The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2016

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22  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2016 SAN FRAN INSIDER I t's not much of a stretch to say there's more thought put into Pinot Noir than any other internationally-grown grape variety. While that's an anecdotal observation, the 2015 California wine grape acreage report confirms that plantings of Pinot Noir are only about half that of Cabernet Sauvignon, but Pinot is on the heels of Merlot and giving Zinfandel a run for its money. This thought-provoking variety is the inspiration behind more seminars, tastings and industry collaborations with each passing year. In late 2014, Jackson Family Wines (JFW) created the West Burgundy Wine Group, a division that focuses on their estate-grown, site-specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from the northern Pacific coast. The group's winemakers Adam Lee (Siduri), Eugenia Keegan (Gran Moraine), Craig McAllister (Wild Ridge) and Eric Johansson (Champ de Reves) convened at The Battery for a panel that included proprietor Julia Jackson, opinion leader Steve Heimoff and JFW educator Gilian Handelman as moderator, to taste and discuss the merits of single clone 777 wines from select vineyards. With this much talent in the room, the at-capacity crowd was all ears as the panel broke down the strengths and nuances of the clonal expression from their vineyards. During the site-specific dialogue that ensued, winemakers singled out the factors that most significantly influence the structural and flavor differences in the clone's expression and role it plays in their finished wines. The Brown Ranch, a highly-regarded Pinot Noir vineyard adjacent to Larry Hyde's estate in Napa, was purchased in 2013 and resurrected at the hands of expert winegrower Oscar Renteria. With the dry-farmed vineyard restored to health and the ranch house crisply renovated, Renteria has "a place to call home" and is collaborating with consulting winemaker Kirk Venge on a portfolio of estate and sourced wines, the first of which were released in April. Renteria's Brown Ranch Pinot Noir ($105) and Chardonnay ($80) are scheduled for release in August. Venge hasn't been shy about his preferences, saying, "Los Carneros isn't my go to-region for Pinot," but in the Brown Ranch project he's found something that has captured his interest. With 650 acres of vineyard in Russian River Valley, vintner John Balletto and winemaker Anthony Beckman have quietly expanded their portfolio of single- vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from a cluster of higher-elevation sites in the Sebastopol Hills. Cider Ridge, Burnside Road and Sexton Hill Pinot Noirs ($42, futures are offered for $44) reflect a variety of exposures and aspects, with the coolest being Sexton Hill. The site has a slope in excess of 40 degrees and a north- west exposure that produced a very sophisticated, aromatic 2013 with finessed tannins and thoughtful, restrained use of new French oak. Beckman's 2013 Russian River Pinot Noir ($29) shows cranberry, rhubarb and black raspberry and a bit of the earthy sapidity often used to describe the resinous, savory quality in medium- weight Italian reds. A fitting description as the Balletto family's heritage is Italian from Genoa (there's also a town in Sicily that carries the name). Pinot Noir Projects on the Rise PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG by Deborah Parker Wong West Burgundy Wine Group at The Battery in San Francisco (left to right): Craig McAllister, Wild Ridge; Eric Johannsen, Champs de Reves; proprietor Julia Jackson; Adam Lee, Siduri; and Eugenia Keegan, Gran Moraine. PHOTO: MARTY LAPLANTE Balletto Winemaker Anthony Beckman works with more than a dozen sites in Russian River Valley and crafts a bevy of single vineyard Pinot Noirs from cool sites in the Sebastopol Hills. Renteria Wines consulting winemaker Kirk Venge and vintner Oscar Renteria have collaborated on a portfolio of wines sourced from Renteria's Brown Ranch, Russian River and Napa Valley.

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