Entries from 2010

New Zealand’s Rippon Pinot Noir Has Burgundy Pedigree

By William Rusty Gaffney on August 12, 2010 #etrangers#rusty's posts

mills-ripponNick Mills, who had picked up French in travels to France as a child with his winegrower father, Rolfe Mills, returned to Burgundy after a short-lived, injury-ending career as a world-class snow skier. He started as a cellar rat at Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron, and stayed in Burgundy from 1998 to 2002, studying enology and viticulture in Beaune and working at some of Burgundy’s most celebrated domaines including Nicolas Potel, de la Vougeraie, and de la Romanee-Conti. Upon urgings from his mother in 2002, he returned to Rippon on the shores of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago, where some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines (some dating to 1985) in New Zealand are located.

80% of the Rippon vineyard is planted on its own roots and is not irrigated. The clones are Pommard, Lincoln, 10/2 and 10/5. The vines at Rippon have always been farmed organically, but upon Nick’s return, the entire property was converted to biodynamie, a philosophy that Nick passionately adheres to.

For the first time in the winery’s history, four separate Pinot Noirs were crafted from the 2008 vintage to better reflect the voice of the property. The Rippon Jeunesse Young Vine Pinot Noir is from grapes that are not considered mature enough to communicate fully all the complexities of the site. It is a pure expression of Pinot Noir, a spirited voice of Pinot Noir grown at Rippon, rather than the voice of the land from which it came. The second bottling is the Rippon Mature Vine Pinot Noir made from fully developed vines. Rippon Emma’s Block Mature Vine Pinot Noir is from a unique parcel located on the lake front. The fourth wine, Rippon Tinkers Field Pinot Noir, is from another unique block with ancient coarse schist gravelly soil and is home to the oldest vines on the property.

All the 2008 Rippon Pinot Noirs are stunning wines. How has Rippon achieved winemaking success? Take the latitude, the metamorphic schist-based soils rich in foliated mica and quartzite, the proximity of the Main Divide of mountains, Lake Wanake’s thermal mass, 50 years of empirical observation and understanding, established vines that accurately reflect their site, biodynamic farming, and a highly skilled Burgundy-trained winemaker in Nick Mills.

2008 Rippon Tinker’s Field Mature Vine Lake Wanaka Central Otago Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., pH 3.60, $92 (US). 40% whole cluster. Aged 10 months in 35% new to 4-year-old French oak barrels. Racked after MLF and allowed a second winter in neutral barrels (a total of 17 months in barrel). Unfined and unfiltered. The wine smells of the outdoors with scents of wooded forest and wet leaves, as well as darkly colored berry jam, with a hint of oak. Very tasty attack of dark cherry and berry fruit and cherry skin flavors with a subtle earthiness. Moderately rich, with fine grain polished tannins, a welcoming tug of acidity, and impressive persistence on the bold finish. The wine glides across the palate with a dreamy silkiness. Hard to put this wine into words: suffice it to say you know it when you experience it. Great later in the day after opening predicting age ability. A New Zealand old vine Pinot Noir epiphany.
Read more: http://www.princeofpinot.com/article/918/

Dry River: Martinborough’s Cult Pinot Noir

By William Rusty Gaffney on February 15, 2010 #degustation#rusty's posts

martinborough-dry-river-pinotThere is nothing else quite like Dry River Pinot Noir in New Zealand, or even in the world for that matter.  Dry River, located in Martinborough, North Island of New Zealand, was the name of one of the oldest Wairapa sheep stations in New Zealand, dating to 1877. It was later named Dyerville, and it was here in 1979 that Neil and Dawn McCallum planted a vineyard.  The area subsequently became known as the Martinborough Terrace, now famous for Pinot Noir.

McCallum is an opinionated winemaker, a committed “terroirist,” who is highly respected by his peers.  His wines have achieved cult status in New Zealand, although he never submits the wines for judging.  At Dry River there is no tasting room, yet the wines are quickly sold to an eager mailing list of customers.  A few bottles are exported to the U.S., Asia, and the U.K.. The wines of Dry River are known for their longevity.  A tasting McCallum staged with Bob Campbell MW in 2004, and reported in The World of Fine Wine (Issue 19, 2008), revealed that older vintages of Pinot Noir dating back to 1989 were still youthful.  Campbell enthusiastically described the wines as showing “high levels of flavor intensity and ripeness, and impressive longevity.”  McCallum uses little oak (20%), and the Pinot Noirs have high levels of grape tannins, requiring 3 to 4 years to start opening up.

