the wines will turn out, but the wines need time. Time to evolve, time to settle down, time to open up. And the time is now as we are excited to release our Waits-Mast Family Cellars lineup of 2009 Pinot Noir wines.

2009 was a very favorable growing year, as many wine writers have noted, and there was a lot of great pinot noir available that year. We ended up sourcing fruit from five different vineyards, from as far south as Sta. Rita Hills and as far north as Comptche, CA. Here is the lineup, with links to tasting notes and specs on each one:

2009 La Encantada Pinot Noir

The joy of this lineup is that it is a diverse portfolio of wines, each representing the style and personality of the vineyard and the region. The Sta. Rita Hills pinot screams central coast with its bright acidity, amazing structure and cranberry tartness. The Russian River pinot is fruit-forward with a floral nose and silky finish. And as we get into Anderson Valley with the Hayley and Deer Meadows we pick up the pure cherry fruit and earthy aromas from that cool climate. Wrapping it up in Comptche, the vineyard that is furthest north and closest to the coast, the wine serves up that “oceanic acidity,” a balanced, earthy and strikingly-colored pinot noir.

After reading all that, and if you’ve been following this blog since the 2009 harvest, then you’re probably ready to get some for yourself. Our online store, which we had closed for the summer due to warm weather shipping restrictions and some updating of the store, is now open and the 2009 vintage is now available. Just go to and click on “purchase.”

At the moment, we are only able to ship within the state of California, but we are working on adding some additional states in the coming weeks and months. If you are in one of those other 49 states and wish for us to ship to you, let us know and we’ll do our best to get the proper permits (there are tons of legal restrictions on direct shipping, so no guarantees).

2009 Deer Meadows Pinot Noir

Soon we’ll have some retailers offering our wine through their online site as well, and they often ship to many states in the U.S. Stay tuned to our blog and our website for updates on these retailers. And to read some of the latest reviews, go to our News page on our website for the most recent reviews on Waits-Mast Pinot Noir.

Enjoy the wines and we’ll keep you posted on more updates on this vintage, our 2010s and the 2011 harvest.

Countdown to the 2009 Release: Deer Meadows Pinot Noir by valleyfog

Pinot Noir grapes at Rich Savoy's Deer Meadows Vineyard above Boonville

It’s been a little quiet over here at ValleyFogBlog, but we’ve been busy behind the scenes at Waits-Mast Family Cellars this summer readying our 2009 vintage Pinot Noir wine for release in September. The busy stuff is the less-than-glamorous side of running a winery. Things like permits, licenses, label approvals and the like. It’s the long checklist of items that we have had to go through to get to releasing and selling the wines.

The good news is we are almost done with all that. A few last steps in the month of August, mostly focusing on revamping our webstore, and then we will be ready to release the wine in early September. So we thought we would take some time to revisit each of the five different pinot noirs we crafted in 2009, profiling a different vineyard each week leading up to the launch.

When you’re in the middle of harvest of any given vintage there is great excitement and anticipation for how the wine will turn out. We recall 2009 being a special year because the growing year was ideal – consistently warm and moderate across the summer – and we expanded our vineyard portfolio to take on some new and different Mendocino County vineyards. Back then we were about to burst – we just couldn’t wait to share these wines. And alas, they are ready.

Taking the 09 Deer Meadows Pinot Noir for a test-drive at Frances restaurant in SF

This week we are going to look at our 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from the Deer Meadows Vineyard. This wine is probably one of the best single-vineyard wines from a vineyard you’ve never heard of. Deer Meadows Vineyard is located in Anderson Valley and is owned and farmed by Rich Savoy, one of the best-known pinot noir growers in that region. The vineyard you may have heard of is Savoy Vineyard, which is down the road from Deer Meadows was Rich’s original vineyard (and is now owned by Breggo Cellars).

Deer Meadows is located at 1600′ elevation above Boonville, sitting above the fog layer and experiencing slightly cooler temperatures than the valley floor, give its altitude. To read more about our first visit to the vineyard back in September of 2009 and notes on harvest and winemaking, check out our blog post from October, 2009.

