Friday, March 8, 2024

World of Pinot Noir 2024: New Finds

Welcome back to hearing about me ramble around a giant Bacara ballroom in search of vinous pleasure at 2024's World of Pinot Noir Friday Grand Tasting. I will suffer the red-stained maw for you all. I've already posted about Old Friends, so this post we turn to New Finds...even if I cheat a bit with the first two.

Old friend Phil was kind enough to pour me the 2021 LaBarge Pinot at the Santa Barbara Vintners table. LaBarge produces up to 2K cases a year from the farthest western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills, where everything is under the direction of Pierre LaBarge IV (a name made for wine, no?). The Pinot, which I called "chewy, in a good way," loves the number 32, as that's both the percentage of new oak and percentage of whole cluster. Definitely a wine now on my radar, and I'm eager to taste their Albariño, Grenache, and Syrah soon.

I'm always eager to taste what Greg Brewer is doing, and even if he was traveling and not at his WOPN table, I had to drop in anyway, especially for a taste of his Machado Vineyard Pinot--there's no greater, strange uncle Old Friend than that multi-dimensional wine. Brewer-Clifton gets a spot on New Finds thanks to the latest edition to his line-up, the 2021 Perilune Vineyard Pinot, and it's fortunate I had a sip at WOPN as it's already sold out--and not yet released! The 120 acre Sta. Rita Hills site is above Melville at a slightly higher elevation, and lends itself to a bit crunchier, wilder, more herbal expression of Pinot. Brewer just never stops wowing.

I feel a tad funny including a winery that's been around since the year Bill Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg* to the Supreme Court as a New Find, but I will anyway. (Here's hoping admitting to your own ignorance is a winning personality trait, Dunning-Kruger be damned.) Talisman is all about Pinot, although it may be a rosé or a Pinot Blanc. Although they started teensy, they've only grown to still pretty tiny--3600 cases a year. But that's characterized by a passion-driven, an outsider might suggest whimsical, approach--they now typically craft 16-18 wines annually from 12 diverse and unique vineyard sites, from Carneros to Anderson Valley. Marta Rich, "proprietress," as her card puts it, was pouring herself, and happy to yank special bottles from under the table. A sure way to win a wine-lover's heart.

That bottle above is a 2017 Adara Vineyard Méthode Ancienne - RC Selection. So while Adara is a vineyard they often source in the Napa side of Carneros, this was a 1.5 barrel production, 100% whole cluster, foot stomped. Truly a creamy, spicy, exotic delight. How rewarding to see folks not just make wine that seems focus-grouped into existence.

A very different kind of passion project is Sonoma's Wren Hop. This is a winery for people who like big, BIG Pinot but still spit out Meiomi. We're talking 100% New French Oak. And lines from their website--and indeed, one of the principals has a marketing career (but can we imprecate a soul for that?)--like, "Structured wines showcasing muscle and grace with a touch of egomania." Or this description of the buxom pleasures of the 2021 Night Bulletin, and I quote en toto as I love it so much: "News that arrives in the middle of the night is never good. Godzilla was known for nuclear fueled, fire breathing midnight attacks on Yokohama. How unsportsmanlike. Our announcement is on the quieter side. This wine was havested in the calm of night when only the sound of pillow punching is audible. Night harvest leads to cold clusters with arrested sugar development and big flavor. That's bulletin worthy. This is a brooding strawberry rhubarb monster. Look for aromas of hibiscus tea and cinnamon stick, followed by ripe red berries, vanilla bean and toasted cedar. You are free to shriek now."

What's cooler is each blend of well-chosen Sonoma fruit gets is vintage-specific name, never to be used again. Shoulder Devil and Double Clutch will not return. To stress the narrative they hope each bottling suggests, the evocative labels are meant to mimic book covers--there are even "spines" as part off the art work. What's wrong with wine that's fun, and perhaps a tad slutty?

A different kind of novelty caught my attention at Norris--the location on their sign read "Ribbon Ridge." I had to ask. Turns out it's the smallest AVA in Oregon, 3.5 by 1.75 miles, in the Willamette Valley. (My ignorance this time doesn't feel too mighty.) In addition to Pinot, they specialize in Riesling, so you have to respect that. The Pinots are the complete flip side from Wren Hop, all about the diaphanous veils of cherry and currant and earth and mushroom doing a delicate dance. What's more, they were pouring a 2022 White Pinot Noir, too. While not unusual for Oregon producers, it's still rarely seen in CA, so its elegant grippiness always entrances me.

So it seems we've moved to the white wine section our program. Not that Madson doesn't make Pinot Noir, but the pourer at their table claimed "I think this is the best wine we've ever made," so who am I to disagree? Plus I found much to love in that 2022 Ascona Vineyard Chardonnay (with 5% Aligote). The 2,500 foot elevation Santa Cruz Mountains site provides minerality and tension and saline, but the lemon drop and quince fruit shines, too. Plus, they suggest it "pairs well with roasted poultry and New Yorker cartoons." I'm all for Roz Chast-onnay. Madson makes a great argument that natural wines can be clean and brilliant. And their website devotes an entire page to Carbon Offset, so let's toast to not roasting the planet along the way.

And my last winery to highlight, Oceano, even offers a non-alcoholic wine, but we'll leave ∅ for another time (although I did hunt down the HTML code for that, so please, some props). Oceano, in SLO, farms Spanish Springs Vineyard--the closest vineyard to the Pacific in all of California. Yep, there's some marine influence. Co-founder and co-winemaker Rachel Martin leans into all the cool climate attributes of the fruit, so the 2021 Chardonnay is lithe and lovely (no malo, of course), picking up all sorts more tropical notes, from kiwi to lemongrass, along with a more typical lemon-lime chardonnay profile, not that it goes Viognier on you or anything. It does goes to show the range of what we know can grow with every sip.

*And Mitch McConnell, just for Amy Coney Barrett, can rot in hell. Nothing to do with wine, but can't help myself.

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