It’s funny (as in “refreshingly interesting,” and not as in “ha-ha, I almost peed my pants!” or “ewww, well… that’s weird) how success in the wine business keeps getting redefined and reinvented.
To wit: by now, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re seeing wine lovers migrate from the online wine world into viable writing and winemaking careers, but for whatever reason the Hardy-Wallace-type stories still seem oddly out of place in the wine biz. Oh, wait, it’s for “whatever” reason; the reason is that the wine world is still woefully behind on understanding that the online world is populated by actual human beings with actual passions, talents, and funding. Okay, whatever.
We can add another online-wine-wonk-to-promising-offline-wine-producer story to that growing lineup: that of Ed Thralls, who recently sent me samples of his personal project, Thralls Family Cellars.
A refugee from the east-coast (Atlanta) financial tech industry, Thralls was blogging and tweeting at the handle @WineTonite for some time, all the while building up real-world wine chops through an internship at Holdredge Wines, a stint in the Viticulture & Enology program at UC-Davis, and completion of the Certified Specialist of Wine qualification.
The result of Ed’s foray into personal wine branding is tiny quantities of Pinot Noir juice crafted from grapes purchased from interesting spots in Northern California, with an eye towards clonal selection, light use of new French oak, dollops of whole cluster and unfiltered processing, and generally trying to get the results under 14% abv. It’s Pinot that is promising – and elegant – enough that Thralls’ efforts probably ought to be considered for a seat at the “cool kids” table of In Pursuit Of Balance (and similar modern temples to the anti-largeness Pinot crowd; hey, I’m not complaining, I dig both styles)…
Now is the point at which I’d love to poke fun at Ed’s penchant for punning the Thralls name in the packaging and presentation of his wine brand, but since I couldn’t resist it either, I’ll just shut up about that and get right to the juice itself:
2012 Thralls Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, $32)
If it’s earthiness you want, it is earthiness you shall find here, my friends. This juice is about the earthiest – and more mineral-drivern – I’ve yet encountered when it comes to the normally put-yer-big-boy-pants-on style of fruity, boisterous Russian River Valley Pinot. But even with all of that dirt and wet rock, this doesn’t lack for RRV’s penchant for wearing leather clothing. It’s also bright, sweet of fruit, and ends with terse structure into a finish that is way longer than you ought to be rightfully expecting from Pinot under $40 a bottle (you cheapskate!).
2012 Thralls Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, $36)
Pinot Noir for the tea lovers. Seriously, there’s a lot of tea leaf here, practically half a Teavana store’s worth of it. It’ll also help if you’re fond of cranberries, mushrooms, and conversing in tones that more resemble whispering than they do shouting. This is the type of Pinot that, while finicky and understated and requiring patience to fully “get,” doesn’t shirk the bright fruitiness and generally gives Sonoma Coast the good name it deserves for wines crafted from the finicky and understated grape.
2012 Thralls Pinot Noir Bucher Vineyard (Russian River Valley, $40)
Think black: black tea, black cherries, and piles of dark, wet leaves. All of the berry fruits are bright-eyed here, but they’ve also all turned to the Dark Side. This is the richest of Thrall’s Pinot Noir lineup, and his best, and it’s likely the one that has the most acidic verve and tannic muscle (and the elegant melding of the two) to see it through a few more years of graceful development. The best couple of years for this are ahead (that’s where my money is, anyway; we’ll see, since I have a second bottle and I don’t plan on opening it for several more seasons).
2012 Thralls Pinot Noir Roma’s Vineyard (Anderson Valley, $42)
The first thing you’ll notice about this Pinot is that the lighter cherry color speaks more of dark rosé than it does modernly-styled PN. Aromatically this is terse, but the lithe palate opens up quickly and nicely, with spicy, brambly red berries and a hint of earth (I think Ed is really into dirt). It’s hardly indicative of what we typically expect from Anderson Valley, not least of all in the 13.whatever percent alcohol. But rather than suffer for its lack of typicity, this whole-cluster Pinot is just a racy joy to drink now; it’s actually reaching for the phone now, I think, and attempting to order a gourmet pizza…
8 thoughts on “Enthralled With Pinot Noir (Thralls Family Cellars Recent Releases)”
I love Pinot Noir, but sometimes I buy one that isn't impressive. I then become timid trying to buy another. I never buy cheap Pinot anymore. I don't mind spending $30-40 on a good bottle. Thank you for taking some of the guess work out for me!