But let’s get to the most important part – now that the wine has been aged in French oak and in bottle, how does it taste? Here are our most recent tasting notes from the 2009 Deer Meadows Vineyard Pinot Noir:

The best word to describe this wine is exotic. Wonderful floral and earthy aromatics integrate with a slight caramel edge and Asian spice on the nose. The palate is brisk with bright cherry, orange peel and coriander. Intense red cherry and great acidity punctuate the finish. With such great structure, the wine will unfold after a few hours after being opened; with bottle aging, it will develop even more complexity over time.

Here are the details and specs for this wine:

  • Clones: 115/Wädenswil
  • Harvest/Brix: September 25, 2009 at 23.5 Brix
  • Fruit: 100% whole berry (no stems)
  • Fermentation: RC212 yeast
  • Barrel aging: 17 months in French oak, 25% new (Cadus, tight grain, medium toast)
  • Alcohol content: 14.2% by volume
  • Bottled: March, 2011
  • Production: 49 cases

Sound good? Oh yeah, it is. Wait until you hear about the next 09 pinot…we’ll look at the 2009 Oppenlander Vineyard next week.

2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival: 5 Reasons To Get Your Tickets Now by valleyfog

Tickets for the 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, happening May 20 – 22, 2011, are now on sale and there are many reasons to go. We’re going to count down our five top reasons, just ’cause. This festival is the highlight of our year and is one of the main reasons we are in the wine business today making California pinot noir. But enough about us, without further ado, five reasons to get your tickets to the AV Pinot Fest today, in descending order:

Hein Family Vineyard in Anderson Valley, near Philo, CA.

5. It’s beautiful. Just going to Anderson Valley, if you’ve never been, is reason alone. Even if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and you drive the three hours over hill and dale to get there, you feel like you are removed from the urban jungle or the suburban sprawl. The air smells fresh, you breathe easier, the landscape is gorgeous and the people are friendly and welcoming.

4. Geek out at the Technical Conference. Have a strong opinion about native yeasts vs. inoculating? Want to know about the benefits and risks of whole cluster fermentation? Does all the technical stuff wash over you much easier when you’re drinking pinot noir from great producers and vineyards? For years, the technical conference has been a great way for us to get more immersed in the winemaking process. If you want to dive in head first, go for the full day session. Or, if you just want to dip your toe in the water, check out the afternoon session that is designed to be more consumer-friendly. Wine goddess Karen MacNeil will be there in the afternoon session guiding attendees “through an in-depth study of the inherent grace and beauty of pinot noir through the lens of other varietals.” That’s hot.

Eager Pinotphiles rush to the Grand Tasting in Philo.

3. Pig out on pinot at the Grand Tasting. It’s actually not that overwhelming for a grand tasting. The festival organizers limit attendance to the Saturday tasting to roughly 650 attendees, so you have an opportunity to get up close and personal, as it were, with the winemakers and their pinot noirs (some sparkling wines, too, as long as they are made w/some pinot).

Over 40 producers will be under the big tent at the picturesque vineyard behind Goldeneye Winery. Londer Vineyards, Foursight, MacPhail, Jim Ball, Elke, Phillips Hill, Drew, Roederer Estate, Roessler, and many more…so much pinot noir, so little time. And there will be plenty of food to keep your energy up and your wits about you for the silent auction (there are some seriously cool wines and packages – all the proceeds benefit the Anderson Valley Health Center.)

2. Winemaker dinners. These dinners, hosted at either wineries or local restaurants, are a real treat. Guests get to interact with the winemakers in an even more intimate setting. Two or three wineries pair their wines with amazing cuisine from chefs in the Valley or from the Mendocino Coast, and there’s usually a winemaker sitting at every table. Seating is limited — the Apple Farm dinner which we’re attending is limited to 34 guests and is almost sold out — so get on it! We’ve been to the Roederer Estate dinners before and they are spectacular. The dinners on the coast feature great producers like Baxter, Claudia Springs, Esterlina and Lazy Creek and are perfect if you are lodging in Albion, Little River or Mendocino.

1. Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be there. Okay, so it is a little about us! But hey, we’re excited because at the Grand Tasting we are going to be pouring our two newest Anderson Valley pinot noirs for the first time. Our 2009 Deer Meadows Vineyard Pinot Noir, from the 1600′ vineyard farmed by Rich Savoy, is savory and aromatic with notes of bright cherry, orange peel and coriander. And our 2009 Hayley Vineyard Pinot Noir strikes that perfect balance of Anderson Valley pinot with brilliant red fruit and a hint of earthiness and a touch of vanilla. Both of these wines, along with our three other 2009 pinot noirs, were recently bottled and are pending release, so stay tuned for their respective launches.

