My question is… How can two hours of tasting turn into eight hours of writing and formatting? I guess Pinot on the River was all that… and more.

Cloud’s Rest… Only 400 to 500 cases a year are produced of this wine… An entire winery’s production is dedicated to Pinot Noir. They have 10,000 vines, and are located in Petaluma, part of the Sonoma Coast AVA. I spoke with G.M. Scott Schuette.

  1. Winemaker Anthony (Tony) Austin has produced the 2004 Clouds Rest Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, which has received 18 to 24 months in oak: 50 percent new oak (Tonnellerie Sirugue) and 50 percent one-year old, giving this Pinot firm tannins, yet the flavors – even with three years in the bottle – have lovely flavors of strawberries, cotton candy, and rich, ripe blueberries. Cherries linger on the finish. Very delicious Pinot. I’m sorry, I don’t have a price on this one.

Right next door to Clouds Rest was an intriguing find of the day (which is not to diminish all the others, it’s just that Les and I have a very similar background in rock and roll, before the wine business… and I can’t even tell you… there’s so few of us that when I find another human being with the same background, it’s an OMG moment. I have to thank my daughter Melie for scoping this one out for me. I may have totally missed it… although, how do you miss someone with a bird on her head?! Leave it to rockers to know how to do it right, and right for me is a really theatrical way. How I miss those really expressive ways… You just don’t know, and neither did I until I happened upon Les Claypool and his entourage.

Claypool Cellars… His card simply reads, “Les.” Anyone familiar with Primus (American funk metal band) knows that that’s Les Claypool, who sings his heart out, is now also making wine under the Claypool Cellars label. His Website claims: Fancy Booze for semi-fancy folks. Les immediately told me, “Life’s too short, you gutta have fun!” This is what I love about rockers… and miss… They live so large and love so hard. Wine happens because it’s there. It’s not the be all to end all, and it’s not for pretension; it’s just to enjoy life a bit more.

Having lived in West Sonoma County for over 14 years, Les watched what was once the Gravenstein apple haven of Northern California turn into a Mecca for people seeking great Pinots. While in the band he had a few of his crew who enjoyed wine, but the real bug never hit him until he had come to this region. He found himself becoming an avid consumer of wines from my neighborhood. After kicking the notion around for a year or two with some pals, it eventually came time to dive in and make some “fancy booze” of our own.

  1. The Purple Pachyderm 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was really a beautiful Pinot is really well crafted Pinot. The wine is silky from start to finish. Aromas of ripe Bing cherries, followed by red raspberries and Maine blueberries produced a wine with only 240 cases (about 10 barrels). This is a very small production wine that started out to be shared with friends, and is now growing to start a brand. $42.00

Notice these flowers that line the rows of the Floodgate Vineyard. When I tasted a wine about to be listed, I got aromas of flowers. When I realized what I was about to taste – the Floodgate Pinot Noir – I had this image rush back into my head,a nd have to use this one for C. Donatiello. Read on, it will all make sense.

I headed over to what is swiftly becoming my old friend… Chris Donatiello. C.Donatiello Winery is a Russian River Valley brand found on Westside Road, right next door to the famed Bacigalupi Vineyards. Donatiello now has a 10 year old vineyard right in front of the winery, and is now called Maddie’s Vineyard. If you’ve not been to the winery, pack a picnic lunch and do yourself a favor… Check it out. Chris is the proprietor on board. So much so that the first time I walked into the winery, he was the person behind the bar. It’s an artisan brand of the best kind, and Chris is doing a great job. He was pouring four Pinots:

  1. 2006 C. Donatiello Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ~  I’ve already tasted and love this one and skipped it. They’ve sourced grapes from vineyards throughout the valley for this one. As a result, each unique site contributed different characteristics to the wine. The combination of complex soils coupled with the valley’s foggy mornings and sunny days created a Pinot of depth, stature, and substance. $41.00
  2. 2007 C. Donatiello Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ~ The vineyard is certified organic and planted to Pommard Clone, a heritage clone that yields some of Pinot Noirs most distinctive and dramatic characteristics—rich color, intense fruit, and exotic spice. 175 cases, at $62.00
  3. 2007 C. Donatiello Russian Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir ~ The Floodgate Vineyard is located at the precise spot where the Russian River bends west, reaching towards the Pacific Ocean. The maritime influences of foggy and windy weather have a profound effect on the grapes. Block 15 is a hilltop block of ten year old Dijon clone vines which show the vineyards younger more vibrant side. When I tasted this wine, I got lots of floral aromas on the nose, and it really struck me as being completely different from all the other Pinots I had tasted… Then, I remembered the day that I made Jose stop the car, so I could take pictures of flowers growing between the vines of the Floodgate Vineyard. Coincidence? 198 cases and $55.00.
  4. 2007 C. Donatiello Russian Hervey Vineyard Pinot Noir ~ Tucked away in the southwest corner of the Russian River Valley, John Hervey’s vineyard stretches out across ten acres, delicately tracing the slope above Atascadero Creek. There, the combination of a unique mesoclimate and the coveted Goldridge soil creates resilient vines, high-quality grapes, and distinctive Pinot Noir wines. The 2007 C. Donatiello Hervey Vineyard Pinot Noir was the ONLY Pinot Noir that I tasted on this day that had notes of porchini mushrooms. An earthy wine, with color leaning toward more toasted amber, the wine was sultry and very inviting. It’s a magnum and it’s $175.00

