For the last six vintages, we have found ourselves in the Pinot Noir business. This is, of course, because we've been making wine from the 3-acre vineyard outside my dad's house in Templeton, on which he decided to plant Pinot Noir due to the cool microclimate, the north-facing hillside, and the calcareous soils so reminiscent of Burgundy. [For the full story, see the blog from 2013 Robert Haas comes Full Circle on Pinot Noir.] Each year that we make it, we've felt we learn something important about the winemaking of this notoriously fickle grape. So, now that the oldest vintage is five years old, we decided to open all of them to see what larger trends we could discern. The lineup:
My notes on the wines:
- 2010 Full Circle: The nose was rich but not particularly signed by Pinot: figgy, a little chocolaty, with some dusty, resinous, non-fruit element too. The mouth is clean, plummy and savory, with bakers' chocolate and cola flavors and nice balance. Just a little hint of age. Quite a nice wine, but without the vibrant high-toned fruit we associate with Pinot.
- 2011 Full Circle: The nose felt more massive than the first wine, with chocolate-covered cherry, coffee grounds, and a hint of oxidation. The mouth is richer than the 2010, with bigger tannins and some still-unresolved oak. The finish was long, though a touch pruney. More like many California pinots we taste, a touch on the massive side for us.
- 2012 Full Circle: The nose is deeper, more savory, with a little brooding black cherry and some baking spices. The mouth shows clean dark fruit, with nice acids... kind of a sweet/tart black cherry skin experience. Still pretty tannic. We liked the weight and the acids, and thought that they both boded well for the wine's future.
- 2013 Full Circle: The first wine, for me, whose nose was immediately recognizable as Pinot, vibrant and spicy, with the signature red cherry skin and sarsaparilla aromas. The mouth was also classic, clean and refreshing if not particularly concentrated. Silky, with some oak evident on the finish. A delicate wine, quite classic, which should be fun to get in front of people in the next year.
- 2014 Full Circle (from barrel): The nose was rich with watermelon and plum fruit and undertone of cola that marks it as pinot. The mouth showed more watermelon fruit, still some youthful tannins and a little sweet oak. This was most of the group's favorite, though I preferred the lighter-bodied 2013.
- 2015 Full Circle (from barrel, only free run juice): The nose was primary, still grapey, very powerful. The mouth was still so young (it hasn't even gone through malolactic fermentation yet) that it was hard to evaluate. I got kiwi and passionfruit (likely from the malic acid), maraschino cherry, with good tannins and acids. It seemed like it struck a nice balance in style between the elegance of the 2013 and the power of the 2014.
For me, the tasting was particularly interesting because of how many of the characteristics I really like in our Rhone reds (like weight and texture) tended to me to obscure the ethereal character I like best in Pinot Noirs. So, the classic ways of judging how strong a wine or a vintage was didn't really work for this tasting. The 2013 was easily the lightest in color of the tasting, and had the least body... but it was my favorite. Go figure.
In any case, it was clear to everyone around the table that we're learning every year, and that every year we have done a little better at allowing the grape's essential character to show through. The vines won't hit 10 years old until 2017, so we're going to have to remind ourselves to be patient with them. I remember this being hard when our main vineyard was this age... we wanted to somehow accelerate a process that just takes time.