Filed under: Events, Tasting notes, Tasting rooms | Tags: Anderson Valley, Baxter Winery, black kite cellars, Oppenlander Vineyard, Phillips Hill, Pinot Noir, Tastings
BOONVILLE, CA — May 17, 2009. Sunday is always Open House day at the Anderson Valley Pinot fest. For the tasting rooms that are open year-round, it’s fun to go because they often pour library selections and arrange special food and wine pairings. Places like Esterlina have a full-on BBQ — the view from that winery up in the hills is beautiful. For the other wineries that don’t have tasting rooms, they may hold an exclusive opportunity to visit the winery or the vineyards and also taste a broad selection of Pinot Noir offerings.
When Jennifer and I go to the festival, Open House is usually our day for tasting, as we historically never attend the grand tasting. It’s also a great day to hang out with the people in the community that we’ve gotten to know over the years. Our usual haunts are Londer, Roederer, Handely and Elke. But with Jennifer and our daughter not with me this weekend, I decided to explore some new wineries.
My friend Asim was also at the festival this weekend and had some suggestions of open houses that were off the beaten path and at wineries that are otherwise not open. They also happen to be some of the up-and-coming wineries and vineyards in Anderson Valley, so it was good to see what was happening on that edge of the spectrum. Our first stop was at Black Kite, which has 12 acres planted by the Green family and is run by Rebecca Green Birdsall and Tom Birdsall. They held the tasting under a small canopy in the middle of their gorgeous vineyard. Here is their description of the Kite’s Rest vineyard site and characteristics:
The Kite’s Rest Vineyard is situated on a 40 acre parcel that rises 400 feet from the Navarro River in Anderson Valley’s remote “Deep End” district, an area renowned for its cool climate Pinot Noir. Here, our Pinot Noir vines coexist with towering coastal Redwoods, known as “Monarchs of the Mist”. These are the tallest trees on earth and are found only in this unique coastal environment. The region’s cool maritime climate is enhanced by our vineyard’s north facing exposure, providing us with even greater hang time than is normal in Anderson Valley.
We tasted through a pretty long selection of their Pinot Noirs, from the Kite’s Rest blend, to the block-designate wines, “Stony Terrace,” “Redwood’s Edge,” and “River Turn.” Each reflected the varying characteristics of this sloping vineyard, and ranged from taut and lean with bright red fruit and subtle earth to more lush and opulent with some darker fruit and spicy notes.
Kite’s Rest is off of Greenwood-Elk Road, so we decided to continue up the ridge to Baxter Winery. Baxter is situated in an old farm near Elk. They source their fruit from many vineyards up and down the valley as well as from some newer sources outside of the Anderson Valley appellation. This was our favorite stop along the trail — it was a young and relaxed crew of winemakers just hanging out, pouring wines and barbequeing for their visitors. We tasted through their 06 and 07 single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. All of them reflect characteristics of each site, are not over-manipulated and are a result of native yeast fermentation. Each had great acidity, structure and balance. They ranged from lighter, leaner in style like the Toulouse vineyard to a more full-bodied, intense result from the Oppenlander Vineyard (my favorite).
I had heard about Oppenlander a few times this weekend and was intrigued. Oppenlander is situated on the Surprise Valley Ranch in the Comptche region, which is a bit more of the wild west of Pinot Noir in these parts. Oppenlander is roughly eight miles from the ocean and is owned by the Shandel family, a family that has been on this ranch for five generations. It gets more of the coastal fog and maintains a cooler overall climate than the valley floor of Anderson Valley.
All of the wines at Baxter were excellent and we ended up staying two hours, downing lamb sliders and chatting with the winemaker, Phil Baxter, Jr., and the rest of the staff, as well as the other visitors. For a wine geek, it is great to be able to stand around and taste wines and talk about the winemaking process ad infinitum. But alas, we needed to head down the hill and start our trek homeward.
We squeezed in one last stop at Phillips Hill, which has a new tasting room in Philo. Winemaker Toby Hill is also an artist and migrated West from the New York art scene to make Pinot Noir. Not classically trained in winemaking, he has picked up the skills along the way and is part of the new batch of upstarts (including Baxter and Drew) making Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.
At this point of the day, it was in the high 90s, and Pinot Noir became less attractive to taste, but I really enjoyed the selections at Phillips Hill, including their version of Oppenlander and the Marguerite Vineyard Pinot Noir. The Marguerite had completely different aromatics than anything else I had tasted that day: earthy, flinty with sour cherry. It was a wonderful wine and my last purchase of the day, making its way into the cooler for the long drive home.
I left Anderson Valley excited about the wines being made there and feeling fortunate that we have been able to source some really amazing grapes from this valley. The quality of the wines and the kinship that we have with the winemaking community also reinforced our commitment to making Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. We’ll be working on our fifth vintage this year and four out of the five vintages have included an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. I talked with a few growers over the weekend about available Pinot Noir fruit sources as we would really like to anchor our program with Anderson Valley wines over the long term. Stay posted!
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