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 single-varietal in the New World 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. And let’s not forget our neighbors to south either — I’m talking way south. With one of the coolest maritime climates in the New World, New Zealand’s Pinot Noir plantings are on the rise, and the resulting wines are competing with the best of the best.

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 textural and earthy wines of New Zealand; 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.

While I was in Sonoma during the wine blogger’s conference, I had a chance to stop by Siduri Wines tasting room in downtown Healdsburg. Here, the generous staff took me through a full line-up of current releases that traveled from their northern-most vineyard (in Oregon), down toward their southern-most vineyard (Sta. Rita Hills). Coincidentally, I’d also signed up for a study in Pinot Noir with Etude Wines during the conference — who did they exact same thing. Their vineyards started in northern Sonoma and trailed all the way to — believe it or not — New Zealand.

And so I thought I’d conduct a similar experiment of my own, not focusing on one producer specifically, but a few vintners who are new to me and whose primary focus is Pinot Noir. So travel from Oregon down to New Zealand with me wine-mates. (Links will become live as reviews are published.)

Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45° Estate Pinot Noir

Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir

Raeburn Winery 2016 Pinot Noir

Boyer 2016 Pinot Noir

Mt. Beautiful 2015 Pinot Noir


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1 comment on “The Pinot Noir Style Spectrum”

  1. More and more Washington state winemakers are experimenting with Pinot Noir and acquiring grapes from Oregon. I think there is a strong pull to explore the challenges associated with a “headache grape” as a means to develop one’s expertise.

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