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03/28/2011

Comments

Gideon

Always a pleasure to hear from you, Alice. If I may, I would like to give a more compleat answer to the question 'why grow Pinot here, in Oregon House, CA? '(Yuba County, Sierra Foothills AVA).
Yes, life without Pinot may not be worth living... but I believe that seeking clay/limestone soils for potential Pinot vineyards outside of the Cote d'Or to the exclusion of any other soil type does not make sense. Do you think the Romans, when they brought Vitis Vinifera along with their aromies as they marched north into Europe were overly specific in what type of soil they used for which variety? I happen to think that the microclimates, being impossible to ignore, were more significant in deciding what was planted where. And then time, centuries of experimentation and comparing, established what works better within the context of European soils and climate. We grow Vitis Vinifera in CA, where a similar process was started at the Gold Rush, and aborted by Prohibition. After that, much of what happened was more fashion driven than anything else.
In our Home Vineyard, we enjoy an excellent microclimate for Pinot: as demonstrated by our harvest dates, (usually from early September to early October at 21-24 Brix), it is not exactly "hot" as you referred to it. The soil is a complex mix of allovial clay/loam layer, on top of a pure volcanic ash layer, on top of fractured/decomposed Diorite (Granitic rock). It's an unusual type of soil for any type of agriculture but it seems to be well suited to vine growing. Our vines are low in vigor and produce very low yields without us needing to do any "green harvesting", use fancy trellis/pruning methods, etc. Then, beyond the basic suitability of the soil and microclimate to vine (and specific varietal) growing, comes the issue of terroir expression in the wine. Amazingly, a lot of people talk about it, but few actually understand its main implication, which is specificity, distinctiveness, "otherness". It's a liability to most wine producers, because it means that if your wine is truly committed to its terroir, some may like it a lot, but others may not... this is dangerous if you plan to sell your wine in the large distribution as it requires more from the consumer. In the case of our own Pinot, I would describe the terroir expession along the following lines: the wines tend to be medium in color and body, strong in acid and tannic structure, and a bit rustic in their youth. A superficial layer of black cherry and somethig like molassses covers strong earty/spicy/mineral elements, which come out with aeration and time in the glass. The wine is long lived by CA standards - since our first harvest in 1998, we have not yet seen any vintage reach its full maturity, althogh the 2000 seems to be getting there.
So is it a "classic" Pinot Noir? I am not sure how to think about it... It is certainly quite different from most Burgundies I have had. It's its own thing - a distinctive wine.
A well known wine writer, considered a Burgundy expert, remained skeptical for many years about our Pinot Noir: for his Burgundy-centric palate, the wine was interesting, but not convincing as a Pinot Noir. Recently, he told me than he served a bottle of the 2007 Home Vineyard to a couple of friends of his who just loved it and, he added, 'and so did I'. So, possibly in time, you and other skeptics will also grow to enjoy (get used to? open up to? learn to understand?) it more!
(I could go on, get into winemaking practices and so on, but let's leave that for another time...) Cheers.

Alicefeiring

Gideon,

Delighted to hear from you and hopefully there will be more coming from people dedicated to the grape in their place, as you are.

I think decomposed granite is an interesting terroir to explore for pinot. It's not that I believe that only argile-calcaire soils work for pinot (to my palate) but whether it's in Alsace or Piemonte, that's what seems to express a more complex beast to me. I do wonder if without crushed rock pinot tends to get sloppy.

The fact that you can grow without adjustments in your area (and with you growing the grapes) is a fine advert. And no complaints from me ever, about a bit of rusticity in a wine, I rather like it.

Feel free to go on at any time at all.

young collector

As far as your thought experiment goes - what about Calera? Limestone, organic, "indigenous yeasts" (whatever that means), <2t/acre yields, 50% stems, 30% new oak. Mills vineyard is ungrafted.

Alicefeiring

Hey Peter, there we go, Santa Cruz again. I didn't know that Mills was ungrafted.

Lmbrooks

Please don't call it Cali. It makes you sound like a fool.

Alicefeiring

Larry, if you are indeed Larry Brooks the winemaker, surely you can say more, especially with your history with pinot. Place? Clone? Irrigation? Wood? Stems? What California can produce? Where it should be grown, where it shouldn't be grown and why do so few winemakers talk about the soil? If you're not The Larry Brooks, well, you can take a stab at the questions anyway.

