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Tasting The Donum Estate Pinot Noirs

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Dec 7, 2007 2:15pm ET

With harvest 2007 completed, there’s a pause in the action at Donum Estate in Carneros, and yesterday I joined Anne Moller-Racke and Kenneth Juhasz to taste a vertical of the winery’s Pinot Noir.

Donum is a fairly new winery, with its first vintage in 2001. But the vineyard dates to the 1970s, when it was part of the bigger Buena Vista winery estate, which is next door. The property is now owned by Racke International and has been managed by winegrower Moller-Racke since the early 1980s, when she worked with BV. Juhasz is the winemaker.

Donum Estate is 120 acres in vines, with 90 planted to Pinot Noir and the rest to Chardonnay. The goal so far has been to select the best portions of the vineyard for Donum, with other selections headed to the Robert Stemmler line of Pinot Noirs.

As Moller-Racke explains in this vlog, the winery is pinpointing its best sites. Since the 1990s “everything [in the vineyard] has changed [except the soil],” she said. “We had all these vineyards and [some of the grapes] come from older selections and some from newer selections.”

“The two things we always try to put together [in our wines] are power and elegance, but to make sure we don’t lose the elegance.”

I think that in coming years Carneros Pinot Noir is poised to close the gap with the state’s other top appellations, such as Russian River Valley and Santa Barbara. The main reason is many of the vineyards that were planted in the 1970s and 1980s have been replanted, with new vineyard methods and clones and winemakers are much closer to the grapes than they’ve been in the past.

All five vintages showed very well and all five showed how different the vintages have been. The winery also has its first bottling of a Russian River Pinot with 2005. All of the other notes refer to Donum Estate bottlings.

The 2001 has a touch of maturity, but exquisite balance and ripe, rich maraschino and black cherry fruit, with a nice loamy earth edge and a long layered, graceful finish. Drink now through 2012.

The 2002 is from a warmer year and has a lifted raspberry aroma, tight, compact blackberry and black cherry fruit that ends with a more abrupt finish than 2001. Drink now through 2012.

The 2003 is a winery favorite from a cooler vintage. It exhibits an earthier profile, with a savory game, cola and cherry flavor, with rich, firm tannins. Best now through 2011.

The 2004, from another warmer year, has bright, rich, clean cherry and berry aromas and a complex red candied-apple spiciness. Young and tight, it’s ready now through 2012.

The 2005 Donum, the newest release, was my favorite, displaying the youthful exuberance I prefer. It’s rich, with effusive, plush blueberry and boysenberry flavors and a hint of sweet vanilla. Drink now through 2013.

The Russian River bottling, from a winery-managed property, offers classic RRV bright cherry and raspberry fruit that’s both tight and vivid, with a delicate edge.

Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  December 7, 2007 11:24pm ET
Jim - I totally agree with you that Carneros is set for a re-birth. The folks in Santa Rita Hills can attest to the fact that I've been saying "wait until Carneros replants"... mostly as a "warning" to not get complacent. As new AVAs came on line, they benefitted from newer clonal selections. Now that Carneros can take advantge of 20+ years of experimentation, the growers there should be able to pick and choose the best clones to best take advantage of their terroir. 20-30 years ago, there just weren't as many options.

In many ways, Carneros may owe any re-birth to one of its own - Francis Mahoney - who was one of the first CA growers to investigate clonal diversity in Pinot Noir.

And I can't say enough good things about Kenneth Juhasz. He's an amazing winemaker - and I really like what he's doing - both for Donum and his own label, Auteur. His Shea Vineyard Pinot is especially worth seeking out.
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  December 8, 2007 5:52pm ET
I'm not sold on the fact that Carneros, with pinot noir, has the terroir to compete with some of the top CA areas (let alone compete with Oregon). They will be able to make some good pinots, but I'm skeptical to whether they can compete across the board. Time will tell. Also, Carneros will continue to be stricken by the large scale producers, more volume driven than quality driven. This combined with terrior will hold the AVA down.
Doug Eaton
Phoenix, AZ —  December 9, 2007 10:05pm ET
James or other wine afficionados, my blog response is unrelated to the pinots you wrote about. The other day, a great friend opened up five special wines, blind, blind. The Dalle Valle Maya 2002, Robert Foley Claret 2005, Jack Quinn Cab 2004 were three young napa cabs that decanted 4 hours before we started tasting them. I found the Quinn and the Maya to be overexposed to oxygen. The Foley was stile ripe, however. For a young blockbuster napa cab or blend, how much decanting time would you recommend?
Claude Pope
Raleigh, NC —  December 9, 2007 11:48pm ET
Brian, congrats on your WS top 100 for the Clos Pepe 2005. We had a bottle with our Thanksgiving Turkey (and one of Uncle Sid's too). I've enjoyed reading your blogs and especially enjoy your wines. Keep up the great work.
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  December 10, 2007 2:24pm ET
Thanks Claude! If you like what Uncle Sid and I make... Kenneth Juhasz's wines whould be right up your alley. So be on the lookout for Donum and Auteur Pinots. :)

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