2012 Clos Julien Pinot Noir Carneros
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The Vineyards of Carneros When the 'Second' Label Is REALLY the First

The first inkling we had of what was to come was in July 2012. On each trip to wine country, we line up the requisite winegrowing tour guides, and take to the vines before we enter a cellar. That summer, from Carneros to Russian River, we eyeballed the largest Pinot Noir crop we'd seen in 25 years on California's wine trails. But even more striking than the quantity was the stunning uniformity of quality. If the weather held out, we were told several times over, Pinot Noir producers were in for a watershed vintage.

Nature never missed a beat. From July to September, barely a drop of rain fell. Temperatures remained moderate, helping to fend off hydric stress. A month after harvest, the word was out. Chuck Wagner at Caymus called the 2012 vintage "a new high-water mark" that would see many vintners make "their best wines ever," and Celia Welch at Corra agreed. Robert Parker described the class of 2012 as "exuberant and boisterous … fleshy, succulent, mouth-filling … filled with oodles of ripe fruit" and "exceptional purity."

But with the good news came the problematic. As we've mentioned several times over the last few years, many of the most rigorous wineries on the coast now contract by the acre — and NOT by the ton. In so doing, they are able to more completely control quality by dictating growing season decisions. The problem in 2012? First, the fruit was so pristine, it made no sense to trim back. But second, the harvest was SO large — the second biggest in recent Napa Valley history — that blue-chip wineries brought in more fruit than their wineries could handle. As one of our tour guides told us, "The fruit is phenomenal. But where the heck am I supposed to PUT it?"

We loved that line.

In years past, when there was "over-production," wineries sorted through their tanks and barrels, bottling up the lesser wine under "second labels." But as we'd learn during our September barrel tastings, just as we'd seen in the vines in July, quality was virtually homogenous. Blue-chip wineries that had contracted by the acre — and not by the ton — would be obliged to lighten up on inventory of some of the finest Pinot Noirs they'd made in a decade. And the wines they would sell off would be identical to those that were bottled under the winery's own label!

While the winery that made the 2012 Clos Julien Pinot Noir, for obvious reasons, asked us not to include its name in this story, you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out on your own. This wine is drawn from three top single-vineyard Pinot Noir blocks in cool-climate Carneros that, in most vintages, produce three tons per acre. In 2012, they pumped out 5! At harvest, the clusters were larger than normal, but berries were unusually sweet. Skins were a touch thicker than in 2011 and 2010, providing the gentle tannin backbone needed to offset the sheer opulence of 2012. This one's a beauty.

Brilliant ruby to the rim with luscious aromas of red raspberry, black cherry and sweet spice, tinged with new-wood vanilla. Rich, supple and lush on the attack, both broad and bright, packed with crushed red fruit preserves, bracketed by fine Carneros backbone.

Tasting Notes

2012 Clos Julien Pinot Noir Carneros
"Brilliant ruby to the rim with luscious aromas of red raspberry, black cherry and sweet spice, tinged with new-wood vanilla. Rich, supple and polished on the attack, broad, bright and beautifully delineated, all the crushed red fruit opulence braced by chiseled Carneros backbone. Drink now-2018."
-- WineAccess Travel Log


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