Sonoma County, Santa Lucia Highlands and Sta. Rita Hills all have one great quality in common: they each produce stunning Pinot Noir wines in their cool California coast climates, benefiting from hot summer days and cool nights with a fog that rolls in during the early hours of the day, wrapping the vines in a protected layer that then blows off as morning temperatures rise. I’ve recently been sipping a lot of California Pinot Noir. Here are a few to keep an eye out for. A few selections were sent for editorial consideration.
Every wine has a story, and the story of Josh Cellars in one of the best. Created by vintner Joseph Carr, the California wines from vineyards located throughout the northern part of the state are made in honor of his father. Unassuming and approachable is how Joseph Carr described his father, his hero, and wanted to make his Josh Cellars wine in the same manner to honor his father the best way he knew how. His Josh Cellars Pinot Noir is as approachable on the palate as it is on the pocket book. Retailing for around $17, the plush, juicy, fresh wine is meant to be enjoyed on any given day with family and friends, enhancing the occasion. The winery also does great work for our military, giving back to organizations like the Gary Sinise Foundation and Operation Homefront. Available at Total Wine and More.
There are few as perfect Pinot Noir sites in the world than Russian River. With an overall cool climate, constant breezes, sloping lands, and influence from both the Bay and the River, vineyards develop robust, fruit-forward qualities while maintaining bright acidity, thanks to a growing season of mild temperatures. Benziger Signaterra Bella Luna Vineyard sits in the in the midst of a grove of California redwoods not far from the coast, allowing fruit to ripen slowly and evenly and creating a Pinot Noir filled with black cherry, red berry, and pomegranate accented by fresh wild roses, fall leaves, and hearty baking spice. $50, via their website.
Lost Canyon Whitton Vineyard Pinot Noir from Fritz Cellars also comes from Russian River, this one just out of the town of Graton. It’s a 25-acre vineyard that was planted about 15 years ago, so though the vines are still young, the fruit is proving to produce lush, fleshy, rich wine with juicy black plum, red and black cherry, black fig, and earthy herbal notes. A special wine that will probably continue to develop as the vineyards do. $42 at Total Wine and More.
Areas of the Sonoma Coast like the Petaluma Gap are the gateway to the ocean, ideal for growing Pinot Noir. La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard lies right in this gateway, benefiting from Mother Nature and providing a perfect site for their 777, 114, and Swan Pinot Noir clones. La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir is fresh and fruit forward with good acidity. Red cherry and ripe berry notes are intertwined with spice, cedar, and just a touch of dark chocolate, making this a great wine with grilled salmon, roast chicken or even pizza. $42, available via their website.
A new Pinot Noir just hitting the Dallas market now is from the Taub family, owners of Palm Bay Imports, now developing a domestic portfolio to add to their impressive list of international imports. Au Contraire Pinot Noir comes from vineyards dotted throughout the Sonoma Coast, creating a rich, black, fruit-filled wine that will pair perfectly with hearty dishes like lamb, game birds, and roasted pork. Should retail for around $30. Keep an eye out for it at your favorite wine store.
Adam and Dianna Lee are two of my favorite people. Texans who followed their dream to make quality Pinot Noir in Sonoma for 20 years, who have grown to achieve well-respected notoriety for their Siduri and Novy Family Wines. Yet, at the end of the day, they still just want to kick back and share a glass over a good story or two, always as interested in how you are, as you are them. I tried a few of their new releases at a tasting the other day, including their Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. This ares is where famed vintners like Gary Pisoni, Dan Lee, Gary Franscioni, Rich Smith, Nicky Hahn and Ray Franscioni have been growing vines for decades, proving the quality of the loamy soils, selling fruit to quality producers for specific vineyard designate wines. Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir sources fruit from Gary’s, Pisoni, Rosella’s, Sierra Mar and Soberanes vineyards, creating a well-rounded, elegant, and rich wine with natural, fresh acidity, layers of blackberry, red raspberry, and plum mingling with floral and spice notes. $35, available at Pogo’s.
La Rochelle, the Pinot Noir producer that is a sister winery to Steven Kent Winery in Livermore, has sourced Santa Lucia Highlands fruit from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard for almost 20 years, since 2003 for La Rochelle and before that for Steven Mirassou’s family wine, Mirassou. One of the most northerly located vineyard sites in the region, creating wines filled with black fruit, balsamic, and herbal, earthy qualities. The La Rochelle Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir is rich and robust, a hearty Pinot Noir that can age nicely for many years. Delicious as well now, just decant for a bit before enjoying, ideally paired with roasted duck or pork tenderloin. $48, via their website.
Another favorite year in and year out from Santa Lucia Highlands, which I wrote about recently, is Vision Cellars Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. Fresh, lively yet focused and always delicious. $45 available via Mac’s website.
Santa Lucia Highlands AVA is a part of Monterey County, but Monterey County expands far beyond this pocket to include other quality Pinot Noir growing sites like Carmel Valley and Arroyo Seco. Bridlewood Winery hand-selects each parcel for their Monterey County Pinot Noir to create a balanced wine, enhanced by all areas of the region. Ripe fruit and spice notes with bright acidity, finishing with hints of dark chocolate, black cherry, and toffee. $13 at Goody-Goody.
Foley Estates in Sta. Rita Hills has always been one of my favorite wineries in the region. Their Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir highlights the quality of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Lying between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills is one of the warmest areas for growing Pinot Noir in California, but as it is surrounded on three sides by water, a peninsula is formed which blows constant breezes through the vineyards, keeping the risk of disease as bay, and cooling hot temperatures during the day for cool evenings, creating a long growing season. The resulting wine is bright, fresh and balanced, perfect to enjoy with food, highlighting the great acidity of the wine. $30 at Total Wine and More.