So hop on over to the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival website and get your tickets and we look forward to seeing you in the valley in May!

The calm before the storm at the Grand Tasting

2009 vintage almost there: August barrel tasting by valleyfog

Trying to keep track of all the wine during barrel sampling

One thing about being in the wine business and dealing with so many vintages is you start to forget what year it is. We’re in the middle of releasing and selling our 2008 vintage of pinot noir, the 2009s are still in barrel, and we’re finalizing our plans for 2010. All exciting stuff for us here at Waits-Mast and each vintage has its own story and requires its own focus.

We’ve written much about our 2009 vintage and its five different vineyards and we are really pumped about this wine. We recently tasted through all five vineyard-designate pinot noirs in barrel and the wines truly represent a broad portfolio of pinot noir. In barrel since October of last year, each one is distinct and supremely tasty in its own right. These are the type of wines that you could easily distinguish one from the other, because they are so site-specific. Here are some brief observations of each wine from this barrel tasting:

Hayley Vineyard, Anderson Valley: this vineyard on the valley floor gets a lot of morning fog and then warmer afternoons that combine to extend flavor development. Bright raspberry and coconut on the nose, bursting with red fruit on the palate with nice acidity and fine tannins on the finish.

La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills: our third vintage with this Santa Barbara County vineyard, the La Encantada is delivering once again. The 2009 has a lot of exotic spices, firm tannins, and an intense core of red and black fruit.

Deer Meadows Vineyard, Anderson Valley: Rich Savoy’s upper (1600′) vineyard in Boonville is going to rock your world. A lighter touch than our other pinots, it has wonderful floral aromatics with bright cherry, orange peel and coriander. Intense red cherry and great acidity make the wine dance on the palate.

Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County (Comptche): this one is going to be coming out of its shell a bit later, but the potential that we’re tasting in this this wine is intriguing: dried lavender, purple-tinged color, earthy tones and firm tannins. Patience will serve you well with the Oppenlander.

Amber Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley: for those not wanting a wine that is playing hard-to-get, this pinot noir will be lush, flirty and seductive right out of the gate. Lots of cherry and raspberry, smooth tannins with a brightness to counteract the warm spices that this wine serves up. In a word: yum.

Ready to treat yourself to a flight of this amazing pinot noir? We are too, but we need to let these wines brood a little more, do a little blending and then get them in bottle. They’ve all been racked to neutral barrels. We’ll let you know about final bottling and the planned release dates, which will likely be in 2011.

2008 Amber Ridge currently on the shelves at Pleasant Hill Wine Merchant

We still have a handful of cases of our 2008 Hein Vineyard, Anderson Valley and 2008 Amber Ridge Vineyard (equally as flirty) left and will be releasing our 2008 La Encantada in September. All three of these wines are award-winning and continue to evolve beautifully, so treat yourself to one today.

2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 1- Technical Conference and BBQ by Jennifer

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2010 Begins

Wow. What a great weekend we had in Anderson Valley for the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.

We’ve been going to the festival off and on since 2002. The first three years that we went, we attended the Technical Conference, winemaker dinners, and the Sunday winery Open Houses.

The Technical Conference has always been a highlight for us, as we learned more and more every year about the science of winemaking and grape growing, wine marketing, and food pairing. You can see Brian’s recap of the 2009 Technical Conference here.

This year, for the first time since 2005, both of us were able to attend not only the Technical conference, but also a winemaker dinner, the grand tasting, and open houses. It was an amazing immersion into the world of Pinot Noir and it’s always fun to see friends at the festival, both winemakers and wine drinkers.

The 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference on Friday, May 14, was organized a bit differently, as they opened up the afternoon sessions to consumers, with a line-up of speakers that was less technical than in the morning. The entire event was MC’d by wine writer Jordan Mackay, author of Passion for Pinot.

Getting Technical in the A.M.

Held at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, the conference began early in the morning with a presentation by Tony Linegar of the Mendocino County Agricultural Commission about the European Grapevine Moth.

Tony provided the attendees with breaking news about this damaging, grape eating pest, which was found just a few weeks prior in North Ukiah Valley near a winery. He said that more than 1200 traps have been placed throughout Mendocino County and said that he was confident that the traps work. He expressed concern about Anderson Valley, but stated that so far no months have been found and that the county is not part of any quarantine yet.

