The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2010

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VARIETALS Pinot Rising W Winemaker Ross Cobb with bottle of Cobb 2007 Coastland Pinot Noir. FReeSToNe IS SONOMA COUNTY’S COOLEST COOL-CLIMATE WINEGROWING REGION photos and story by Christopher Sawyer hen you Google the term “push it,” you’ll likely go directly to the lyrics for the 1980s Salt-n-Pepa dance hit. But in the wine industry, the term has quite a different meaning. In most cases, it is used in reference to winegrowing in extreme vineyards, where vulnerable vines are planted in dramatic soils and intensive climate conditions. One important area where this risky style of farming is in full swing is centered in Freestone, a small Sonoma County town located on the southwestern fringe of the Russian River Valley, just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. With an ominous wall of fog entering and retracting on a daily basis, cool-climate Freestone is quickly becom- ing known for pushing the great Pinot Noir phenomenon as far west as possible. So what exactly makes this area so darn special? In brief, it’s a mixture of the precious Goldridge series soils, the daily influence of heavy fog, howling winds blowing in from the ocean and nighttime temperatures that are much warmer than the more expansive Russian River Valley. The end result is a slow and even ripening curve, low yields and clusters with small berries that consistently deliver complex flavors, balanced tannins and vibrant acidity, with finished wines commonly ranging from only 13 to 14 percent alcohol. These Pinots are also age-worthy. The Key Players On the ridge off Fitzpatrick Road, the Coastlands Vineyard has some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines on the Sonoma Coast, planted in 1989 by David Cobb on an old sheep ranch four miles from the ocean; there, a small segment of the original four acres features a selection of over 20 experimental clones of Pinot Noir. When the vines matured, the first purchase of the fruit was by Williams Selyem, a winery that launched its inaugural release from the Coastlands Vineyard from the 1993 vintage. Today, this windswept 14.5-acre vineyard is the main source for Cobb Wines, a brand started by David and his son Ross in 2001. Ross, who makes two sophisticated wines from the vineyard, says the close proximity to the ocean is risky but worth it. “The grapes from our vineyard never get too hot, too juicy or over-ripe. Instead, there is a more balanced mouthfeel and great acidity because the clusters have time to reach phenolic ripeness at a lower degree of Brix [sweetness],” says Ross, who previously made wine at Flowers, Keller Estate and in Burgundy. “Being brave does have its advantages!” 98 / the tasting panel / april 2010 The Birds: Vineyard guru Alan York and winemaker Rodrigo Soto at de Coelo Vineyard near Bodega.

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