A Tale of Three Pinots
Let’s pretend for a moment that you are standing on the lawn of Breggo Cellars in the heart of Anderson Valley — an 18-mile-long American Viticultural Area that has managed to hold tourism at bay thanks to a dauntingly winding 46-mile drive from the wine country hub of Healdsburg. Take a second to look around. What do you see? To the west, the hills are steep, mountainous and covered in pine trees; a little further north and you will be deep in redwood forests before hitting the cold, rugged Mendocino Coast. To the east, you see grassy rolling hills with patches of deciduous trees and, of course, neat rows of vines. Sheep are grazing and dozing in the sun. On the picnic table in front of you, you have three glasses of wine: all pinot noir; all from Anderson Valley; all made by Breggo Cellars; all from fruit grown in 2009. Each one is completely different. And you thought “terroir” was just something cute that Frenchmen say.
The first, from the Savoy vineyard, has our host smiling. All winemakers have their favorites, even if they tell you otherwise. Made from a field blend of pinot clones, it is lightly colored and smells, to me at least, a bit like glögg, a Swedish mulled wine made with cardamom and orange peel. Aromas of sweet if slightly stewed cherries and savory, resinous herbs rise from the glass. On the palate, it is wild and tightly wound; the acidity runs through its spine like a razor blade. This is a wine that speaks of a time and place. “This,” says Dan Rivin, the assistant winemaker “is Savoy.” Although the vineyard is located a few miles north and west of the town of Philo, between a redwood forest and the Navarro river, in what is called the “deep” or coolest end of the valley, Rivin says that Savoy “is blessed with a great southeastern exposure, allowing for light from the entire passage of the sun from sun-up to sunset to hit the vineyard.”
Reluctant as you are to leave Savoy, as you notice the wine changing every time you take a whiff, you must move on. The Ferrington vineyard, which is where your second wine comes from, is planted on fertile, south-facing slopes just east of Boonville, at the warm end of the valley. There’s something about the dark cherry and tobacco aromas that remind you of the Russian River valley (and in fact, you learn later, that cult Russian River producer Williams Selyem makes wine from this vineyard). Planted in the 1970’s, Ferrington is a mix of five different clones, but Breggo only uses fruit from two: The Swiss Wädenswil 2A, which is now widely planted in Oregon and is known for its distinct gaminess, and the Dijon 777, which yields small, dark berries making for wines with greater intensity and structure.
The third wine, from the Donnelley Creek vineyard, is the darkest in color and we are warned that, hedonistic and pleasurable, this is the most popular of the Breggo pinots among casual wine drinkers. The vineyard sprawls over 80 acres of hillsides above and behind the town of Boonville in the extreme southeastern end of the Valley. The fruit from this vineyard is sold all over the place, to legendary pinot noir producers like Radio Coteau, Copain Wine Cellars, and Au Bon Climate. Breggo’s is made from the Pommard clone, a late-ripening, sun-loving clone known for it dark, lush fruits and foresty, mushroomy character. The tannins are soft and mouth-filling, reminiscent of dark, bitter chocolate. It’s pleasurable indeed: drinking it, you can picture the sunny, undulating hillsides, the plump, ripe grapes at harvest time.
If you are of a mind to immerse yourself completely in the world of Anderson Valley pinot noir, the annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival takes place this weekend May 18-20.