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by Ken Zinns

Ken is a Bay Area architect with a passion for wine. After taking a few wine courses through UC Extension, he started becoming more "serious" about wine in the early '90s. Ken has been taking wine-tasting trips to the Central Coast since early '92, and has come to love the area - not only for the wines, which just get better year by year, but also for the people. Ken's interest in wine is more than passive, and he's been volunteering his help at several urban East Bay wineries since 2001 - and in fact was recently named assistant winemaker for both Eno Wines in Berkeley and Harrington Wine in San Francisco.

5th Annual Marin County Pinot Noir Celebration - June 13, 2009


Marin County Pinot Noir Celebration - 2009
5th Annual Tasting

Report on the 5th annual wine tasting presented by the Marin County Winegrowers Association, on Saturday, June 13th, 2009, at the historic Escalle Winery in Larkspur, California. The event is a benefit for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and focuses on Pinot Noirs from the Marin County AVA.

The Marin County Winegrowers Association promotes wines from the county, and supports cooperation among growers and wineries. It helps to raise awareness of Marin’s wine history as well as of its current wineries and wines (a century ago, Escalle Winery was known for hosting big parties on Bastille Day).

The Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) is a non-profit organization formed in 1980 by local ranchers and environmentalists, dedicated to preserving Marin farmlands for agricultural use. MALT works with landowners to acquire agricultural easements to prevent the spread of non-agricultural development on the area’s farmlands. MALT also works to support public policy that preserves agriculture in Marin. MALT conservation easements now total over 40,000 acres, on over 60 family farms and ranches, and this farmland produces some of the Bay Area’s best-known organic produce, dairy products, and wines.

Overall impressions:
The tasting, organized by Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch, was a rare opportunity to try so many Pinot Noirs sourced from Marin County fruit. The wineries themselves were from a number of places, not just located in Marin, while the vineyards are in various locations throughout the western and northern parts of the county. These are definitely cooler-climate locations, and overall, this character showed in the wines.


’06 Kendric Marin County
’06 Pey-Marin “Trois Filles”
’06 Precedent Corda Family Vineyard
’06 Sean Thackrey “Andromeda”
’06 Vergari Marin County

A total of 15 wineries poured at the tasting, held on the upper level of the old Escalle Winery building. Since this was my first time at this event, I don’t know how the attendance was compared with previous years, but there seemed to be a good crowd. The space featured photos of historic Larkspur on many of the beautifully-carved wood paneled walls. It was a fine venue for the tasting, and there was plenty of space to mill about from table to table. The tables themselves were generously-sized, and allowed plenty of tasters to move right up front. My only nit-pick would be that the dump buckets at the tables could have been emptied more often than they were.

The food, located just outside the entry door, was simple but delicious. Hot off the grill came rabbit sausages (two kinds) and lamb from Devil’s Gulch Ranch, as well as venison sausages from Point Reyes Vineyard Inn, plus bread from Il Fornaio, and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses.

Al Osterheld and I got through all of the wines being poured at the tasting, and we both felt that the overall quality was very good. Most of the Pinots were from the 2006 vintage and I thought those showed quite well. I was not as impressed with many of the ‘07s, but I don’t know if they were just too young and tight at this point or if there was another reason these didn’t show as well to me. Tasting all of these Marin Pinots together gave me a much better sense of what this growing region is about. Nearly all the wines were lighter in color and body than many California Pinots, with predominantly red fruit character and spice accents, often with some floral notes as well, and with abundant natural acidity. They remind me somewhat of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots without the grippy tannins that area is rightly known for. A pleasant feature among the wines we tasted was that few of them seemed to have heavy-handed oak covering up the delicate fruit.

I’d tasted wines from about half of these producers before, and new ones to me that I thought were standouts included Kendric, Precedent, and Vergari. From wineries I’m more familiar with, I liked the ’06 Thackrey “Andromeda” much better than earlier vintages, and it was a pleasure to talk with the legendary Sean Thackrey for awhile. Jonathan Pey poured a fine Pey-Marin Pinot and sneaked in a terrific Riesling as well. Overall, this was a very good sampling of Marin County Pinot Noirs, and it showed the potential for further plantings in this cool-climate corner of the North Bay.

Selected Tasting Notes

Brookside Cellars
2006 Pinot Noir, Moon Hill Vineyard. From a mix of Dijon clones. Medium color, raspberry and spice on the nose, with a fairly weighty mouthfeel and a tangy finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Moon Hill Vineyard. Medium color, this had riper aromas of raspberry/darker berries and spice. Big and dense on the palate, it finished with a touch of heat.

Corda Winery
2004 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Light color, showing sour cherry, smoke, herbs, and vanilla/oak, and while this was a bit thin in the mouth, there was some noticeable some tannin on the finish.
2005 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Medium-light color, smoky ripe cherry fruit, bigger mouthfeel with some rougher tannins.
2006 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Medium-light color, with a prettier nose of bright red fruits and a touch of spice, a nicer texture and mid-palate, and a smoother finish, easily the best of the three vintages poured.

2006 Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch. From Dijon clones. Medium color, with floral red fruit aromas. More full-bodied than most wines at this tasting but with good balancing acidity, this had some mild tannins on the medium-length finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch. Medium color, more subdued nose of black cherry/raspberry along with some oaky notes, and a bit lighter on the palate than the ’06.

