Thursday, August 11, 2011

A trio of pinots from Anthill Farms

I have had the opportunity to taste and drink the wines from Anthill Farms quite often the last year, at my home, with my friends, at top restaurants in Napa Valley and Sonoma, and I also visited the winery in Dry Creek Valley to find out more about this small operation.
Anthill Farms is the result of three friends with a passion for Pinot Noir. Anthony Filiberti was born in Sonoma and worked with wines at Bergström Winery in Oregon and later on in Sonoma. Webster Marquez grew up in Virginia and didn't have any connection with wine, except from loving it and drinking it. The third guy, David Low, was born in Kansas but went to university in Berkeley and found his passion for wine there.

The common denominator was the legendary pinot producer Williams Selyem, where they all worked as cellar rats over a couple of years. Inspired by the outstanding quality of the wines, the dream of making their own wines was inevitable. In 2004 their dream came true.
They bought some grapes, and rented space at Papapietro Perry Winery in Dry Creek Valley, where David Low worked (and still does) as assistant winemaker with Ben Papapietro. Since this is a small winery, Papapietro Perry produces around 8 000 cases annually, they have now moved into a neighboring warehouse to make their wines, around 2 000 cases of 12 bottles per year.

The first vintage of Anthill Farms (the name doesn't mean anything, it's just a funny name revealing the trio is working with small vineyard lots) was 2004, and it didn't take too long before word to mouth gave them a red hot reputation.

The ambition is simple, to produce outstanding and elegant wines without too much influence of oak. It sound pretty much what I hear in Burgundy, where I travel a total of four weeks every year. They never use more than 40 percent of new oak (less for the elegant Mendocino wines), which is very smart, but not too common in California. If the vintage allows, they work with some whole cluster (up to 20-25 percent), and compared to the wines of Papapietro Perry (even though it is a completely different company, I think the comparison is relevant), the Anthill Farms trio works with longer cold soak prior to the fermentation.
As of the 2010 vintage, Anthill Farms produces six wines of Pinot Noir and two of Syrah. "We're not aiming for more than that", David Low says. Focus is important, and besides that they all love their other jobs.
These are some of the finest Pinot Noir wines made in California today, still they are not too expensive. They sell for around 40-50 dollars a bottle in the few shops that have them.

2007 Pinot Noir Comptche Ridge Vineyard / 92 p
Grapes for this wines is purchased from a tiny vineyard, 0.80 hectares, north of Navarro Vineyards but outside the appellation of Anderson Valley, hence the generic Mendocino County designation. It's owned by the Weir family and planted to the old Pinot Noir clone from Swan Vineyards in Russian River Valley. It's just a few miles from the coast, so it's a very cool site.
To be a Pinot Noir, color is quite dark, but that's not so unusual for Pinot Noir grown in such cold regions, where the grapes gets small and the skin grows thick. It's a lovely wine with a great personality and a quite intense perfume of dark cherries, ripe wild raspberries and sloe, and there's almost a Gevrey-Chambertin like punch to it as well. The oak, just 20 percent new, is beautifully well integrated, and alcohol at 13.7 percent. Therefore it's no surprise the one may put it in Burgundy if tasting it blind. It's medium bodied but intense and very silky, with a slightly sweetish texture and a lively acidity. I tasted it the first time a year ago, and again some months later, and found it to be a bit closed in the finish then, but now it's lovely. I prefer to decant it just prior to pouring it, so the aromas evolve a bit.
This time, I left a glass in the bottle to taste the day after, and although I still loved it for its intensity and lingering aftertaste, I missed some of the more aromatic perfumes from when it was newly opened.
Drink it 2011-2017

2007 Pinot Noir Abbey Harris Vineyard / 91-92 p
The 0.60 hectare Abbey Harris Vineyard is a lease, it's located at 330 meters altitude above Boonville in the warmer southern part of Anderson Valley. That's the reason why this wine have slightly higher alcohol, 14.1 percent. Compared to the Comptche Ridge Vineyard selection, this wine see around 30 percent new French oak barrels, but again the oak is not at all important in the flavor profile. Again, one could call this wine "Burundian like", at least when talking about the aromas. However, it doesn't have the Burundian mineral nuances. I forgot to ask David Low from Anthill Farms when I tasted the wine with him, if they use some whole clusters in the fermentation, at least there's some herbaceous notes reminiscent of stems. At this level, I like it (as I love the wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, where they uses a hundred percent whole clusters), and it certainly adds some complexity to the wine. Acidity is lively and it gives freshness to the slightly more riper fruit, and the aftertaste is long and delicious. Decanting recommendations are the same as for the wine above (and all wines from Anthill Farms), and I'd prefer to serve it at 16-17 degrees Celsius. I'd probably use a burgundy glass with a wide bowl, but intense pinot wines like these may also be served in Bordeaux shaped glasses.
Drink it 2011-2017

2008 Pinot Noir Tina Marie Vineyard / 90 p
Please understand this tasting note is 2008, a vintage that in some parts of Sonoma (the coast line especially) to some extent was affected by the forest fires in Mendocino in August. Growers all over Sonoma Coast and the western part of Russian River (this vineyard is located in the cool Green Valley) told me that the smoke from the fires went out to the ocean, and was then pushed back in over land further south in Sonoma. I have tasted some wines from Sonoma, even down in Carneros (!) that had that smoky taint, that reminds me of the smoky flavor in some South African wines. Based on this theory, and I find just a "shadow" of burnt grape skins in this wine, I'm very positive about the 2008 vintage of the Tina Marie Vineyard. Yet, I have given the 2007 vintage a higher score (92-93 p) in previous tastings.
Okay, back to the wine.
Color is relatively dark for Pinot Noir, again it's a very cool site in Green Valley (which is cooler than most parts of Sonoma Coast), and the perfume is so seductive with its intense floral (rose petals) and reddish fruitiness (raspberries, sweet cherries, rosehip). Like the other pinots, it's silky and fresh with a moderate alcohol and lively acidity, the oak is perfectly integrated, and the aftertaste lingering. Compared to the wines from Mendocino, this one have a deeper and more concentrated fruit, therefore it's not as classic as those. However, it's seductive enough to make you wish for another glass, and another.
Drink it 2011-2016


  1. Hi Michel,

    A great post on Anthill Farms as I am a huge fan of their wine!!

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  4. For the Scandinavian wine lovers. Most Anthill wines are now available in Norway.