Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A trio och vineyard selections from Saintsbury

Saintsbury is one of the true Pinot Noir pioneers and specialists in Napa Valley. The company was founded 30 years ago when friends David Graves and Dick Ward made their first pinot together. They were (and still are) both pinotphiles and their ambition was to reach a production of around 20 000 to 25 000 cases per year, therefore they needed to build their own winery. Their wines became so popular that production rose to appromiately the double.

Saintsbury planted their first own vineyards around the winery in southern Carneros in 1986, followed by another vineyard (the Brown Ranch) six years later. They now own 30 hectares of vines, of which two thirds are planted to Pinot Noir

Grapes are partially whole cluster vinified, in the case of the vineyard designated wines they are almost entirely destemmed, and after a few days of cold soak in small open top fermenters of stainless steel, the juice is fermented with regular pigage during 10-12 days, before the wine is racked into French oak barrels, approximately 30 percent new, to undergo malolactic fermentation and ageing during 10 months.

The Sainsbury wines have been good for many years, but the quality took at step up in 2004, when the talented Jérôme Cherry was hired as winemaker. His background says it all – he was trained in Burgundy and came to California to work with Luc Morlet at Newton Estate, then Ted Lemon at Littorai (one of the very best pinot specialists in California).
It was also in 2004 that Sainsbury started to bottle a quartet of vineyard designated pinots. Due to the bush fires in Anderson Valley, there was no Cerise Vineyard bottling in 2008.

2008 Pinot Noir Lee Vineyard / 89-90 p
The Lee Vineyard is almost adjecent to the estate vineyard of Saintsbury in Carneros, where also the winery is. It was planted already in 1967, predominately with Pinot Noir of the Swan and Pommard clones, but also with some Dijon 115 (and some Chardonnay). Compared to the other vineyard designated pinots, this is a bit more rustic and the only one where I pick up some oak. However, the fruit is quite aromatic with fine notes of dark cherries and wild raspberries, and there’s also an earthiness that adds complexity. Thanks to its structure, it is a bit closed, especially if compared to the wine from Stanly Ranch, but it has a lovely lingering fruit flavor. It just needs to breathe – give in 15 minutes in the decanter, and it will open up.
Drink it 2011-2018

2008 Pinot Noir Stanly Ranch / 91 p
The Stanly Ranch is historic, it was planted already in the mid 1800s, but it was when Louis Martini planted it to Pinot Noir in the early 1950s that it started to become what it is today. Since then the vineyard has been divided, and the northern part is now owned by Treasury Wine Estates (Beringer). The block Saintsbury work with, lies in the southern part, and it’s densely planted with Dijon 115 and Dijon 667 selections.
Of the three, this is the most fruit forward and intense, there’s lovely notes of strawberries and wild raspberries, as well as higher notes of sweet cherries – in some how quite Gevrey-Chambertin like (on the nose!), with just a suptle earthy nuance. Tannins are silky, and well integrated in the medium bodied taste, and it’s all uplifted by a lively acidity. It’s a very fine offering, the most fruity and charming in the trio.
Drink it 2011-2018

2008 Pinot Noir Toyon Farm / 91-92 p
The most complex wine of the three is this one from the Toyon Farm, located on a small knoll not to far away from Stanly Ranch in the southeastern part of Carneros. This vineyard has a quite poor and rocky soil, and it’s planted to only the Dijon 115 clone. Even though the wine shows a lovely cherry like fruit, it’s a bit reserved and offers more of the earthy nuances. During the 20 minutes I had the wine in my glass it slowly opened up and became even more complex. As in the other wines, oak is nothing you taste – it’s extremely well integrated. On the palate, it is medium bodied, fine textured with a fresh and lingering acidity, loaded with dark cherries that combine sweetness and acidity, and of the three this is the wine with the longest and most elegant aftertaste. There’s also a fine mineral note in the finish.
Drink it 2011-2018

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