Barrel tasting 2010 vintage Pinot Noir by valleyfog
pinot noir barrel tasting

Barrel-tasting the 2010 vintage

The time is nigh – we’re getting ready to bottle our 2010 vintage at long last. As you might remember, 2010 was a very cool vintage, with late spring rains and a cool summer. There were a couple of heat waves in August and then in September and October, which caused a bit of a scramble to pick the fruit before sugars spiked. After closely tracking Brix and pH, visiting the vineyards and poking, pulling and tasting the berries, in the end it came down to a nod and a smile between us and each grower – “let’s pick!”

16 months later, after the wines have gone through fermentation, racking from new to neutral barrels and resting comfortably in the winery, they are ready. Before bottling, we do a final barrel tasting to see how the wines taste and if any final blending is necessary to round out any rough edges.

The challenge when you make small lot, single-vineyard Pinot Noir – lots of either two or four barrels like we do – you don’t have that much to blend in or out. You’re really banking on the vineyard to provide interesting, unique and desirable characteristics – it was even more of a gamble when only made one barrel of a particular vineyard. As we tasted through each of the barrels across the four different vineyards and three different appellations of Pinot Noir, each tasted different, displaying variations on the Pinot Noir theme, and really didn’t require any blending.

In fact, we’re going to leave them as is. That’s our goal in the first place with making single-vineyard Pinot Noir – to retain the site-specific characteristics of each wine, rather than try to blend together the perfect Pinot Noir. We are extremely pleased with all of our 2010s and feel like they are ready for bottling, and soon after going through bottle shock, ready for our fans to enjoy. Here are the tasting notes for the different wines:

2010 Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley: We’re excited for the return of Wentzel, our 2007 effort being the only other vintage we had made from this organically-farmed Anderson Valley vineyard up in the hills above Goldeneye. And a winning effort at that – it was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top Wines of 2009. We worked with Roland Wentzel to acquire some fruit from a small hillside parcel called “the clos”, which has a mix of Dijon clones 114, 115, 667, 777. From our tasting today, we picked up on aromas of toast, sweet cherry and raspberry with a bright cherry and juicy palate, lively acidity making it dance along to the finish. There is a purity to this wine and is very much reflective of that red-fruit driven Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that we love. Read more about our harvest and crush of this wine here.

2010 barrel tasting notes

Random scribblings on the 2010s

2010 Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County: this is our second vintage from Oppenlander, a small vineyard situated northwest of Anderson Valley, closer to the coast. It has much cooler daytime temperatures and is harvested later than most Anderson Valley wines. This one also has great acidity to it – that oceanic acidity we’ve picked up on before with Oppenlander – and also feels slightly denser than the Wentzel. The wine is a beautiful violet and crimson color and is showing some nice earth and spice notes on the nose, with a sweet cherry palate that has some tannins and chewiness to it. The Oppenlander and the Wentzel will do well with age and we’ll likely release them later in the fall. Read more about Oppenlander and the 2010 harvest here.

2010 Archer Family Vineyard, Russian River Valley: formerly owned by the late Gary Archer, this vineyard is close to Amber Ridge, another Russian River vineyard with which we’ve had great success. We worked with the Dijon 828 clone from this vineyard; 828 tends to have a more dense color pigmentation and lower pH (= higher acids). This wine is ready to come out of its shell – nice herbal and red-fruit notes on the nose, clean cherry and strawberry on the mid-palate and a juicy finish. Expect to see this released in the Spring/Summer timeframe.

2010 Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley: we made four barrels total from Londer, with a mix of 115 and Swan clones. As we tasted through each glass representing each clone and new(since racked to neutral) and neutral oak barrels, each was displaying an interesting component, from earthiness to tea leaves to chalkiness to bright and pretty flower petals. In the fifth glass, we combined all four barrels and this wine really comes together beautifully. Each of those elements, and others, mix together well to create a Pinot Noir with bright red fruit and a depth of character. Read more about the 2010 harvest and crush of our Londer Vineyard Pinot Noir here.

