Knez Tasting Room

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1


Update November 16: This article evolved into a four-part series.  Here are the links to parts 1, 2, and 4:
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 4:


[Update November 6 to add Phillips Hill’s 2013 Anderson Valley pinot noir.]

After a long day at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival May 21, what are wine semi-professionals to do on Sunday? Hit the road and visit all the local wineries that we skipped Saturday because they’re, well, local. And we made some discoveries that are astonishing. As always, we write about what we like. Your tastes probably don’t match ours. But wines reviewed here will not let you down. Once again, to get this to press fast, we’re dividing our review into two parts.  This is our take on the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1.

Knez Winery

Knez Label Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

(click for larger image)

We have to confess that we screwed up by not visiting Knez as our first stop Sunday. The reason is that Knez is actually located on the grounds of The Madrones – where we were staying. But these folks are certainly among the top three we discovered this weekend.

Knez owns the justifiably famous Cerise Vineyard. And they keep some of the grapes for their own use. Which is lucky for all of us. They also own the Knez and Demuth vineyards.

And we learned something new. Oak barrels are not just differentiated by country of origin and manufacturer. The grain of the barrel makes a difference. The finer the grain the more oak is absorbed by the wine. Interesting. And, as a footnote, Knez uses only French oak.

Their wines are terrific. If it’s possible for a $47 bottle of wine to be a bargain, their 2013 Cerise qualifies.

Knez’s 2013 Cerise Vineyard ($47) opens with hints of cedar and spices. On the palate more cedar with bay leaf, plum, and blackberry. A dusty, dried herb with a finish ofdusty tannins reminded us of the “desert” character we usually associate with the Santa Rita Hills AVA.

Their 2014 Anderson Valley ($34) Seductive aromatics lead to pronounced ripe cherry flavor laced with candied raspberries within a well-structured tannin profile give balance with finesse. Powerful, yet approachable, interwoven complexities of rich red fruit bound with elements of vanilla, spice and cherry liquor finishes with a sweet candy note enhanced with a cleansing lightness.

Lazy Creek Vineyards

Our tasting notes were lost in a technological failure. But we know we liked it because we bought half a case. And, of course, that means we tasted it here at home.

Lazy Creek Tasting Room Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Lazy Creek Tasting Room

Lazy Creek Vineyards has been around approximately forever. Since 2008 the winery has been owned by Don and Rhonda Carano. They also own Ferrari-Carano, so they have their winery management techniques down pat. Snippets from their website:

Named for the creek that meanders through it, Lazy Creek Vineyards is located in the heart of bucolic Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Known as the second oldest vineyard in the valley, Lazy Creek was established in the early 1900s by the Pinolis’, an Italian family who began their American odyssey by farming plum orchards and vineyards. The Pinolis sold the property to Hans and Theresia Kobler in 1969. [The Koblers] converted the old barn to a winery. Hans planted Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay vines that he brought by suitcase from Europe. [Note: don’t try that today.] He was particularly proud to have had the foresight to plant Pinot Noir, even after Robert Mondavi advised against it. Hans was committed to making a good bottle of wine for a decent price, and his Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Alsatian-style Gewürztraminer were honored with multiple international awards.

Hans operated Lazy Creek Vineyards successfully for 26 years before selling the 95-acre ranch to Josh and Mary Beth Chandler in 1998.  As luck (and the wine gods) would have it, the Chandlers found Lazy Creek by accident while on their way to make an offer on another property. At the time the Chandlers purchased Lazy Creek, there were 19 acres of planted vineyards.

Don and Rhonda Carano Buy Lazy Creek

In the summer of 2008, Don and Rhonda Carano discovered Lazy Creek and immediately fell for its considerable charms, as it recalled their first foray as grape growers on a small Alexander Valley ranch they purchased in 1979. Don and Rhonda also grew a few acres of Gewürztraminer that they sold to Grand Cru winery. Owning and operating Lazy Creek Vineyards since 2008 has truly been a personal labor of love for them, an inspiring daily reminder of why they remain in the wine business today. It’s about the beauty and respect for the land; as Mark Twain said, “buy land, they are not making it anymore.”

When Don and Rhonda Carano discovered Lazy Creek Vineyards, their first thought was, “What a magical place!” Driving up a narrow dirt road off of Highway 128, across three rough-hewn wooden bridges surrounded by majestic redwoods and rambling bushes, they found a small winery and a 100-year-old farmhouse nestled in a hollow surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards and gardens. Instantly smitten, they purchased the 95-acre ranch, which at the time was planted to roughly 40 acres of grapes including Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay.

Winemaker Christy Ackerman

Graduating in 2001 with an enology degree from California State University Fresno, Christy Ackerman was drawn to winemaking inspired by its hands-on nature and its mixture of chemistry and art. She began her winemaking career as a harvest intern at Murphy Goode for one season, and then moved on to Jordan Winery in 2001 as assistant winemaker. In 2006, Christy joined the winemaking team at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery as associate winemaker, working on Ferrari-Carano’s Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Project. This experience led Christy to Lazy Creek Vineyards, where she has headed up the winemaking team since 2008, shortly after Don and Rhonda Carano, owners of Ferrari-Carano, purchased the property.

