Lovely. The word I kept writing, as I tasted wines at Baxter’s tasting room in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, was lovely.
The Baxter tasting room at 8660 Highway 128 in Philo is as clean and modern as a Scandinavian Design showroom, and there is little to distract visitors from the wines created by Phillip T.G. Baxter, poured by his wife, Claire Baxter.
Phillip T.G. Baxter grew up in Napa, the son of winemaker Phillip L. Baxter, attended the UC Davis School of Enology and Viticulture, and interned in Burgundy, France where he was influenced to make the single vineyard wine choices for Baxter wines today. Claire Baxter described Phillip’s winemaking as, “really natural,” using a basket press, neutral oak, hand punch downs, wild yeasts, and traditional methods to craft his wines.
Claire Baxter is English, and her voice is the first bit of lovely that tasters experience, as her lilt makes everything she says sound, well, lovely. Passionate and proud, she described each wine poured, sharing information about the individual vineyard that each wine comes from, and her husband’s choices made in making it.
2013 Baxter Oppenlander Vineyard Chardonnay Mendocino $38 – Light oak, lemon peel and crisp minerality on the nose, a mouth of mineral, pear, and rip apple, and a long lingering tapering finish where the apple fruit stays forever.
2013 Baxter Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge $48 – The grapes for this wine come from a vineyard just five miles from the Pacific ocean that sits atop the Greenwood Ridge. Lovely. 100 percent neutral French oak. 30 percent whole cluster for texture and depth. Delicate, savory, layered. Deep, herbaceous, cherry, and mineral nose, nuanced and integrated. Lovely mouthfeel, soft supple, ripe but not overly jammy cherry, herb and mineral. Bright sweet tart fruit and acidity on finish.
2013 Baxter Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $52 – Valley floor grown grapes from sandy loam and clay soil. Dark rich earthy black cherry and floral notes, with a little cola. Young, but drinking great now; this wine is going to be so much greater still with more aging.
2012 Baxter Langley Vineyard Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $48 – Langley is a small vineyard, planted over 30 years ago, just north of Boonville. Claire Baxter said that this vintage, “came ready early, while it usually takes more age,” and the result is that the wine is almost gone, with fewer than four cases left. Dark and brooding nose of herb, licorice and Bing cherry. The mouth is filled with darker fruit, black tea, earthy mushroom, and a strawberry jam note comes and sticks around for a long finish.
2012 Baxter Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino $60 – My first note: “Oh (expletive deleted), that’s unfairly good!” Oppenlander is located near Comptche, in the middle of nowhere, but their fruit is exceptional, with a number of Anderson Valley’s best wineries sourcing the fruit for their wine, and this wine shows why with abundant clarity. This wine received extra barrel aging, was tight, and is just opening up now. Lovely warm cherry, strawberry, herb and mushroom. Still young, and already amazing, this wine is going to be frightfully good for those with the patience to lay it down. As great as this wine is in the glass by itself, it cries for food, and pairing it with duck and a reduction of cherries and this wine would be the pinnacle of deliciousness. Firm tannins, but they do not get in the way of enjoyment.
2013 Baxter Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir Yorkville Highlands $48 – Weir vineyard is largely planted on rocky sloping terrain to gravelly and rocky soil, and the vines are stressed leading to characterful wine grapes. Tea, cherry, light, delicate, and – again – just lovely.
At the recent Winesong charity tasting and auction, Baxter offered an auction lot in conjunction with Ferrington Vineyard, Herdell Printing, Anderson Compliance Services, MA Silva Glass, UPS, and others where the winning bidder would get to make one barrel of Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir with Phillip T. G. Baxter as the winemaker, and everything included to see that barrel turned into professionally produced wines, complete with burgundy bottles, TTB approved labels, and shipping. The auction lot sold for $19,000, in very heavy bidding. Asked if he could offer a second barrel, the answer was yes, although the winner would have to wait one vintage, and another $18,000 was raised. In all, $37,000 was raised to benefit the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation, through Baxter’s generosity, and that too is lovely!
Baxter is a winery tasting room to visit if you love wine, and particularly if you love Pinot Noir. Each wine is delicate, feminine, soft and delicious. There is remarkable restraint shown each wine, and each wine is a discernably distinct representation of the vineyard it comes from. These are not high alcohol fruit jam bombs, but each has depth, layers of flavor, and nuance; they show varietal, vintage, and geographic correctness, and each is a lovely delight. I can’t urge you strongly enough to make Baxter a tasting destination in your very near future; your nose and taste buds will thank me.