Saturday, March 11, 2023

World of Pinot Noir 2023: New Finds


Let's make this very clear to start--by "new finds" I mean to me, probably not to the rest of a wine savvy world. I realize that you don't have to be Oregonian to know about Ken Wright, for example, but you could also be me and not know his lovely wines well at all. And if you want to read the first part of my 2023 World of Pinot Noir coverage, that's over at my Old Friends post.

All that throat clearing aside, let's begin with Chardonnay to really shake stuff up. And a relatively new project, too, Walson Holland, doing boutique-y things based in Ojai, but with grapes from all sorts of fine sites. Take the 2020 Chardonnay from Duvarita, which is so west in Santa Barbara it lies outside the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Deliciously mineral, magnificently saline, this is a fascinating wine. Plus the marketing is topnotch--check out the release box in that first photo. (It's not a surprise winemaker Benjamin Holland did some time with Sine Qua Non.)

And while we're enjoying whites, I'd be remiss not to single out 2021 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Elegant layers of apple and lemon-lime cascade over a steely structure. Given 70% of what Sojourn does is Pinot Noir (which was also scrumptious), it was fun to find this singing Sonoma white.

Then again, Sangiacomo Wines itself, which for 80 years sold their grapes, have only been making their names wines since 2016. (Heck, they have two different websites for the two different operations.) North Coast legend James McPhail makes their wines, 5 Chardonnays, 8 Pinots, 1 Vin Gris of Pinot, or as the person at the table put it, "you only do this when you own the vineyard," since they grow grapes specifically for that punchy product, no saignée for them. Their 2021 Five Clone Pinot Noir Roberts Road Vineyard was ridiculously seductive, with a velvet mouthfeel and their website description nails it: "Bursting with fresh red fruit flavors including raspberry coulis, sun-sweetened Bing cherry, and freshly picked wild strawberries with notes of five-spice rounding the palate."

Sangiacomo Fedrick grapes are just one of the sources for the 2019 MacRostie The Loch, which also features Pinot from Olivet Lane, Rodgers Creek, Gap’s Crown, Wildcat Mountain, and the Dutton Manzana Vineyard. While many wineries tout a single vineyard designate as the peak of their programs, at MacRostie the goal is to blend the best of the best barrels, hence this wine that, in the spirit of the upcoming Oscars I noted "was everything everywhere all at once," and therefore as wildly enjoyable as that film. Winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen has crafted a powerhouse gem.

An equally impressive Sonoma showing was the Pinot from Red Car, whose name makes it clear they started in Los Angeles. (They've been completely Sonoma-based since 2010.) Their 2020 Estate had some charming blood orange notes to its fruit, but the standout for me was their 2020 Heaven & Earth, an organic vineyard at 500 feet elevation eight miles from the Pacific. The pourer said, "When you get up there, you don't see any other vineyards around." Based on the multi-faceted wine, that's going to change, with its brambly blackberry and marine influence.

Let's keep going north, to the Willamette Valley and Ken Wright Cellars. I have to be honest and admit I don't know Oregon wines anywhere near as much as I should, especially once I learned that Wright was the first Oregon winemaker on the cover of the Wine Spectator way back in 2015. (Of course, I don't read Wine Spectator anymore, either, but oh well.) I particularly enjoyed his 2021 Shea Vineyard Pinot, a mere 12.8% ABV but still enticingly floral with a kind of chalkiness that worked, attesting to the marine sediment soil of the site.

That's too neat a segue not to take to get to the wonderful work that Jessica Gasca is doing at Story of Soil. She was pouring back in the hard-to-leave corner where the Santa Barbara Vintners Association ruled the roost, and CEO Alison Laslett and Director of Operations Phil Carpenter hosted wineries that didn't want to pony up the hefty cost for their own table. Gasca was kind of enough to share her sold out 2021 Gold Coast Pinot, and it showed her appreciation for that Santa Maria vineyard where she first got the wine bug as an intern. Profound and round, it kept going and going and was never gone. 

And let's end on what was truly a new experience for me, Haliotide. A tiny, family-run producer in SLO County, they make single vintage, single vineyard sparkling that's some of the best I've had from these parts. What's more, winemaker Nicole Bertotti-Pope and viticulturalist Lucas Pope are hoping to make wine for the future, and sure enough, the 2017 Blanc de Blanc that popped out from under the table was their best, for as my note put it, "They've got ambition." The 2018 Extra Brut Rosé was a delight of grapefruit and bread notes. I would never have guessed something this good would come from a vineyard a mere 1.5 miles from the Pacific in Avila Beach.  

But that's why you go to World of Pinot Noir--your world always gets deliciously expanded every year.

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