Made famous by the movie Sideways, Pinot Noir has become the favored wine in popular culture. But Miles wasn’t kidding when he said it’s a difficult grape to grow. It’s thin-skinned, susceptible to disease, and can’t bare too much sun-exposure. And because of this fragile quality, Pinot Noir has become known as the “headache” grape amongst vintners. But if those vintners practice patience, and pay attention to those tight clusters and petite buds, it will produce a red wine that speaks eloquently of soft tannins and subtle fruits. Indeed, it is the great grape of Burgundy, used in such famous wines as Pommapd, Nuits-St-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin, and is one of the primary grapes used in traditional Champagne. Now a staple in American winemaking culture, our New World has its own Pinot Noir voice expressed differently from region to region.
Pinot Noir loves cooler climates so it can mature slowly. Areas with steady breezes help prevent the occurrence of mildew and fungal diseases. For this reason, the top producing Pinot Noir regions of California are Sonoma (11,000 acres planted to Pinot), Monterey (6,204 acres planted to Pinot), and Santa Barbara (3,401 acres planted to Pinot). But let’s not forget our neighbors to the north: Oregon has 12,560 acres planted to Pinot, most of which come out of the Willamette AVA.
As stated, Pinot Noir is susceptible to its environment — but that doesn’t have to be a reference to disease and disaster. Pinot Noir takes on its environment in flavors and textures — from the soft Burgundian style of the Willamette; to the tight and bright fruits of Mendocino; and the tannic, often brawny, expression of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Pinot Noir can take you on a journey — a journey of place, time, and people.
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