Blair Pence and Kevin Fitzpatrick of Pence Ranch Winery: Best Newcomer

Better Late Than Never – Pasadena Pinotfest 2013

Get Ready, Get Set, ...

Get Ready, Get Set, …

The Pasadena Pinotfest has become a regular February event for my wife and I.  Technically it’s in Altadena, but I guess they can call it anything they want.  For lovers of pinot noir, this

event is a must.  The organizers manage to attract new wineries every year, some of them quite exceptional.  Plus we know a great place to stay just down the hill.

Yes, I know it’s July.  But when someone offers me a lot of money for a new project, I tend to neglect my blogs.  Luckily, there are still three or four months of good weather left so you can visit some of these places. Better late than never – Pasadena Pinotfest 2013.

The Crowd

The Crowd

On February 9 my lovely wife and I walked a mile up a hill to the Altadena Town and Country Club, the site of Pasadena Pinotfest 2013.  We saw a few old friends that still had their pinot chops, including Dragonette Cellars (Los Olivos), Thorne (Santa Rita Hills), and Bruliam (Healdsburg).  All three have continued their tradition of producing fine, well-crafted pinot noirs.

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Bobbie and Graner Thorne

Bobbie and Graner Thorne

But we were excited about the newcomers.  Pence Ranch, Romililly, Bratcher, Ketcham, Zotovich, Kessler-Haak, and Wedell were all producing pinots of great variety and much interest.  Of the seven, we rate Pence Ranch as the best, but the others are just as likely to meet your tastes and preferences.  So let’s look at them in alphabetical order.

Bratcher Winery (Lompoc, CA) was tasting their 2009 La Encantada Vineyard and 2010 “Jane Madison” Santa Maria. (There’s some confusion about the vintage of the latter. My notes say 2009 but the official tasting booklet says 2010.) Getting the important information out of the way first, Jane Madison is the daughter of Chris Bratcher, the owner and winemaker.  The wine is Clone 777 from the Sierra Madre Vineyard. The style is lighter, with a ruby color. The aroma and taste are what we have begun to describe as “desert” with a generally dusty overtone.  The Jane Madison adds strawberries and blackberries.

The La Encantada could not be more different. Both Clones 115 and 777 were used to produce this wine.  Much more powerful with a greater desert feel.  Aromas of black cherries, leather, tobacco, and earth are followed by acidity and tannins.  Wait a few years before you uncork this one.

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Bratcher wines are available by direct shipment.  There are no prices on the website.  The Pinotfest information book says the retail price for the Jane Madison is $32 and the La Encantada is $37.  These are bargains.  We recommend trying a few bottles.  If you like them, join the Bratcher wine club.  In a few years that will be the only way you can get this excellent wine.

Kessler-Haak is a personal favorite of Tony’s because Dan Kessler is also an MIT graduate (course VI, B.S. and M.S.).  Elaine Haak Kessler is Dan’s wife and in charge of keeping what is left of his sanity.  You can find out more about them, as well as their children and grandchildren here. Ryan Carr of Carr Vineyards and Winery, is their vineyard manager.

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Kessler-Haak was tasting two 2009 pinots (also a chardonnay and a Riesling which we passed up).  Their clone 2A ($40) is earthy, with rich blackberry and plum flavors and spiciness. The K-H pinot noir ($35) is a blend of four clones: Pommard,  115, 116, and 777. Nice work on the blending.  The clone 2A is nearly sold out according to their website so get it now if you want some.

Ketcham Estate was pouring two of their 2010s.  The Ketcham Estate Ketcham Vineyard pinot noir ($48) is forward: acidity and spice, minerality and sage with a marvelous butterscotch finish.  The Ketcham Estate Russian River Valley pinot ($38) is lighter with lots of strawberry and raspberry aromas and more fruit with touches of sage and cedar on the palate.  The Ketcham website is a pleasure to read, with whimsy and humor.  Here’s an example:


Ketcham Estate Humor

Ketcham Estate Humor

Owner Mark Ketcham gets the award for having the most fun of anyone behind a table:

Mark Ketcham and the fruits of his work

Mark Ketcham and the fruits of his work

Pence Ranch, mentioned earlier, is our pick for the best of a great group of newcomers.  When I first visited their website in February it was little more than an e-mail address, a phone number, and a place to sign up for their mailing list, and lots of pretty pictures. Today it is a full-featured information and sales site. (Prices quoted are from the website. Each is $2 less than the price in the Pinotfest brochure.)

Pence Ranch was pouring a pair of 2010s.  Their Estate Pinot Noir ($32) opens with the characteristic rose petal aromas. Gooseberry and cherry flavors with a touch of cedar on the palate, with a long pinot finish. The Uplands Pinot Noir ($42) is from grapes grown (where else?) near the top of a hill. This one will reward your patience for a couple of years. There’s some oak hre with spice and smoke. Balancing the oak are tannins on the finish. The balance of oak and tannins with powerful fruit gives this wine some serious aging potential. The Estate wine qualifies as a real bargain. (Only the Estate pinot is sold through the website to the general public.  To order their “limited bottling” selections you must join their mailing list.  This is not a wine club, just a list.  I had no idea my contact information was that valuable.)

Pence Ranch wines

Pence Ranch wines

Romililly Wines offered us their 2011 Russian River Valley pinot noir ($38).  Delicious, light, low-alcohol, eminently quaffable. Romililly produced 500 cases in 2012 and has doubled production this year.  We look forward to their continuing success.

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Late afternoon crowd - rowdy!

Late afternoon crowd – rowdy!

Wedell Cellars makes no bones about it.  They are in San Luis Obispo, with a mailing address in neighboring Pismo Beach.  We tried their Wavertree 2009 San Luis Obispo County pinot noir ($31). This wine is a blend of seven different Dijon clones (2A, 4, 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777). Fruit was sourced from Salisbury Vineyard in the Avila Valley (92%) with the rest from the notorious Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills.  Fiddlestix grapes have been known to cause difficulties for winemakers.  Those who know what they’re doing can produce amazing wine.  Others should probably avoid this vineyard. The Salisbury grapes offer fruit in the wine while the Fiddlestix brings that dusty desert feel to the wine.  With aromas of red fruit and a long, balanced finish, this wine is a bargain..

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Zotovich Cellars also had a 2009 estate pinot noir ($45).  Zotovich is part of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto group of wineries that share a tasting room in Lompoc.  Their wine includes clones 113, 114, 115, and the popular 777. Obviously designed to appeal to us, this wine is lighter style.  And consistent with the Santa Rita Hills ava, the wine has dusty undertones with aromas of dried cranberries and cherries. Focused red raspberry flavors develop some smoky flavors as the wine breathes. Notes of white pepper and spice appear in the finish.

Vern Ketter for Zotovich Family Vineyards

Vern Ketter for Zotovich Family Vineyards


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