Pinot Noir Winery Highlights
Nothing better fosters a love and passion for winemaking than growing up on a Napa Valley winery. It inevitably ignites a spark within these few lucky folks but Mark Aubert is one of the few with that passion and the ability to execute it so adeptly. Aubert’s distinguished career began by working with renowned wine maker Helen Turley who also coaches Philippe Melka and Heidi Barrett.
In 1999 Aubert Vineyard was born and has been crafting outstanding vineyard-designate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from estate and leased vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast in a full-blown hedonistic style. Stylistically the wines are prefect representations of the terroir from which they grow, especially the Right-Bank approach to his Howell Mountain Bordeaux blend.
Aubert has quickly became one of the most highly sought after wines in California and with a small production of 4,000 cases per annum, they are harder and harder to find and available primarily via the mailing list. Using his experience with some of California’s most prestigious producers, Mark has created a brand that rivals all Pinot and Chardonnay in the New World. This is especially true for the 86 Futo- a Pinot Noir project with Abreu, which was bestowed 95 pts from Parker. Impossible to leave unmentioned when discussing Aubert is his 99pt Parker awarded Reuling Vineyard- the utmost score ever given to a New World Chardonnay.
Small-vineyard focus scores big When Russell Bevan decided to move back to California and pursue a career in wine, he had never formally studied winemaking. But he knew what he liked to drink and used that as his guidepost. “I come at this with the palate of a consumer. I had a vision of the types of wines I wanted to make,” says Bevan, 47. So far, his vision has resulted in six classic-rated wines (95 to 100 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale) in his first five vintages.
Bevan and his longtime companion Victoria De Crescenzo had lived in the Midwest, with careers in the dental field, before the return to California in 1999. Once back in the Golden State, the Santa Rosa native sought the advice of winemakers such as Greg La Follette and Philip Togni, whom he credits as mentors.
Since his first vintage, 2005, Bevan has focused on his vineyard sources-small vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, such as Showket, Sugarloaf and Kick Ranch. The couple owns a 2-acre vineyard in Bennett Valley that was originally planted to Syrah but now is being grafted to Cabernet Franc.
Bevan’s winemaking approach centers on managing tannins, resulting in wines that are massive yet refined. To achieve this, he employs cold soaks and extended maceration. In addition to tending his own label, he consults for a handful of clients, including Wren Hop, Westerhold Family, Jemrose, Château Boswell and Harbison. “I have to think I have a shot at being one of the big boys on the block,” says Bevan. It’s a bold assertion, but shows the depth of his confidence, backed up by the quality of his wines.
Since the first vintage in 1990, Domaine Serene has produced award-winning wines, including Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, recognized as the World’s #3 Wine of 2013 by Wine Spectator Magazine. In addition, the 2012 Winery Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir was named the Top Pinot Noir in the World by Decanter magazine in 2016 and the 2014 Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay received 95 points and was ranked the #2 wine in the world on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year. This made Domaine Serene the only winery in the world to receive a Top 3 rating in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 2017, the 2013 Jerusalem Hill Pinot Noir was awarded the Top American Pinot Noir at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Through the continuous pursuit of quality and innovation, Domaine Serene has garnered global recognition as an iconic quality leader of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
We’ve been fortunate to have nice things said about our wines and what we do. Here are some highlights.
Wine Advocate, September 2016 “This was another rock star lineup from Kosta Browne and it’s certainly one of the most impressive lineups I tasted all year. And while I generally consider 2013 to be a better vintage than 2014, these 2014s are a step up over last year’s releases, which were no slouches either.”
Wine Advocate, October 2015 “Looking at the 2013’s, this was obviously a great vintage for this estate and all the wines showed sensational purity and freshness paired with layered, nicely concentrated and textured profiles. I’d say it’s the finest lineup I’ve tasted from this estate…”
Vinous, July 2014 “Kosta Browne has done a marvelous job with their four 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinots. These wines show why Kosta Browne is among the top Pinot Producers in California.”
Wine Spectator, December 2011 “#1 Wine of the Year…”
Peter Michael Winery
In 1982, after an extensive, six-year search for California property to serve as both family retreat and vineyard, Sir Peter Michael purchased 630 acres of volcanic ridges on the western face of Mount St. Helena in Knights Valley. For the entrepreneurial founder of Quantel and frequent visitor to Northern California, it was love at first sight.
In 1983, with the help of his wife, Lady Michael, they established Peter Michael Winery and planted red Bordeaux varietals in the volcanic soils at the site. Four years later the Winery hired Helen Turley to make the first wine, the 1987 Mon Plaisir Chardonnay, produced from fruit grown at the nearby Gauer Estate (now Alexander Mountain Estate) in the Alexander Valley. The wine was followed a year later by their first Cuvée Indigène Chardonnay, a barrel selection of wine fermented with indigenous yeast.
