Personally, I didn’t need any more evidence that Sonoma generally has its mojo working and is making some of the best wines ever to come out of the region. But I got a thoroughly inundating reminder of that when I visited the second (2016) incarnation of the Sonoma County Barrel Auction as a media guest this past April (and yes, I’m just getting around to writing about it now).
Auction-wise, it seems to me t hat most of the initial kinks have been worked out; the event was entertaining, and the group of MSs and MWs (several of which I’m happy to call friends… which shows you just how crazy the wine biz really is… Doug, I owe you for sharing your liquor, buddy!) that they brought in to the vet the one-of-a-kind entries did a stellar job in teasing out the region’s best.
I suppose that the SoCoBA is the Sonoma counterpoint to Premiere Napa Valley. And in many ways, it compares favorably to PNV, though it does so in Sonoma’s more down-home, farmer-centric style. In my view, there were so many excellent wines on offer over the two days of tastings held at the event, that I’m going to have to keep the descriptions short-and-sweet. Hopefully these highlights will clue you in on a producer or two (or four) that hadn’t been on your California wine radar, but probably ought to be.
And, yeah, it’s mostly Pinot (get over it), but there are a handful of nice surprises in here…
And so, here are some of my faves from SoCoBA 2016, in order of auction lot number (links are to as-close-as-I-could-manage-to-commercially-available-versions of the wines featured, or otherwise to previous 1WD coverage of the same producers):
One of the single best wines on offer at this event. A 50/50 blend of fruit from Gap’s Crown and Sangiacomo vineyards; and the result is lovely, lovely, lovely. Floral, perfumed, spicy, fresh, and lifted. My tasting notes included the words “holy shit!” That ought to tell you something.
In typical “we are family” mojo fashion, there were several “we’re-in-this-together” lots that were crafted jointly by more than one winery, but few that had this many working on them, and few that were as fantastic as this Chardonnay blend. Probably the best white wine on hand at the auction; honeyed, toasty, ripe, long, heady, and yet finessed and electric.
Dutton-Goldfield Cherry Ridge “Pinot Perfection” 2015 Lot #12
A single-block, Russian River Valley Pinot. D-G is firing on all cylinders right now, if this Pinot is any indication; sexier and more voluptuous than their normal offerings, this showcases the backbone of their Dutton Ranch Pinot blend in brooding, spicy fashion.
Davis Family Vineyards Soul Patch Vineyard 20th Anniversary Selection Pinot Noir 2015 Lot #14
Not named after winemaker Guy Davis’ soul patch (see pic below), this was a single-barrel selection of five Pinot clones from their Soul Patch vineyard. Pretty, with great acidic backbone, punchy, savory, and tightly-wound with red cherries to spare. I loved it.
Gary Farrel Rochioli-Allen Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay 2015 Lot #17
Hats off to winemaker Theresa Heredia, who managed to bring a little bit of Chablis to Russian River with this single-vineyard, unoaked Chardonnay; apples, lemons, pith, wet stones, white flowers, peach, and whole lot of puuuuuure.
Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine, Pre-Prohibition Field Blend 2014 Lot #18
The name is fairly self-explanatory, but some exposition is warranted for what might have been the auction’s most interesting lot. The majority of fruit in this Zinfandel / Petite Sirah / Carignane blend is from Dry Creek’s Beeson Ranch, planted in 1886, with other tidbits coming from Kowalski and Hemar Ranches, all old vines. This is an intensely spicy wine, with perky, tart red fruits that are juicy and jammy, all in good ways.
Jordan Winery 40th Harvest Grand Cru Cuvée 2015 Lot #21
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a shot of Petit Verdot, from multiple vineyards in Sonoma County, celebrating Jordan’s fortieth harvest, it’s the first time Jordan has ever done a red blend that was less than 75% Cabernet. They claim that they were going for Pichon Lalande style, and they nearly hit the mark; the Merlot shines here, with black olive notes, and vibrant, expressive, plummy fruit fit for the dining table.
Both Rod Berglund (of Joseph Swan) and Guy Davis have deep-rooted experience in the RRV, brough to bear when they tag-teamed on this wine. A fairly large neighborhood of vineyards was involved, but the result is a floral, enticing, elegant, and focused Pinot.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & vineyards “The Pearl” Carneros Estate Pinot Noir 2015 Lot #26
The fruit for this red comes from a very small section of what’s known as Q Block in a windy area of Circle Bar Ranch. It’s spicy and tight right now, quite grippy, young, and intense. The mineral nose was putting on a clinic.