Don and Rhonda Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Don and Rhonda Carano

Christy Ackerman Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Christy Ackerman

And the Wine is Pretty Good, Too

Lazy Creek’s 2014 “Lazy Day” Anderson Valley ($35) has attractive aromas of plum, cherry and rose petal with lush flavors of bright red cherry, mocha, a hint of cola and a nice touch of spice on the finish.

Their 2013 Estate ($58) opens with aromas of wild blackberry, violets and a touch of spice. The palate is dark fruits, notably black cherry and black plum.

Phillips Hill

Natacha Durandet Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Natacha Durandet (click for larger image)

We were greeted by Natacha Durandet. Phillips Hill is a great location for visiting, exploring, a picnic, or just tasting good wine. But stop here early in your day. The tasting room is housed in a historic apple dryer barn. Stairs are uneven and some climbing is necessary.  Not something to try after a long day in tasting rooms!

The former apple dryer barn just north of Philo is linked to rich family histories of long-time farmers and wine-producers whose presence spans 100 years in Mendocino County. The apple dryer barn was originally owned by the Day family in the 1880s. Prior to World War II, before fresh produce was readily available, apples were dried on site and transported to port by way of buckboard. They were then shipped out to communities along the Pacific coast.

Apple Dryer Barn Left Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1 Apple Dryer Barn Right Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1
The Apple Dryer Barn
(click for larger images)


Over the years, the original 53-acre Day Ranch has been used to raise sheep and grow apples, pears and grapes. The Oswald family, farming in Mendocino County since the 1950s, purchased the Day Ranch in the mid-1970s and planted Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to grow alongside their crops. By 1979, over 100 acres of vineyards were planted.

The tasting room visible from Highway 128 retains characteristic elements of its past: weathered redwood siding originally milled from trees grown on the property, apple drying equipment, original wooden staircase and furnishings. Nearby ponds, willows and small apple and pear orchards are reminders of a bygone era.

Phillips Hill’s 2013 Oppenlander Vineyard Mendocino Comtche ($48) is rustic, with a mixture of dark and red fruit. Firm tannins with a bit of grit on the finish.

Tasting Room Crew Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Tasting Room Crew

Their 2013 Valenti Vineyard Mendocino Ridge ($43) greets you with woodsy, savory aromas. Flavors of spice and fruit with notes of mushrooms give this wine an unusual, unique character and personality.

Update November 6: Tonight we opened a bottle of Phillips Hill 2013 Anderson Valley pinot noir.  This wine is not listed on their website, but it is, frankly, terrific.  Aromas of bing cherries and rose petals followed by more charries on the palate.  A hint of spice with an excellent acid balance lead to a long finish wth silky tannins.  We will contact the winery to get more information about this beauty.

Nelson Hill

And now we have a confession. We tasted Nelson Hill’s wines Saturday. And only realized what we’d done when we discovered a new batch of photos from the weekend. We are now compensating for our error.

Barbara and Gregory Hill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Barbara and Gregory Hill

The winery is owned by Barbara (Nelson) Hill and Gregory Hill. Those interested in a long-term picture of their wines should seek out the seven year vertical review at the Prince of Pinot website. .

Our notes say their wines are 30 percent off at the tasting room. Forthwith, their story:

In 1999, Greg and Barbara Hill bought a small ranch from the Pinoli family in the heart of Anderson Valley’s “golden mile” of wineries, close to Golden Eye, Roederer Estate, Husch and Navarro vineyards. They began rebuilding one of the valley’s oldest farmhouses and planting a small vineyard on a south-facing slope. They selected French Dijon clones, similar to the ones used in their favorite old-world, burgundian style pinots, and set out to pursue their passion and dream of making a “memorable pinot noir”. They assembled a team who shared their vision of handcrafting small lots of delicious, well-balanced Anderson Valley pinot noir.

Deny Dudzik wears two hats as both vineyard manager and winemaker. Trained as a field biologist, Deny is an International Certified Crop Advisor who consults widely on vineyard best practices. He was also co-winemaker at Handley Vineyards for a decade, giving him a unique combination of skills. Deny works closely with Ardzrooni Vineyard Management,the largest vineyard manager in the valley, whose team cultivates our crop with sustainable, environmentally friendly methods that produce the fullest expression of the fruit without the use of herbicides and pesticides.

We got to sample a smaller vertical from 2010, 2011, and 2012. All three are from their Deep End Vineyard. Located in the northwest corner of the valley, the land begins to slope downward toward the ocean. Hence, “deep end.” Also, that’s what the local folks called it in their charmingly historical Boontling language.

Nelson Hill’s 2010 ($42) features aromas of light spice over a base of forest floor. On the palate, flavors of black cherry, huckleberry, and plum with notes of mocha on the finish.

2011 ($39) was a difficult year in the Deep End. This pinot is bright with floral aromas of ripe cherries. Flavors of dried cherries lead to a very nice finish..

But the 2012 ($42) emits aromas of cherries with hints of caramel. On the palate, black cherries, black raspberries, and spice.


And we still have more to cover. Next time we’ll plan to spend a week exploring this fascinating region.

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