Visiting California's Napa Valley, part 4
my next visit I was off to Carneros, the cooler-climate bit of Napa
at the south of the valley, where the influence of breezes from the
San Francisco bay are more keenly felt. This is where Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay thrive, and Saintsbury was my destination.
Graves (above) was waiting for me when I arrived, and we had
a broad-ranging discussion and tasted some nice wines. David and his
business partner Dick Ward have been making wine here since 1981,
and have established a deservedly good reputation for their wines.
wasn’t an AVA when they started working here, although the region
has made wine since the 1870s. Prohibition and the depression
shriveled the region, but then followed a slow renaissance. The
Martini family bought the northern part of Carneros and did some of
the earliest clonal trial work on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. One of
the widespread clones of the pre-clonal era was the Martini clone.
This was in the 1940s and 195os. Then the great pioneer Andre
Tchelistcheff bought land down here in 1961, recognizing the
differences between this spot for Pinot Noir compared with Rutheford
where Beaulieu Vineyards were based.
vineyard is planted in a lyre system, which works well for Pinot
Noir. 'It's like a giant bonsai project', quips David. They've
stopped tilling the vineyards because they want to avoid compaction,
and they use straw and compost, too. Irrigation is now managed much
more carefully using pressure bombs to look at water stress in the
vines. The vineyard was previously a dry-farmed Bartlett pear
orchard, which David describes as a good way to go broke slowly.
a huge solar panel array (above) next to the vineyard that
generates 85 kw/h. It cost $991 000, but with subsidies from the
state and a complex sale leaseback financial arrangement, it's not
that much more expensive than the original electricity costs. And it
powers the winery completely. 'I obsess about sustainability as it
relates to climate change,' reveals David.
winery has been added to incrementally, but with a fairly sizeable
recent expansion, and
now has a big focus on open top fermenters for Pinot Noir. 2007 is
the first vintage made since the winery was expanded, with 12 new
open-top fermentors adding to the capacity for making small lots.
Current production is around 65 000 cases.
is best known for Pinot Noir, but also makes some fantastic
Chardonnay. The Brown Ranch 2006 is particularly impressive, showing
restraint, complexity and minerality. Beautifully expressive, this
will age well.
Garnet Pinot Noir 2008 is one of the wine world's great bargains at
$20. Made since 1983, it is a selection of the lighter, fresher lots
that enter the winery, and shows lovely fruit. The Carneros Pinot
Noir is a bit more meaty and dense. All the Pinots here show a
family resemblance, but the single vineyard lots also show some site
differences. They're rich and fruit-forward, but elegant with it. I
found it hard to choose between the Lee Vineyard, Toyon Farm and
Stanly Ranch, but they are all superb wines. I was less taken by the
outlier: the Anderson Valley (Mendocino) 'Cerise', which is fresher
with bright herby cherry fruit, but lacks the smooth elegance of the
Carneros wines. Perhaps my favourite wine is the expressive yet
powerful Brown Ranch Pinot Noir 2007.
theme is that while terroir is important winemakers should have a
point of view. 'Any winemaker worth their salt is trying to
construct a point of view and present it to the drinker,' he argues.
'Winemaking is an amazingly human enterprise.' I agree with him.
Deep yellow colour. Lovely intense nose of herbs, figs,
pineapple and lemon fruit. The palate is bold and intense with
lovely concentration and richness, yet also focus and freshness.
Rich but lovely, 92/100
Brown Ranch Chardonnay 2006 Carneros
Taut, focused and mineral on the nose with some fine herbal
notes. The palate is elegant with lively, taut, citrus fruit,
showing restraint yet also massive potential for development. Not
lacking in concentration but with great focus. 93/100
This is Saintsbury’s name for a lighter Pinot Noir, and they
have been making this wine since 1983. It’s $20 and is 13.5%
alcohol. They found that two types of Pinot Noir were emerging in
the cellars: the first was lighter, fresher lots with charm but not
classically structured, and the second was more classically styled
wines. The first of these lots would go to Garnet. When lots come
in, what tastes like Garnet goes to Garnet. Beautifully perfumed
nose of bright cherries with hints of cloves, spice and ripe
raspberries. The palate is simple and expressive with elegant sweet
bright cherry fruit. Very pure. 90/100
Carneros Pinot Noir 2007
$30, 13.5% alcohol. Brooding, pure, rich, spicy, slightly meaty
raspberry, plum and dark cherry nose. Smooth and sweet but well
defined. The palate has lovely concentration and focus with nice
structure sitting under the pure, sweet, rich yet elegant fruit.
Nicely savoury, too. 93/100
Lee Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 Carneros
14.5% alcohol. Elegant, smooth, sweet pure nose of cherry and
stewed plums. The palate is pure and focused with smooth red fruit
character. Taut and precise despite the sweetness of the fruit.
Minerally finish. 93/100
Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir 2007 Carneros
14.5% alcohol. Opens up after a while to show lovely perfumed,
meaty, spicy dark cherry fruit nose. The palate is quite rich with a
spicy edge to the pure, sweet fruit and a savoury dimension.
Finishes spicy. 93/100
Toyon Farm Pinot Noir 2007 Carneros
14.5% alcohol. Seductive, sweet smooth cherry and raspberry
fruit on the nose. The palate is smooth, concentrated and really
elegant with lovely focus and depth. A rich style with rounded ripe
‘Cerise’ Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2007 Mendocino
Very fresh open, supple cherry and herb nose. Bright and quite
aromatic. The palate is focused and fruity with a spicy edge to the
juicy berry and cherry fruit. Light and expressive: a lovely wine.
Brown Ranch Pinot Noir 2007 Carneros
14.5% alcohol. Made from four clones; 3 acres out of the 21
selected for the final blend. Beautifully perfumed nose: dark
cherries, raspberries and some warm spiciness. The palate is rich
and deep with nice mineral spicy notes under the rich fruit. Very
attractive with lovely concentration. Fantastic effort: expressive
but powerful. 94/100
from Napa Valley
Part 2, Schramsberg
Part 3, Corison
5, Lagier Meredith
8, Grgich Hills
tasted as 11/09
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