Santa Rita Hills
We are slowly changing the way we make pinot noir at The Ojai Vineyard. My interest in pinot grew out of a love of the wines from the Burgundy region of France, and that passion for those wines continues unabated. No one style describes Burgundy, but I would argue that the finest examples combine a rare combination of delicacy and intensity.
Here in California, thanks to our beneficent climate, we have the luxury of choosing at what level of ripeness to pick the grapes-a choice that greatly affects the nature of the wine. And if we want to make pinot noir like the Italians make Amarone, we don’t even have to place the harvested grapes on drying racks to wait for them to shrivel to raisin: that can happen right on the vine before we pick. Conversely, although we have all had the experience of drinking that surprisingly wonderful little wine from Burgundy that was made from unripe grapes in a difficult vintage, nobody I know is seeking to reproduce Burgundy in a bad year. Still, between the extremes lie many choices that have an enormous impact on the character of pinot noir.
My point is that we are now choosing to pick our grapes slightly less ripe, trying to capture more of the great perfume of pinot, which is lost forever when the grapes become overripe. We are working to maintain the intensity obtainable from the California climate by choosing to farm for lower yields. Fruit from low-yielding vines is more flavored and has more backbone and minerality. While it would be much more economical to get that intensity by cropping up the vines and waiting to pick the grapes after they concentrated into raisins, so much of pinot’s soul would be lost. Wines of that sort have great impact but no balance, and thus lack juiciness and drinkability.
This Clos Pepe pinot is from the tiny harvest of 2003. With a yield of just one ton to the acre, there’s fabulous intensity here, yet it has great balance, making it a joy to drink today.