Today I venture a few hundred kilometres north of Santa Barbara County into Sonoma County. While Pinot Noir is grown in many regions within the County, including the notable Russian River Valley, today’s wine was produced with fruit grown in the hot (as in popular) Sonoma Coast AVA. This AVA is somewhat weird given that it was created for political reasons in order to allow certain wineries to continue to label their wines as estate bottled, despite the fact that the region is vast and encompasses dissimilar terrain, including parts of the Russian River and Carneros. However, a lot of really hot pinots are coming out of this AVA, even if it is unrealistic to describe a “Sonoma Coast” style.
The Sonoma Coast has extreme exposure to marine influences and high altitude, making it one of the coolest regions in Northern California. Because conditions are so cool, the best vineyards here actually face south to allow the grapes to ripen fully. Similarly to the Santa Rita Hills, the Sangiocamo vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA are very close to the ocean in what is called the “petaluma gap”, which is a region where cool air is drawn inland and also one of the last regions where grapes are harvested in Sonoma.
In terms of the vintage, according to the Sojourn website, “The 2006 growing season was a challenging one in many respects for Sonoma County grape growers. June and July brought blistering heat, mixed with some very cool and foggy stretches of weather. Clusters were very tight and berry sizes were larger than normal.”
Sojourn cellars was started by a couple of friends with a passion for grapes – a familiar story in California. They claim that they want to make new world wines that are influenced by the old world (whatever that means). I can tell you that I don’t think these wines have much “old world” in them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t unique. Recently Sojourn Cellars has started to gain semi “cult” status, with some big ratings on their pinot noirs making the wines go upward in price and downwards in availability. The fact that the price is still reasonable for the quality is probably helping them sell their wines despite the recession.
This wine is unique. I’m not sure I’ve tasted a Pinot Noir quite like this before. It is undoubtedly very different from the Au Bon Climat Santa Rita Hills Pinot that I looked at yesterday. I should also mention that this was TIGHT when I first opened the bottle, and really only came into its own with a couple hours of decanting. But, right now as I smell the wine I get earth and cherry in a classic pinot way, but also a dense layer of herbs that gives the wine an almost grassy spicyness on the nose (kind of like sniffing mountain grass).
When I first tasted the wine I was not into it. It was a bit syropy, had dominant oak flavours, and quite harsh alcohol on the back end (it is 14.4% ABV). But boy did that change with the decant. Now this wine is tasting like earthy cherry, really unique almost curry like spices (think Korma), and deep herbal notes. I also enjoy its wild berry tartness and freshness, even as it has a hell of a lot of structure from the oak. The vanillan quality of the oak really subsided with air and became a beautiful layer of custard-like viscosity. My initial thought that this was over-oaked was simply misplaced. In fact, I would say this is one of the most interesting Pinot Noirs that I have tasted. It’s nothing like anything, except itself. You gotta love wine like that.
$47 at K&L in San Francisco