In Sonoma County, this Memorial Day weekend was a true celebration of Russian River Valley's exquisite Pinot Noir. Russian River Valley Winegrowers hosted the Pinot Classic—a two day celebration of Pinot Noir that included a seminar, Paulée dinner, and the Passport to Pinot weekend. The Passport to Pinot portion of the event allowed guests to taste Pinot Noir at more than 30 Russian River Valley wineries; some wineries poured strictly from the bottle, while others poured from both the bottle and barrel. Select wineries even provided tasty treats and scrumptious appetizers to pair with their Pinot Noir. Wineries that stood out—Dutton Goldfield Winery, Emeritus Vineyards, Ancient Oak Cellars, Thomas George Estates, and Moshin Vineyards—all poured various vintages of their Pinot Noir in addition to offering tasting from the barrel.
Dutton-Goldfield Winery, located in Sebastopol, poured an impressive collection of 2012-2013 Pinot Noir, two different 2013 barrel tastings, and a 2008 library Pinot Noir. The 2008 library Pinot Noir from the Freestone Hill Vineyard, which was barreled for seventeen months in 50% New French Oak, exhibits notes of raspberry and plum alongside baking spices. The smoky nose gives way to the earthy palate and subtle notes of mushroom, smooth texture, and rich finish. The 2011 vintage from the same vineyard showed similar notes, but with a fuller body, more silky texture, and a slightly more tannic finish.
The 2012 Emerald Ridge Vineyard boasts bright red cherry notes that fade into blueberry with a smooth texture, full body, and round mouth feel. Its baking spice notes contrast that roundness nicely, giving the wine's texture complexity and depth. The intensity of the berry is complemented by the spice and body of this wine—making it pleasantly balanced and rich for a Pinot Noir.
Rancho Llano Seco Paired with Dutton-Goldfield's 2012 Azaya Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir
To accompany Dutton-Goldfield's wonderful collection of Pinot Noir, they paired their wines with Rancho Llano Seco smoked ham and tangy mustard. Rancho Llano Seco is a "sixth generation family farm with a rich history of balancing agriculture, livestock husbandry, and conservation" (RLS). The family farm is "one of the last Mexican land grant properties that remains intact" in California (RLS). Most of their farm is kept preserved to protect the land and its wildlife, while only a small portion of it is used for "humanely raised pork and beef" (RLS). Their pigs and cows are free range, antibiotic and hormone free, and fed 100% GMO-free, vegetarian feed—the majority of which is grown on the farm itself. This delectable smoked ham is a perfect pairing with Dutton-Goldfield's Pinot Noir.
When eaten with Rancho Llano Seco's smoked ham and tangy mustard, the 2012 Azaya Ranch Vineyard becomes fuller in body and more round in mouth feel—giving the texture of the wine more length across the tongue. The tangy mustard highlights the spices and dried cranberry flavors in the wine nicely, making the smoked ham really complement and enhance the already wonderful quality of depth and flavor in the wine.
Emeritus Vineyards, also located in Sebastopol, poured a vertical tasting of their Hallberg Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir from 2010-2013. The 2013 vintage was still in the barrel, the 2012 vintage will be officially released in fall 2014, the 2011vintage is a current release, and the 2010 was pulled out from the winemaker's library specifically for the Passport to Pinot weekend. This vertical tasting was an exploration of single vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir that is a true expression of terroir, especially because Emeritus Vineyards makes their wine in the Old World style and dry farms their grapes, which allows the wine to express more soil and climate specific characteristics.
Both the 2010 and 2011 express bright fruit flavors of boysenberry, raspberry, and cranberry. Their texture is dry with medium body and nice balance. In contrast to the brightness of the 2010 and 2011, the 2012 vintage expresses darker fruit, stronger tannins, and more earthy notes. While the 2013 vintage will not be bottled until July of this year, it is already showing excellent potential with plum fruit, a dry texture, and rich flavor.
Ancient Oak Cellars
Ancient Oak Cellars also poured a vertical tasting from a single vineyard Pinot Noir. Their Siebert Ranch Vineyard, just North of Santa Rosa, produces smaller clusters and berries, which increases the intensity of flavor in the wine. This is certainly evident in the vertical tasting of the 2007-2011 vintages of the Siebert Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir. Starting with the newest vintage, the 2011 exhibits bright plum and strawberry fruit, low tannins, good spice, and a delicate balance between body and texture. The 2010 expresses the same fruit flavors, but brings more spice to the palate and a rounder mouth feel. Going further back, the fruit flavors of the 2009 vintage actually darken and are accompanied by more cinnamon and subtle notes of oak.
This becomes increasingly so with the 2008 vintage, as it expresses richer raspberry and darker strawberry fruit with a wider array of baking spice notes—such as clove and cinnamon—and finishes off with very subtle white pepper. That same pepper is noticeable in the 2007 vintage, though the fruit flavors brighten for this year—making it taste similar to the 2010 and 2011—with notes of strawberry and subtle plum.
Thomas George Estates
At Thomas George Estates in Healdsburg, the Pinot Noir takes on a different style. The vintages have more body and richness than some of the Pinot Noir grown in Sebastopol and the Santa Rosa area. This is particularly so for the 2011 vintages of the Starr Ridge Vineyard and Cresta Ridge Vineyard at Thomas George Estates. The 2011 Starr Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Amber block was earthy, dark, and rich with subtle notes of cedar and oak. The silky texture contributed to a medium to full body and hearty finish. In comparison, the 2013 barrel tasting of this same vineyard and block was medium bodied with dark blackberry fruit notes, alluding to excellent potential once bottled and aged.
The 2011 Starr Ridge Vineyard also had a full body and rich texture. Fresh plum, dark cherry, and subtle smoke flavors dance on the tongue harmoniously above notes of subtle oak. The same can be said for the 2011 Cresta Ridge Vineyard, though this Pinot Noir has an even stronger earthy, richness to it. The notes of fresh blackberry and dark chocolate balance out the earthy, forest floor flavors, while the full body gives depth to that contrast. The intricacy of these wines is incredibly pleasing.
For those lucky enough to sign up for the vertical library tasting of Pinot Noir at Moshin Vineyards—also located in Healdsburg—guests were able to taste five library Pinot Noirs from 1993-1996 and five current release Pinot Noirs from 2010-2012. This vertical library tasting is an excellent representation of Moshin Vineyards' Pinot Noir and its terroir and ability to age well.
The 1993-1996 vintages were brick in color, less fruity, more rustic in flavor, and earthier than the 2010-2012 vintages. Of the library wines, the 1994 and 1995 stood out as particularly complex because of their full body, dark but subtle fruit, and earthy minerality. In contrast, the 2010-2012 vintages express brighter strawberry, raspberry, and subtle blueberry fruit with mild tannins, medium body, and subtle earth—which appears to develop more with age. Each of these vintages expresses its terroir for the year it was grown, making each Pinot Noir unique and yet familiar because of the consistency in farming, winemaking, and barreling techniques.