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Sonoma cool climate Pinot Noirs.

A recent Society of Wine Educators conference in California concluded with a bus tour to the Sonoma Coast, Carneros, and Russian River Valley AVAs. This is Pinot Noir heaven, and there's a lot for you to tell your customers. Tour leader Nick Frey, President of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, generous with his information (


To begin, all Pinot Noirs from around the world are not supposed to taste like red Burgundy. This is a hard concept for the generation that first learned Pinot Noir by drinking, and loving, true French Burgundies, but today's Pinot Noirs come from different places, and they come from different terroirs: soils, climates, overall weather patterns. Gerald Asher, noted wine writer, explains that grapes are like musical notes, and the different scores on which they are written are like various terroirs. They are not going to sound (or taste) the same.


It is not likely that you or your customers will really detect the differences among these diverse cool-climate appellations, but FYI, here are thumbnail sketches. Sonoma Coast is the largest AVA in the U.S., and runs from the town of Petaluma to the Mendocino county line. Wineries distinguish themselves by how close they are to the Pacific Ocean. This region is very cool. Vineyards planted at 1,000 feet or higher, are above the fog line, and enjoy warmer temperatures. Vineyards planted at lower altitudes have a longer, cooler growing season, as fog limits their sunshine. We tasted wines from Flowers, Keller, La Follette, Red Car, and Three Sticks. The Carneros AVA, especially at its western edge, gets strong coastal breezes and Pacific Ocean fog that comes in through the Petaluma Gap. As you know, the Carneros AVA lies at the southern tips of both Napa and Sonoma, where the San Pablo Bay moderates prevailing temperatures. There are fewer extremes of highs and lows, both in winter and summer. Wineries' Pinot Noirs that we tasted were Anaba (named for an uphill-flowing anabatic wind), Buena Vista, Donum, Gloria Ferrer, and Schug Carneros. The Russian River Valley AVA, which includes the Green Valley AVA, also gets its share of fog, but there is less wind. That, in combination with lighter soils, leads to more vigorous vines. Wines tasted there were Arista, Benovia, Dutton-Goldfield, Iron Horse, MacMurray Ranch, MacPhail and Sequana. Note: Just knowing the AVAs of these wineries doesn't tell you the whole story, since there are variations from west to east, and south to north, especially within the larger AVAs.

Listening to the producers present that day, reminds you of the care and attention to detail required to produce Pinot Noir. Deficit irrigation, cool night harvesting, low yields, destemmed whole berries, hand sorting, cold soaks, open top fermenters, punchdowns, traditional basket presses, aging in French oak, and lees stirring, all give you an idea. Note: These may be Burgundian methods, but they are not making Burgundy."

Both Gloria Ferrer and Iron Horse have fine reputations for their sparkling wines as well as their still ones. Producing both categories illustrates the importance of choosing clones and selections, berry size, etc. Gloria Ferrer, for example, has studied more than 40 clones, even going to Champagne to research clones that they hadn't seen in California. Here's why it took 16 years to go from clone to bottle: four years that the clones they brought with them were in quarantine; four years to grow the vines and see fruit; four years to expand their vineyards with the selected clones; and four more years to get significant production.

Harriet Lembeck, CWE *, CSS ** is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman's Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. (* Certified Wine Educator ** Certified Specialist of Spirits)
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Title Annotation:Retail Education
Author:Lembeck, Harriet
Publication:Beverage Dynamics
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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