American Pinot Noir
Great American Pinot Noir is no longer the wine version of a UFO
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A third contender among the Oregon Pinot producers is Adelsheim Vineyard, which specializes in creating austere, detailed Pinots that age longer and better than most. The Elizabeth's Reserve bottling is invariably Adelsheim's best effort. Less well-known but worth pursuing is Evesham Wood Vineyard. A tiny operation, it makes some of Oregon's best Pinot Noir. Its Cuvée J bottling is usually one of the state's best Pinots. Both it and the regular Pinot bottling will taste better if you age them in your cellar for several years, as the Evesham Wood style is restrained.
Other Oregon producers of note include Ponzi Vineyards, Cameron Winery, Argyle, Cristom Vineyards, Chehalem, Ken Wright Cellars, King Estate and Archery Summit.
Oregon's Pinot producers are not the only ones to watch. California suffers less from rain and annual weather variability in its pursuit of Pinot. What's called the South Central Coast--effectively San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties--is giving chase to western Sonoma County. Vineyards near the Pacific Ocean enjoy an odd, even bizarre, climatic circumstance that encourages ripeness (from dazzling sunshine) yet enforces coolness (through afternoon fog and ocean breezes). It's like driving a car by pressing the accelerator and the brake. Yet, the vehicle of Pinot Noir moves forward.
Vineyard names to look for include Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande, in San Luis Obispo County. Talley is issuing ever more intriguing Pinot Noirs, notably its Rincon Vineyard and Rosemary's Vineyard bottlings. Farther north, in Monterey County, Pisoni Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation is selling dramatically flavored Pinot Noir grapes to small producers such as Siduri Cellars and Flowers Vineyard & Winery, among others.
In Santa Barbara County, near Lompoc, owner-winemaker Bryan Babcock of Babcock Vineyard makes a Pinot Noir that is fast becoming a California benchmark, with its fragrance allied to a distinctive earthiness. Sanford Winery's Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir is another consistently distinctive bottling from the same area. Not to be forgotten is Au Bon Climat, which issues an array of Pinot Noirs from several of Santa Barbara County's best vineyards.
Elsewhere in California, one promising locale is the supremely cool Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. The availability of the new Dijon clones, which perform especially well in very cool sites, will likely propel Anderson Valley into the front ranks. Another, very different spot that is producing Pinot Noirs with depth and finesse is the high elevation coastal zone of western Sonoma County. Perched on ridges bathed in intense sunlight and only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, a handful of small vineyards in this stunningly rugged, isolated locale are issuing intriguing Pinot Noirs.
Notable among them (and whose wines are all very hard to get) are Flowers Winery "Camp Meeting Ridge"; Kistler Vineyards "Camp Meeting Ridge"; Hirsch Vineyard (made by Williams & Selyem and Siduri); Coastlands Vineyard (Siduri); Summa Vineyard (Williams & Selyem); and Marcassin Vineyard & Winery. Collectively, these wines share a striking intensity and a bit of tannic toughness. They're big wines, with a lot to say.
One thing is certain: no one really knows where America's Pinot Noir motherlode really lies. More than 20 years ago winemaker David Lett, of The Eyrie Vineyards, who left California in 1966 to plant Oregon's first Pinot Noir vineyard, declared, "One hundred years from now, California won't even grow Pinot Noir!"
Much more likely is that, 100 years from now, Pinot Noir will be planted everywhere, in every cool spot along the Pacific Coast, to say nothing of the as yet unexplored places in New York or New Mexico. You'd be surprised. Everyone is, once they taste some of America's great Pinot Noirs.
Matt Kramer is a columnist for Wine Spectator magazine, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication.