Introducing Ernest Vineyards, a new artisan producer of cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast…

Owners Erin Brooks and her husband Todd Gottula produce wines that have been created to express their clonal attributes and their terroir’s sense of place. When they began Ernest, their mission became to “focus on love of family, art, and Burgundy.” As a result, each wine is named after a character, career, and accomplishment of beloved family members. The portrait on the front label is of Todd’s Grandfather (a great touch, in my humble opinion, I know that kind of love). Erin and Todd are committed to elevating the profile of artisanal winemaking in the United States.

Great start ~ Let’s Review the Four Wines

FROM THEIR WEBSITE: Ernest Vineyards specializes in site-specific wines. Each of our wines comprises grapes from one vineyard and one vineyard only. For our Ernest labels, we use grapes from nine sites in all. Some sites are well-draining, some are on hillsides. Some face west, some are considered cold-climate. We work closely with growers and vineyard managers at each site to dial-in the farming to adhere to a style that maximizes flavor ripeness while keeping sugars down and acidity high. The result: Wines that are pure expressions of the sites from which they came.

My Tasting Notes

  1. The Artist ~ 2014 Ernest Pinot Noir, Bush Vineyard
    • Color for me is gorgeous. I like seeing through my Pinots. I don’t appreciate the fining and filtering, which stips a great Pinot of its “great color.” I like Pinots that are Old World… Lush and plush like a Burgundy that’s crossed the Atlantic. I swirled, I sniffed, I tasted and exclaimed… “Ah, this is my kinda Pinot.” So, what’s the alcohol? No wonder… 12.5.  A lower alcohol wine allows for subtle flavors to shine through. Subtle toasted almonds long linger. I’m what’s referred to as a super palate. It’s not a blessing, it’s more of a curse. If you know a fussy eater (and drinker), you can bet your bippy that it’s a super palate person. Let’s just say, I don’t force feed children. I have empathy. We have more taste buds than the average person, so everything has to come in subtle flavors for us to “get it.” This wine has the elegance of violets, the finesse of velvet, and the finish of silk sheets. Plums flavors dripping down the side of my wine glass, and long lingering on my palate. Crowd pleaser alert! If you love the flavors I’ve just mentioned, go on line and purchase ASAP. There’s only 131 cases of this wine. Don’t blink!
  2. The Settler ~ 2014 Ernest Pinot Noir, Cleary Ranch
    • Another classic Pinot in the Old World style. More cases of this one, 388, still, these are all very small lot wines. This wine is a bit bolder. The brix level was a bit higher (The Artist: 22.0; The Settler 23.10). Very juicy, more blueberry than violets, but lots of plums, too. Less oak than the artist, so more focus on the fruit. Decide which style you like and go for it. Get brave and get one of each to do a comparative. You won’t regret it, I’m willing to bet, unless you like your Pinots with some Petite Sirah added to them to give them guts; for me, that defeats the purpose of a Pinot.
  3. The Bombardier ~ 2014 Ernest Chardonnay, Black Emerald Vineyard
    • This is a serious Chardonnay, with ripe apple flavors, lots of butterscotch (malolactic fermentation), and toasted vanilla (from the French oak). It had 40 percent new French oak. With as much ML as it exhibits, if you love “buttah,” this one’s for you. The grapes for this wine were planted in 1990, so the flavors are now mature. In that maturity comes a lot of flavor… The vines will produce less fruit (as as people do as we get older, in terms of being able to have children, right?). But, we do get sassy. This one is sassy and classy. It has mature, rich flavors for important gatherings… a celebratory wine, for sure.
  4. The Farmer ~ 2014 Ernest Chardonnay, Green Valley Coastal
    • Smooth as a baby’s cheek, 13 percent alcohol keeps this one fresh and exciting and really easy to enjoy.  Lots of Gravenstein apple flavors with this beautiful Chardonnay, and Toasted almonds on the finish.
    • TEACHER OF GREAT WINE: This is a very special wine and one that you’ll enjoy having and also sharing with your wine loving friends. I had a friend years ago, who has since gone back to the UK (and still a friend). When she was here, we loved enjoying wine together; but for her, it was only the whites. In true Brit style, she’d pull no punches, being very vocal if she tasted a wine that she just didn’t enjoy. One day, we were in a tasting room together. She tasted a wine and said, at the top of her lungs, “This wine rots.” It was a red wine (dah!), which was the real problem. Sigh… I had already announced myself as being in the wine business and our server was really kind. Honestly, the wine we were having was a beautiful wine. A few weeks later at Thanksgiving, I pulled out a Robert Mondavi Reserve (value of over $100). As I was puling the cork out of the bottle, I said, “Mary (not real name), you can’t have this one. Sorry, it’s too good to waste on you.” She balked at what I had just said and insisted that I share. I did, and she loved the wine. THIS bottle of The Farmer Chardonnay is THAT kind of wine. If you have to share it with someone like Mary, make the same kind of announcement. It’s the best way I know to teach someone how really delicious a wine is… This one is REAL Chardonnay as it should be, when it represents its terroir as it does. Don’t waste it on people who don’t enjoy real wine, and you know who they are.


