Darn it's been a busy week! Sorry for slacking on the posting. I will do one today and one tomorrow to make sure I'm keeping up.
Today I continue my recap of my trip out to Cali Wine Country and the good, the bad, and the ugly.
With this post we move out of Napa and into the more relaxed and laid back valleys that make up Sonoma. Or should I say valleys and warehouses (there were 2 visits on my trip)?
I'm so excited to write about the warehouse visit that I'm recapping today. It was the COOLEST few hours on our trip by far and the visit in which I learned the most. All hail Siduri, named after the Babylonian goddess of wine. I love their Pinot Noirs (that's all they do, FYI) and LOVE their no-frills location. For those who like the romance and the glitz of the fancy wineries, this may not be for you, but if you're passionate about wine and genuinely want to see how the stuff gets made, go to this warehouse in the middle of nowhere, Santa Rosa, California (I think it's next to Art Vadalay's Import/Export office...Seinfeld reference, FYI) and be dazzled.
This was the first place we hit in Sonoma, and on a rainy day, frankly, it was looking kind bleak and industrial. I knew Siduri made great wines but I wasn't accustomed to driving up to an office park to taste. Who cares though? Good wine is good wine!
We were welcomed by Jonathan, a completely down-to-earth, passionate, and very cool former southerner who immediately recognized my inner wine dork (I try to hide it with makeup and curly hair, but it's so obvious in speaking with me). He whisked MC Ice and me on the best winery tour I've ever had.
What constitutes the best visit ever? The hands-on, up-close view you get of winemaking. Pinot is the hardest grape to grow and the hardest to make taste good in the bottle. It's a finnicky heartbreak in the vineyard and, as Jonathan pointed out, to make it right you've got to know how to fix things when they start to go wrong, which can happen in an instant with Pinot. That's where Siduri stands above and beyond other Pinot producers -- they know what they're doing and they do it amazingly well.
But one of my favorite things about them -- they aren't snots about it. Adam and Dianna Lee are two native Texans that shared a love for each other and a love for Pinot Noir. With an uncompromising view that the wine should be made to let the grape shine, they have managed to create a line of wines representing 20 vineyards from Santa Barbara to Oregon. And everything they do, they do with love and passion. When we were there, Dianna was cooking up fajitas and making guacamole for the entire staff to reward them for working so hard. Terrific.
This isn't a big corporate winery, to be sure. Siduri makes its wines in the old school way and others could take a page from their book.
Our tour started in a small back room where we saw grapes in waist-high white plastic bins undergoing color extraction through a process called "cold soak" (common with the lighter colored Pinot Noir). Winemakers put dry ice in to keep temperatures cool and prevent fermentation so the skins can give color to the juice for a few extra days before fermentation. We got a good look under the lids and even got to touch some of the grapes!
We walked about 50 feet out of that room and listened to the bladder press inflate. Lo and behold, as the bladder pushed we saw the juice flowing into a vat in which the grapes would soon be fermenting. 100 feet away were winemakers and interns rocking out to music while they received grapes direct from the vineyard to be sorted twice by hand. In another area, in another waist-high white plastic bin, we saw fermentation happening -- frothing, munching yeast and all.
Forget big stainless steel tanks (although there were a few of these, each named for a Dallas Cowboy, in homage to the Lee's heritage), this is a scrappy operation where punch down (pushing the skins back to the bottom of the wine to allow the juice more contact with skins for color and texture) is sometimes done, no joke, BY FOOT.
If you really want to see winemaking in action, this is so much more valuable than anything you could ever read or see in pictures. Even when I worked for the big hulking winery and got to participate in crush, as the first stages of winemaking are called, it wasn't like this. These wines are all hand-crafted. Siduri makes wine the same way people have been making wine for thousands upon thousands of years -- with minimum intervention for maximum results. If you head here during harvest, you'll see it all in action. Very impressive.
The winery has 2 lines -- Siduri, which makes only Pinot Noir and its sister label, Novy Family Wines, named after Dianna's family, which makes everything from Chardonnay to Zinfandel to Syrah to Viognier. We tried through most of the line. Here's the order that we tackled them:
Novy: 2008 Russian River Valley Viognier, Sonoma
Color: The wine was pretty clear with just a very light golden tinge. Viognier usually has quite a lot of color -- it's almost yellow -- but this one, not so much.
