Pinot Noir wines expressing the differences of three great California wineries


California is one of those states that sparks a multitude of images – images of breathtaking natural beauty that can range from charming vineyards nestled in the many forests of Sonoma County to magnificent views of the central coast. rugged from Big Sur to further down to the beautiful and much visited beaches of Santa Barbara. A wine producer in Sonoma called Iconic vineyards recently compared three Pinot Noir wines from a single vineyard from major wineries in these three different wine regions of California. One would automatically think that the northernmost vineyard of Sonoma Country would be the leanest wine and the southernmost vineyard of Santa Barbara making the richest but it is quite the opposite and it really shows the diversity of the topography of the region. California with its various pockets that can produce a wide range of pinot noir excellence throughout the state.

Greg Stach started with Landmark Vineyards 20 years ago and only took a brief hiatus to work at another Sonoma wine producer in the Russian River Valley early in his winemaking career. He was quickly recalled to Landmark with a post of assistant oenologist which led him to become chief oenologist. Prior to starting his journey as a winemaker, he worked in food service as well as wine retail in Northern California and quickly became a wine connoisseur with the siren song of Russian River Pinot Noir. Valley in Sonoma County, which got him hooked. Like a true wine geek, he has become curious about wines from all over the world and his obvious passion has many in the business around him suggesting that he make the leap from wine buyer to winemaker. At first, becoming a winemaker seemed impossible as science was too much for Greg when he took wine lessons at Fresno University in his early twenties, but with much more age and experience under his belt. , he went back to get his oenology. graduation and he was back to his first love of making pinot noir from Sonoma County, California.

Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County

Even though Greg was obsessed with Sonoma County pinot noir, he was also ready to taste as much pinot noir from other California wine regions over the years and, over time, the Santa Barbara wine regions, a place that had in the past mainly known as a wonderful travel destination for those who wanted to avoid the crowded beaches of Los Angeles (two hours south of Santa Barbara) to enjoy the serene atmosphere of the Santa Barbara coast, began to hold his attention. Over the years, various wine regions of Santa Barbara, such as Sta. Rita Hills, made a name for themselves among connoisseurs as great wine-growing places that were regions with remarkably cool climates. In a line of three Greg’s Landmark single-vineyard Pinot Noir wines, including one from Russian River Valley and one from Monterey, this is the southernmost of the three, La Encantada vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara, which has the coolest cumulative weather according to Greg.

Sta. Rita Hills “is in a much windier climate” notes Greg and not only does this give the wine brighter red berries, he believes that the skin of the grapes thickens in reaction to high winds and therefore the wines will have a lot more structure.

Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County

Four hours north of Santa Barbara is one of California’s most photographed locations, the Bixby Bridge that runs along a section of the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur. The majestically breathtaking view encompasses a palette of varying shades of blue reflecting the Pacific Ocean while being surrounded by breathtaking jagged cliffs that are joined by an elegantly designed bridge that provides a focal point that helps digest the overwhelming scenery. Just half an hour’s drive away is the Monterey County wine country and its most famous Santa Lucia Highlands subregion, where Greg sources his Pinot Noir from the Escolle Road vineyard in the northern part of the highlands of Santa Lucia.

The Escolle Road vineyard also enjoys a cool climate and is influenced by the fog and sea breezes of Monterey Bay, but its growing season is longer, sometimes up to a month longer. »Character that has sometimes added hints of chocolate. Greg noted that the owners of this vineyard are also farmers and if something goes wrong the owners can bring in a team of 100 to meticulously handle any challenges in their vineyard.

Russian River Valley in Sonoma County

And four hours north of Monterey is the famous Russian River Valley in Sonoma County with Greg’s Hop Kiln Vineyard. The label of Landmark’s Hop Kiln Single Vineyard Pinot Noir with hop ovens on the label indicates its history as the piece of land where Italian stonemasons built these great hop ovens in 1905 so that they can grow hops and dry them. Eventually a disease wiped out the hops because ideally the hops should be grown in an area that freezes every winter, but coincidentally the hop farm was right next to the Rochioli winery and vineyards – one of the most respected and sought after. past the vineyards of the Russian River Valley. Over time the property was planted with Pinot Noir as a known top site and it ended up in Landmark’s hands as one of their most valuable possessions.