Tony speculated that the moth may have arrived in Ukiah on fruit from Napa County and warned that any fruit and vineyard equipment coming from outside of Mendocino County should be scrutinized for evidence of the moth or larvae. Although he said that he was worried about Anderson Valley, he pointed out that “your strength is your isolation.” He also addressed rumors about how the grapevine moth came into the United States (it was first detected in September 2009) and said that there’s no answer yet, although there is an ongoing investigation, with rumors pointing to equipment from Italy or illegally imported cuttings brought in by a grower in Napa. He said that because of the arrival of this moth, every vineyard in the state of California is being trapped and quarantines are in effect for fruit leaving affected areas. Vineyards are advised to inspect fruit coming in from outside of their regions and are asked to power wash or steam clean harvesting equipment to remove all plant material.

The remaining morning presentations focused on the physiology of fruit maturation and on how terroir, clones and winery techniques work to affect mouthfeel in a wine. Things got pretty technical in both presentations, but I appreciated winemaker Greg LaFolette’s insertion of humor into his talk, with quips about “scrotal berries,” “Samsonite selections,” and his remark on disease prevention: “We just don’t want to be bringing the clap into our neck of the woods.”

2009 Barrel Samples

Before lunch we tasted some Pinot Noir barrel samples from the 2009 vintage in order to discuss some of the concepts that we covered in the final presentation before lunch.

Then, the assembled participants (as well as consumers arriving for the afternoon) were invited outside for a lunch of pulled pork sandwiches and accompaniments. It’s the tradition to bring along a bottle of wine to share at lunch and this year people were encouraged to share Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from 2008. We brought a bottle of our 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard and plopped it in the Gazebo along with the other offerings.

After lunch Jim Klein of Navarro Vineyards led a tasting of older wines, including Navarro Pinot Noir from 1991, 1994, and 2000. Although the crowd seemed to enjoy these older wines, Jim said that he tends to be more focused on what he’s currently working on as opposed to wines of the past, saying that to him older wines are “like an octogenarian actress” trotted out and propped up at an awards show. He added, “Most of us don’t age gracefully…it’s sort of like elder porn.” The wines from Navarro, as well as the next set of wines were also matched with an appropriate food pairing.

Pulled Pork Lunch with Gazebo Action in Background

Up next was a tasting focused on the wines made from Rich Savoy’s famed Savoy Vineyard. Along with Rich Savoy, panelists included Eric Sussman from Radio-Coteau, Mike Sullivan from Benovia and Scott Shapley (our former winemaker!) from Roessler.

As we tasting through 2006 and 2007 Pinot Noirs from Savoy Vineyards, the panelists talked about the characteristics of the vineyard and the resulting wines.

Eric said that he appreciated that the vineyard has “a lot of different clonal material to work with” and Scott pointed out that it’s “the most complex site” that he’s worked with when making wines for Roessler, since there are a variety of blocks with different characteristics.

Rich also spoke a little about his other vineyard, Deer Meadows, which is one of the vineyards that we sourced from in 2009. Located up at 1600 feet (compared with the Savoy Vineyard located just off highway 128), Deer Meadows will be used in a few vineyard designate wines this year.

What's in Those Glasses?

The next presentation featured Dan Sogg (formerly of The Wine Spectator) talking about the merits and drawbacks of the 100 point scale for wine ratings.

He pointed out that even though he has some “ambivalence” about the scale, it is “THE industry standard” and “everyone understands it.” He explained that the 100 point system is “brilliant wine marketing” in that it “touches our desire for control.”

He also suggested that everyone participate in a blind wine tasting in which wines are scored and then bottles are rearranged and scored again. Dan explained that the order in which we taste can have a profound effect on how we rate a wine and demonstrated by having the audience taste 2 juices. Half of the room tried orange juice first and the other half tried grapefruit first. In this unscientific test, we saw that those who tried grapefruit juice first were more likely to prefer it and those who tried orange juice first were more likely to prefer the orange juice. He argued that a wine’s position in a tasting matters, just as the position of the fruit juice had an effect on the conference attendees.

