Thursday, June 9, 2016

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir: You've Come a Long Way, Baby

For Pinot fans, the most popular spot online to keep up with the varietal is the Prince of Pinot web site, run by Rusty Gaffney, a retired MD, who keynoted and moderated the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival's technical conference in May.
The Prince of Pinot, Rusty Gaffney, MD, at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Festival, offering his observations on the region's Pinot
Gaffney began the day with a presentation on the changes the valley's Pinot has undergone since he started covering the area in 2007. His remarks showed that Anderson Valley has become among the most highly respected terroirs for Pinot Noir in a short amount of time.

Pinot Noir Growth

In just 8 years, Gaffney said, prices for Pinot from Anderson Valley have gone from $2,083 a ton in Mendocino (overall) in 2007 to $2,901 a ton in the county in 2015. If the figures for Anderson Valley are separated out, the price would be higher still. Estimates range from $3,500 a ton to $5,500 a ton for Anderson Valley fruit.

In comparison, Lodi's Pinot sells for $680 a ton and Monterey's for $1,814.

In the other prime Pinot regions in California, Pinot sells for $2,955 a ton in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, and for $3,519 a ton in Sonoma County.

This puts Anderson Valley Pinot among the most expensive grown in California.

Vineyard Overview

Overall, Anderson Valley has 91 vineyard properties which are owned by 71 farmers.

Gaffney said the average vineyard size is 27.5 acres. (Twenty six are less than five acres in size; three are greater than 100 acres). The median size is 11.5 acres.

Pinot Noir is planted on 1,736 acres of the region's 2,400 acres. It's followed by Chardonnay (559), Gew├╝rztraminer (103), Merlot (73), Pinot Gris (41), Riesling (22).

Though the Alsatian varietals put the region on the map in an earlier era, their presence has dwindled over time as the region's love affair with Pinot has grown.

Wineries Overview

There are 30 bonded wineries in the area and 32 tasting rooms open to the public, including some by appointment only. In addition, another 50 wineries from outside the region source fruit from Anderson Valley, including Copain, La Crema, Lioco, Littorai, Long Meadow Ranch, and more.

Regional Wine Styles

Gaffney noted that Pinot from Anderson Valley finds expression according to various winemakers' styles, but he said most Anderson Valley Pinots share two characteristics:

1. They tend to have lower alcohol levels than comparable Pinots from other, warmer regions.
2. Because of the cool climate, Anderson Valley Pinot ripen slowly, ripening more slowly so that flavors unfold without high sugar levels, leading to bright acidity and fine wines.

"Some have likened the Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs more to those from the Willamette Valley, and have even anointed Anderson Valley 'Baja Oregon,'" Gaffney said.

One of the main distinctions that can be made within Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs are those grown on valley sites versus those grown on hillside sites. Valley floor Pinot Noir is from "soils that are deeper, lighter and more fruit driven," Gaffney said, versus rocky slope Pinots that yield wines that are "more structured, earthy, minerals in style."

How this translates into the wine, Gaffney observed, is that sites near Boonville yield Pinots with "lush red cherry fruit, rounder tannins, bigger textures and great acidity." Sites from the Western end of the Valley lead to "more earthy, spice, angular tannins and racy acidity," he stated.

Gaffney concluded his presentation with a quote from Dirk van der Niepoort, saying "While 'good' wines are 50 percent terroir and 50 percent winemaking, 'great' wines owe far more to terroir," the implication being that Anderson Valley has the terroir necessary to make great Pinot Noir.

As a side note, in terms of organic vineyard sites, there are just two that are certified. The total acreage now certified is 46 - or just under 2 percent of Anderson Valley vines.

That will increase to a total of 116 acres, when Long Meadow Ranch's transitional 86 acres of vines is completed (expected in 2017). (That would increase the total to 5 percent of Anderson Valley vines).

• Filigreen Farm is a valley floor site in Boonville.
• Handley's is a sloping hillside site in the Deep End (the western end of the valley). 

In addition, two other sites are in transition to organic certification.

• Long Meadow Ranch's transitional site is a hillside site as well.
• Roederer has 26 acres of organic vines in transition with Stellar Certification Services; that number includes 17 acres which are in the process of moving towards Biodynamic certification.

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