The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2014

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30  /  the tasting panel  /  december 2014 SAN FRAN INSIDER C ity slickers may beg to differ, but for San Fran Insider one of the best ways to get a firsthand look at a vineyard is on horseback— the original ATV. When signs of veraison were just beginning to appear, a group of sommeliers and retailers gathered in Sonoma for Etude's immersive "Pinot Experience." Winemaker Jon Priest and his team kicked off the event with a ride through the gently rolling hills of the Grace Benoist Ranch in Carneros. Fueled by a wood-fired cowboy breakfast (biscuits and sausage gravy included), we rode out in to the fresh morning air with nothing to impede the view of the sky overhead, the terroir underfoot or the state of the vines. Long after the mystery of what it takes to make extraordinary wine has been dispelled, magic can still be found in witnessing it happen. The afternoon was devoted to hands-on viticulture, and Priest, Associate Winemaker Rob Fischer and Viticulturist Franci Dewyer led exercises on the nuances of gauging leaf water potential using a pressure bomb that had everyone scrambling for their calculators after counting clusters to estimate yields within tenths of a ton. The prize for the most accurate estimate: a magnum of Etude's Grace Benoist Pinot Noir. Etude's recently renovated tasting room became the ideal backdrop for the graceful older vintages that were served at dinner that evening and for a technical tasting the following morning where Priest and his team debuted their first releases from an single-vineyard AVA series of 2012 Pinot Noirs. Transparent and adaptive winemaking allowed wines from North Canyon in Santa Maria Valley ($60), Fiddlestix in Sta. Rita Hills ($60), Yamhill Vista in Willamette Valley's Yamhill-Carlton ($60) and the Ellenbach Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast ($60) to reflect differences in their terroirs. Tom Montgomery, winemaker at B. R. Cohn, has been on a self-professed mis- sion whose sole intent is capturing Mother Nature. As the winery marks its 30th anniversary—with Montgomery at the winemaking helm for the last 11 years—he and vintner Dan Cohn marked the occasion with a tasting of current release wines and older vintages of the Olive Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Named for the Picholine olive trees planted on the property in the mid-1800s, the gravelly-loam site is uniquely frost-free thanks to an underground hot spring and the protection of Sonoma Mountain. In addition to the 61 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and other reds, Montgomery sources fruit from 60 coastal and inland sites as far south as Paso Robles and as far north as Ukiah to round out the B. R. Cohn portfolio. 2001 marked Montgomery's first vintage for the winery and his estate Cabernet Sauvignon showed hilltop fruit markers of crisp red currant, savory, beefy umami aromas and darker cassis and medium tannins focused on the palate. Though still developing and balanced, the vintage is approaching its peak. Olive Hill 2004 was vibrant with pronounced, opulent aromas of bramble and plush cassis. Weightier tannins and complex but ethereal secondary flavors point to a longer-lived vintage. 2007 was a cooler year, evidenced by higher-toned stone fruit and strawberry aromas mirrored on medium-weight, cool tannins. 2010 releases of estate and Olive Hill Cabernet were spice-and leather-driven with red currant, sassafras, stony minerality and wood tannins that hold the promise of another 20 years. PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG Sonoma Originals PHOTO COURTESY OF B. R. COHN WINERY by Deborah Parker Wong Etude Winemaker Jon Priest (left) and Associate Winemaker Rob Fischer debuted a single-vineyard AVA series of Pinot Noirs at the winery's Pinot Experience. Second-generation vintner Dan Cohn celebrates 30 years of growing wine and making music at Sonoma's B. R. Cohn Winery.

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