Pinot Days 2015 Report

Four stories below the City View room at the Metreon, where the Pinot Days Grand Festival Tasting was held, a stage in a grassy park was set for a Brazilian band. The sound crew tinkered with the system while the musicians tested their instruments: conga drums, an electronic harpsichord, and electric guitars. About 100 different wineries were then preparing their own instruments: decanters, stemware, and the stars– bottles of pinot noir. Similar to the band, these winemakers melded a variety of contributing influences into a personal style, their personal takes on common themes or grapes.

All the wines that I tasted were very good. There was one with an off-note, but I was looking for juice to enjoy and it was easy to find.

Strange Grapes In A Strange Land

The first vineyard I stopped by was Wrath, from the Santa Lucia Highlands. They were pouring selections from their 2012 vintage. The first wine was “Ex Anima,” an un-oaked wine, made with 50% whole cluster grapes, which adds weight. The result was a light body with black cherry flavor.

Wrath’s next four wines highlighted the different pinot noir clones.

The next wine from Wrath was labelled Swan/828, aged in 40% new French oak. Its contributing note was “Spicy” in a sweet spice box sense. Next was 115/667 (Dijon clones), 50% new French oak, this was light bodied with dark cherry notes. The Boekenoogen vineyard was up next with clones 113/115, this had velvety red fruit. Tondre Grapefield listed Pommard 4 plus 115/828. The Pommard clone brings structure to the mix, like bass notes, the resulting wine hinted of plums, berries, savory soy mushrooms and dense sweet tannins.

La Folette has a tasting room in Sebastapol at the Barlow. I had visited the tasting room before and mentioned that I liked the darker more savory wine, Andrew the marketing director recognized it as the Van der Kamp vineyard. The Van der Kamp vineyard is on Sonoma Mountain at 1,400 feet. It is planted with Pinot Noir clones 777, 828, UCD 23, Martini and Swan; it also has Pinot Meunier which is a mutation of Pinot and used in producing Champagne.

I loved the nose of the 2012 Manchester Ridge Vineyard, it had so much going on in the aroma. It is the type of nose that a few of the wines had that day that makes you want to sit and smell it, similar to a lead singer soloing. It followed with a rich body and cola finish. Manchester Ridge Vineyard is in Mendocino at 2,000 feet elevation, about 400 feet above the fog line, which gives it a long growing season. Clones are 114, 115 and 777.

Another vineyard designate wine is from the Sangiacomo Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast. I mentioned that a lot of winemakers use fruit from that vineyard and Andrew said that Greg La Folette has first choice and single blocks picked out for his use. The vines are clones 112, 777 and Swan. The wine had a deep nose with cedar notes and a savory finish. Andrew also described how they ferment in large stainless steel dairy tanks which are so large they are nicknamed the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Rare Earth

Wait Cellars, “Elegance through simplicity”. Being terroir driven the 2013 Russian River Pinot Noir uses clones Dijon 667 and 115 in a cooler vineyard and Dijon 777 and Swan in a warmer vineyard. The result is combining the dark brooding flavors with the bright fruit flavors that each of the clones bring from their proper environment. The wine had dark cherry with a savory extracted cola finish. The Green Valley AVA is a sub-appellation of the Russian River AVA and is noted for cool climate and well drained sandy soil. The Green Valley 2013 Pinot Noir was hand harvested, wild fermented with resident yeast, aged in a combination of French and Hungarian oak barrels. Clones 115, 667 and 828 were used. It had mellow acids and a sweet tannin finish.

Ram’s Gate is a fairly new winery and their facility is directly across from Sonoma Speedway (Sears Point Raceway). Their red label wines are made for every day and are sourced from the appellation Carneros. The white label are sourced from single vineyards and in the case of the Pinot Noir it comes from the estate next to the tasting room. The nose was very enticing and one of the standouts that day, it hinted at something reminiscent of Nicoise olives and cherries. Ryan was pouring the wines and had been to Wingtip presenting wines before.

