Santa Maria Valley
I drink a fair amount of red Burgundy, and maybe it is my coarse palate, but I often taste wines that are so delicate and nuanced that I wonder if there is really anything there. The question arises: are these the emperor’s new clothes? In the back of my mind when talking about subtlety lies the question of whether a wine is actually over-cropped and insipid.
This 2007 Bien Nacido pinot noir does have a certain delicacy, but in contrast to some too delicate Burgundies, it displays an enormous personality—this wine is fully clothed. The aroma just knocks me out; flowers, sappy tart pie cherries, loamy earth—so much character! The flavor profile is terrific, full of savory and briny notes, cranberry fruit and suave fine tannins. It may be a little shocking for those who have been nursed only on huge sweet California pinots, but for me it expresses the power one can get out of carefully farmed, perfectly ripe grapes picked at just the right moment.
The fruit from this 38 year old vineyard was picked during the night to keep it cool. It arrived at the winery early in the morning and was destemmed without crushing the berries. The fruit was put in open top stainless steel vats and after a 5 day cold soak, the native yeast began fermenting. During that time we punched down (mixed) the vats by hand, and this continued until the fermentation was complete. The new wine was pressed and transferred to small French oak barrels for aging (30% were new). The wine was left untouched for the next 14 months, and then it was carefully racked off the sediment and bottled without filtration.
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir | Alcohol: 13.5% | Vinification: 30% New French Oak | Barrel Aging: 14 Months | Total Production: 332 cases
TWO CONTRASTING PINOTS
The next two wines are an excellent illustration of issues that concern us here at The Ojai Vineyard. We think of it as pretty arcane stuff, but the question of the alcohol content of new world wines is a lightening rod for controversy. A couple of retailers and restaurateurs are actually refusing to carry wines higher than 14% because they think anything above that is inherently unbalanced, and therefore useless as an accompaniment with food. As you’ve read, we obsess over capturing grapes from a vineyard at the ideal moment to make the best possible wine, hence the quandary. Here are two pinot noirs that show how nebulous and unclear that ideal can be when faced with the uncertainties of nature.
In 2007 at Bien Nacido we were able to pick exactly when we wanted and are thrilled by the results-atypical for California, but in my mind difficult for the thoughtful taster to dismiss. Despite what it says on the label, our laboratory tells us it is 13.6% alcohol. The actual number does not concern me too much, but I generally find that pinots lower than the mid-14s are gentler and express their personalities in a more accurate way. With the second wine, Clos Pepe, we felt we missed our ideal moment by a couple of days. Here in Southern California, we can go from heavy fog to extremely dry conditions in a matter of hours and in two days the potential alcohol of grapes can skyrocket. Regardless of our best intentions Mother Nature gave us a wine of 15.3% alcohol. Is that bad? You decide. Harvesting two days later has given us a wine that still possesses the aromas and flavors of that vineyard site, only in a plusher kind of way. This wine might not fit the ideal I have in my head, but it is delicious and generous and enjoyable to drink–plenty of people will prefer it over the more subtle Bien Nacido. I guess what I am trying to say is that I’m not an absolutist, an extremist. I like what natural processes bring, and am reluctant to synthetically modify what nature has given.
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
“Two outstanding Pinot Noirs include the 2007 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills, which offers both finesse and power in a full-bodied style. Wild berry fruit intermixed with some raspberries, strawberries, and kirsch are offered up in the beautiful aromatics of the wine’s perfume. Medium- bordering on full-bodied, the wine is rich, concentrated, spicy, and a lively Pinot Noir. ” -RP 91 Points