Happy New Year!
We have two exciting new Pinot Noir releases to start the decade – the 2017 Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir, from the Chalone appellation, and the 2017 Graham Family Vineyard Pinot Noir, from the Russian River Valley appellation.
While these two wines are vastly different from each other, they do share some similarities: in each case, the vineyard is our only fruit source from that particular appellation. What’s more, both vineyards are quite singular – they produce distinctly unique wines very different from the wines we are best known for from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Rita Hills. In addition, we have an extremely close personal relationship to each vineyard – Brosseau Vineyard is the home vineyard of our longtime Director of Winemaking Bill Brosseau, and Graham Family Vineyard is owned by our good friends Howard & Linda Graham.
One last similarity is that these wines are what I would call “sleepers” in our portfolio – our production of these two wines is so small that club members rarely get a chance to taste them or even purchase outside of their wine club allocations. In fact, there are fewer than 20 cases of Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir available for sale this vintage! Therefore, they’re not as well known as some of our other wines. Read on to find out why you need to know about these two amazing wines!
The Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir is one of my absolute favorite wines we make here, year after year, and the 2017 vintage is no exception. Lean and structured, it is a wine that always benefits from time in the cellar. If you are to open a Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir less than four or five years after release, give the wine some time to breathe in the glass or a decanter to allow the intense aromatics of crushed red fruit, stony minerality, dusky herbs and floral aromas to develop and unfold. Brisk tannins and bright acidity ensure that this wine will complement just about any dish, but it makes me think of classic Burgundy pairings like roasted chicken or duck, beef bourguignon, herbed pork loin, or anything prepared with mushrooms or earthy herbs. If you’re looking for a Pinot Noir to age in the cellar, this is one of the most ageworthy wines in Testarossa’s portfolio, along with Niclaire and Pisoni Vineyard.
Director of Winemaking Bill Brosseau came to Testarossa in 2000 after graduating from the UC Davis Wine & Viticulture program, but the love of wine and grapegrowing in his family runs much further back.
In the early 1970s, Bill’s parents Jon & Jan fell in love with wine and the idea of growing grapes. Their search for limestone rich soils in California ultimately led them to the classic wines of Dick Graff’s Chalone winery, perched precariously high in the eastern hills of Monterey County right under the Pinnacles. Only 2 hours from their home in Los Altos, the nonetheless extremely remote property perfectly suited their dreams.
Planting began in 1980 (when Bill was 2) and originally consisted of 17 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, planted to numerous different clones. The vineyard now encompasses 42 acres and includes plantings of multiple Rhone varietals. Bill’s parents also operate the Inn at the Pinnacles, located on the vineyard property.
Testarossa Winery’s first vintage of Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was 2002.
The Chalone appellation is one of the most unique growing regions in California, having received designated AVA status in 1982. Comprising almost 9000 acres of space, there are only 300 acres under vine. The AVA is well known for its soil – it contains the largest deposit of limestone and decomposed granite in the world. On a recent visit to the vineyard, I saw Bill’s friend Danyal (an agronomist, or soil scientist) pull a core sample from the base of one of the vineyards, and it was at least 80% crumbling white limestone. The predominance of limestone and granite means the soil contains little organic nutrients and doesn’t hold water very well, resulted in vine stress to limit vigor and yield while also densely concentrating flavor and structural elements. Yields here are extremely low, averaging on one ton per acre for Chardonnay and two tons per acre for Pinot Noir.
The only Chardonnay clone planted is Wente, with many of the vines situated on their own roots from the original planting in 1980.
Pinot Noir clones include Mt. Eden, 113, 114, 115, 538 and Pommard 4. Other varietals planted include Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Rousanne.
Brosseau Vineyard is also extremely high elevation, sitting at 1600 feet above sea level. The site is warm and sunny during the day, but very cool and foggy at night. Low rainfall combines with the high level of inorganic content in the soil to produce incredibly concentrated fruit at lower sugar levels. This leads to incredibly dense, lower alcohol, highly structured and very ageworthy wines with distinct minerality and intense aromatics.
After a five year transition, the Brosseau Vineyard became the first certified organic vineyard in the Chalone AVA in 2011. The 2017 vintage is our 16th release from the Brosseau Vineyard.
2017 Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir
Production Size: 14 barrels (326 cases)
Harvest Date: September 1st, 2017
Oak Treatment: 18 months in 43% new French Oak
TA: 7.3g/l pH: 3.2
Bill’s Tasting Notes
“Deep red hue. Intense aromas of dried cherry, cranberry, jasmine, orange-zest, and pomegranate leap readily out of the glass. With some aeration, secondary notes of blackberry, strawberry jam, sage, and rosemary multiply the enjoyment of this Pinot Noir. These qualities continue on the palate and are counter-balanced with elements of minerality. Savory tannins and bright acidity lead into a youthful, intricate, and complex finish. Enjoy now through 2030.”
