I have worked with Pinot Noir for my entire career and I admit I’ve been a little obsessed with it for almost 20 years. People ask me all the time — why not Cabernet Sauvignon? Why Pinot Noir? For me the Cabernets & Chardonnays of California are on the most part dramatic flashy things that smell of the sweetness of oak and taste rich and robust. Those wines certainly have their place & I’ve been known to have those in my glass occasionally. I guess Pinot Noir captivated me for its subtle, nuanced, aromatic expression, its moodiness, its heady potential for finesse, distinctiveness & expression of place that I didn’t seem to notice in many other wines. There’s an elusiveness to Pinot in that if its planted in just the right place and farmed in just the way it wants it will reward with a singular expression of aromatic beauty and silky grace on the palate. I guess for me the challenge is finding those vineyards and them doing them justice. Perhaps it’s the journey that I sensed in Pinot that piqued my interest . Perhaps also there’s a little bit of the nobility bestowed on Pinot Noir as well that I secretly love — she is the “Queen” of all wine grapes after all (at least according to the French) — Cabernet of course “King” (if you must ask).
I started at Rodney Strong and at the time they had a modest Russian River Pinot Noir project that produced lovely, aromatic, delicate wines. At Sterling Vineyards one of my jobs was managing the experimental winery they had at the time and one of our experiments was to figure out what worked best to ferment Pinot Noir: 100% whole cluster (aka Methóde Ancienne) or certain percentages of whole clusters fermented with destemmed fruit. At Saintsbury I became immersed in Pinot Noir at a pivotal time in the history of the grape in California. Many vineyards in the mid- to late-90’s were pulled out due to phylloxera and vineyard owners were looking to plant vines on phylloxera-resistant rootstock. During this time the Dijon Pinot Noir clones that were developed in Dijon France had just become available more widely in the United States. It was an exciting time because we had for perhaps the first time in California’s history a variety of “tools” from which to choose from that hadn’t been available before to grapegrowers: a variety of new rootstocks that had been developed to not only be resistant to phylloxera but also developed to effectively grow in a variety of soil and climatic combinations. A grower could essentially pick a rootstock specifically designed to adapt to the soil in the vineyard — if a soil was rich and vigorous then they could choose a less vigorous rootstock; if a soil was thin, poor and dry then a more vigorous rootstock would be chosen for that site. That and the combination of newly available clones introduced many possibilities for growing and producing Pinot Noir than we had ever had before. Gradually Pinot Noir became more recognized as well and the Pinot Noir revolution exploded in the 2000’s and doesn’t seem to be waning anytime soon.
I’ve made quite a bit of Pinot Noir and as my palate and sensibilities have evolved over the years I find myself actually looking back to what Pinot Noir used to be prior to this “revolution”. For the overall big picture I’m not sure there has been much improvement. Large conglomerate wineries have come to dominate — and in my view dumb down Pinot Noir — by planting very large vineyards using Dijon clones that crop heavily and produce lackluster, uninteresting wine — and a lot of it. Nowadays a bottle of Pinot Noir may be had at 7-Eleven for dollars and most mass-marketed Pinot tastes much the same: dark fruit, sweet, some influence of oak, made to drink immediately. These wines of course have their place but work against my own sense of nobility & finesse that is Pinot & the purist in me is a little offended quite honestly BUT then there’s the”smaller” picture: Pinot from smaller vineyards, smaller wineries made by people who care about all those lovely Pinot traits — this is where the magic is happening & this is where Cima Collina fits in as well. Pinot Noir should be made to pay respect to the vineyard in which it is grown and to recognize that Pinot Noir can be many things — dark & rich, delicate & aromatic — which is what makes it compelling and I truly believe can only be produced and nurtured on a small scale. At Cima Collina we love finding vineyards that grow a variety of clones in a variety of places so that we can show you all that Pinot Noir can be — the Queen of many moods, that wears many robes and is always, always intriguing.
– Winemaker Annette Hoff