So… the global [pandemic has now gone on so long that not only have we crossed the threshold of 50 virtual samples tastings, but we’re circling back and revisiting producers that have already held such events…
In this case, that’s actually a positive development, as I got a chance to revisit the single vineyard wines of Dutcher Crossing—this time, however, focusing on three SV Pinot Noir releases from the 2018 vintage rather than (quite lovely) Sonoma Chardonnays.
Leading the virtual sipping were Dutcher Crossing winemaker Nick Briggs, and Terra de Promissio Vineyard’s impeccably-polite owner Diana Karren. As Briggs put it, the idea behind the single vineyard tastings was to once again showcase how DC “really explore that site and how those clones interact with that site.” But since the only people who really care about clones are winemakers, vineyard managers, and vine nursery staff, we are going to spend a lot more time talking about the three vineyards and the three wines showcased, and a lot less time (ok, probably none) talking about Pinot vine clones here. Anyway, let’s dive in!
Terra de Promissio is currently the most designated single vineyard in all of Sonoma County, appearing on over ten bottlings. Diana and husband Charles Karren bought the site in 1999, and planted it in 2002. And then everything kind of went to hell. “When the vines went in,” Karren recalled, “I was seven months pregnant.” Issues stacked up and funds got so tight that she contemplated dropping out of school and declaring bankruptcy at the time. Thankfully for them (and for us), the family rallied some funding and it pulled them through (“our story [of the vineyard] is the story of America for us” she noted). Dutcher Crossing has been working with this site since before the Petaluma Gap AVA was officially approved, so they have a feel for what works best when it comes to Pinot there. “They treat us as friends and family,” Karren mentioned when discussing DC; “I love that they’re very much involved in the grape-growing process.”
DC sources from the ocean-facing hillside at TdP vineyard (according to Karren, “the stakes are bent at an angle” in the first few vineyard rows due to the wind.) The position promotes thicker skins to protect the grapes—and thus more structure and color in the resulting wines. Briggs mentioned that “this is the wine I always grab” when asked which of his Pinots happens to be his favorite. And, well, it is pretty damned good. It’s big on flavor (pomegranate, black cherry, black raspberry), big on spices (black tea leaf, cedar, dried herbs), structure, suppleness, and power. This is about as robust as Sonoma Pinot gets, and is flexing its textural muscles, but in a polished and authentic way. Yeah, it’s structured, but that fruit is all silky showiness, too.
As per Briggs, this site near Healdsburg sees “warmer days, and not even as cool” evenings, promoting more of a “Sonoma aroma.” Seven different Pinot clones were planted by John and Diane Bucher on this 30+ acre hillside spot, with the steepness of the vineyard adding the potential for more complexity (helping to balance the natural lushness of the fruit that comes off this warmer spot).
There is great fruitiness here (ripe cherries galore), enticing aromas (graham cracker, vanilla, citrus peel, earth, and backing spices), and a young structure. But it’s also perky in its palate liveliness, and buoyant in its cherry fruit flavors (which are ripe and fun without being obnoxious about it). The finish closes out with more black cherry and hints of pepper, and the whole thing feels gorgeously balanced.
This is the inaugural vintage from this site, the culmination of about six years of work (vines went in in 2015). “We were only able to develop about four acres,” Briggs pointed out, with the rest of the site too steep or wooded to plant (the vineyard sits near Occidental). It’s a cooler, less windy site, protected by the 100-feet tall Redwoods that surround it.
The hard work to prep the site was worth it—based on this release, the spot has serious potential for top-notch Sonoma Pinot. Rose petal notes mingle with herbs, black pepper, tea leaf, and both dry and fresh red currant fruit aromas. The palate is at once large/expressive and also lithe/transparent, with a long, spicy, mineral finish that’s laced with chocolate and earth tones. This is damned fine stuff, with a promising future ahead of it.