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|March 12-18, 2009
• Stocking up
Two books inspire us to fill the larder for a better diet
by Emily Nunn
• Just around the corner
Scotch Corner Pub brings a taste to the Highlands to Boulder
by Clay Fong
Infestation was blessing for pinot noir
by Fred Tasker
When California started getting serious about making fine wine, in the 1960s and 1970s, it had little experience in where to plant which grapes. So it made mistakes. One of the big ones was in failing to plant pinot noir grapes in cool areas.
And so for California growers it came to be called “the heartbreak grape” because it was so hard to grow and turn into good wine.
They might have known; pinot noir is the chief red grape of France’s cool Burgundy area, and it turned out to like the same conditions in California.
So when the root louse phylloxera devastated California’s vineyards in the 1990s, forcing replanting of most of the vineyards, some saw it as a blessing in disguise. It let them replant their pinot noir on cool mountains, in valleys filled daily by the cool fogs of the nearby Pacific Ocean and other low-temperature locations.
Today California is making much better pinot noirs.
California’s TAZ Vineyards chose a cool-weather location for its Fiddlestix Vineyard, the north side of an east-west valley in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Rita Hills, where fog comes in each morning and temperatures rarely exceed 75 degrees.
For its Cuyama River pinot noir, it grows grapes at 1,000 feet between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties to catch ocean breezes.
“Pinot noir tends to bud and ripen earlier than other red varietals,” says TAZ winemaker Natasha Boffman. “Excessive amounts of heat and sun can produce sugar ripeness without allowing the grapes to achieve full flavor ripeness.” Boffman divides the vines into 32 blocks that are vinified separately.
“As a bottling date approaches, the separate blends are tasted and assembled to create a final wine most expressive of the Fiddlestix Vineyard,” she says. Fess Parker Vineyard — yes, owned by the actor who played TV’s Davy Crockett — turns to the cool Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills, also draped by fogs from the Pacific, for its grapes.
Also seeking cool weather, Lynmar Estate grows its grapes in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley on its 47-acre Quail Hill Vineyard. It, too, divides its vineyards into blocks and ferments them separately for later assembly.
When pinot noir grapes are to be used in sparkling wines, winemakers say cool weather grapes are even more important, to preserve the acids that give bubbly its crispness. Scharffenberger Cellars goes north of Sonoma County to the Anderson Valley and Mendocino County for its grapes.
2006 Ashley’s Pinot Noir, Fess Parker Winery, Santa Rita Hills (single vineyard from Rancho Las Hermanas, formerly Ashley’s Vineyard): intense black plum and espresso flavors, full-bodied and smooth; $50.
2006 TAZ Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills: aromas and flavors of red plums, cinnamon and licorice, intense fruit, ripe tannins, crisp acid, opulent; $35.
2006 Quail Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir, Lynmar Estate, Russian River Valley: aromas of flowers and red fruit, flavors of black cherries, firm tannin, crisp; $60.
2007 Fess Parker Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County: dark cherry and dark chocolate flavors, crisp and smooth; $28.
2006 Fess Parker Bien Nacido Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley: lively red cherry aromas and flavors, with hints of bitter chocolate, crisp finish; $50.
Nonvintage Scharffenberger Cellars Brut Sparkling Wine, Mendocino County (65 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay): myriad tiny bubbles, bright red plum flavors, creamy texture; $20.
TAZ Cuyama River Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley: flowery aromas, flavors of black cherries and herbs, soft and ripe, with bitter chocolate finish; $28.
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