Navigating the World of Pinot Noir


While I never feel like Warren Buffet when it comes to dollars, I do feel like him when it comes to the richness of Burgundian varietals every time I attend the World of Pinot Noir, which just held its 15th anniversary at the Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara. Talk about your wealth of riches -- there are over 200 wines to taste between two days, there's a media room (see that picture above) with the perimeter of the walls lined with bottles, and there are food-focused events (I previewed one about mushrooms and uni a few weeks ago). There's also a seminar featuring the renowned wine writer Jancis Robinson, who has authored so many books, including The Oxford Companion to Wine, that her bio she says she doesn't know the exact number (this fact might be the only thing she doesn't know).

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Hoping to make some coherent, sweeping statements just isn't possible -- I tasted pinot noirs from Italy and South Africa, for instance -- and both the vines and winemakers deserve a mix of adjectives like "establishing," "young," "mature," "robust," and "perhaps a bit past peak." That said, here are some personal highlights kept to California producers north of Santa Barbara.

Clos de la Tech
A winery of the future where the tractors run on cables and grapes get stomped by machines that simulate feet -- what else from owner, TJ Rodgers, who is CEO of a technology company? But the wines are wonderful, coming from grapes grown at high altitude in Santa Cruz with yields of often a mere 1 ton per acre. This is wine that's hard work, and it's delicious.

Winegrower Robert Jones owns a vineyard called E16, so that's the entire name of the business, but he also has to access his pinot grapes from around the state as he's in too-warm El Dorado in the Sierra Nevada to grow his own. He picks great spots -- Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Anderson Valley -- and winemaker Daniel Moore makes definitive representations of wines from those fabled areas. Try the 2012 Anderson Valley "West End;" it's a sexy cherry number.

Maggy Hawk
About as west to the Pacific as an Anderson Valley vineyard can be, Maggy Hawk makes only pinot and names them, like the winery, after race horses: Jolie, Afleet, Unforgettable, and Hawkster. All made with relatively similar processes, they express the differences in vineyards and clones. Try the Afleet to pick up lovely tea and spice notes with the usual layered Mendocino fruit.

Pinots from this small Sonoma producer let you try something you don't normally get, as their vineyard is a mix of clones, two of which are "suitcase" varieties (that is, someone brought them into the country as one-offs). The resultant 2012 Sonoma Coast wins wows from a bevy of critics; Wine Enthusiast says, "Reuling is humming its way toward continued greatness in working with its own coveted fruit, crafting a coming-together of earthy fruit and lush texture."

Saxon Brown
Owner and winemaker Jeff Garner named his winery after the heroine of Jack London's Valley of the Moon, and how cool is that? Garner, who got his start at Chateau St. Jean, is just about to release a 2012 Roberts Road Sonoma pinot that's bright with great spice. He annually makes pinot from the great Durrell Vineyard -- a wine that's joyous.

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