Dan also argued that since people are “hard-wired” to notice “change,” bigger, richer wines tend to stand out more in tastings and that subtle wines don’t tend to do as well. The downside of this is that high scoring wines aren’t always the best wines for the long haul. Dan said that these wines often age badly and that “Many of the highest scoring wines don’t play well with others…and hog the table” due to their bold style.

Small Bottles from DeLoach

He added that that trying 70 different wines in one day and judging them isn’t “very useful” and argued that very few people can “make consistent judgments” when trying that many wines in a day. Dan also said that when wines are judged by a group panel (vs. by a single taster), the ensuing ratings are flawed like a “horse designed by committee.”

The final session of the day was an overview of a new service that launched on May 3rd called Through this company, small 50ml sample bottles of wine can be produced as both a marketing tool and a method for sharing samples with potential customers. These small bottles can also be bundled into boxed tasting kits containing a handful of bottles. Interestingly, this is quite similar to the previously launched Crushpad service TinyBottles.

After a full day of information and imbibing, we headed over to Standish for the post-conference BBQ. We caught up with some friends who we see every year at the festival, ate some delicious food, and again sampled from the bottles brought to the event by the attendees. It was a great start to the festival.

Jennifer soaks up the sun at the BBQ after a day of geeking out at the technical conference

2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Preview by valleyfog

Wentzel Vineyard in Philo, CA, Anderson Valley

The 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, taking place the weekend of May 14 – 16, 2010, is less than a month away and we can’t wait. This relatively small and intimate event is one of the highlights of our year.

Over the years, our many trips to Anderson Valley and this festival in particular greatly influenced our desire to make pinot noir. And after going for so many years, we enjoy running into old friends and making new ones.

Tickets to many of the events are still available but will likely sell out soon. Here is a preview of some of the events throughout the weekend, including inside scoop on what Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be pouring at the festival and an exclusive silent auction item that you can’t get anywhere else.

  • Technical conference: designed primarily for growers, winemakers and winery folks, this conference, happening on Friday, May 14, also appeals to the wine enthusiast. If you are passionate about pinot noir and want to learn more, the conference lets you jump in feet first into the world of growing, making and selling pinot noir. Wine writer Jordan MacKay will MC the event, which in the morning features more in-depth sessions on growing techniques, terroir and clones and a discussion of the 2008 vintage. The lunch at this conference is always amazing. It’s held behind the fairground building and everybody brings a bottle of their pinot noir, filling up the gazebo with an incredible variety of wines to sample. When you sit down for lunch at a picnic table, you’ll likely be sitting next to a winemaker or grower, so it’s a great opportunity to get to know people in the business first-hand.
  • Technical conference, part 2 & consumer tasting seminar: In the afternoon session, which is also sold as a separate consumer-friendly session at a lower price, featured tastings will include Savoy Vineyard wines from Roessler, Benovia and Radio-Coteau. Winemaker Jim Klein of Navarro will also pour a vertical of Navarro magnums from older vintages.
  • Social BBQ: If you haven’t had enough pinot noir on Friday, after the technical conference there is a social BBQ being held over at Standish Wine Co. It’s a great way to unwind in the warm valley atmosphere after all that talk of clones, microbes and yeast strains. And like lunch, everybody brings extra bottles and leaves them at a table for all to sample. If you’re a pinot noir lover, you’ll be like a pig in mud.
  • Grand Tasting: Speaking of pig in mud, over 40 producers will be pouring only Anderson Valley Pinot Noir at the Grand Tasting on Saturday, May 15, from 11am – 3pm. Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be pouring our 2006 and 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. In addition, we’ll bring a small amount of barrel samples of our 2009 Pinot Noir from Rich Savoy’s Deer Meadows vineyard. For more info about this wine, check out our blog post on it from last harvest. Also featured during the Grand Tasting is a silent auction benefiting the Anderson Valley Health Center. Waits-Mast is donating a two-pack of Anderson Valley wines which will include the last available bottle of our 2007 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was named to the San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Wines of 2009. If you’ve been aching to get your hands on this wine after it sold out in December, now’s your chance.
  • Winemaker dinners: if you can still get tickets to one of these, they are well worth it. Now, after the Grand Tasting your palate may be a bit tired out. But if you pace yourself, you’ll enjoy the rare wines and up-close interaction with winemakers at these dinners. Check out the lineup of dinners still available at the festival website.
  • Open House: on Sunday, March 16, fill yourself up with a hearty breakfast at the Boonville General Store and chart your course for the open house portion of the weekend. Wineries always pour something special and have great wine and food pairings.

