Wine Book Lust/Must: Pacific Pinot Noir by valleyfog

I went through a phase of buying up tons of wine books, early on when my interest and enthusiasm for wine went into hyperdrive. At first, there were books about the basics of wine and annual wine guides. Then there were the wine history books, including American Vintage by Paul Lukacs, which deepened my perspective on the industry.

pacific-pinot-book-cover1Lately, I’ve slowed down, though, perhaps become more selective on purchasing wine books, given a slight saturation in my bookshelves. But, a number of great books continue to come out every year, looking at different angles of the business, from recounting the famous Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 where California wines beat out the French, or studies on particular grapes varietals of which I am obsessed (uh, hello Pinot Noir!). John Winthrop Haeger now has two books focused on Pinot Noir and I just picked up his second tome, Pacific Pinot Noir, that was released in November. His first, North American Pinot Noir, is a total geek-out on the grape, and includes profiles of some notable North American Pinot Noir producers. But Pacific Pinot Noir is more of a definitive guide to a broader set of producers from Oregon and California. For Pinot Noir fans like us, books like this are essential. I found it recently at Omnivore Books on Food, an extremely cool new bookstore in Noe Valley in SF that is devoted entirely to, well, the name says it all.

La Encantada Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County

La Encantada Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County

The first thing Jennifer did when we got the book home was to find in the index citations of the various vineyards from which Waits-Mast Cellars sources its grapes. La Encantada vineyard, owned by Richard and Thekla Sanford of Alma Rosa, is mentioned in a few places:

La Encantada, while still young, seems an exceptionally promising site. Like Sanford & Benedict, much of it is north-facing, its soil is rock-strewn and marly, and its hilly topography creates a diversity of microclimates even within single vineyard blocks.

Amber Ridge, a Russian River vineyard from which we have sourced grapes in our 2005 and 2008 bottlings, comes up a number of times in the book, even though it is still relatively new. Paul Hobbs, Kosta Browne, Siduri and Sonnet are among the wineries using grapes from this vineyard planted with Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777. The description of Kosta Browne’s 2004 Amber Ridge reminds me of our 2005 vintage, especially the cherry candy reference:

Medium, rosy black-red color; huge nose of rose petal and raspberry; raspberry and cherry candy on the palate, with briary and peppery hints toward the end; full-bodied, concentrated, and satiny.

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

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

And Hein Family Vineyard, located in Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) is mentioned briefly – in the sections on Copain and Roessler wineries. There is a connection between the two: Scott Shapley, winemaker at Roessler, is the brother-in-law of Wells Guthrie, owner of Copain (who also is part owner of Roessler); Scott was also a winemaker at Crushpad in its early days and made our 2005 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir. We made a single vineyard Pinot Noir from Hein in 2006 which is coming around quite nicely after a year and a half in the bottle and we have a 2008 Hein in barrel currently.

After such clear affirmation of our grape choices (like we didn’t know!), I returned to the beginning, soaking up the acknowledgements, forward and introduction. One thing that I was reminded of was that the rise of New World Pinot Noir (wine made outside of Burgundy) is still relatively new. Especially in California, where Pinot Noir struggled in the 1960s – just at the same time when the California wine industry was starting to really come into its own in terms of global recognition and credibility. Pinot Noir had  been grown successfully in the U.S. for a very long time, but with the advent of new winemaking technology – starting in the 60s – it became even more unpredictable than its usual fickle self. According to Haeger,

American winemaking had changed in the 1960s as new technology, processes, and equipment were adopted without much reflection simply because there were new, available, and affordable. The classic recipe for red wine had been replaced with an entirely new one that relied on industrial processes, heavy-handed intervention, and fault correction.

In other words, Pinot Noir, the most fragile of red wine grapes, couldn’t survive such rough handling. While some producers dropped Pinot from their lineup and focused on more durable wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, thankfully, others persevered and adapted their techniques accordingly. And thus began a resurgence in Pinot Noir in the 80s and 90s…just around the time when I got hooked myself.

So for any Pinot Noir fans out there, this is a very informative, well-laid out book that is a great primer to peruse before your next trip to California or Oregon wine country, or the trip down the street to your local wine shop or restaurant.