Jennifer Waits barrel tasting

Jennifer searches for the right adjective

Wow. As we’ve said before, the waiting is the hardest part. You can do your best to respect the fruit in the winemaking process, let the wine take its course and hope everything turns out right. Especially after a stressful vintage due to the cool weather, these wines strike a wonderful balance and have turned out really well.

The 2010 Pinot Noir will continue to evolve, of course, and on release of each vineyard-designate wine, we’ll go into more detail and description in our tasting notes. Until then, we’re thoroughly enjoying our 2009 vintage, as our many of our customers, restaurants, retailers and the press. Head to our web store to see what strikes your fancy and order some Pinot Noir today. After reading all these tasting notes, you must be thirsty!


Pinot Days Chicago Tasting Brings a Waits-Mast Customer to Tears by Jennifer
Brian at the Waits-Mast table at Pinot Days Chicago 2011

Brian at the Waits-Mast table at Pinot Days Chicago 2011

We had an incredible time participating in Pinot Days Chicago on Saturday. It was our 4th time pouring at the event, and as in previous years, it was great to catch up with old friends and fans of Waits-Mast Family Cellars.

Each year has been memorable, in 2008 we met some folks who have become regular customers, in 2009 we were told that we had “bangin’ juice,” and last year we heard that the wine tasted like “fall in a glass.”

This year, we poured a selection of our 2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir releases throughout the day. Most who stopped by our table got to try our wines from Anderson Valley (Hayley Vineyard), Russian River (Amber Ridge Vineyard) and Mendocino (Oppenlander Vineyard). After we poured through those wines, we had visitors sample our release from Deer Meadows Vineyard in Anderson Valley and from La Encantada Vineyard in Sta Rita Hills.

Response to the wines was amazing and we experienced a first for us when a new fan actually started tearing up after trying our wine from Deer Meadows vineyard.

Here’s a quick sampling of some of our favorite reactions to the wines:

2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Hayley Vineyard (Anderson Valley):

Tasters called this wine “elegant,” said it had eucalyptus characteristics, and described it as “earthy” on the nose, yet “California” upon tasting. One person said, “this is a revelation” and remarked that it has “fabulous complexity in the nose.” Another said, “I’m an Oregon guy…that’s exciting.” Others said that it had a “roundness” and was “velvety” and “delicious” with hints of “strawberry.”

2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Amber Ridge Vineyard (Russian River):

One of the tasters inhaled this wine deeply and said he was “just getting high” off of the nose and said that it had a “hint of creme brulee,” and was “nice and soft.” He added that, “I’ve been to every Pinot Days from the beginning and this was definitely way up there.” Another person said that it was like a “blast off in your mouth.” Someone else said it was “smokier” than our other wines and that it had an “interesting finish.”

2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard (Mendocino):

Folks who came by our table and tried our Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir described it as “tart,” with a “little more acid” than our releases from Hayley and Amber Ridge Vineyards.  Another said that it was “earthy” and would pair well with steak. Someone else noted that it had an “unexpected dryness.” One person said that initially there’s a burst of fruit, followed by “tannins at the end” with a nice finish. At least one person said that it was their favorite wine.

Waits-Mast "super-fan" Luke

Waits-Mast "super-fan" Luke

2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, La Encantada Vineyard (Sta Rita Hills):

We only brought a few bottles of this wine to taste. The few who were able to sample it had nice things to say. One taster said that it tasted of “burnt cranberry, orange and raspberry” with “not a lot of earth.” Another person exclaimed that this wine was an “orgasm in my mouth.”

2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Deer Meadows Vineyard (Anderson Valley):

As with the La Encantada, we were only able to bring a few bottles of this wine to Pinot Days. This was the wine that made a taster cry and that others described as being like “velvet.” Waits-Mast “super fan” Luke (amazingly not the taster who was brought to tears) explained his love for the wine, saying, “I don’t want to stop drinking [it] with my nose.” He told us that tasting the wine was akin to listening to the “Star-Spangled Banner” in that it produced “goosebumps.” Luke added, “You saved me months of meditation.”

Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table at Pinot Days Chicago. It’s always a fun event for us, largely due to the warmth of the crowd.

Harvest 2011: The Waiting Continues by valleyfog
Londer Vineyard

Swan clone at Londer on October 2, 2011

At this point in October, we’ve normally harvested the majority if not all of our pinot noir from the different appellations with which we source fruit. As of today, we’ve only pulled in one lot of 115 clone pinot noir from Londer Vineyard, and we’re still awaiting the other clone from Londer, Swan, both from Anderson Valley. Nor have we picked our blocks from Wentzel in Anderson Valley, Oppenlander in Comptche and Vineyard 11 (formerly Archer Family) in Russian River Valley.

2011 has proven to be another cool year – similar to 2010, but with a couple of more challenges, or as we like to think about them, opportunities for distinctive wines. 2010 was a very cool growing year in Northern California, especially in the coastal climates, but there were a few heat spikes in August and September. 2011 has been consistently cool, with fewer and less intense warm periods. This has pushed harvest dates out further than last year.

Also adding to the delays have been a couple of rain storms that hit last week across California. If you didn’t get a crew to pick your fruit (often a challenge when everyone wants to pick on the same day) before the rains hit, you have to wait at least a couple of days if not more to let the fruit dry out and avoid any bunch rot. The last of the rains were on Thursday and the earliest we expect to get fruit is on Monday the 10th.

We took a whirlwind trip up to Philo last weekend, staying just over 24 hours, to check out our blocks from the Anderson Valley and Comptche vineyards. Our first stop was Wentzel Vineyard, where upon arrival it was misting rain. We checked in on our the small block called “the clos” from which we get a blend of Dijon clones (114, 115, 667, 777). The most recent measurement of the sugars in the grapes, measured in Brix, was just over 21 Brix. A target zone that we look for in Brix is 23.5 – 24.5 Brix.

Wentzel Vineyard

Brian checking the berries at Wentzel

We’re not die-hard about the numbers, because you have to look at other important factors: acidity, flavor, color and consistency of the seeds, and finally your gut feeling. The berries tasted good and the seeds are starting to get crunchy, so it’s getting there. With the rains coming in and a slow, cool season, we are predicting the Wentzel will come in late this coming week of the 10th.

We took a drive over to Londer Vineyard, further West of Philo, on Sunday morning; clouds were breaking up and the sun was starting to shine. Londer has been partially picked, but the Swan clone usually comes off the vines last. The yield on these vines looks pretty good, despite some shatter (when a grape cluster doesn’t fully mature due to early season growing conditions like cold and wind) and there is a mix of clusters with small berries and some with large berries. The Swan clone is further along, around 23 Brix, and we were getting more flavors from these given that they are closer to ripening. We expect the Swan clone to come in early this coming week.

After a brief visit with Shirlee Londer (and their dogs, which kept our 5 yr old daughter entertained), we took the windy road up to Comptche, about 30 minutes north of the valley, to check out Oppenlander. In the past we have gotten 114 clone from Oppenlander, but we heard of the possibility of some Pommard and 115. We checked out all the vines, tasting berries up and down the rows, and Oppenlander is also looking good. Very minor puckering from the few warm stretches that we’ve had late in the summer. All the vines have a good canopy, which perhaps helped a little bit during the heavy rains in the last week. We will be getting a blend of 114, 115 and Pommard from Oppenlander on Monday the 10th.

Oppenlander Vineyard

Pommard clone on the vines at Oppenlander

Also on Monday, we’re likely to get our pinot (828 clone) from Vineyard 11 near Windsor in Russian River Valley. So it will be a busy couple of weeks at the winery with only one bin fermenting (Londer 115 on its native yeast) and 4+ tons coming in. After that, we’ll be pressing late into the month. We’ll keep you posted on how the rest of the fruit looks when it comes in in our next harvest update.

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: Oppenlander Pinot Noir by valleyfog

We continue our countdown the release of our selection of five different vineyard-designate pinot noirs from the 2009 vintage. Last week we looked at Deer Meadows Vineyard in Anderson Valley and this week we head out of Anderson Valley and into the hinterlands of Mendocino County.

Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County

Oppenlander Vineyard is well off the beaten path in Mendocino County outside of the town of Comptche. It’s about eight and a half miles from the Pacific Ocean as the crow flies at an elevation of 250 feet. Oppenlander is owned by the Shandel family, 5th generation owners of the property, and was originally homesteaded in the 1860s by their ancestors from Denmark (via the Gold Rush in Australia). You can read more about our visit to Oppenlander Vineyard in our blog post from last year.

The vineyard sees consistently cool temperatures across the growing season and is harvested later than other regions, closer to when they harvest pinot up in Willamette Valley, Oregon. This cooler temperature range and coastal proximity can deliver a certain “oceanic acidity,” lending structure and complexity to the wine. How does that climate and location translate into the actual flavor profile of the wine? Check out our tasting notes for the 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard:

The most striking observation about the 2009 Oppenlander Pinot Noir is its color – a vibrant violet-red color that has been visible from crush all the way through to the bottle. On the nose, dried lavender mixes with mushroom and earth tones for subtle aromatics. On the palate, tart cherry and raspberry are wrapped in a taut package that shows a lot of balance. Definitely one for aging and well-suited for pairing with your favorite pinot-friendly meal.

Here are the details and specs for this wine:

  • Clone: Dijon 114
  • Harvest/Brix: October 2, 2009 at 24 Brix
  • Alcohol content: 14.2% by volume
  • Fruit: 100% whole berry (no stems)
  • Fermentation: native yeast
  • Barrel aging: 17 months in French oak, 25% new (Remond)
  • Bottled: March, 2011
  • Production: 48 cases

Ahhh the wonders of Mendocino County Pinot Noir! But wait, we have  one more from Anderson Valley – next week we’ll look at our 2009 Hayley Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Harvest 2010: Oppenlander Vineyard Crush and Pressing by valleyfog

Oppenlander Fruit Upon Arrival at Winery, Oct. 2010. Photo by Jennifer Waits.

For many vineyards in the cooler growing valleys and hillsides in Northern California this year, it was unclear when — and sometimes if — grapes would ripen. That was certainly the case at Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche, California. As we mentioned in our profile of this tucked-away vineyard, it is a little closer to the coast and experiences cooler growing conditions. And with the 2010 growing season as cool as it was, predicting a pick date was like throwing darts.

Luckily a warm beginning to autumn, with no rain in sight for most of October, prodded things along in Mendocino County. By the second week of October, the sugars had passed 23 Brix and pH was hovering around 3.3. Vineyard owners, the Shandels, picked the 114 clone of their pinot noir on October 14 and trucked it on down to us in San Francisco for our Waits-Mast Pinot Noir.

Punching down Oppenlander fruit, October, 2010. Photo by Brian Mast

We knew that the vineyard struggled to ripen this year and so the fruit looked slightly uneven. But as we set to work on sorting, we meticulously sifted through the clusters and berries, throwing away any questionable ones. Berries were small to medium sized and clusters ranged from small and tight to medium and loose.

After a five-day cold soak, the 1.18 tons of fruit went into fermentation mode and needed inoculation with RC212 to stoke the fermentation and get those yeasts converting sugar to alcohol at the right pace.  As we did punchdowns on the fruit, we could start to see that wonderful, vibrant color that we remembered from our 2009 Oppenlander crush and pressing.

At pressing, we transferred the free-run juice to neutral barrels and then moved the rest of the juice and berries through a few cycles. We pressed as high as 1.4 bars and stopped there – the pressed juice went into a new French Damy barrel from the Vosges forest in Burgundy. That vibrant color was still there and the Oppenlander tasted tart, juicy with some earth and tea notes.

Spooky Pre-Halloween Oppenlander Pressing on Oct. 26, 2010. Photo by Jennifer Waits.

After all the fuss about a cool growing year, this could turn out to be a pretty intense wine. The Damy barrel should impart some nice warm spices like cinnamon and clove. We’ll check back with you on its progress throughout the next year or so to see how it evolves and comes into its own.