2008 Cinque Insieme Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Sonoma Coast
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Wildcat Mountain Vineyard The Noblest Experiment

It's a story we hear quite often but rarely recount. It begins with a group of well-heeled guys. Old friends looking to do something together. Just for giggles. All are wine lovers. Some have even been tempted to drop a small bundle on a winery, before talking to bankers who know better, thus saving that idea for the next life.

But finally, they come up with a cautious plan, taking the smallest of winemaking leaps, careful to keep costs variable. First, they pick a variety. This time it would be Pinot Noir. As they're planning on making just a few hundred cases, grape cost is no object. Go for the best of the best. What's there to lose anyway? Then, they interview winemakers, aiming high. A few thousand a month? No big deal. Each partner has a million friends. Regardless of cost, if the Pinot is good enough, there won't be enough to go around.

The winemaker who wins the lottery is Justin Lattanzio, a guy many count among the most talented young Pinot Noir makers on the coast. One look at Lattanzio's resume and it's easy to see why he won the Cinque Insieme lottery. First, a two-year stint with the ingenious Wells Guthrie at Copain. Then, while overseeing Copain's custom crush operation, Justin would work hand in hand with DuMol, Carlisle and Pisoni. In 2005, Lattanzio made the hop over the Oakville Grade, landing at Revana where he'd work his cellar magic with the inimitable Heidi Barrett of Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle fame.

It would be while working with Guthrie, that Lattanzio came to appreciate the colder, edgier coastal vineyards -- places where the cooling fog off the San Pablo Bay always makes a summer morning cameo. A little elevation is a good thing, just high enough for the brisk maritime breezes to keep the vines disease free, but not so high to escape the chilly fog. As the Cinque Insieme partners had already OK'd paying by the acre -- not by the ton -- Lattanzio was free to dictate farming practices, something that would influence his eventual choice of fruit sources. Dozens of vineyards were scouted. Just one won out.

Wildcat Mountain Vineyard is a magical spot for Pinot Noir, if you have the guts to farm it to low yields and wait out the late season drama. The soils are fine volcanic. Set at 500-700 feet in elevation at the southern tip of Sonoma Coast, when the morning fog lifts, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland and the Mayacamas Mountains to the west. Was it crazy for winegrower Steve Macrostie to plant 23 undulating hillside acres to Pinot Noir? If you're goal is to make sensibly priced, easy drinking cherry cola Pinot -- for sure. But if you're going for broke like Cinque Insieme? Not at all.

2008 would prove to be marvelous on Wildcat Mountain. Just two tons of small berry clusters -- no larger than the tip of your little finger -- would make it to Lattanzio's fermentor. Justin, as always, would make no mistake, treating the Pinot Noir to a long, cool vinification, magnifying extraction, nursing out all the wild berry richness, firmly buttressed by cold Sonoma Coast acidity.

The 2008 Cinque Insieme Pinot Noir off of Wildcat Mountain would be bottled in 2010. The project seemed to be off to a roaring success. Justin had nailed it. The wine was deepest ruby in color, infused with juicy aromas of black cherry and crushed raspberries. The attack was surprisingly dense and voluminous, packed with red fruit concentration, silken in texture. The backbone was San Pablo Bay chiseled.

Released at $38/bottle, there was just one detail that the partners overlooked. Now that the wine was bottled and the most elegant of labels affixed, someone had to sell a few hundred cases. Planes were apparently hopped. Sales calls made. But at some point, each partner decided the best use of his time might not be in pounding the pavement, knocking on restaurant doors, or calling wholesalers who weren't answering phones.

Last week, Cinque Insieme decided that the noblest of Pinot Noir experiments, replete with a superstar young winemaker and one of the edgiest vineyards on Sonoma Coast, needed to be put to bed. So they called WineAccess and asked us to make that happen.

Tasting Notes

2008 Cinque Insieme Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Sonoma Coast
"Deep ruby in color. Exotic aromas of crushed raspberries and wild cherry, tinged with sweet coastal herbs. Rich and voluminous on the attack, surprisingly broad and dense in the mid-palate, packed with dark red fruit concentration, all bracketed by piercing cold climate, fog-shrouded cut. Drink now for its primary fruit juiciness or age for up to three years in a cool cellar."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

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