2012 Chad Pinot Noir Carneros
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Winemaker Chad Alexander Chad and the 2012 Pinot Noir Bonanza

"It's been rough," Chad told us over beers on the patio outside of Farmstead in St. Helena. "When I came up with the idea for CHAD, the valley was sweating bullets and every door was open to me. But when the market tightened up, everyone stopped answering my calls." Then, our point guard beer buddy broke into a broad grin and began to sound like he'd had one too many. "Let's just say, with the size and quality of the 2012 vintage, I feel like Little Joe Cartwright -- and this is BONANZA!"

After four consecutive short harvests in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, prices skyrocketed. But eventually, the glut of the crisis years turned into a full-on shortage. Even if wholesalers hadn't fully awakened, with production down 30-40% from 2008-2011, discounting wasn't an option. "Everyone was in a tough spot. If you didn't raise prices, you couldn't pay your fixed overhead."

Then came the spring of 2012. Flowering came early. For once, there was no frost. At budbreak, growers did a double-take. From Carneros to the top of Howell Mountain Road, the set was huge. "The largest I've ever seen," Chad told us. Summer was mild, absent the heat spikes or cold spells of the previous growing seasons. Fall was tranquil. With growers licking their chops and wineries determined to replenish inventory, a huge, exquisite crop was harvested -- the second largest in valley history.

On the cool, gravelly hillsides of Carneros, both growers and winemakers were elated. The Pinot Noirs set to be bottled at Donum Estate, Bouchaine and Etude will be deep in color, infused with marvelous red fruit juiciness, braced by fine acidity. David Graves and Dick Ward, the founders of Saintsbury -- long the makers of the Pinot Noirs by which Carneros is measured -- just shook their heads. "We hear about great, large crop vintages like this in Burgundy, but in thirty years, we've never seen anything quite like 2012 in Carneros."

But it would be Celia Welch, the 100-point winemaker at Scarecrow and Corra who offered the words that Chad found most intriguing. "The vines appeared so beautifully balanced that even some veteran growers were fooled by the size of the crop load." Then Welch added, "But where are we to put all of the fruit?!!!"

The crop load at the three single vineyards in Carneros from which this wine was drawn was roughly twice that of 2010. Given the pristine quality, the top estates rolled the dice and took every cluster off of every acre for which they'd contracted. With wineries packed to the gills (many scrambled to find tank and barrel space at third party facilities), everyone waited to see what 2013 would bring.

As we toured Carneros with Chad two months ago, we quickly understood why our beer buddy felt like he was back on the Ponderosa.

One look at Bouchaine, Donum Estate, Stanly Ranch, or Brown Ranch Vineyards and it was clear that absent any climatic disaster, 2013 would not only be another fine, copious harvest, but an early one. The shortage of 2008-2011 was once again about to become a glut. Two weeks ago, seeing the writing on the wall, the greatest producer of Napa Valley Pinot Noir over the last decade had run out of space, and decided to sell off a luscious 800 case lot. Their first call went to Chad. They wouldn't have to make another.

The 2012 CHAD Pinot Noir Carneros was drawn from three of the finest single-vineyard parcels in the appellation. Deep, bright ruby red to the rim with explosive aromas of crushed red fruit, black cherry and sweet spice, the attack is at once rich and wild berry vibrant. The finish is long, firm and cool climate persistent.

$35 under the winery's blue chip label. $16.99 this morning from CHAD. Take your pick.

Tasting Notes

2012 Chad Pinot Noir Carneros
"The 2012 CHAD Pinot Noir Carneros was drawn from three of the finest single-vineyard parcels in the appellation. Brilliant ruby red to the rim with luscious aromas of crushed red fruit, blacks cherry and sweet spice The attack is at once rich and wild berry vibrant, infused with lush black cherry/strawberry juiciness, despite all the 2012 opulence, the finish is long, firm and cool climate persistent. Delicious now, but don't be afraid to lay this one down for 4-6 years."
-- WineAccess Travel Log


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