From there, I drifted a bit, only to find a friend that I knew as a PR person with the Hess Collection, Jenna Hudson. No longer with that company, she now has a job now representing TAZ Vineyards.

TAZ is owned by a major corporation within the Foster’s Group; they’re keeping the small winery mentality with this brand. Winemaker Natasha Boffman has worked with Stags’ Leap, Meridian Vineyards, and Jamieson’s Run in the Coonawarra region of South Australia. It was Natasha’s insatiable desire to know everything about wine making that caught the eye of legendary viticulturalist Bob “Taz” Steinhauer, and now the rest is left to the this team making history together. Jenna was pouring several Pinots, each one with about 1,000 case production. This is very, very small in the grand scheme of things. I’ve worked with companies that have a 60,000 case production… That’s when you know that it’s a larger operation. Because this is a larger company, economy of scale delivers easier prices on the pocketbook. I tasted the following:

  1. 2007 TAZ Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. This wine had a very soft floral note, leaning toward the strawberry end of the flavor spectrum. On the palate it opened up to mashed raspberries and red cherries, and had just  a hint of oak on the finish. Loved it. $25.00
  2. 2007 TAZ Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir. A much bigger Pinot than the first, this wine was more complex and had a larger structure. It was a perfect wine to be tasting toward the end of the day, because It didn’t overpower the other previous wines. Still, this wine wasn’t over the top, either. I was still able to see through the wine to enjoy its stellar color. This wine had dark plum, black cherry nose, same on palate, and the finish delivered a mushroom flavor that had been absent most of the day…  $26.00

I drifted to another really small company. A.P. Vin… What a great name for a wine company, and it’s not made up by a dream team marketing company. A.P. Vin stands for Andrew P. Vingiello. What a great Italian name. A.P. was at the winery, punching down caps, busy making wine, while his very sweet wine Brenda was pouring his wine. Their business cards look just like a small ticket that makes one feel like we’re getting a VIP pass… It’s subliminal in the name: A.P. Vin. This is a 2,000 case production winery, making it a complete labor of love. According to Brenda, “One sip of California Pinot Noir a few years ago, and that was all it took to change A.P.’s life forever.”

  1. The 2008 A.P. Vin Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, was bright red raspberry in color, an inviting nose of Bing cherries, and a voluptuous palate and finish that followed the nose. Most of my notes seem the same, because this is going from one Pinot to the next, with handcrafting all the way through. These wines were classic Pinots, and the A.P. Keefer is meeting all the standards of a beautifully crafted wine, too.  Aged in a combination of new and older French oak barrels for 11 months  and was bottled unfiltered and unfined in August 2009. A Rich delicate wine with only 250 cases available of this one. $? (Sorry, I don’t have the price, and their site isn’t user friendly for finding the price. I tried.)

My final visit of the day, just before Melanie and Heath found me, and we left the event to return to our busy lives… for me to begin writing my impressions of the event, was an old friend of a winery, Hop Kiln. Having first come upon this winery just prior to moving to California, I was sent to find a wine by a Portland, Maine, buddy, on a trip to California. Being in the Russian River Valley neighborhood of my days at Belvedere, and photographing a winery cat… lots of memories, but the taste of their wine had long since dwindled. To taste again was a delight. Leslie (right) was pouring and I was having my final Pinot fling.

  1. 2007 HKG Hop Kiln Russian River Valley Pinot delivered a final Pinot pleasure. It was beautifully balanced and had a classic bright cherry Pinot Noir bouquet, as well as the flavors being of lush, rich, strawberry flavors and hints of violets, with a touch of toasty, almond French Oak on the finish. A beautiful wrap on the day. $40.00

I had set off to only enjoy well crafted Pinots, and for this day in the Russian River Valley sun, the Pinots were right on point.