In 2002, the winery and 30 acres of vineyards were sold for $7 million with the new owners infusing cash for expansion and updated equipment.  McCallum has remained on as the chief winemaker.  McCallum writes extensively and his musings are posted on the Dry River website under the “Jottings” heading (www.dryriver.co.nz).  You fill find these essays very scholarly, informative and insightful.

2006 Dry River Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir 13.5% alc., $80.
Approaching Syrah in color and structure.  Very contemplative nose showing nuanced scents of a variety of wild dark berries, with noticeable oak-derived notes of spice, browned marshmallow, brandy and vanilla.  Utterly amazing intense and saturating flavors of plums, blackberries and currants with a savory, woodsy undertone, and a hint of tangerine peel on the extremely long finish.  Easy to mistake for a young Grands Cru Burgundy with the tip off being the amazing persistence at the end.  A truly unique Pinot Noir of great distinction that stands out from the New World crowd.  Serve this wine blind to any of your Pinot geek buddies, let them try to guess its origin, and you will find many surprised as well as happily satiated winos.

Winemaker: Best Job in the World?

By William Rusty Gaffney on October 16, 2009 #rusty's posts

With harvest upon the Northern Hemisphere winegrowing regions of the world, it makes one pause and think that is a remarkable thought that people actually get paid to make wine. Ask any winemaker what he does, and he proudly exclaims he is “hands off” in the winery (nonintervention is the current fashionable term for this approach that takes a degree in enology to understand). They tell you, “I stay out of the way and let the grapes make the wine.” Winemaking must be the best job in the world.

Winemakers only work two months out of the year during harvest. Of course, they hire skilled laborers to pick the grapes, recruit volunteers to sort the grapes, and hire cellar rats to do all the cleaning and dirty work. As rock music plays in the background, they walk around the winery, ordering punch downs and selecting lab tests that an enologist performs. Mainly, they just smile and nod their heads. If a problem arises, there are always the cellar rats to blame.

Once the wines are barreled-down, winter arrives and the vines become dormant. No reason to spend any time in either the vineyards or winery. It’s time to go on the road, hosting wine dinners where the food is extravagantly prepared, and where they never have to pick up the bill. The consumers who attend these dinners don’t want to offend the winemaker, so they eat and drink joyously, and the winemaker smiles and nods his head, reaping the benefits of generous praise.

Occasionally, winemakers are stuck hosting a group of consumers or winery club members at the winery. Winemakers are well-trained to go through their winemaking song and dance that makes it sound like they are geniuses at what they can do with grapes. Everyone goes home happy with bottles in tow as the winemaker bids them goodbye with a smile and a nod.

Critics show up occasionally too, but winemakers are well-versed in dealing with them. Armed with the knowledge of which barrels are the best in the cellar, the winemaker will lead the critic on a merry tasting through the top wines he winery has to offer. This is also a time when the winemaker can show off his technical jargon and know how and impress the judge in front of him. Winemakers rehearse for years for this role. Of course, smiles and nods are an important part of this snow job.

As the first buds of spring appear on the vines, family snow skiing vacations are well in the past, and winemakers begin to think of the health of their vineyards. Although winemakers claim that “wine is made in the vineyard,” they actually never do anything in the vineyard such as pruning, leaf pulling or drive a tractor. Winemakers are good at kicking dirt and spitting seeds, all the time smiling and nodding, and offering encouragement to the field workers.