Smell: My experience with Viognier is that it's hugely floral and like a bucket of peaches. It's luscious to smell (to some, maybe it's overpowering, but I love it). This wine smelled like herbs, namely oregano, and had a little gasoline note too it too -- not unlike a German Riesling. I was intrigued because it was not what I expected.
Taste: Again, not at all what I thought it would be, but a delicious wine! It was very dry and consistent with the smell -- oregano and herbs were most prevalent. The wine had a cheesy flavor too -- it reminded me of herbed goat cheese (which I love).
Drink or down the sink? Drink, but if you are a Viognier enthusiast do no expect a typical style. I loved it and bought a bottle, but not for its Viognier-ness, just for it's pure goodness! ___________________________________________________________
Siduri 2008 Muirfield Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
This wine is a blend of five single vineyards.
Color: The wine was a very pale hue. Like most Oregon Pinots, it was kind of brownish around the edges. It looked very light in color, and I assumed it would be light in style too.
Smell: What a dirty nose! Minerals, dirt, and dust filled my beak. There was a really faint hint of flowers, but this thing was earthy.
Taste: The taste and the smell didn't line up exactly, but both were great so no harm, no foul. The wine's main notes were very classically Pinot Noir -- light raspberry and strawberry with a little bit of dusty earth. It was a light wine, with a little touch of astringent tannin and some acid, but nothing very complex.
Drink or down the sink? Drink. This isn't my favorite Pinot of the Siduri line, but it was a good starter. If you are transitioning from white wines to reds, you've got to get into this wine. It's an excellent intro to the world of red wine. ______________________________________________________________
Siduri 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, Central Coast
Color: Judging from the ruby, nearly maroon color, this wine was going to have some gusto. Santa Lucia Highlands is a cool area, but still gets lots of sun so the wines tend to have big fruit but still some other flavors as balance. This looked typical.
Smell: What I love about Siduri is that their Pinots smell like earth. These wines smell like they came from somewhere. They aren't manufactured or over done. There is a direct link between vine and wine. With raspberry, strawberry, and a little petrol and earth, this wine had a great aroma.
Taste: Almost identical to how it smelled, there was a bit of sour cherry and dust to add to the mix. The mouth-drying tannins were definitely prominent, and, as expected from the location of the vineyard, the wine was more fruit than earth but with a good balance.
Drink or down the sink? Drink. I'm not generally a huge fan of Central Coast Pinot Noir because it tends to be too jammy and fruity for me -- it doesn't have the complexity that I find in Oregon, Mendocino, New Zealand, or (my favorite) Burgundy. But Siduri does it right. If you like a balanced Pinot but one that skews a bit fruity...look no further.
Siduri 2008 Pinot Noir, Rosella's Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast
So Siduri has two "series" that they make. One is from more than one vineyard (red band at the top of the bottle) and the other is their single vineyard wines. This wine was from the latter.
Color: This was even darker than the last wine -- it had a nearly purple tinge and thick, gloppy tears from the 14% alcohol (tears are caused when alcohol and water separate and the alcohol slowly drips down the glass).
Smell: Less earthy than the last wine, this was all about the fruit -- raspberry and strawberry with a touch of cherry to boot. The wine had a green savory herb quality that added a very different dimension.
Taste: This wine was VERY typical of the Central Coast Pinot Noirs I've had. Big fruit -- sour cherry, raspberry, and even blackberry were prominent. Nary an earthen note could be found! The wine had strong astringent tannins and was very exuberant in flavor and texture.
Drink or down the sink? This is a well-made wine and although not the style of Pinot I like, it's a DRINK if you like the fruitier, big Pinot style that is typical of a lot of Cali Pinot Noirs. _____________________________________________________________
2008 Siduri Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Coast
Color: The final Pinot of the bunch, this wine was a big one -- lots of dark pigmented color and thick tears running down the glass, it looked a lot like the Rosella's Vineyard Pinot.