The Hop Kiln Vineyard is in the Russian River Valley region known as Middle Reach which contains the who’s who of some of the most iconic growers and wineries and is known as the warmest region in the region. wine. Just for contrast, Greg spoke about their unique Rayhill vineyard in the Sebastopol area of ​​Russian River, one of the cooler areas, and he said the wines were “very different”. But when it comes to Hop Kiln Vineyard it’s more complicated than being the hottest site because when it comes to temperatures “the highs are higher but the lows are lower” compared to the other two properties as Greg explained and that in general Sonoma County, where the Landmark winery is located, will experience a few days of intense heat during the summer weeks, but the latter part of the week will be met by a few days. very cool weather because the fog is attracted to heat and cools things until it dissipates; and the fog lingers for several hours longer in the Hop Kiln Vineyard area compared to Greg’s experience at their winery in Kenwood, Sonoma County. Additionally, the Hop Kiln Vineyard is divided into different sections as the elevation varies 300 feet from bottom to top and therefore some of the grapes can be richer and more sumptuous while others more crisp and fresh. So the resulting wine has a red cherry popping out of the glass which is further emphasized with black and blue juicy fruit, sweet spices and a lush and inviting body.

Greater appreciation for what started it all

Greg notes that his handling of these single-vineyard pinot noir wines is similar in the cellar for all three wines and includes attempting to allow native fermentations where possible, using only free-run juice with no added pressed wine and small quantities of new French oak in barrels for keeping wines. Even when it comes to working with various Pinot Noir clones (different mutations of the Pinot Noir grape) in these vineyards, he finds that vines that reach ten years or more really display more sense of place, aka terroir, in the wine as the different characteristics of the clone. As this is really mainly a place for Greg, this is what he always looks for in his unique vineyard and the idea that he works with one of his favorite grape varieties in different terroirs makes this trip. always a fascinating experience.

But one can’t help but notice the added glimmer of excitement when Greg talks about the Russian River Valley Hop Kiln vineyard which represents where it all began for him. Tasting Rochioli wines was a game-changer for Greg and he noted that, like many others, he started his wine journey with Pinot Noir “because it is accessible”. But after discovering Russian River Pinot Noir, he set off to explore the whole world, training his palate and his mental awareness of the different styles and levels of quality, then he returned to Pinot Noir “because it really is the red wine. more complex there is “. As what has a lot of appeal to many, like the wine that everyone fights for at the party, does not mean that it is not the most complex and the most elegant, because the idea that only wine geeks can get really good wine not. still true in every wine situation. Sometimes great wines attract a diverse audience of wine lovers because they touch so many pleasure centers and you just have to enjoy them. Although for others like Greg they have to taste the wine world learning as much as possible to see what they lack to be brought back to those Russian River Valley wines that started it all … but with a plus great appreciation of what these wines bring to the table.

2018 Landmark Vineyards, ‘La Encantada Vineyard’, Sta. Rita Hills AVA, CA: Overall a pretty and elegant wine with vibrant pomegranate and cranberry flavors with aromatic notes of rose oil balanced by earthy forest soil and energetic acidity with structured tannins.

2018 Landmark Vineyards ‘Escolle Road Vineyard’, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, CA: Sucks one with its deep, dark flavors of fruit and dark chocolate that have contrasting hints of citrus peel that blend together to create a sliced ​​note of ‘chocolate coated orange with a richer body note than the La Encantada vineyard.

2018 Landmark Vineyards “Hop Kiln Estate”, Russian River Valley AVA, CA: Singing with red cherries and rich flavors of blackberry and blueberry with a backdrop of baking spices, smoky minerality and earthy morels dancing on the soft body; a sweet and salty punch with an intensely mineral hint.

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