Last weekend, I visited a dozen winery tasting rooms in the Anderson Valley during their successful Second annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. This barrel tasting weekend is held later than is typical for other areas, but lets the Pinot Noir made in Anderson Valley by most producers show a little better — worked for me. With oaks on one side and redwoods on the other, the vineyards of Anderson Valley are well framed by nature. Throughout the rest of this column, if I write Pinot then you may assume I meant Pinot Noir.
• Foursight – Joe Webb poured me his 2013 “Zero” Pinot that will be bottle late in August, held in oak 2-7 years (zero new oak), with about a third whole cluster fermentation, it was delightful with bright fruit notes and showed well. Next, he poured his 2013 Charles Vineyard Pinot, the same in all other respects, but with one-third new oak barrels, a firmer wine that paired well with salumi. Finally, Joe poured his 2013 Foursight Clone ’05, a Pinot using Pommard ’05 clone on 50% percent new oak; I loved this wine, showing the herbal undertones that make for a memorable sinuous vinous Pinot.
• Philo Ridge – 2012 Marguerite Vineyard Pinot was woody, cherry fruit, pretty straightforward, good acidity. 2013 Estate Pinot (AV) – Barrel sample could be wine now, close to finish. Drinking great. Winery chef K.C. McClure prepared a watermelon gazpacho that paired brilliantly with the bolder flavors of a 2013 Testa Primitivo. K.C.’s mushroom tartlets were delicious with the poured Pinot.
• Seebass – Newcomers to the Anderson Valley, Seebass grows grapes near Talmage on their own 100-acre farm. Tasting room manager Jill poured a sample of Mysteriös , a blend being bottled as we speak, and due out this November. The wine may be a blend of vintages, 2011 and 2013, and varietals, possibly Zinfandel, Merlot, Grenache, and Syrah, lush, juicy, bright, yummy, and fun.
• Lichen – Owner Doug Stewart produces a Solera, a multi vintage wine, and the sample of one due in September was gorgeous. Rich, ready, cherry berry fruit, layers of flavor, herb, twenty kinds of yum. In addition to great Pinot, some of my favorite in the valley, I bought a sparkling wine, bright mineral steely fruit, clean crisp, refreshingly delicious; and tasted a blend white, lush juicy stone, pear, grapefruit, lovely acid to fruit.
• Balo – I tasted finished wines, no barrel samples, and all were good, but my focus was barrel samples, so I left – but not before tasting a slice of pizza fresh from the oven, made simply with San Marzano tomatoes, cheese, and basil on a crust so delicious it could be served undressed as artisan bread. Balo does stand out for hospitality and thoughtfulness, offering free bottles water, immaculate bocce courts, lavender, pet-friendly fenced poop-pen for dogs – an enjoyable place to visit!
EDITED TO ADD: Okay, I wrote for the newspaper column that Balo was not pouring barrel samples, but I was wrong. I only visited the tasting room, and didn’t check out the obvious place for barrel samples: the barrel room in the adjacent winery building, down slope from the tasting room.. Oops.
• Greenwood Ridge Vineyards – I was fortunate to have Buzz pour for me, he was knowledgeable, passionate, and enthusiastic. Owner Allan Green deserves credit for the best named wine I tasted: 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir. Buzz told me that, “Allan makes his Pinot more in the traditional manner, less fruit,” and, “2012 was good, but 2013 was perfect. We picked early because the grapes were ready then.”
• Handley Cellars – Travis Scott poured two barrel samples; 2013 Vittorio Vineyard Primitivo, Redwood Valley perfume, fruit and 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah, remarkably soft, light for a Petite. Vittorio is an early generation Testa family member. Travis also poured 2010 Vittorio’s Selected Red Table Red, light, super easy to drink, herb garden and berry patch, 13.5 percent alc.
• Phillips Hill – Buildings are an old apple drying facility. The 2013 Oppenlander Pinot was spectacularly drinkable right now, if a tiny bit green. Cherry, spice, herb, will be bottle March/April 2014. The extra time in barrel will yield acid integration, and structure will become more silky. Aromatics will become more pronounced. At Phillips Hill, they pick at lower Brix, have higher acid, the fruit is there, but the alcohol is lower; instead of a higher alcohol wine that overpowers food. I loved all tastes.
• The Apple Farm – Travis Scott at Handley sent me on to Phillips Hill where I tasted my day’s favorite wine and where I asked Toby if I could come back for a more comprehensive tasting. Margot at Phillips Hill sent me on to The Apple Farm where I bought a case of Bates & Schmitt organic apple juice. That’s how you do it!
• Edmeades – 2013 Zinfandel, Gianoli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – fruit slightly muted in nose, but nice weight coming on, depth, roundness, dark as opposed to bright, brambly raspberry, spice; 2013 Zinfandel, Peril Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – more integrated. The Gianoli is good, but I like this better. Edges have been softened. Rounder; 2013 Syrah, Perli – black pepper, first and foremost, then vegetal and herbaceous undertone supporting dark fruit. Food included a ground lamb slider and pasta salad of orzu, basil, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, zucchini, hazel nut, and sherry olive oil.
• Gowan’s Oak Tree – I bought a mixed bag with four different squash, a dozen ears of white corn, a bag of mixed fruit, plots, plums, peaches, and apples, and a bottle of water. Water is always good on a 100-degree day when tasting wine.
• Toulouse Vineyards – Vern Boltz, owner, winemaker, was as cordial as his tasting room was comfortable. He poured me his 2013 Pommard ’04 clone Pinot; deep, gnarly, cheery fruit with a sexy hint of green, herbal, loamy, a beautiful Pinot in the barrel.
• Baxter Winery – Owners Claire and Phil Baxter poured their 2013 Vlenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, a note of brown sugar, light in mouth, soft; 2013 Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, 30 percent whole cluster fermentation, more red than purple color, expressive fruit while elegantly light, candied cherry and rose petal; and 2013 Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, cranberry, strawberry, and finally cherry, lighter end of the spectrum fruit flavors, but a nice little basket of mixed fruit, a little herb and floral and earth in support of fruit, well integrated. These three will be bottled later in 2014 and ship May 2015. Baxter is making elegant wine I enjoyed.
• Elke Vineyards – 2013 Boonville Barter, simple, direct, bright cherry noted. 2013 Blue Diamond picked two weeks earlier, more Burgundian, focused more on dirt than fruit. 35 percent new oak, 11 months on oak. 2 years in bottle before release. I loved this wine. Hard candy cherry fruit.