As you can see, there’s a ton of stuff going on and no shortage of amazing wines to try and buy. We hope you’re able to make the drive to Anderson Valley and join us for the festival next month.

Barrel Tasting the 2009 vintage: February Notes by valleyfog

After a busy holiday season and with our 2009 vintage resting comfortably in barrel for over four months, we were ready to check in on its progress. Each of the five different Waits-Mast vineyard-designate pinot noirs made in 2009 are doing quite well and each exhibits its own personality and distinctive flavor profile. Here are some tasting notes on how each is coming along, as of February 19, 2010:

2009 barrel tasting: five barrels, eight glasses, one spit cup

Amber Ridge vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (clones: 115, 667, 777; two barrels, one new (Francois Freres), one neutral): the first word I wrote down was “awesome.” The fruit leaps out of the glass and is juicy and dark, with a candied raspberry finish. This will mellow, for sure, but this will definitely be a wine that will be very drinkable, very soon.

Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County (clones: 115, Wadenswil; two barrels, one new (Cadus), one neutral): This is Rich Savoy’s higher elevation (1600 ft.) vineyard (official vineyard designation to-be-named) in Boonville. We’ve tasted this twice in the last month and we are very excited about this one. We feel it will deliver that complex, earthy Anderson Valley pinot noir that we love so much. Definitely some funky earth on the nose, with a mix of red and dark fruit. The tight-grained French Cadus oak is very restrained on the nose.

2009 Oppenlander vineyard from Comptche: vibrant and violet

Oppenlander vineyard, Comptche, Mendocino County (clones: 114; two barrels, one new (Remond), one neutral): Whoa! Crazy violet-tinged color on this one. I remember that color from the bottom of the bin after we dumped the grapes into the press. Chris Nelson, our winemaker, said the Oppenlander shows some of that classic “oceanic acidity.” Indeed, and some firm tannins, too. This will be a vibrant wine and we’re eager to see how it progresses as it comes together.

Hayley’s vineyard, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County (clones: 114; one barrel, 33% new French oak, Francois Freres): Hayley’s is on the valley floor, or benchland, where a lot of fog sits late into the morning. A lighter wine in comparison to some of the others, with nice red cherry fruit. Floral on the nose, with a distinct wild vanilla and coconut aroma, reminiscent of Malibu Rum (oh, the days of yore…).

La Encantada vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County (clones:115, 777; one barrel, 33% new French oak, Francois Freres): last but not least, this 100% organic vineyard always delivers beautiful and exciting wines. The 2009, our third vintage in a row with La Encantada, is showing an exotic herbal and spicy nose (consistent with previous vintages) and nice tannins. Should be another winner – so far, so good!

We’ll be back with more barrel tasting notes throughout the spring and summer and remember, we still have two different 2008 pinot noirs yet to be released. So stay tuned to our blog or sign up at our website to get on our mailing list for the latest news.

Harvest 2009 Tour: Savoy’s Deer Meadow Ranch Vineyard by Jennifer
115 clone pinot noir on the vine at Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard

115 clone pinot noir on the vine at Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard

As we often have written, we are fans of all sorts of pinot noir, from New World to Old World. There are many variations just within the state of California, and our portfolio of vineyard-designate wines celebrates this diversity of flavor.

From the romantic getaways passing through the valley to the geek-out technical conferences at the pinot noir festivals at the Boonville Fairgrounds, Anderson Valley, though, has always tugged at our heart.

Because of our great love for Anderson Valley, this year we decided to expand our offering of wines from that region. Brian started putting out feelers when he was at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival in May and as harvest drew near, we had leads on a number of amazing vineyards with fruit to spare.

In mid-September we traveled up to Anderson Valley to take a look at a few of our vineyard options for the 2009 vintage and were quite pleased with our options. One of our first stops was Rich Savoy’s Deer Meadow Ranch Vineyard. It sits at 1600 feet above Boonville and it was quite an adventure getting there. We traversed a winding dirt road and were treated to commanding views of Anderson Valley along the way.

Rich Savoy has made quite a name for himself in the wine world and his grapes have gone into many highly regarded wines. He has two vineyards: Savoy (in the benchlands off Highway 128 in Boonville) and the Deer Meadow Ranch Vineyard high in the hills above Anderson Valley. Coincidentally, on the day of our visit Rich had just received a copy of the brand-new Wine Spectator, featuring their top ranked California Pinot Noirs for the year. There on the cover was a Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir made by Roessler.