BelgianGourmand

Interesting, Alice, interesting.
Though I do think you're completely right when you say California is more apt for GSM, carignan, cinsault and all that, I'm still sceptical on the possibility-part for Californian Pinots. Even high in Santa Cruz ... I dunno. Of course you're much more experienced than I am (it's hard to lay hands on them in Belgium), but when I was in the states last year I tried as many of them as possible (my wife had this nice wine shop close to her app. in St. Paul), and none of them did the trick. General problem: too much, way too much unbalanced alcohol, which invariably gave the wines a nasty bitter aftertaste if they weren't overoaked. Some had other aroma's than the cola like stewed fruit, but even then, they didn't do it. Oregon though, was another story. Had some nice examples from there.
Maybe it's this belief of varietal typicity that thwarts everything here. I, for me, don't believe there is such a thing as 'classic' PN. The French would love to see that established, but defending such ideas are maybe more rearguard fights than anything else. Ever tasted German Spätburgunder, Jura PN, Lorraine PN? There are most def recognizable PN-characteristics in them, but why compare? Why speaking of a classic standard (I hate standards, btw). I think States PN-producers would hugely benefit from seeking their own PN expression and stop comparing all the time. I want difference in my glass, not comparison.
@Gideon: the Romans did select varietals according to terroir (though they didn't wield a notion like terroir). The fact that almost 70% of European vineyards are on hillsides is thanks to the Romans. Fertile, easy workable land was only used for classic farming. Rough, poor terrain was used for vineyards (of course there is also the fact that disease control was much more easy on hillsides, etc.). When planting vineyards their first selection criterion was natural provenance. If the variety was already there (cultivated by the Gauls, Etruscan, Greeks, Dalmatians, ...) and had proven its worth on a certain soil in a certain area, it was selected and planted in an organized way. Knowledge they had from these 'natural provenance'-examples was transposed to the planting of new vineyards in other regions. They also selected over the ages, assessing yields, durability, etc. We musn't forget they had for about 2000 years of time to select, assess, reassess, ... .
The notion of terroir though, is more medieval (especially in burgundy, cistercian monks doing a lot of work), typicity, on the other hand, is certainly an early 19th century concept, and the link between typicity, terroir and quality is definitely a mid 19th century invention (think of the classification of 1855).

Alicefeiring

California is a huge state with varied climates and soils, so I do believe part of it must be able to produced interesting pinot. It shouldn't have anything to do with European pinot, and comparisons would not/ are not fair.

But in some places, some stone/mineral rich soil, my sense is basic soil, it could be interesting. And the irrigation has to stop, and a little virus wouldn't be so bad to impede the maturity of the fruit.

I did mention the Jura, Alsace & Loire, I'm not wild about spatburgunder, but I've had the occasional Piemontese pinot that I've really appreciated. They've a different kind of limestone there, but still, there is something to the affinity the grape has with limestone, no? To ignore it seems to ignore the wisdom of the elders.

As always, thanks for your comments.

BelgianGourmand

I hope there will be once smby who makes a nice Californian Pinot. As I said, what do I know about Californian wine? I have just a wee inkling, that's all. Comparing US PN with European examples isn't only unfair, it's a belittling and reductionist attempt to fit new things in what we think we all know so well.
Limestone, yes! Just because it structures - by emphasizing a straight acidity - the otherwise quite plump and sweet juices of PN (same for chardonnay - just tasted a fabulous 2009 from Thomas Pico). One of the best recent samples was François Grinands Etappes 2009. On limestone. Still get goosebumps when I think of it.
Why not spätburgunder, Alice? Try the späts from the Shelter Winery (Baden). You'll like them.
Piemontese: for me only in Monferrato, i.e; Silvio Morando and, a partly PN, with barbera, Fortetto della Luja. Other ones I should try?

BelgianGourmand

Ow, btw, sure I know you had a lot of pinots from the Loire, Jura (though I prefer those from Auvergne) and Alsace (though apart from Schueller and Barmes I did not taste anything I fell in love with). But try those from close to Burgundy, from Guy Bussière in Val de Saône, they are so tender and crisp, or those from La Lorraine (upper North-West of France). Hm, I should send you a bottle when you're in France again.
Sorry for all these long, ranty comments. It's just an exciting topic. We'll have spaghetti al ragù tonight, and though I know it doesn't fit at all, you've made my mouth water for a good pinot. I'll go for a Bussière. Santé!

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