When it comes to reflecting terroir, no wine does it better than Pinot Noir. That’s what senior editor James Laube and Siduri winemaker Adam Lee set out to prove with a Wine Experience seminar devoted to West Coast Pinot Noir.
Lee selected four different 2014 Pinot Noirs from his cellar, choosing from the nearly 30 he produced that vintage in California and Oregon. “If we’re successful,” Laube told the audience, “we’ll show you that these four wines are about as different as you can expect, coming from the same grape.” (The day before, attendees were treated to four iterations of Pinot Noir from Burgundy's historic Clos de Vougeot grand cru vineyard.)
Lee and his wife, Dianna, had no formal winemaking training when they moved from Texas to Sonoma County in the early 1990s, but by 1994 the couple was already making Pinot from Mendocino County's Anderson Valley.
Oregon wine followed in 1995, and that soggy vintage was a learning experience for the Lees and many winemakers in Oregon, particularly in the Chehalem Mountains. “I used to joke that Chehalem was a Native American term for ‘Can’t get it ripe,’” Lee said.
To show how far his Oregon efforts have come, Lee poured Siduri Willamette Valley Hawk’s View Vineyard 2014 (91 points, $49). It was vibrant, well-focused and generous.
Turning to California, Laube and Lee compared the stylistic differences in three regions that span the state. Siduri Russian River Valley Keefer Ranch 2014 (91, $60) typified the best of Russian River. “There’s a texture and richness that exists with Russian River that doesn’t exist elsewhere,” Laube said.
Located in the cool and foggy Green Valley section of Russian River, Keefer Vineyard is unusual, Lee explained, because of its clonal diversity and diverse ripening patterns. “We picked this vineyard over an entire month,” he said.
Nearly 200 miles to the south, Monterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands remains one of the most underrated Pinot Noir regions in California, Laube told the audience. Lee opened his 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands Garys’ Vineyard (92, $60). It was plump and polished, with gravelly accents.
While the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA receives much of the same sunlight as the warm and bountiful Salinas Valley below it, its higher elevation exposes it to cooling breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean. The biggest challenge in the highlands, Lee explained, is crop size. Many growers are old-school vegetable farmers who think the bigger the crop the better, which is not the case for winegrapes.
The seminar finished with the California Coast’s southernmost wine region, Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County. Pouring the Siduri Sta. Rita Hills Clos Pepe Vineyard 2014 (91, $60), Lee explained that the region is distinct because the valley it hugs runs east-west rather than the usual north-south.
That exposes it to the cool and blustery weather of the nearby ocean. Vines there generally produce small berries with thick skins, making tannin management a focus. The wines, Laube added, typically have dark fruit flavors like blueberry and blackberry and a firmer structure than those of other regions.
Summing up, Lee said, “I really do believe that [a] unique sense of place is special to Pinot Noir, and that’s what I’ve spent my life trying to [show].”