Before embarking on his wine career, Rich started out in the book business and was the owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, which he founded in 1967.  Being fans of neighborhood bookstores (and Green Apple customers), we were happy to learn about this connection.

Rich Savoy prunes the vines as harvest approaches at Deer Meadow Ranch

Rich Savoy prunes the vines as harvest approaches at Deer Meadow Ranch

Rich toured us around his vineyards and it was clear that he’s meticulous about his grapes.  They are farmed organically and planted in a northwest orientation (approximately 22 or 23 degrees off north) in 12 blocks that make up about 9.3 acres total. We then retired to Rich’s kitchen to snack on apples and discuss the details. We were impressed with both the vineyard and Rich’s attention to detail in tending to his vineyards, so we were honored to purchase some of his fruit.

We prefer to use lighter, more floral clones like 115 as the base for our wines, giving us the option to add punch, structure and lift in the blending process. In making the decision to get grapes from Rich’s Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard, we went for a mix of 115 and Wadenswil. Wadenswil is a Swiss clone that was imported from the town of the same name in the 1950s. The clone has a little more tannin than 115, which will add structure to the wine, and according to John Haeger’s North American Pinot Noir, “is prized mostly for brilliant, high-toned berry fruit and impressive perfume.”

With our big decision behind us, we awaited the amazing fruit and on September 24th it was delivered and we hand-sorted both clones. We placed them in the same bin to go into a nice 5-day cold soak and to co-ferment to a temperature not to exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit (so as not to over-extract the fruit.) The fermentation needed a little coaxing, so we inoculated with RC212 yeast, a yeast that we have used selectively with other wines with great results.

Pinot noir fruit Savoy's Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard at sorting

Pinot noir fruit from Savoy's Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard at sorting

After fermentation, we pressed the wine on October 5th and it has excellent promise. The first taste of free run juice that ran through the press was tart, showing a lot of acid. After pressing through to 1.2 bars, the wine smoothed out, showing amazing structure, creamy raspberry aromas and cocoa notes. All of these important components will integrate as the wine rests quietly in neutral and new (Cadus tight grain, medium toast) barrels. We’re excited to pay this wine a visit in a few months and see how it is progressing.

It was a great experience for us to venture out and shop around for new fruit sources and trust our own judgement (and the reputation of great wines as well) in expanding our portfolio of pinot noirs. We can’t wait to deliver our customers the results of this journey.

Crush 2009: 5 Vineyards/5 Vintages by valleyfog
Brian and Jennifer on the sorting line back in 2005 for our first crush with Amber Ridge

Brian and Jennifer on the sorting line back in 2005 for our first crush with Amber Ridge

That’s right. We’re on our fifth vintage. Isn’t that crazy?? Our first vintage was 2005. Jennifer and I had been married for almost three years, we had a baby on the way, and life was busy enough. Then we read this story in the San Francisco Chronicle about custom wineries that allowed you to make your own barrel of wine, one at a time, just like the professionals do. We did a pinot noir barrel tasting at Crushpad, located at that time in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, and were sold on the quality. We made one barrel that year from Amber Ridge vineyard, an up and coming Russian River vineyard near Gary Farrell’s Starr Ridge Vineyard in Windsor. It was so good, our friends wanted bottles and cases of the wine. We were hooked.

Fast forward to 2009: more excellent pinot noir, a cool label, a fancy website, a working webstore, this somewhat eloquent blog and our wines actually selling(albeit slowly) in the marketplace. We’ve even got a couple of good reviews. So the passion that Jennifer and I shared initially that drove us to make wine has only been stoked further by the support of our family and friends, industry peers and wonderful customers. So to celebrate our fifth vintage, we are making pinot noir from five different vineyards. That almost sounds crazier than the fact that we’re on our fifth vintage.