Ram’s Gate had an information handout that described the 2012 vintage as “excellent, outstanding and ideal” because the long, moderate growing season and bountiful yields. I asked Ryan what he thought about the age-ability of New World Pinots, he figures about ten years, I mentioned that at a tasting of recent red burgundies the presenter was saying how great the wine would taste in 15 years, I was puzzled because all I tasted was strong acid without any fruit. Because of the warmer climate in Northern California the vintners have riper fruit to produce a more accessible wine.

In The Field

Philo Ridge Winery was pouring their 2011 vintage over an interesting decanter which had a glass ball on top of a glass amphora shaped vessel. Fred Buonano and Heather McKelvey take three years to produce a vintage, the last year is blending the wine into a stainless steel tank for six months and then keeping it in bottle for six months to overcome bottle shock. The fruit came from a “Field Blend” of clones, because they were planted a long time ago by a previous owner who did not know what they were. The vineyard is at 1,200 feet and blended with fruit from a vineyard on the valley floor. The result was a dark cherry nose and flavor with a smooth medium body and smooth finish.

A happy wine.

Nunes Vineyard/St. Rose Winery is the work of Fred and Wendy Nunes. They grow grapes for Zepaltas, Matrix and Papapietro wineries. They also produce ten barrels for themselves under the St. Rose label. The production is more for their understanding how their farming practices affects the grapes and the resulting wines. Fred shared a lot of technical information, but what was very interesting was his trellising system. One system is known as VSP, vertical shoot positioning which trains the vines to grow laterally and become the stalk (cordons) with shoots going straight up attached to cross wires. Fred’s system uses this with the addition of having shoots grow straight down toward the ground. Their 2012 wine had a complex nose and balanced fruit, body and finish.

Dirt Matters

Willakenzie has a good reputation and is an Oregon producer. The appellation is Yamhill-Carlton. The vintage for both is 2012. The first wine presented “Gisele” was a blend of different clones to the point where their traits all blended together. It was described as “entry level” and had a screw cap, which in reality means its’ a good, simple everyday drinking wine, worth having on hand. The Pierre Leon vineyard is a single vineyard using clones 113, 114, 115 and 777. At 14.2% alcohol the result was jammy, smooth and dark. Their slogan “Dirt matters, clones matter, people matter,” proved true.

Cornerstone Cellars is in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Craig Camp was chatting with a buyer for the American Embassies. Craig mentioned that he just received an order from the White House for his Cornerstone Pinot Noir. I was curious about the buyer for the embassies and mentioned we had a butler work at Wingtip who had previously worked for the British Embassy and they would pour wines according to the person’s standing (decanting a lower cost wine out of sight). They laughed and the man said that ambassadors are well educated with wine, but he also sells to the commissary whose staff will drink anything.

For the Cornerstone label Craig uses the Pommard clone plus two more. He noted that instead of the typical 11 months in oak, he will leave it in for 15 to 16 months and wait until the wine integrates with the wood, judging by taste not by schedule. While Craig chooses what he feels is only the best fruit for the Cornerstone label, the rest of the fruit goes into the Stepping Stone label. The Cornerstone had a dark cherry color, a black cherry flavor, good structure without being too dry, the finish included a pleasant mineral tingle.


I was at the last table when one of the hosts touched my shoulder to remind me that the Trade tasting ended at 1:30pm. Time had passed by quickly, and there were many more wineries pouring. Oh well. Next year. The event was very successful in presenting the 2012 vintage in a variety of styles. The winemakers all had strong grapes to work with, and their commitment to quality burst through. If you enjoy New World Pinot Noir, start caching some 2012s.

See Also: Pinot Days 2014 Report.

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Peter Fielder

As a host and barman, Peter Fielder has been helping members of Wingtip feel good and look good since 2012. He is a wine explorer, Certified Specialist of Wine ll, and all-around bon vivant. “Tasting wine is interesting,” says Peter. “But drinking wine with food and friends is the thing. You get to experience the wine in a context and share with it your friends.” In the world of wine, there is always one more winery, one more varietal or vintage over the horizon. Peter writes about his exploring wine which helps encapsulate the experience and distill it down to words.

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