From dry desert valleys to coastal fog and rain-drenched ridges, California’s vineyards thrive in a wide range of environs. Even as a changing climate has extended droughts and wildfire seasons, some parts of the state, especially where pinot noir is the dominant vine, are bucking the trend toward dry heat. In fact, it’s that heat that draws the fog and rain in from the coast as the inland valleys inhale. While each region and each recent vintage may provide varied conditions, we continue to find remarkable pinot noirs. Our top wines in this report are among the most exciting we’ve tasted from California, with detailed site expression, freshness and an energy that sets them up for long aging. Patrick J. Comiskey covers the Central Coast, with exceptional finds from Mt. Harlan to the Sta. Rita Hills. I explored the North Coast with our tasting panels, discovering beautiful new releases from the highlands above Anderson Valley to the far coast of Sonoma. We followed up with the makers of some top-performing wines to report in greater detail on the factors that caught our attention.
In Oregon, growers continue to parse the soils and climates of the Willamette Valley, its hills and coastal wind corridors providing a range of distinctive sites for pinot noir. As the land continues to attract talent and money from California and Burgundy, arriving to start new projects or to purchase existing vines, some of the region’s great pioneers have recently sold their stakes. When more than a million acres of Oregon land burned in 2020, the vintage took an emotional and financial toll on many growers. It’s a bittersweet moment for an Eola–Amity Hills veteran like Larry Stone, who sold his vineyard to Constellation: Stone’s latest releases are some of the best wines made by the team at Lingua Franca. —Joshua Greene
OUR US PINOT NOIR PANELISTS INCLUDED
Pommard & the Pacific
Two of the standouts in our Pinot Noir tastings were the 2018 Doc’s Ranch Pommard from Ross Cobb in Occidental, and the 2019 Block 8 from Hirsch Vineyards in Fort Ross. Joshua Greene spoke with Cobb and the Hirsches about the wines, the sites and the Pommard selection of pinot on Sonoma’s far-coast
into the Wind
After wines from these vineyards stood out during his tastings, Patrick J. Comiskey dove into the Sanford & Benedict, La Rinconada and La Encantada vineyards and spoke with the people sourcing their fruit.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Black & White
Joshua Greene reports on how Burgundians working in Oregon are coming to terms with the Willamette Valley: It’s vastly different ground than their home turf. (W&S 04/18)
Emmett’s Navy Bean
and Porcini Purée
Chef-Owner Chris Czarnecki of The Joel Palmer House Restaurant in Dayton, OR, shares a recipe for mushroom soup born of “the early fog of fatherhood.”
News in Brief
• California’s Central Coast added its newest AVA in March 2022: The San Luis Obispo Coast. Patrick J. Comiskey reports.
• In fall 2021, Mimi Casteel sold Hope Well, an Eola–Amity Hills vineyard she established in 2014 to Bledsoe/McDaniels.