Kosta Browne “The KB Elixir” Pinot Noir 2015 Lot #29
A 50/50 blend of Pinot from both RRV and the Sonoma Coast, what’s interesting is that this is technically neither press nor free-run juice; instead, the wine is a result of sending juice off of the fermentation tanks while they rested overnight before pressing. Atypical of the usual KB style, there’s pith and a lot of grip here, and the fruit is both dark and lively, with intense floral notes.
J Vineyards & Winery Late Disgorged Brue Rosé 2007 Lot #31
From Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier from abroad in Sonoma County, comes the first (and, currently, only) late disgorged vintage rosé gem from J. This is perky, rosy, persistent, and elegant, with red fruits and citrus rind and more freshness than a late-1980s MTV rap video.
Martin Ray “A Vision of Green Valley” Tina Marie Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Lot #37
Technically a collaboration between Bill Batchelor, Lindsay Haughton, and Dan Goldfield, this Pinot is very young, with excellent tannic and acidic structure throughout. Think dark tea, dark earth, and dark fruits, and not shy on its potential or intensity.
Quivira Vineyards Wine Creek Ranch “The Visitor” 2015 Lot #44
A GSM blend… except that the “M” is for Mataro in this case. Winemaker Hugh Chappelle collaborated with Torbreck winemaker Scott McDonald, to lend an Aussie’s take to the fermentation portion. The wine is far from textbook Aussie, however: it’s peppery, citric, and very bright. There’s grip, florals, and juicy blue fruit action, and maybe a wider mouthfeel than your typical Quivira red. In any case, it’s excellent.
Martinelli Winery Bondi Ranch “One Barrel, One Block, One Clone, One Time” Pinot Noir 2015 Lot #47
Marintelli’s ties to the Bondi Home Ranch vineyard date back to 1997, when Lee Martinelli planted it. For this lot, they picked their favorite barrel of the vintage, which happened to come from their favorite vineyard block (planted to a single clone). This Pinot has serious bedroom eyes, folks; it gets very broad, very fleshy, very toasty, and very sexy, and all very quickly. Seductive and delicious.
Ravenswood “Wisdom Zin” 2014 Lot #48
Good ol’ Joel Peterson; the guy has a way with Zinfandel, and a memory like a steel trap (Joel, we are way overdue on sharing some Champers together, bro). Made exclusively from the Old Hill Ranch, Barricia, and Bedrock Vineyards, all of which were planted prior to 1900, you’d expect this Zin to be deep and delicious in its bold, spicy, perfumed flavors. And you’d be right.
Rodney Strong “Asymmetry” 2015 Lot #49
Rodney Strong produces a Right Bank style red blend called Symmetry… so you can guess where this one is going. A Left Bank homage with 60% Merlot, this lot is plush, powerful, spicy, and fresh. The fruits are darker and sexier than your typical Left Bank Bordeaux, but hey, we are talking California here, are we not?
Kathleen Inman and James MacPhail collaborated on this single-vineyard (Pratt) RRV Chardonnay. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), this was super-tight, but yellow apples, delicate stone fruits, white flowers, and lovely minerality started to come through after a few minutes. A wine for contemplation.
Three Sticks Wines “The Vineyard, The Barrel, The Winmaker” Pinot Noir 2015 Lot #61
The vineyard, in this case, is Sonoma Coast’s Durrell. The winemaker is Bob Cabral, who teased out a broad, savory, sarsaparilla-tinged and spicy number of a Pinot here, with lingering floral notes.
Westwood Estate Winery “The Deuce” Pinot Noir 2015 Lot #74
The deuce in this case is the second winemaker, consultant David Ramey, who joined Westwood’s talented Ben Cane on this Pinot, which comes from the Annadel Gap Vineyard. There’s great tension in this pretty wine, between the greener tannins and the bright, abundant red fruits.
Williams Selyem 35th Anniversary Blend Pinot Noir Lot #75
The last lot of SoCoBA 2016, and maybe one of the best. A five-vineyard blend from RRV and Sonoma Coast, this is a Pinot that’s instantly enticing. Juicy, sexy, full of baking spice and herb aromas, black raspberry fruit, and a gorgeous mouthfeel that ends with hints of excellent tannic scaffolding and what was probably very, very expensive oak.