When David Graves and Dick Ward founded Saintsbury winery in 1981, they were considered impractical risk takers. At a time when it seemed every California winery was adding cabernet sauvignon to its list of red wines, Graves and Ward were making only one red — pinot noir — from the glorious, temperamental, cool-climate red grape of Burgundy. Their goal? To prove an ethereal, Burgundian-like pinot noir could be produced in Napa Valley.
They believed they could achieve that with grapes grown in Carneros, a cool area that skirts the southern part of Napa and Sonoma where far-sighted vintners had been planting pinot noir for years. They experimented in the vineyard and cellar. They introduced new pinot noir clones. They have, in fact, never stopped improving, updating and experimenting.
Twenty-six years later, having shown beyond doubt that fine, delicate pinot noir can be made in Napa Valley, Saintsbury is considered one of the prime producers of pinot noir in California.
To sample these extraordinary wines, start with Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir 2004 ($30) made from a blend of grapes from several vineyards. Attractive, balanced and flavorful, the wine is rich in hints of cherry. Saintsbury produced a reserve wine from 1990 to 2002; and what a lovely wine that last one is — soft, silky, with fragrant, whistle-clear pinot flavors. In place of reserves, Saintsbury now concentrates on single-vineyard pinots. Among them, Brown Ranch Carneros Pinot Noir is a sensual wine with distinctive blackberry and earthy flavors. The 2004 is a wine of excellent structure and great complexity with the perfume of pinot noir leaping out of the glass. At $70, Brown Ranch is the most expensive Saintsbury wine.
Saintsbury also offers three single-vineyard bottlings. Lee Vineyard 2004 is a rich, warm pinot noir; inviting with its fresh cherry aromas and fine balance. To taste Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir 2004 is to delve into a basket of fresh cherries. Toyon Farm 2004 is an elegant wine, graceful and classical, all satin and silk. Each is $50.
And each is individual. Each expresses the personality of its vineyard, just as the wines of Burgundy express theirs. And both — Burgundy and California — express the glory of pinot noir.
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