The most adventurous winemakers will take on Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is the only grape that is wise to the winemaker’s shtick and will mess with their head. Pinot Noir loves to play mind games with winemakers, offering different flavors  from day to day, sulking at times, teasingly strutting remarkable sensuality at other times, but always forcing the winemaker to sweat a bit. Every little thing that is done in the winery can affect the delicate aromas and flavors of Pinot Noir so winemakers have learned to do nothing. When they are faced with a critical decision, they simply go home and sleep on it and let nature take its course. Winemakers happily boast of their decisions to do nothing. If they don’t do much, and often decide to do nothing when confronted with a problem, what exactly to they get paid for? It’s clear, winemakers are trained experts at smiling and nodding.

California Icon Gary Farrell Debuts New Alysian Label

By William Rusty Gaffney on September 06, 2009 #etrangers#rusty's posts

Alysian_labelGary Farrell could easily be given the title of Father of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  After making his first wines for Davis Bynum, Farrell launched his own label in 1982. That year, he crafted the first Pinot Noir for the newly launched Rochioli Vineyard and Winery label, and released his first Gary Farrell Pinot Noir consisted of 50 cases of a blend of Rochioli West Block and the North Hill of Allen Vineyard.  It sold for $80 a case.  His Pinot Noirs offered elegance, yet intense and nuanced flavors, reasonably low alcohol levels, and generous acidity, and became among the most popular from California.  By 1999, Farrell had outgrown the Davis Bynum winery where he had been making his wines, partnered with Bill Hambrecht, and built a hilltop winery on Westside Road.

Farrell was to sell his eponymous label and Westside Road winery to Allied Domecq in 2004.  The winery and label were subsequently sold to Beam Wine Estates and then acquired by Ascentia Wine Estates.  Farrell, now 57 years old, had difficulty working under corporate ownership of his winery and was unable to remain connected to all phases of winemaking.  He left the winery in 2006 to return to his roots as a micro-producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  His new label, in partnership with Hambrecht once again, Alysian Wines (“ah-liss-ee-uhn”), will be housed in a new winery being built at the Floodgate Vineyard along Trenton-Healdsburg Road in Forestville.

The first three 2007 wines were released in September 2009 including a Russian River Valley and a Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir.  Releases to follow in early 2010 are vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from Rochioli Vineyard, Starr Ridge Vineyard East Terrace, and Hallberg Vineyard Crossroads.  Total production in 2007 is 3,000 cases.  The wines will be highly allocated through a mailing list at www.alysianwine.com.

Farrell is media-shy and not much is known about him personally.  Despite that, he has a faithful following, and the Alysian label is sure to attain cult stardom in California.

2007 Alysian Floodgate Vineyard West Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 444 cases, $55.  Very heavy bottle incorporating a large punt and sporting a classy label.  Perfumed with violets, Bing cherries and sandalwood.  Opulent and layered, ephemeral yet gutsy.  Flavors of cherries jubilee with touches of raspberries, vanilla and citrus.  Impeccably balance t n’ a for age ability.  An endless echo of scent and fruit on the finish.  This wine is a heart throb.

California’s Newest Cult Pinot Noir

By William Rusty Gaffney on July 15, 2009 #asides#etrangers#rusty's posts

Flying together: Rivers-Marie
Flying together: Rivers-Marie

Thomas Rivers Brown and his wife and business partner Genevieve Marie Walsh have quietly developed one of California’s most honored Pinot Noir labels: Rivers-Marie.  Although Brown crafts wine for at least twelve other wineries where the focus is Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, Rivers-Marie produces small lots of Pinot Noir from three vineyard sources in the true Sonoma Coast, specifically the Occidental-Freestone area.  Summa Vineyard is a 6-acre site owned by Scott and Joan Zeller, Occidental Ridge Vineyard is owned by Richard and Darla Radcliffe, and the Willow Creek Vineyard is owned by Raleigh and Patricia Wilson-Juckett.  Total production for Rivers-Marie was 650 cases in 2007 and 1,200 cases in 2008.  There are 4,000 people on the waiting list hopelessly biding their time for a spot on the mailing list.  Managing allocations is more difficult for Brown than crafting than wines!  The secondary market is the only source for most mortals.

Unlike many cult wine producers in California, Rivers-Marie keeps prices sensible, ranging from $25 to $60 for the five 2007 Pinot Noir bottlings (Sonoma Coast, Willow Creek Vineyard, Occidental Ridge Vineyard, Summa Vineyard, and Summa Vineyard Old Vines).  No one is California is making more striking, more perfectly balanced and age worthy Pinot Noirs than Rivers Marie.  The wines represent the culmination of the long-touted tantalizing potential for Pinot Noir in the true Sonoma Coast.

