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Value & Soul: 2021 McKinlay Pinot Noir
I'm happy to offer one of my favorite value Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley. Light on its feet, with notes of roses, bright red cherries, damp earth, and framed by a mineral spine derived from well-drained volcanic soils, this is where the conversation on serious value Pinot Noir officially ends.
Matt Kinne farms vineyards in the Chehalem Mountain range in the Willamette Valley. He's fastidious in the vineyard, allowing only one grape cluster per shoot, and relying on dry-farming to push roots deep into the rocky, volcanic-based soils below. There are no additives, no commercial yeasts, and new oak percentage is kept very low. The result is an ethereal Pinot Noir that speaks to the tiny slice of the world they are born.
Turley: California's Old-Vine Jewel
At first glance, Turley may seem like an outlier in our Old World-focused collection. The reason I go deep on these prized wines from America's oldest vineyards extends far beyond their historical significance. While Turley wines have a hedonistic side, they are balanced, precisely detailed, and always supported by fresh acidity.
Turley defines American viticulture today. Working with over 50 vineyards, they apply organic principles and rely only on native yeasts for fermentation. Head winemaker, Tegan Passalacqua of Sandlands, is rightfully respected for his work in the cellar as much as for his encyclopedic knowledge of California's diversity of old vineyards.
While Zinfandel and Petite Syrah inherently push toward higher ripeness, their thoughtful approach with vines from Paso Robles to Napa Valley is to preserve acidity and manage tannins. Each cuvée is crafted free of reliance on excessive new oak, additives, or manipulation in the cellar. These are ultimate wines of terroir, epitomizing the best of California's viticulture heritage.
When serious BBQ is at hand, Turley is among the first wines I reach for. Their vibrant, fruit-forward, and deeply nuanced traits lend themselves to a wide range of grilled meats and marinades. Even more, a bottle of 2001 Hayne Vineyard Petite Syrah was a great reminder that the pure joy these wines give, even after a decade in the bottle, is evidence of their greatness.
Willamette Valley Star: Walter Scott
The pinnacle of the range from Erica Landon and Ken Pahlow of Walter Scott rests with their X Novo and Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnays, though the Pinot Noirs are also among the best in America today. These are Grand Cru-level expressions of Eola-Amity Hills!
Most of the 1983-planted Seven Springs Vineyard was devastated by phylloxera, until 2007, when Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman of Evening Land leased and revitalized the vineyard. Walter Scott is one of the few wineries with access to this site, sourcing less than two acres of Chardonnay from the south ridge.
Pahlow's annual harvest visits to work alongside Dominique Lafon must have left a mark, as his Chardonnays elicit Burgundy's precise form of noble reduction and filigree. Notes of crushed oyster shell, lemon zest, and mouth-watering salinity are at the forefront, but like Comtes Lafon's brilliant whites, these are all about fine-grained texture and balance.
If Walter Scott's Chardonnays are a master class in tension and balance, then the Pinot Noirs stand out for their silken tannin structure and full-bodied, concentrated style. The suave frame and harmony of fruit and earth meld perfectly with the slight whole cluster addition (15%) and modest application of new oak (35%).
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Timeless Napa: 2019 Snowden The Ranch Cabernet
Finding jaw-dropping hillside vineyards beyond each weave and turn of Napa Valley's roads is common. However, finding winemakers that live up to the landscape by pursuing graceful, nuanced, and site-specific wines is more of a challenge. Diana Snowden Seysess typifies this essence like few others in the valley do, and the winery's history explains why the personification of place is her ultimate intent.
Snowden eschews many winemaking practices that have become commonplace today. No cultured yeasts are employed, no enzymes to enhance color, no "bleeding" of the must for concentration, no fining, and no sterile filtration. Diana presses off the skins when they're dry rather than ongoing maceration to pick up more density and extraction. The wines never see more than 50% new French oak.
The Snowden Ranch began in 1878 after the Homestead Act encouraged the settlement of new agricultural lands in the valley. The Snowden family took control of these vineyards in 1955, planting different parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon. Through the 1980s, the family worked closely with Warren Winiarski of Stags Leap Cellars to improve their vineyards. Finally, Snowden Vineyards produced its first wines from the family estate in 1993.
Diana grew up in Napa Valley and graduated from the UC Davis Viticulture and Enology program. In 2003, she became the oenologist at Domaine Dujac and worked alongside her now-husband, Jeremy Seysses, crafting some of Burgundy's most celebrated wines. Her time between Napa and Burgundy brings extraordinary perspective. These wines re-shape how Napa Valley speaks to sense of place.
California Sensibility: Failla Estate Pinot Noir
California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can be difficult subjects. What has become clear is that the success stories tend to come from vineyards on the extreme. These sites are usually in close proximity to the Pacific, where cooler temperatures and howling winds provide a decidedly different sense of California. Ambitious growers interested in these sites were laughed at decades ago, being told that their grapes wouldn't ripen. Of course, no great ideas go without their fair share of pushback.
One brave soul to tackle the rugged, extreme Sonoma Coast is Ehren Jordan of Failla Wines. After several years working in France, Ehren returned home to California and was an integral part of the inception of the famed Marcassin Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast. After seeing firsthand the outrageous capability of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on this wild western edge, he went off to find his own parcel. Ehren settled on a 13-acre-planted vineyard in the newly recognized Fort Ross-Seaview AVA.
Failla produces two benchmark Sonoma Coast wines from these extreme sites. They are one of the first places to turn for an example of what these noble Burgundian varieties can produce in California. The formula here is simple: Source great fruit and let nature take its course in the cellar, with nothing added or taken away. The Failla wines offer grace and complexity and, above all else, are incredibly easy to drink. This estate is one of the great sources for North Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.