2007 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Devil's Gulch Ranch Marin County
A recent email from a customer raised an eyebrow. He wrote, "Why do you talk so much about vintages, particularly in California. Does it really make such a difference? Every time I go out there, the weather is beautiful." It suddenly occurred to us that when we get really excited about a vintage -- of late, some incredible harvests that followed long vegetative cycles and late picking under blue skies -- we're not making it really clear why we're so worked up.
On today's market, there are several climatic scenarios that argue for monumental wines, and in some instances, wines of historic proportion. The southern Rhone in 2007. Oregon Pinot Noir in 2008. Alsace and Germany in 2007. Loire Valley whites in 2008. Piedmont in 2006 (and perhaps again in 2008). And, yes, Sonoma Pinot Noir and Syrah in "extreme" spots in 2007. If all you sock away in the cellar over the next year are top wines from these spots -- trust us -- you're going to be one happy camper.
So, when we headed up to Sonoma from the airport this summer to check out the recently bottled 2007 Pinot Noirs, we already knew what we were looking for. The 2007 growing season began with early budbreak, but the cool, clear weather from start to finish allowed for late picking. Every variety loves these scenarios, but none more than the cool-climate Pinot Noir. We set up our trip accordingly, focusing on "extreme" spots, places that might struggle to ripen in tough vintages, but in growing seasons like 2007 put out miracle fruit.
The most unlikely discovery of the trip -- although this wine already has a huge cult following among winemakers in the Valley -- didn't come from Sonoma. It came from Marin, a hidden vineyard in a magical, sparkling valley farmed to tiny yields of perfect, small-cluster Pinot. It's called "Devil's Gulch."
We've marveled at Dan Goldfield's winemaking for a couple of years, but we'd never seen Devil's Gulch. He was holding out on us. This is one of Goldfield's pet projects -- single-vineyard Pinots, each from an extreme setting -- a 13-barrel production of a wine that never sees the light of day on retail shelves. But when we learned about Devil's Gulch from another brilliant winemaker (Marco DiGiulio), we first pried a bottle out of Goldfield. The 2007 Devil's Gulch is deep purple in color, a concentration of color that would typically lead us to believe that the wine would be "over-the-top," too alcoholic, out of balance. Only the alcohol here is a modest 13.6%. The nose of dark cherry and faint raspberry preserves has a wild-fruit element. But on the palate, this is the kind of richness and refinement that we find in Gevrey, not California -- a wine of immense power and class that was better after 48 hours of air. This isn't just a monumental California Pinot Noir, this is world-class Pinot. Here's why:
Understanding the 2007 Pinot Vintage (sorry for the length, but this is important)
Great Pinot Noir is all about getting ripe, supple, rich tannins before the grapes' sugar levels get too high. High sugars mean high alcohol and usually, plummeting natural acid levels. What's going on behind the curtain when sugars are too high? Winemakers pull out the hose, add water to reduce alcohol, as they hit the wine with tartaric acid to balance things out. (Sound like hitting yourself over the head with hammer and then taking two Advil?) No one in California, in our experience, understands this better than Goldfield. That's what brought him to Devil's Gulch.
The late winter and spring were extremely dry and warm, leading to early budbreak and balanced green growth in 2007. Flowering came early and in perfect weather, but the crop was small due to low fruitfulness after the prolific 2006 vintage. The summer then grew classically cool, with foggy nights and no protracted heat spells to bring on what could have been a very early harvest. Instead, harvest was late at Devil's Gulch, as high temperatures were only in the 70s and 80s. Pasternak and his crew could take their time bringing fruit in, going row-by-row, as there was absolutely no risk of overripeness or dropping acids.
The incredibly long period between veraison and picking provided a perfect scenario for Pinot Noir, offering small clusters with sensational phenolic and flavor development.
Winemaker Dan Goldfield
"Good bright, dark red. Initially rather brooding aromas of dark raspberry, fresh pepper, cardamom and wild herbs convey a strong soil character; a piquant note of orange peel emerged to lift the nose. Then silky, dense and very pure in the mouth; quite dry in a classical way, with a fine-grained texture to the urgent black cherry, wild blackberry and spice flavors. This is notably different in style from this producer's Sonoma County wines, and an excellent example of this cooler appellation. Finishes long and aromatic, with lovely subtlety of flavor. Extended aeration brought even more energy and perfume. This may ultimately merit an even higher score."
92+ points -- Stephen Tanzer, The International Wine Cellar