Yields on the Sonoma Coast in many vintages are marginal and barely financially viable.  Summa Vineyard yields about three-quarters of a ton per acre and some of the old vines yield significantly less.  At Rivers-Marie, the grapes are hand picked and sorted, 100% de-stemmed and given an extended cold soak of up to 10 days.  Aging is carried out on full lees for 10 months and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration.

2007 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 14.4% alc., 180 cases, $45.  Dijon clones 115 and 777.  Aged in 40% new French oak.  Complex aromatic profile of dark stone fruits, crushed berries, sage, green garden and smoke.  Rich and perfectly ripe black raspberry fruit with an underpinning of earth, oak and orange peel.  Thick and robust, yet perfectly balanced with complimentary tannins and acidity.  The aromatic and fruity finish is haunting.  A thoroughbred that challenges the Summa Old Vines for superiority.
2007 Rivers-Marie Summa Old Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 13.4% alc., 100 cases, $60.  Aged in 100% new French oak.  Flaboyant aromas of cherries and berries with a magical and penetrating Asian spice scent that smells like the most erotic pheromone in the world.  Unbelievably delicious sappy cherry and berry fruit with wisps of sassafras, cola and exotic spices.  The velvety texture is enough to bring you to your knees.  An incredible wine that defies adequate description.  Suffice it to say that this is a winegasm – one of those Pinot Noirs with such powerful charisma, that it drives men to do practically anything to get another bottle.

Mendocino Ridge: California’s Newest Home for Pinot Noir

By William Rusty Gaffney on June 09, 2009 #etrangers#rusty's posts

Manchester Ridge Vineyard
Manchester Ridge Vineyard

Mendocino Ridge in California is a relatively young American Viticultural Area (AVA), winning approval in 1997, yet it has some of the oldest producing vineyards in Mendocino County.  The first plantings, primarily Zinfandel, were established by Italian immigrants and date to the late 1800s.  Today, Zinfandel is still the pride of this AVA, but the region holds promise as a viticultural paradise for Pinot Noir.

The Mendocino Ridge AVA is a non contiguous trio of ridges that is defined by vineyards at least 1,200 feet or more in elevation and within 10 miles of the Pacific Ocean.  It is California’s first and only non contiguous AVA.  Because of the hilly terrain of the AVA, some lower elevations are not included, fostering the name, “Islands in the Sky.”

The climate in Mendocino Ridge is distinctly different from the neighboring Anderson Valley below.  Perched above the fog and frost threat, the vineyards in the Mendocino Ridge bask in the early morning sun, and early afternoon breezes cool down the fruit, never allowing the temperatures to rise as high as the valley below.  There is enough rainfall and ground water to dry farm vineyards.

The first winery in the Mendocino Ridge AVA was Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, founded in 1980.  Pinot Noir plantings here are the oldest on the Mendocino Ridge.  Other Pinot Noir vineyards include Perli Vineyard, Sky High Vineyard, and Manchester Ridge Vineyard (see photo).  Wineries producing Pinot Noir from the Mendocino Ridge appellation include Arista, Auteur, B. Kosugi, Baxter Winery, Drew, Ferrari-Carano, J. Jacaman, Marguerite Ryan Cellars, Phillips Hill Estates and Tandem.  I have had spectacular Pinot Noirs from several vineyards and producers in this AVA.

2006 B. Kosuge Wines Manchester Ridge Mendocino Pinot Noir try to find this wine...
14.5% alc., 300 cases, $40.  Byron Kosuge is a Pinot Noir and Syrah specialist who was the former winemaker at Saintsbury. 
A potpourri of scents including brambly cherries, candied apples, exotic woods, vanillin and winter spices.  Mouth-filling dusty red cherries that are nicely spiced with a subtle complement of oak.  The wine is velvety in texture with integrated tannins and a good acid cut.  A complete wine with excellence balance and length.  Is there an App for this?

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