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Get reacquainted with pinot noir


Pinot noir is a fickle grape. It is difficult to grow. The experience in working with it is both tumultuous and arduous.

Much of this helps to explain its geographical transition and appearance in so many locations in history, so quickly. It was tough to grow everywhere. In seeking this varietal’s success, it spread far and wide. According to wine historians, it was planted in the Champagne region of France even before Champagne was Champagne.

Pinot noir, Petaluma’s dominant grape, can be earthy, and it can be thin. It can be deep with dark color and light like rose petal water. It can be hard, and it can be soft. It has an extreme sensitivity to its environment.

Arbitrary selections of the various and very different clones that exist seem to be the preferred method of most of the major producers in the industry. However, I have tasted some outstanding single clone productions, like those out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

By the end of the 1st millennium, Burgundy was the hub for the world’s pinot noir. According to James Halliday: “Monasteries and monks painstakingly discovered, defined and refined the precise parameters for the growing of the greatest, great, very good, good and unsuitable plots of pinot noir.

Pinot noir from Burgundy tends to lean to the most translucent and transparent of any of the pinot noirs in the world. Intensely aromatic with notes of a wooded forest and barnyard, it is easy to lose yourself in the length of flavors in what Burgundy pinot noir can produce.

Although a small player in terms of production, across the pond in New Zealand, there are some very noteworthy pinot noirs in production. The styles of wine made from the seven or so regions varies, though most exhibits extremely juicy fruit notes. The wines here are world-class.

Just north of us in Oregon, much of the industry’s success can be attributed to two early founders in David Lett, with Eyrie Vineyard, and Robert Drouhin, with Domaine Drouhin. Under threats of constant change in the weather, when things go as planned in Oregon, there are some outstanding wines being made.

Dark, rich and juicy, there are now a smattering of Willamette Valley pinot noirs that make the ranks of world-class wines.

In California, there are several appellations that run the coast from central California to upper Mendocino County. My favorite, and the new kid on the pinot block, is the Petaluma GAP, shining out of the fog. As I’ve written in numerous articles over the years, the Petaluma GAP is near the end of the process of obtaining and becoming its own AVA.

Warm enough to ripen, but still the coolest climate for pinot noir in the county, the Petaluma GAP is blasted by wind and coated in cooling fog. As a result, the wines are rich in flavor with swirling dark colors and dense, succulent fruit.

From Kastania to Stubbs to Mcevoy to Pfendler, there are a smattering of amazing pinot noirs from Petaluma. Ask around at your local restaurant for the Petaluma GAP pinot noirs that they have on their wine list. In a world dotted with spectacular pinot noir vineyards, if you like fine wine, you don’t have to look very far.

(Jason Jenkins is the owner of Vine and Barrel in Petaluma. Contact him at jason@vineandbarrel.com.)