Over the years the Winery expanded the plantings of red Bordeaux varietals on the lower, warmer sites and Chardonnay on the higher, cooler portions of the estate. To take full advantage of their unique conditions, each block was delineated and developed based upon the intricate puzzle of terroir. Soils, microclimates, topography and exposures were all considered in the selection of varieties, rootstocks, row orientation, vine spacing and drainage. In addition to the vines, the family also ensured the long-term natural balance of the estate by restoring native habitats and extensively reforesting with native species trees.
Some of the most illustrious names in the industry have served as Peter Michael Winery’s winemaker including: Helen Turley, Mark Aubert, Vanessa Wong, Luc Morlet, and current winemaker Nicolas Morlet. Throughout its history, the winery has continued to reflect Sir Peter’s founding credo of “mountain vineyards, classical winemaking, limited production.” In keeping with Sir Peter’s “100 by 100 plan” – 100% family ownership for at least 100 years – there has been a generational passing of the baton at the estate. Over the past few years, son Paul Michael and his wife Emily have assumed increasing responsibility in the strategic direction of the winery.
Will Kelly, Wine Advocate Interim End of May 2018
There are two important pieces of news from Rhys Vineyards. The first is that Kevin Harvey’s new venture with Italian grape varieties, Aeris, is about to debut, and readers are directed to my notes under that name for more information. The second is that beginning with the 2016 vintage, appellation wines will no longer be produced under the Rhys Vineyards label, which henceforth will be reserved for vineyard-designate wines. Instead, Harvey’s Alesia label, formerly used for wines from purchased fruit, is being re-introduced as a home for appellation wines—even though these wines will now be produced entirely from estate-grown fruit. At the risk of creating confusion, the Alesia wines are reviewed here under Rhys Vineyards; they will still, of course, be offered for sale via the Rhys Vineyards mailing list.
Beyond these two innovations, the story of incremental progress every year (with which followers of the Rhys wines will by now be familiar) remains the same. High-density estate vineyards and meticulous farming are the rule. Pinot Noir sees classical vinification in one-ton tanks (frequently incorporating significant proportions of whole clusters), followed by maturation in François Frères barrels (produced from the winery’s own four-year seasoned oak staves). Chardonnay ferments in barrels and matures on the lees before racking to tank several months before bottling—a regimen that’s common in contemporary Burgundy.
All the Rhys wines start life quite tight-knit and firmly structured, though my sense is that the Pinot Noir vintages from this decade are more structurally refined than those from the last. They do seem to open up and become expressive more rapidly than their qualitative equivalents from the Côte d’Or, but five or six years of cellaring is certainly recommended, even required. Happily, the Rhys website features a regularly updated vintage chart for anyone looking for advice on what is currently showing well. From my own cellar, the 2012 vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs are performing very well. I also encourage readers not to miss the Chardonnays, which are without doubt among the best being produced in North America.
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate continues to score Rhys among top California Producers with 2016 vintage
Thomas Rivers Brown (2010 Food and Wine Magazine Winemaker of the Year) and his wife, Genevieve Marie, developed the Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon based winery, Rivers Marie on a whim. They were inspired once they were offered coveted Sonoma Coast, Summa Vineyard fruit by their friends, Scott and Joan Zellar. Rivers Marie has developed into one of the most cherished wines in all of California. There are only a few hundred bottles of each varietal produced each year and amassing them is nearly impossible since there are over 4,000 people on the waitlist. The wines are hand harvested and are never fined or filtered. This self-taught winemaker has made quite the name for himself having a hand in producing wines for over a dozen Napa wineries such as Schrader, Maybach, and Outpost.
The emergence of Williams Selyem as one of California’s Pinot Noir leaders is an improbable success story. Founders Burt Williams and Ed Selyem started making wine under the Hacienda del Rio Winery label in a garage in Fulton. Their first wine was a 1981 Zinfandel, but very soon after they began their quest for great Pinot Noir. By the late 1980s, Williams had retired as a typesetter and Selyem had left his job as a wine retailer, and they devoted themselves full-time to winemaking. In 1997, John Dyson bought the winery with plans of planting a 20-acre Russian River vineyard and gradually expanded production. Williams continued to make wine into 2000, after which time Bob Cabral, formerly of Alderbrook and Hartford Court, took over as Executive winemaker. Quality across the board is exceptionally high, with especially notable Pinot Noirs. There are no secrets to Williams Selyem’s success: they seek low yield, fully ripened grapes from superb vineyard sources.