We all know the story. Former SF Giants baseball teammates Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts have teamed up once again — this time in the vineyard field. Alongside winemaker, Rolando Herrera from Mi Sueño Winery and Herrera Wines, Red Stitch serves up some classically-styled Napa Cabs. Their latest game-changer is their somewhat recent addition of Santa Lucia Highland vineyards, Soberanes and Sierra Mar, to craft what, to my palate, are two completely polar opposite Pinots.

About the Wines: Red Stitch 2015 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir and Red Stitch 2015 Sierra Mar Vineyard are both made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, of the same clone, harvested from their respective vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The aging process for each only differs slightly: both Pinots aged in barrel 10 months with the Sierra Mar touching 80% New French Oak and the Soberanes touching just 5% less. 

The minute you open the bottles of the two wines, the instant aromas will tell you just how markedly different these Pinots are. One crusty with age-ability, the other stereotypical in its light and lively fruits. So what is it about these two seemingly similar wines that make them so unique unto each other? I hate to use a cliché word, but it’s all about the terroir.

Soil Map courtesy of SantaLuciaHighlands.com

The Sierra Mar vineyard is bout 1,000 feet in elevation with the predominant soil type being decomposed granite and gravely loam. Typically this soil type means that the vines will have to struggle a bit more for water and nutrients than with softer, more absorbent soils. It also means that the rocky terrain tends to reflect the sun (instead of absorb its heat rays) and will continue to keep the vines cool. If you couldn’t tell by its name, this ocean-facing vineyard receives a strong coastal influence complete with caked-in fog in the morning and cool breezes in the afternoon. What these two variables — soil and climate — combined means is that this Pinot Noir is a cool, coastal beach-baby through and through. The picky Pinot grape can stay at a relatively constant moderate temperature and ripen to perfection.

Diagram courtesy of SantaLuciaHighlands.com

Soberanes vineyard, on the other hand is a mere 400 feet in elevation with soil type consisting of sandy loam. Sandy soils, in general, drain well and absorb and retain the sun’s heat. (And as this is a south-eastern facing vineyard, it get to see a bit more direct sun than the north-south oriented Sierra Mar.) In a cooler climate region, like SLH, the vineyards benefit from that soil warmth, hanging on the vine a bit longer and tending to produce more voluptuous fruits and aromatic wines.

Tasting Notes

Flavor Profile: Red Stitch 2015 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir (111 cases produced)

Out of the bottle the Red Stitch Soberanes Pinot Noir emits and immediate umaminess reminiscent of smoked salmon, cedar wood with just the slightest background aroma of dark red fruits.

On the pour, the wine is a pure cranberry, ruby-red color. Once settled in the glass, there’s just the faintest dusty brown that mars that gem-like quality — it’s as if the ruby has just been forged from the granite cliffs. Except for the exact center of the tilted glass, the Pinot is perfectly luminescent.

Initial aromas are of fresh herbs placed from the ground with whispers of cranberries, eucalyptus, and wet grass. But that background smokiness — like from a smoldering campfire — is constant no matter where you stick your nose. If you swirl and sniff again, you’ll get a bit more of those red berries, and a floral bouquet of deep red, almost black roses that are so plush they’re about to fall off of the bush and onto the dank surrounding soil. There’s a bit more of that perfume-y quality at the top of the glass, intermixed with an almost lipstick-like wax. But always smokiness.

On the palate, flavors include raw cacao, burnt coffee, almonds, and fresh cedar. Once the wine settles, those rose petals come through along with the tannins (as if you’re sucking on a smooth rose petal). In the background there’s a bit of earthy herbs. The acid, while mellow and subtle from start to mid-palate, explodes with heat at the finish. And always, regardless of where you are in the taste, that smokiness.

Not that this isn’t enjoyable now — because clearly I enjoyed it now — but this is one of those rarities: an age-able California Pinot Noir. Between the strong touch of tannins, that lingering heat, and that constant smokiness — I’d be curious how these components meld together even more just 2 to 5 years down the line.

Flavor Profile: Red Stitch 2015 Sierra Mar Vineyard (123 cases)

Pop the cork and there’s not much to tell. You really have to stick your nose just above the bottle where you’ll find just subtle hints of tight, just under-ripe red berries. On the pour, the Red Stitch Sierra Mar Pinot Noir is a reddish-grey, reminiscent of rusty pipe water. In the glass, the wine maintains that crusty essence and look, but a bit darker, more red — like a dried scab.

Now take a smell — fresh fruit! Raspberries, cranberries, with a hint of sea-breeze salt and funk. Swirl and sniff again to find a bit of unsweetened cocoa, fresh herbs (basil, mint), and a fun background of cola. Take your nose to the top of the glass and there’s a very hippie-esque scent of incense.

On the palate, this Pinot is smooth and refreshing at the front, with strong flavors of those same ripe red fruits sensed on the nose. The mid-palate brings a bit of spice and darkness — like chili infused cacao. The finish is pleasantly herbaceous, albeit still a bit dark — it reminds me of seaweed: fresh, but undeniably savory, damp and a little dirty.

And still there’s a lingering spice — like…like I don’t even know. Not spicy hot, spicy flavorsome.

More Info: I received both the Red Stitch 2015 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Red Stitch 2015 Sierra Mar Vineyard as samples for this single-vineyard experiment. (Cheers Heather, Rich, Dave, and Rolando!) Retail: $56 each. For more information about Red Stitch and to purchase their current releases directly, please visit the Red Stitch website

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