OK, OK, don’t give us a hard time. We know Farallon’s annual Pinotfest was last November. We have to make a living to support our wine habit … er, hobby.
This year there were four noteworthy wineries that were new to us: Charles Heintz, En Route, LaRue and Lutum. In the interest of getting this review out before the next Pinotfest, we’ll focus on these four. They are presented roughly in our order of preference. However, you won’t go wrong with any of these fine pinots.
LaRue Wines is an homage to winemaker/owner Katy Wilson’s great-grandmother, Veona LaRue Newell. For reasons that remain unknown, Ms. Newell’s mother chose her unusual middle name. Katy remains impressed by her wit, wisdom, and toughness.
Katy also makes some pretty good wines. Her 2013 Sonoma Coast ($60) is a blend from the Rice-Spivak and Emmaline Ann Vineyards. This wine opens with aromas of leather, tobacco, and cherries. Our tasting notes simply say, “Juicy.”
The 2013 Emmaline Ann Vineyard ($70) is from grapes grown on a three acre vineyard near the town of Freestone. This vineyard has pure Goldridge sandy loam soils and Dijon clonal selections. Proximity to the ocean and a higher elevation give the grapes some unique characteristics.
Initially you are greeted with scents of dark fruit and violets, with hints of cranberry. Flavors of strawberries and cherries combine with wet slate and leather notes. Drink now or hang on to this goodie for a few years.
Lutum is a joint venture between Bill Price and winemaker Gavin Chanin. For those rusty on their Latin, “lutum” translates to dirt or soil – where all terroir begins. They focus on small-production, single-vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay. Naturally we’ll stick to the pinot.
Their 2013 Bien Nacido Vineyard ($50) opens with white pepper, mushrooms and forest floor. On the palate you’ll find red raspberry, tea and a hint of spice. The finish is soft tannins with more spice.
Lutum’s 2013 Sanford and Benedict Vineyard ($60) starts with aromas of cherries and anise. This wine features structured tannins with a nice acid balance.
The 2013 Rita’s Crown Vineyard ($50) is darker and heavier, including scents of coriander and black cherries. Spices are integrated with smooth tannins on the palate.
Finally, the 2013 La Rinconada Vineyard ($50) A bright garnet color reveals a heady nose of cranberry, dried bark and umami. A concentrated mid-palate of red fruit and substantial tannin lends itself to great structure. This is a fuller-bodied Pinot Noir that offers complexity and richness.
Lutum offers the full array of the pinot noir experience. Think of them as your one-stop shop.
Yes, there is a Charles Heintz. And he has a heck of a story:
Heintz Ranch has been owned by the Heintz family for nearly 100 years. Charlie’s grandparents purchased the land in 1912. Over the many decades they grew many crops. In the first years it was chickens, berries, cherries apples and other vegetables.
In 2004, our ultra-premium label, “Heintz” was introduced. These small-production wines are made with 100% Heintz Ranch fruit, farmed for lower yields and are grown primarily on the hillside areas of Heintz Ranch.
Because our wines are produced in small lots, they receive the utmost care and attention, which is reflected in the taste, color and aroma of our wines. Charlie painstakingly manages all aspects of farming the 55 acres of vineyard including operations and personally overseeing the winemaking process of our chardonnay and pinot noir and syrah.
The Heintz 2013 Swan ($48) is made from vines growing at the lowest elevation of Heintz Ranch. The wine has intense flavors of fresh red cherries, cranberries, spice and vanilla. Integrated acid and tannins make for an excellent, long finish.
Charlie’s 2013 Valentina ($48) is named after the first generation of Heintz Ranch landowners. The wine has aromas of cherry and ripe cranberry. More cherries and cranberries on the palate with accents of cardamom and lavender lead to a long and lingering finish.
En Route Winery
Like many wineries, En Route blends the talents of a couple of winemakers and a viticulturist. Andrew Delos, the winemaker, is yet another U.C. Davis graduate. He’s been working with Russian River Valley pinot grapes for many years, including stints at MacRostie (Carneros) and Pellegrini (Russian River Valley). His work at Nickel & Nickel in Napa Valley impressed the partners so much that, when they created En Route in 2007, Andrew was the natural selection. In 2015 he added the title President to his portfolio.
Andrew is assisted by Gordon Smith. With his background, it’s surprising Gordon didn’t end up in music: he’s from Nashville, Tennessee. While working on a Ph.D. in chemistry at U.C. Santa Barbara, he took some time off and developed a taste for pinot noir. (Note: great idea!) He took a part-time job in a wine shop back in Nashville. One day, his manager asked him why, with his chemistry background, he wasn’t making wine. Smith worked his first harvest in 2010 at Williams Selyem in Russian River Valley. Before long, he was offered an opportunity too good to pass up: a chance to join EnRoute as the enologist, becoming the second employee at the winery. In 2015, he was promoted to assistant winemaker.
The viticulturist is Aaron Fishleder. Vineyards worldwide owe him a vote of thanks. Aaron was doing research at U.C. Davis trying to figure out better ways to fight phylloxera. While he was at it, he worked on a Masters degree. Later his research focused on Pierce’s Disease. His first job was with Far Niente, where he advised outside vineyard management on the winery’s estate vineyards. A few years later, Fishleder helped launch Far Niente Vineyards, a company separate from Far Niente charged with farming the vineyards owned by the partners of Far Niente, and sister wineries Dolce and Nickel & Nickel. Today, as president of Far Niente Vineyards, Fishleder and his staff farm the wineries’ estate vineyards and outside client vineyards in Napa Valley, Russian River Valley and Green Valley.
En Route’s “Les Pommiers” ($65) is named after the apple orchards that once graced the Russian River Valley. On the nose, red raspberry, black cherry, and floral notes. On the palate raspberry and cherry with a hint of minerality. Ripe, integrated tannins create a long, smooth finish.
Pinotfest is usually an event where we see what’s new with old friends. The 2015 version offered four surprises. Very pleasant surprises at that.