Kendric Vineyards
2004 Pinot Noir, Marin County. First vintage from the vineyard. Light color, earthy, spicy bright cherry fruit, fairly light-bodied in the mouth, with some mild tannins on the finish.
2005 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Medium-light color, floral black cherry/raspberry with an herbal touch, medium-bodied with a lively mouthfeel and lingering finish. A more substantial wine than the ’04.
2006 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Medium-light color, displaying pretty black cherry fruit with floral highlights, and undertones of sweet oak. In the mouth, this had bright acidity and finished clean and flavorful, very nice.
2006 Pinot Noir, Marin County (unfiltered). Medium-light color, floral aromas with brighter red fruits and spice than the regular ’06 bottling, great texture on the palate along with lively acidity and tasty finish. Similar to the regular ’06 but a bit brighter and more focused at this stage.
2007 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Bottled two months ago. Medium color, raspberry and spice, with mild floral notes and more noticeable oak. Medium-bodied with some youthful tannin on the finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, Marin County (barrel sample). Medium color, bright red fruits with earthy undertones and a bit of smoke and oak, with very bright acidity in the mouth at this point.
Comments: All from estate fruit, wines are aged in about 40% new oak for around 16 months. Winemaker Stewart Johnson said the unfiltered ’06 was an experiment to compare with the regular bottling and only a tiny amount was produced. Very consistent floral character and fine acidity in these wines.

Miller Wine Works
2005 Pinot Noir, Kendric Vineyard. From eight clones, 50% new oak. Medium-light color, ripe black cherry and raspberry, smoke, and vanilla/oak aromas, big and rich on the palate, a bit short on the finish.
2006 Pinot Noir, Kendric Vineyard. Similar to the ’05 but a touch less ripeness to the fruit and more noticeable oak notes. Weighty mouthfeel but a bit livelier than the ’05.

Orogeny Vineyards
2006 Pinot Noir, Redding Ranch. Medium color, showing tart red fruits with some earth and tea leaf notes. Fairly light-bodied, with fresh acidity and a clean, mid-length finish.

Pey-Marin Vineyards
2008 “The Shell Mound” Riesling, Marin County. A dry Riesling made entirely in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation. Very light color, pear and floral aromas along with some citrus notes, zippy acidity on the palate, and a long, clean finish, very nice.
2006 “Trois Filles” Pinot Noir, Marin County. Sourced from three vineyards, using nine clones, 14 months on 30% new oak. Medium-light color, aromas of floral strawberry and cherry, cinnamon and other spices, and a touch of vanilla/oak. Bright acidity and a nice mouthfeel, with a smooth tasty finish, a very elegant wine.
Comments: The lone non-Pinot wine of the day, the Riesling is on 20-year old rootstock, grafted five years ago. Both of the Pey-Marin wines were excellent.

Point Reyes Vineyards
NV Blanc de Noir, Marin County. The only sparkling wine of the tasting, made from 100% Pinot Noir. Yeasty apple/pear aromas, fairly straightforward and light-bodied, with a bright, clean finish.
2002 Pinot Noir, Marin County. This earlier vintage was made from purchased fruit. Medium color, with candied cherry and a bit of smoke on the nose, medium weight in the mouth, with a tangy edge to the flavors and some still-rough tannins on the finish.

Precedent Wines
2006 Pinot Noir, Corda Family Vineyard. 30% whole-cluster fermentation, all native yeast, 40% new oak. Fairly light in color, with very pretty floral and bright red fruit aromas, along with some whole-cluster spice and herbal notes. Very lively acidity on the palate and long, clean finish.
Comments: Very nice wine from Thomas Fogarty associate winemaker Nathan Kandler’s new label. This wine shared similarities to the Fogarty bottling but I thought the Precedent had better-defined flavors.

Sean Thackrey
2006 “Andromeda” Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch. From old-vine Martini clone plus newer 115, 667, and 777, 50% new oak. Medium color, displaying earthy raspberry/plum, mushroom, tea leaf, and spices. This had a medium-full texture in the mouth with good acidity, and a long and complex finish.
Comments: The most different and distinctive wine of the tasting, this developed nicely in the glass over a few minutes’ time, with more fruit coming to the fore. I didn’t pick up any of the hallmark Thackrey eucalyptus notes in this wine.

Stubbs Vineyard
2006 Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Marin County. Medium-light color, sour cherry and spice notes on the nose, with bright acidity on the palate and a clean finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Marin County. Medium color, with a bit riper raspberry/plum fruit than the ’06. The acidity is quite sharp, and along with some tannin on the finish, this seems a bit out of balance at this point.

Thomas Fogarty Winery
2006 Pinot Noir, Corda Family Vineyard. 40% new oak. Medium-light color, floral and cherry/raspberry on nose, lots of spice and a bit of smoke, medium-bodied with nice acidity, and mild tannins on the finish.

Vergari Wines
2006 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Medium-light color, with very pretty and well-defined floral cherry/berry and spice aromas. This had a beautifully silky texture on the palate, good balance and long, clean finish, very nice.
Comments: My first experience with this producer, and this was one of the best wines of the day for me.

Vision Cellars
2007 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard. Medium color, showing ripe raspberry and darker berry fruit, along with spice and smoky oak. Fairly rich mouthfeel and some tannins on the finish.
Comments: Not a bad wine by any means, but on this day it was not showing up to the high level I usually find from Vision’s Pinots.

Willowbrook Cellars
2006 Pinot Noir, Marin County Sourced from Corda Vineyard. Medium color, very ripe plum and darker fruits on the nose and maybe a touch of volatile acidity, along with some vanilla/oak notes. This was medium-bodied on the palate, with a somewhat clipped finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Marin County Medium color, less ripe raspberry/plum fruit than the ’06, plus spice and vanilla/oak. Big and fairly dense in the mouth, and some moderate tannins on the finish.



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