Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Vintage Sonoma County Pinot Noir An Elegant Experience

Sonoma County wine shines in these two bottles of Pinot Noir.

A Tale Of Two Regions

There’s nothing like Pinot Noir to accompany a meal, sip by itself, or just to ward off the wintertime blues. We recently opened two bottles of single-vineyard Sonoma County Pinot Noir from two regions – one we know well and one that’s new to us.

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Russian River Valley is one of our favorite wine regions and the Pinot Noir from there is extraordinary. When we last visited Sonoma a few years ago, we stopped at Balletto and tasting their wonderful range of wines.

Sonoma’s Russian River Valley earned AVA status in 1983, and comprises 15,000 vineyard acres. By far, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel top the charts in this region. The heart-shaped AVA doesn’t follow the path of the Russian River exactly, but reflects a sweet spot that’s cool, but not too cold.

Balletto Vineyards started as a vegetable farm in 1977. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s additional land was purchased and by 1994 it was the largest vegetable farm in Northern California – producing more than two million cases of vegetables per year at its peak.

After weathering several storms and foreseeing California’s growing water shortage, John and Terri Balletto made the decision to convert to grape growing. Wine grapes are less water-dependent than other crops. We’re quite glad they made the change. Today Balletto produces 20,000 to 25,000 cases of premium wine.

Rugged And Remote

The Fort Ross-Seaview AVA was carved out of the larger Sonoma Coast AVA in 2011. It is remote and rugged and few of its wineries are open to the public. It does produce some of Sonoma County’s most sought after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Although just a few miles from the chilly Pacific, its 500 vineyard acres bask in warm sunlight and it is above the damp belt of fog that often covers the Russian River Valley.

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Wayfarer Vineyard was founded by acclaimed Napa winemaker Jason Pahlmeyer. After vintage upon vintage of powerful red wines, he became enchanted with Pinot Noir and the wines of Burgundy. Helen Turley, who made wines for Pahlmeyer, learned that Wayfarer, an organic farm on the remote Sonoma Coast was for sale. Pahlmeyer purchased it, completed planting in 2002, and released his first Wayfarer wine in 2014 (earlier wines were labeled Pahlmeyer).

Honestly, the price tag for Wayfarer Pinot is a bit above my usual range. I acquired it through Underground Cellars, where you make a purchase without knowing the specific bottles you will receive until after you make the purchase. (Although you will see the large listing of bottles from which your bottles will be selected.) I was really pleased when I learned I bought this beauty.

Balletto 2014 Pinot Noir Burnside Road Vineyard

Bright cherry flavors enhanced with lavender and violets. This is a medium-weight Pinot with spicy accents and a delicate finish. Pleasing oak lead into the finish.We were very pleased with the condition and this single-vineyard wine could have aged even more. It’s become even more beautiful than when we tasted it at the winery in 2018. There were 630 cases produced.

Wayfarer 2012 Pinot Noir Wayfarer Vineyard

We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were sipping history. This bottle is from the first vintage of Wayfarer Pinot Noir. It includes Jason Pahlmeyer’s signature on the label (just printed, not signed). This is a blend of the vineyard’s 12 clones. It offers black cherry and light oak with elegant fresh red berries. Dazzling from the first sip, it’s a lovely ride through the mid-palate, and right on to the end. The acidity keeps it vibrant and the minerality gives it an exotic allure.

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