Filed under: Tasting notes, Winemaking | Tags: Baxter Winery, Comptche, Mendocino County, Oppenlander Vineyard, Phillips Hill, Pinot Noir, Shandels
Our journey in winemaking is all about learning and trying new things — and making pinot noir that represents a sense of place. This year we have been fortunate to try out some new vineyards and expand our portfolio of vineyard-designate pinot noir wines. In addition to the up-and-coming vineyards that are available through Crushpad, this year we have sourced fruit from other top vineyards. Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche, Mendocino County, is one of those vineyards. It is well-known among a small circle of Mendocino County pinot noir fans, but is otherwise on the fringe both geographically and in the collective pinot noir consciousness.
Brian first had an opportunity to try Oppenlander pinot noir when he was at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival in May of this year. During the open house day, Sunday, he visited Baxter and Phillips Hill wineries, each of which makes pinot noir with Oppenlander fruit. He was struck by the depth and complexity of the wine and it was one of the most memorable pinot noirs he had that weekend. So when we decided that we wanted to explore additional vineyards for our 2009 vintage, Brian approached the folks from Oppenlander at the San Francisco Pinot Days back in June. Nothing was available at the time, in fact there was a list of folks wanting to get fruit from Oppenlander, but he passed on our business card just in case. As his mother used to say, “it never hurts to ask.” We asked and lo and behold, in September, we found out that we could get a small amount of 114 clone pinot noir from the nice folks at Oppenlander.
Those nice folks are John Pepe and Bill and Norm Shandel. The Shandels planted Dijon Pinot Noir clones in this old homestead and timberland in Comptche, California and Pepe is their winemaker. Comptche is in Mendocino County and is located much closer to the coast than is Anderson Valley. Located about 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it experiences some similar climatology as the true Sonoma Coast vineyards like Hirsch. It manages to still get enough sun and warmth during the day and benefit from the coastal fog to temper rigor and build great flavor development over time. It is still such a small and growing region that it does not have its own AVA (American Viticulture Area) to designate its site-specific qualities.
When the grapes came in on October 2, we had an easy time sorting the lot. This year’s harvest brought in small clusters (think mini-hand grenades) and small berries. Great acidity when tasting the berries. After a good cold soak of 5 days and a moderated fermentation, we pressed the wine on the 15th.
Making a total of two barrels, we filled the neutral oak barrel with 100% free run juice, and then filled the new Remond barrel 2/3 full. The color was the first thing that struck us. Looking down into the bin after the grapes were dumped into the press, we saw a wonderful deep burgundy color with hot pink edges. I can’t wait to see what this looks like in the glass – I’m guessing it will be a very pretty wine.
The first taste of the free run was full of tart cherry goodness, proving that this wine will have a good amount of acidity. After pressing it in .2 bar increments, we got some earthtones and herbal tea on the nose, and raspberry, plum and dark cherry on a smoother palate. Pressing to 1.35 bars it was still tasting great and we fill the rest of the barrel with this juice. We then pressed it a little harder for our topping tank.
All in all, the Oppenlander in 2009 is delivering on its reputation, from beautiful fruit to a beautiful wine. We’re totally psyched to see how our new venture evolves. In the meantime, sounds like we need to take a trip to Comptche!
Filed under: Vineyards | Tags: 115 clone, Anderson Valley, Boonville, Deer Meadow Ranch, Green Apple Books, John Winthrop Haeger, Philo, Pinot Noir, Rich Savoy, Wadenswil clone, Wine Spectator
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 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.
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.
Filed under: Events | Tags: Navy Pier, Pinot Days Chicago, Pinot Noir, Tastings
Pinot Days Chicago is coming up next month – Saturday, November 14th at Navy Pier in downtown Chicago – and Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be making the trip again this year, pouring our wines at the festival. We poured there last year and really enjoyed the Midwestern hospitality and the positive response we got for our wines. We’re really looking forward to returning and seeing some familiar faces and making new friends. It’s a great venue for Chicago-area pinot fans to try over 60 great producers of pinot noir, all in one place. While we love the SF version of Pinot Days, the Chicago edition is a smaller event (60 producers vs. 200+ in SF), so it gives us a chance to hang out with our Midwestern friends and enjoy the day.
Tickets are on sale now, so go to www.pinotdays.com to get yours now. We’ll be pouring our current releases and will be previewing our Winter release at the festival, so if you attend, you could be among the first to try this new release. The tables are usually in some sort of alphabetical order, so look for the “W”s to find us. For the rest of you that can’t make it, stay posted to this blog for more harvest updates and our Pinot Days recap in November.
Filed under: Winemaking | Tags: Amber Ridge, Baxter Winery, Crushpad, Gary Farrell, Hayley's Vineyard, La Encantada, Oppenlander, Phillips Hill, Pinot Noir, Rich Savoy, Richard Sanford, San Francisco Chronicle, Shandels, Starr Ridge Vineyard, Waits-Mast Pinot Noir
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:
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.
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.
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!
Filed under: Promotions | Tags: 2009 harvest, La Encantada Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Richard Sanford, Sta. Rita Hills
Harvest is in full swing and we’re seeing so much gorgeous pinot noir fruit pass before our eyes on the sorting table, during punchdowns and juice with such vibrant colors during pressing, it just makes you want to bust open a great bottle of pinot noir. So after we get home from winery work, we’ve been enjoying our 2007 wines that have really started to show quite well after a year in the bottle. To celebrate a great harvest and a busy crush, Jennifer and I wanted to offer 10% off our Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from La Encantada Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, down Santa Barbara way.
The Harvest Special is available at our webstore for a limited time only, now through Monday, October 5, 2009. Just enter the word “harvest” in the coupon code box and click “submit,” then proceed to checkout to get 10% off this wine only. For SF Bay Area locals, save on shipping by choosing “pick up/local” on the shipping page and you can pick up your order at the Crushpad logistics center here.
From the Santa Rita Hills, La Encantada vineyard is owned by Richard and Thekla Sanford (of Sanford Pinot Noir fame) and is one of the first vineyards in Santa Barbara County to be certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). We visited the vineyards last year and you can read more about our visit here.
This wine demonstrates an intensity of fruit – basically a bowl full of cherries – that comes from this low-vigor growing climate. Grape clusters came in uniform and tight, with small-medium sized berries. It shows a hint of smoke and spice on the nose, some good tannins and a deep ruby color, leaning towards crimson. The palate unfolds with lush sweet cherry and blackberries, spice, floral notes and a hint of cola. Still evolving its in sophomore year (you never want to peak early), the La Encantada has great structure and will be a great wine for sharing with friends and for tucking away in the cellar.
Bottlenotes, May, 2009: “Zaozers this smells good. Rich aromas of red and black cherry complimented by vanilla. Full cherry flavor and oak treatment lead to a long finish. Yum.”
For more specs on the wine, go here.
Cheers and here’s to a great harvest!