Our expansion (in a non-expanding economy) has to do with two things: our focus on site-specific wines and a bountiful harvest. Our site- and vineyard-specific approach reflects three different regions: Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley and Sta. Rita Hills. Our long-time affinity for the Anderson Valley and membership in the Anderson Valley Winegrowers’ Association has inspired us to expand that portion of our portfolio of wines. And it turns out that this year, because of a bumper crop and a slow economy, we have been able to get our grape-stained hands on some of the best fruit in Mendocino. We didn’t plan on producing a total of 8 barrels (across five vineyards), but the opportunity was too tempting to turn down. That may not sound like a lot to some people, but it’s a big commitment for us folks with day jobs. We’ll go in to more detail on the vineyards we’re working with, but we wanted to provide a quick overview of our small lot, single-vineyard pinot noir program for 2009:


115 clone pinot noir grapes at Rich Savoy's Boonville vineyard

115 clone pinot noir grapes at Rich Savoy's Boonville vineyard

Anderson Valley, Rich Savoy’s Deer Meadows Vineyard (vineyard designate TBD): for the few, but proud, followers of us on Facebook that have been hearing about the “mystery fruit,” it is now revealed. We toured some great vineyards in Anderson Valley in September and heard about a very small amount of fruit available from Rich Savoy’s Boonville vineyard. Situated at 1600 feet elevation, with a commanding south-facing view of Anderson Valley, Savoy’s vineyard off of Deer Meadows Road is meticulously farmed in multiple blocks. We were lucky enough to get enough 115 and Wädenswil (it’s Swiss!) clones to make two barrels. Look for a future post about our visit and tasting notes from the pressing.

Mendocino County (Comptche), Oppenlander Vineyard: wait – there’s more mystery fruit! When Brian was up in the Anderson Valley in for this year’s Pinot Noir Festival, he hit a few new open houses, thanks to some tips from his friend Asim. At both Baxter and Phillips Hill, we tried wines from Oppenlander Vineyard. Oppenlander is owned by the Shandel family and is located near Comptche, northwest of the Anderson Valley and about 8 miles from the ocean. This is the wild west of pinot noir – similar to the true Sonoma Coast vineyards like Hirsch. The grapes benefit from cooler temperatures and therefore, longer hangtime and better flavor development. This means intensity of flavor without over-extraction of fruit. That’s how we intend to coax these grapes into an elegant expression of pinot noir. We’ll be making two barrels of the 114 clone.

Anderson Valley, Hayley’s Vineyard: Hayley’s (aka Annahala Vineyard) is located on the valley floor, between Boonville and Philo. The valley floor actually gets a lot of low-lying fog that comes in from the “deep-end” of the valley, cooling the grapes down at the end of the day and early in the morning. This slows down the sugar production in the grapes and again, allows for flavor development. We sorted this fruit this past week and the 114 clone berries were tasty with great acidity. Exactly what we expect from Anderson Valley. We’ll make one barrel of this wine in 2009.


Waits-Mast 2009 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir: one of 8 barrels this year

Waits-Mast 2009 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir: one of 8 barrels this year

Russian River Valley, Amber Ridge Vineyard: this year, we moved to two barrels of Amber Ridge as it may be our last chance to make pinot noir from this vineyard. Based on the sorting and pressing that we’ve completed for Amber Ridge this year, it is going to be a killer wine. One barrel is 115 clone, a more feminine, elegant version of Pinot and the other is a co-ferment of 667 and 777, two more fruit-forward and structured versions of Pinot. When we blend them together next year, we’re confident the wine will be a wonderful, complex expression of Russian River Pinot Noir. If you can’t wait until then, soon we’ll be releasing our 2008 Amber Ridge, so stay close to this blog.

Sta. Rita Hills, La Encantada Vineyard: last, but certainly not least, is this amazing vineyard farmed by Richard Sanford in Santa Barbara County. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve heard us rave about Richard and his 100% organic farming practices. The fruit always comes in with small clusters and small berries – perfect for powerful and well-crafted pinot noirs. This will be the third year we’re making wine from La Encantada, and we’re honored to have access to this vineyard. We’ll make one barrel of 115 clone, with a little 667 blended in, most likely. To try our 2007 La Encantada, which is showing great complexity after a year in the bottle, click here.

Tasting the Waits-Mast 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noir with Richard Sanford

Tasting the Waits-Mast 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noir with Richard Sanford

But wait, there’s more…

To celebrate our fifth vintage, we’re making an extremely small amount of sparkling wine. It’s a long ways away, as sparkling wine takes two years to ferment and age, so we’ll leave you with that. Until then, we’ll provide more updates on the 2009 harvest and crush, as well as some holiday surprises coming soon!


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