Paula, Pinot is a tough one at budget price points. But that price range should certainly get you a good bottle. Cheers!
I agree with Joe, you should find some great Pinot in that price range and where you can find great value from newer producers like myself. Pinot also has the blessing (and curse?) of being expressive of place and other factors, that you'll be able to find it to please many palates… the challenge (as always) is finding those that match yours. Enjoy!
When in doubt, take your lead from Mother Nature. Some vintages she blesses more than others.
2012 and 2009 and 2007 and 2005 are superb vintages in California. Avoid 2011 — it is afflicted with mold and mildew, report James Laube at Wine Spectator magazine and Steve Heimoff at Wine Enthusiast magazine.
2012 and 2009 are superb vintages in Oregon.
2010 and 2008 are superb vintages in New Zealand.
2009 is a superb vintage in Burgundy.
(Can't suggest any superb vintages in Germany or Austria.)
And don't overlook the charms of cru Beaujolaises from superb vintages such as 2009. The best with bottle age transform into "Mini-Me" versions of red Burgundies.
Bob, overall a great review of recent CA vintages… however, I think your 2011 statement is too generalized. There are many producers who managed 2011 properly for the vintage, or just got lucky. The 2011 wines from Flowers are a great example (disclosure: I work at Flowers) where the right canopy management and the unique location protected this high quality fruit from the huge challenges many others experienced.
On March 4th, I attended this trade tasting in Los Angeles (part of a whistle-stop tour of the U.S.):
Guest speakers at the Evan Goldstein, M.S.-moderated seminar included a nice array of North Coast winemakers — accompanied by samples of their Pinot Noirs.
Yes, there were quite a few 2011s that were nice — equal to 2009s I have tasted.
But I take my lead from these postings:
"An inconvenient truth about Pinot Noir" | STEVE HEIMOFF| WINE BLOG
Excerpt: The problems I’ve encountered with rot, mold, green tannins and flavors and vegetal notes in Pinot Noirs from 2010 and 2011 are worse than anything in my previous experience. It’s been truly shocking. Erratic, too: wineries that bottle numerous vineyard-designated Pinots (as so many do nowadays) will have one that’s ripe, and another that’s green and moldy — often from the same appellation. There are some famous brands that, in my opinion, should have declassified their wines, especially the 2011s; but declassification is rare in California.
The numbers express it interestingly:
2011 Pinots I scored over 90 points: 127
2009 Pinots I score over 90 points: 489
"More on the troubling 2011 vintage" | STEVE HEIMOFF| WINE BLOG
Excerpt: . . . “musty” and “moldy” aromas and accompanying bad flavors are exactly what plagues so many 2011s. That, and a generalized unripeness across the board.
Echoed by this wine blog from Wine Spectator's wine columnist James Laube:
"The Curtain Is Dropping on California's 2011 Vintage" – Wine Spectator
Excerpt: 2011 is the first vintage I can recall where there are a significant number of wines marked by a high presence of musty and even moldy flavors.
For the consumer, it is caveat emptor.
For the trade (like me — consulting for restaurants and retailers), it is: "Come back to me with your 2012s."
Bob, I can cite blogs and critics as well, but I won't based my entire sense of the vintage entirely on them either, positively or negatively. Comparing 2011 to 2009 is like comparing lime-juice and dog sh$% — and I certainly don't use SH's number of 90's as the litmus — all that really means (to me) is that his palate is used to/and tends to favor big fruit, tannin, mainstream Pinot vs. leaner, brighter, acid-driven styles. 2009 and 2011 are completely two different vintages, stories and resulting styles. Again, that is not to say there aren't moldy, musty wines out there for those who couldn't manage the difficult vintage. Those are facts, of course. I'm just giving my opinion.
I think many more "quality" 2011s will age longer than their 2009 counter parts. And all I am saying is that completely waiving off the vintage is missing out on some superstars, like those I have personally tasted.
I don't dismiss the 2011 vintage entirely out of hand:
"Yes, [at the Sonoma in the City trade tasting] there were quite a few 2011s that were nice — equal to 2009s I have tasted. "
But I stand by this invoked Latin phrase:
"For the consumer, it is caveat emptor. "
They need to be aware that moldy wines are out there. And be discriminating consumers.
(Aside: The same way that there might be some nice 2013 red Bordeaux. But not a lot.)
The best way to exercise "buyer beware-ness" is to patronize a wine merchant that has a winetasting bar, and sample for yourself.
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