In my small wine world, I certainly depend on the kindness of winemakers. I feel honored, privileged, yet altogether humbled by the opportunity to taste an expressive Pinot Noir sourced from the prestigious Platt Vineyard, produced by the renowned David Ramey.
David Ramey is a name known all around our Napa/Sonoma Wine Countries — and I’m sure everywhere else as well. After completing his Masters in enology from UC Davis, David started his young career by traveling abroad to France. He names his first job with Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol and his time cellar-ratting in Burgundy as some of the major highlights and influences of his early winemaking life. Back in California, David moved on to work for such major players as Simi, Matanzas Creek, and Chalk Hill. But it was his decision to become the first winemaker for Dominus Estates (owned by Christian Moueix, of Pétrus) that made him realize all that he had learned and all that he was capable of. “I never dreamed of owning my own winery,” David says. Oh how dreams do change.
In 1996 he and his wife Carla founded Ramey Cellars, after Moueix agrees to let David “make a little Chardonnay on the side.” Sourcing from Hyde Vineyards, the couple celebrates their first harvest, custom crushing at Luna Vineyards, and producing their first 260 cases. Today Ramey Wine Cellars produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and even a bit of Syrah — producing, well, much more than 260 cases.
There’s something special about Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I can never put my finger on exactly what it is, though. The region spans from coastal-setting to mountain-scape, and you wouldn’t think it would be that different from our Northern Californian Wine Country. But perhaps it’s because most wineries are small, often family-run boutiques; maybe it’s because Oregon, on the whole, is quite a young wine-producing region, unblemished by age, wear, and tear; or it could be because the Willamette, like Burgundy is located at 45 degrees latitude and that’s just the Pinot Noir sweet spot.
Whatever it is, I find that some of the most refined (most Burgundian, if you will) American Pinot Noirs come from this little pocket of the New World.
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.
Proprietor Victor Alvarez may have a successful medical practice in Arizona, but that doesn’t stop him from coming to his estate winery in California’s El Dorado County every weekend. And it is this attention to detail that truly defines the Miraflores wines. Alvarez, along with his head winemaker Marco Capelli, practices Old World minimalism in the vineyard and in the winery — keeping each step in the winemaking process as natural as possible, from bud to bottle.
According to Teena Hildebrand, co-owner and winery chef for Narrow Gate Vineyards, the name Dunamis is Greek, sharing the root word for dynamite. It was the couple’s new found faith in Christianity that provoked them to take the leap from the fashion industry to the wine industry. Teena says they first read the word Dunamis in a Greek translation of the New Testament in reference to “God’s miraculous power.” “We needed a lot of ‘Dunamis’ to get our winery doors open back in 2004, as we didn’t come in heavily capitalized or with an inheritance,” says Teena. “We labored ourselves to plant and build.” A labor of love we can now all enjoy.