Smell: I think this was a more interesting nose than the previous Pinots we tried. It had the standard raspberry, strawberry, and sour cherry fruit burst, but there was a rich herbal and petrol note too that I really loved. The wine smelled a little dirty too. This kind of complexity in a Pinot is a good sign that I will probably like it.
Taste: A really interesting wine in that it was kind of big on the sour cherry and raspberry fruit but it was still very subtle. There was a dried strawberry character and a soft dusty country road character that was savory and soft at the same time. The texture was extremely even -- it wasn't too tannic or acidic.
Drink or down the sink? Drink and do so often! This was my favorite Pinot of the day (they make about 20 others and I've had a bunch that are absolutely delicious, so please know this is just a sample of the goodness available from Siduri). Yes, it was big, but it was velvety, complex and it tasted like it was grown in a vineyard, not manufactured in a tank. Loved it. ___________________________________________________________
Novy 2006 Judge Family Vineyard Syrah, Bennett Valley, Sonoma
Made from vineyards right outside of Santa Rosa, where Siduri's winery is located, the Bennett Valley is a small area that makes wines that pack a punch.
Color: Syrah always tends to carry a rich color, but this was a more brown to garnet color, most likely because of its age (red wines lighten or get browner with age).
Smell: I was excited about this one. It smelled like a French Syrah. A blackberry and dark plum fruit thing was perfectly balanced with the overwhelmingly delicious smell of a rosemary bush, and an herbal underbrush smell (the French call it garrigue after the shrubland that carries this smell). Delicious.
Taste: If you want to know what spice tastes like in a wine, here you go. The black pepper and savory spice were calmed a bit by sweet cinnamon and ripe plum notes, but this wine was so interesting and delicious. The chewy tannins and noticeable acid (under my tongue was watering) were in complete balance with the spice and fruit -- an excellent combo.
Drink or down the sink? Rarely do I taste a Syrah that just nails the balanced between fruit, spiciness from the grape (black pepper, herbs), and flavors from the barrel (cinnamon and warm spice) like this one does. What a wine. __________________________________________________________
Novy 2007 Russian River Valley Syrah, Sonoma
Color: No other descriptor is more fitting than beet colored! It looked like the beet juice at the bottom of a dish of prepared beets! The wine was so rich in color, that it stained the glass as I swirled it -- probably the result of extended contact with the skins and lots of ripe fruit.
Smell: Unlike the last wine, this one was very fruit forward. It was bursting with blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. It lacked the complexity of the previous wine -- because the fruit just consumed the glass! It was a nice nose, just very fruity.
Taste: There were juicy, gushing black fruit and berry flavors with a tang of black pepper. This wine probably could use a bit of time to decant. Its tannins right out of the bottle were sharp and had my mouth puckering quite a bit.
Drink or down the sink? Again, I would have liked to let this one sit for a bit to calm the tannins, but it's a well-made wine that would be delicious with stews, lamb, or herb-flavored dishes.
Novy 2007 Rosella's Vineyard Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast
Color: Nothing else to say: Purple. This was going to be big and fierce!
Smell: Meat. Seriously. [Don't look confused like that.] It smelled like meat with cracked pepper and savory herbs. Yes, there was a touch of black plum but this wine smelled like meat on the grill. That and like camping in the woods -- smoke and wet dirt and decaying leaves. I loved it!
Taste: Yes, it tastes like grilled meat smells. That and black pepper, herbs, and cooking spices. There was a distinct leather note that played really nicely against the mild black fruit. The tannins were tamed -- not too astringent -- and the effect was complex and heavenly.
Drink or down the sink? Drink. I love this wine. It was so full and savory and spot on for what Syrah should be. Like all of Siduri and Novy's wines, it tasted distinctive, well made, and just DAMN good.
Can you guess that I kind of am in love with Siduri/Novy? Almost no one is doing what this place is doing -- making great wines that have a sense of place, that are outstanding in quality, and that are utterly and completely for normal people who like wine but not the snobbery that goes with it. If I had a Wine For Normal People Presidential Seal of Excellence, Siduri would be a recipient.
Thanks to the Lees and to Jonathan for everything!
November 19, 2010
Darn it's been a busy week! Sorry for slacking on the posting. I will do one today and one tomorrow to make sure I'm keeping up.