93 points, Antonio Galloni’s Vinous
“Brilliant red. Highly perfumed, mineral- and spice accented raspberry and cherry scents pick up a suggestion of exotic spices with air. Sweet, focused and penetrating on the palate, offering juicy red fruit, floral pastille and spicecake flavors that deepen and spread out slowly on the back half. Shows outstanding clarity and spicy thrust on the long, smooth finish, which features sneaky tannins and subtle vanilla and cola flourishes.”
Graham Family Vineyard
We rarely get a chance to drink much Graham Family Vineyard Pinot Noir here at the winery, as production is annually so low that very little of it sees the floor. Every year when we get together to taste with the staff before its release, everyone (myself included) is amazed and how refreshing and delicious this wine tastes – it truly doesn’t taste anything like any of the other Pinots in our lineup. Medium bodied and so silky, it’s full of gorgeous bright red cherry fruit with a hint of the sweet smoky “cherry cola/root beer” flavor profile that is the famous calling card of the Russian River Valley. If you’re looking for a wine to drink now, this is a fantastic example- the tannins are present but beautifully integrated into the texture of the wine, and the acidity is so fresh that it keeps you reaching for another sip. Pair it with grilled salmon, a nice tuna steak, game birds or any protein prepared with a fruit based sauce or chutney to bring out the bright red fruit of this wine.
Howard Graham, a longtime friend of Rob & Diana Jensen and lover of fine wine, retired from his career as a financial analyst in the year 2000 and immediately started a second career as a production intern at Testarossa Winery. After learning the ins and outs of Pinot Noir production and paying his dues mucking tanks and cleaning lines, he started searching for the perfect site to realize his dream of growing world class Pinot Noir. He found the ideal site in 2001, situated in the Russian River Valley AVA in Sonoma County, located between the towns of Forestville, Sebastopol and Graton. With the assistance of vineyard manager Charlie Chenoweth, planting began in 2002 to Pinot Noir clones including 667, 777, 828, Swan and Calera (clones that should be familiar to Testarossa fans!). The Graham Family Vineyard is one of our smallest vineyard sites, with only 9 acres planted entirely to Pinot Noir. Testarossa is lucky to purchase 3 acres of fruit from this wonderful site.
There’s a lot of Testarossa history intertwined with the start of this vineyard- Howard met future August West winemaker Ed Kurtzman here at Testarossa, while Ed was winemaker from 1999-2002 and Howard was interning. The two also met future partner and vineyard owner John Peterson (owner of Cortada Alta Vineyard) here at Testarossa during the same time period.
Testarossa’s first vintage of Graham Family Vineyard Pinot Noir was 2004. The 2017 vintage is our 14th release.
The vineyard site lies in the desirable subregion of the Russian River Valley known as the Green Valley. The Green Valley area is one of the coolest places in California where it is possible to ripen Pinot Noir. The vineyard is fewer than 10 miles east of the Pacific, which provides a cooling influence and loads of fog coming in from the Petaluma Gap. It is the last section of Sonoma County to see fog burn off in the morning and the first to see it in the afternoon. This limited exposure to sunshine ensures an extremely long, drawn out growing season, allowing the fruit to develop fully ripe fruit flavors while maintaining cool climate acidity.
The Green Valley, known as the “the most distinctive AVA of the North Coast,” is the smallest appellation in Sonoma County and tightly defined by geographical, geological and climatic restrictions. Likely the most well-known feature of this region is the unique soil known as “Gold Ridge Sandy Loam.” This soil type, eons ago part of the eastern Pacific shoreline, is famous for its low fertility, ample drainage, and high water table. The low fertility and ample drainage insure that the vines are stressed to limit vigor and increase concentration, while the high water table allows for extensive dry farming to occur in the region. While the Graham Family Vineyard has a modern, drop style irrigation system installed, it rarely needs to be used.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the main plantings in the Green Valley, comprising 92% of all plantings in the region. Syrah, Pinot Blanc, and Gewurztraminer make up the remaining plantings.
2017 Graham Family Vineyard Pinot Noir
Production Size: 10 barrels (231 cases)
Harvest Date: September 20th, 2017
Oak Treatment: 18 months in 71% new French Oak
TA: 6.32g/l pH: 3.47
Bill’s Tasting Notes
“Brick red hue. Scents of cinnamon, cloves, roasted cherry, strawberry, anise unite around secondary notes of black pepper and pomegranate in our sole Russian River Pinot Noir offering. Upon taste, these characteristics remain and are met with distinctive notes of gamey meat and boysenberry. Fine tannins and modest acidity frame this decadent wine nicely just before flowing to a voluptuous and lively ending. Enjoy now through 2027.”
92 points, Antonio Galloni’s Vinous
“Deep red. Expansive, spice- and smoke-accented cherry and raspberry scents, along with hints of cola and candied flowers. Juicy raspberry and cherry pie flavors pick up hints of mocha and spicy white pepper as the wine opens up. Shows very good energy and spicy cut on a long, smooth, subtly tannic finish that leaves red fruit preserve and coffee notes behind. 71% new French oak.”