The Wine Profiles

The pieces of the stories to come are from their own meticulous storytelling. I have no need to try to recreate.

  1. The Artist ~ 2014 Ernest Pinot Noir
    1. Bush Vineyard
    2. VINEYARD: Planted in 2012, this 12-acre vineyard was developed for a select set of Dutton Ranch clients, including Ernest. The vineyard sits on a north-facing slope in the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, and is planted to Swan, Calera, and 828 clones. We are excited to watch this property develop over the next 10 years, and intend to source from it to make our flagship Pinot Noir.
    3. LABEL STORY: Todd’s grandmother, Joanne, is The Artist in the family. Her path as an artist revealed itself later in life, but her talent shines through. Today her beautiful works grace our lives daily—she is the source of the portrait of Ernest that appears on all of our bottles.
  2. The Settler ~ 2014 Ernest Pinot Noir
    • Cleary Ranch
    • VINEYARD: Downslope from his father’s Freestone Hill Vineyard, John Cleary and his family have their own parcel of West Sonoma Coast vineyard land: this 6-acre plot. Curiously, this particular vineyard exhibits a lower-than-expected conversion rate—we see a full point lower from this parcel than we see from fruit picked 100 yards up the hill. Still, fruit from this vineyard exhibits all of the classic notes that make Sonoma County Pinot Noir famous.
    • LABEL STORY: When Erin’s family settled in Motley County, Texas, they brought with them ideas, talents, and dreams. Any one of them could have been considered The Settler. The landscape provided hard challenges and discoveries, but they persevered and created a new sense of heritage along the way.
  3. The Bombardier ~ 2014 Ernest Chardonnay
    • Black Emerald Vineyard
    • VINEYARD: History runs deep at this 17-acre vineyard on Vine Hill Road in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Back in the 1960s, Sonoma County legend Duff Bevill planted the parcel to the old Clone 4 of Chardonnay. These grapes still grow today, though now the owners are Dennis and Mary Black, and the land is called Black Emerald Vineyard. Because this vineyard is dry-farmed, raising the canopy away from the heat of the ground during the day helps moderate the cluster temperature. At night, this strategy also helps keep clusters dry.
    • LABEL STORY: Todd’s Grandpa Ern proudly served during World War II. His job: Bombardier in the U.S. Air Force. With The Bombardier, we honor all who took on responsibilities and jobs during that time. We take inspiration from the many walks of life that followed.
  4. The Farmer ~ 2014 Ernest Chardonnay
    • Green Valley Ranch ~ Sonoma Coast
    • VINEYARD: Warren Dutton planted this Chardonnay vineyard in 1969, on an east-facing hillside west of the town of Graton. The clone he planted is known as the Rued Z Clone, and it produces exotic, highly identifiable fruit. Old vines produce clusters with tiny golden translucent berries. The grapes themselves have incredibly enticing flavors, floral aromatics, and tropical freshness.
    • LABEL STORY: Todd’s maternal grandparents left Orange County, California, and relocated to an 80-acre farm in the Central Valley. The change necessitated adjustments, but The Farmer, Grandpa Ray, kept at it, learning as he went and helping to raise adventuresome children and grandchildren.