Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Russian River Valley Neighborhoods: No SUBstitutions

Got Dirt? 

Four Wine Guys, a Critic, and a Dog Walk into a Bar....

This past Saturday I attended a seminar on Russian River Valley Neighborhoods to learn about the characteristics and defining qualities of the wine region in which I live. The seminar was presented by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association as part of Pinot Classic weekend.

The Neighborhoods seminar took attendees on a guided tour through the Russian River Valley “sub” region vineyards of Middle Reach, Laguna Ridge and Green Valley via our olfactory senses and palates. The Green Valley appellation is a big one so it makes sense it might be a prime candidate for some slice and dice, but creating new AVA’s can be quite a political and thorny issue for everyone involved. And apparently there is no such thing as a “sub” appellation, so the areas discussed were called neighborhoods, which is the very clunky and clandestine way to say “sub” AVA. 

"It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood." -- Mr. Rogers

Mike Sullivan of Benovia moderated the panel with Mark McWilliams of Arista representing Middle Reach; Michael Browne of Kosta Brown representing Green Valley, and Rod Berglund of Joseph Swan representing Laguna Ridge.

Also on the panel, Steve Heimoff, who penned a definitive book on the region: A Wine Journey along the Russian River; and although the handout said he was from Wine Enthusiast, Heimoff is currently working for Kendall-Jackson. The final member of the panel was Heimoff’s little dog Gus. Gus did not say much, he was certainly cute, but looked to me like his name should be Schnapps.

Dirt and Fog

As with any wine region weather is a crucial element and fog in particular is a big deal for Pinot. I can vouch for the distinct fog patterns that are unique to the RRV area and how it changes with the seasons. I marvel at how clearly defined the band of fog is that enters from Petaluma Gap to the south of the Sebastopol Hills vs. the slow hang and creep of the Middle Reach fog banks as compared to the “fill and drain” of the fog in the Laguna Ridge basin.

Despite varying winemaking protocols terroir trumps all and our goal was to see if we could detect the varying degrees of silt, sand, and clay soil characteristics of each neighborhood in the wines. The Russian River Valley Winegrowers are creating a searchable knowledgebase of the region to establish a baseline and common language to track and determine patterns of the neighborhoods and define what characteristics of terroir are expressed in a given region.

Green Valley – Higher acid and bright red fruit, soils defined by silt and loam.
Middle ReachRich, powerful, fruit driven, deepest soils.
Laguna Ridge -- Earth and spice, mix of silt, sand, and some clay.

“Great wine drinks great at all ages.”– Mark McWilliams

Taste Blind Smell the Love

We were presented with nine Pinots to blind taste-- three each from vineyards in Green Valley, Middle Reach and Laguna Ridge. There were also jars of Franciscan, Alluvial, and Goldridge soils. The Alluvial and Goldridge smelled amazing, both emitting deep dark and complex aromas, but my jar of Fransican had barely any scent at all.

The Alluvial soil smelled so good, I suggested to Virginie Boone, seated next to me, that we add some water to the sample jar and do mud pack facials while we tasted through the rest of the wine samples. She wisely declined.

Tasting blind really helped me to focus in on the characteristics of each neighborhood rather than the style of the producer. I was able to guess a few of the wines, such as Kosta Browne and Arista, but I based those assumptions mainly on the vineyard name and location, which were big giveaways.

I also correctly guessed the Laguna Ridge wine from Goldridge soil. The moment I smelled the wine I had a hunch it was Dehlinger. A taste confirmed it in my mind. It was revealed at the end of the session to indeed be Dehlinger. {This rarely happens to me, so chalk one up for my blind tasting abilities!} No other Pinot I’ve ever had tastes or smells or drinks quite like Dehlinger.

Here are a few of the quick notes and impressions I jotted down for each wine:

Middle Reach Vineyards (all 2012)
Little Hill/Rochioli: Distinctive nose of chalk, rich earth and powdery rose with bright fruits and good acidity.
Harper’s Rest/Arista: Deep rich flavor and brambly notes with firm tannins.
Allen Vineyard/Williams Selyem: Subtle, elusive nose, with chalky, dusty earth and bright intense fruit with long dry finish.

Laguna Ridge Vineyards: (all 2011)
Trenton Estate/ Joseph Swan: Full black berry and red fruit flavors with great acidity.
Goldridge/ Dehlinger: Soft and approachable with a slightly dusty floral nose. Distinct bright red fruit flavors and a lush full mouth feel. Complex and harmonious an expressive poem of Pinot.
Soul Patch/Davis Family Vineyards: Spicy and tense with good balance

Green Valley Vineyards: (all 2012)
Emerald Ridge/Dutton Goldfield: Floral nose with intense black and blueberry flavors –spicy mid palate and firm tannins
Keefer Ranch/Kosta Browne: Bright and delicious red fruit, medium tannins and nice level of acidity surfs a long wave of flavor to very pleasing finish.
Fog Dance/Hartford Court: Bright bold bowl of spicy cherries with a hint of sage, and eucalyptus notes with a long finish.

More information:
Russian River Valley Winegrowers

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