2011 New York Wine Experience: Pinot Noir Taken to the Limit

Matt Kramer showcases the "extreme" Sonoma Coast
Oct 24, 2011

When Matt Kramer visited the wineries whose wines he presented at his seminar, he didn’t find any of the airy romance one equates with la vie du vin. “There was no woman with black hair and green eyes,” said Kramer. “There was no small door with flowers.”

Though Kramer was riffing on Angelo Gaja’s preceding reverie of a pastoral feast overlooking the vines, his point was serious: The Pinot Noirs he poured came from the jagged edge of American wine country, the extreme Sonoma Coast. This area of the far-flung Sonoma Coast AVA is more formally known as the West Sonoma Coast, a geographical chimera of “bone-dry” summers, rainy winters, bright sun and cool Pacific air and fog. “Without question,” said Kramer, “one of the most thrilling geographical vineyard locations in the world.”

But it’s an unforgiving terroir, originally planted to vines only three decades ago. That first plot, Hirsch Vineyard, purchased as a sheep farm by “fashion business guy” David Hirsch, is the source of Pinots from several producers. The vineyard’s characteristic note of prune runs through the cherry flavors of the deep-colored Littorai Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Hirsch Vineyard 2009 (91 points, $65), said Kramer, who called it “a perfect example of what the extreme Sonoma Coast is all about.”

Next, Kramer introduced the Peay Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Pomarium 2009. It showed the density of the fruit from the region, where, just a few miles from the ocean, hardy vines develop clusters of tiny berries with thick skins. The resulting concentration is evident in the wine: “I don’t know if Mr. Pilates ever drank wine, but that’s what this wine is all about—core strength,” said Kramer.

The third and final wine of the seminar was a sneak preview: a barrel sample rather than a finished wine. Kramer highlighted the Flowers Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Camp Meeting Ridge 2010, the first vintage under new winemaker Jason Jardine, for its display of minerality, another Sonoma Coast characteristic. “It’s either in the site and you extract and amplify it,” Kramer said, “or you don’t got it.”

Some in the audience might have disagreed with Wine Spectator’s “very own extremist” when Kramer named the extreme Sonoma Coast the source of “the most profound Pinot Noirs grown in America today.” But few could argue at the tasting’s conclusion that these windswept wines mirror the “depth, scale and drama” of their unlikely site.

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