Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pinot Noir In Them Thar Corralitos Hills

The tiny winegrowing area of Corralitos in the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Monterey Bay is a viticultural treasure. The climate here is quite mild, resulting into one of the longest growing seasons in California. In the steep Windy Oaks vineyard, situated at about 1,000 feet elevation, budbreak starts as early as March and harvest happens in late October, often into November!

Since 1999 Jim Schultze and his family have been farming their vineyards and quietly making distinctive and some of the best quality Pinot Noirs in California. He was inspired by a trip to Burgundy, bringing back Pinot Noir cuttings from a famous 800 year-old vineyard. After returning to to the States, he cleared the land in Corralitos in 1995 and turned his vision into a reality.

At Windy Oaks the slow development in the vines result in a more balanced fruit, with good acidity intact and maturity of flavors. This quality is clearly exemplified in the 2009 Windy Oaks Pinot Noir "100% Whole Cluster". Schultze partially ferments his wines whole-cluster, which is to say stems are included with the berries in the fermentation. In almost all wines today, stems are not included in the winemaking as they could mar the flavors. But in the old days, especially in Burgundy, many winemakers included stems to get the benefit from the texture and structure they provide, as well as phenolics that add flavor and help naturally preserve the wine.

Adding stems is not a casual decision a winemaker makes. Stems can introduce off-putting flavors when the quality of the fruit is not advisable for whole-cluster. But in the case of Windy Oaks' vineyards the full flavor development during the long growing season typically results in ripe stems that could add more texture, structure, and flavor to the wine. The 2009 Windy Oaks Pinot Noir "100% Whole Cluster" demonstrate this quality very well. This is a beautifully balanced Pinot Noir, with complex layers of fruits, spices, mineral, floral, and smokey notes. Alcohol is 13.9%, and so while the wine is full and concentrated, it is not heavy but graceful on the palate. This limited release "100% Whole Cluster" Pinot Noir is one of their great successes. Only 191 cases were made.

In the original 3-acre vineyard Jim planted in 1996, one block is planted to Wadenswil clone 2A, a particular type of Pinot Noir that is slow to ripen and ripens late. It is the perfect match for the long growing season in the Windy Oaks estate, producing structured wines with good acidity and tannins and rich, dark fruit flavors.

Wadenswil 2A clone in mid-July
Jim blends the fruit from the Wadenswil block for most of his Pinot Noirs but he also produces a very limited quantity from this single block that he calls "Henry's Block." The 2010 "Henry's Block" is superb. Bright, well-delineated flavors, with more black fruits than red. A mere 152 cases were produced.

Most of the great wines of the world, including Burgundy, are fermented using native yeasts or wild yeasts. Not only is this a natural approach in winemaking but it also results in a natural wine that offers attractive complexity and surprising flavors.

This is certainly the case with the limited release "Wild Yeast" Pinot Noir. I'm not surprised that this is Jim's personal favorite in his range of outstanding Pinot Noirs. He says that "wild/resident/native yeast fermentations, being multi-organism events, produce wines of unusual complexity." This Pinot Noir expresses unique aromas and flavors in the Windy Oaks vineyards in Corralitos. Just 123 cases of this 2010 Windy Oaks "Wild Yeast" Pinot Noir were produced.

Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir Estate "Wild Yeast--Limited Release", Windy Oaks 2010 $55.00 (Click to buy!) 

Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir Estate "Henry's Block--Limited Release", Windy Oaks 2009 $49.00 (Click to buy!)

Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir Estate "100% Whole Cluster", Windy Oaks 2009 $55.00 (Click to buy!)

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