2011 Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast
Expert Rating
RP 90-92 points
(Read the full review below)
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Freestone Vineyards Shot-Berry Pinot Noir and Sonoma Coast Strawberry Jam

It used to be that California's wine growers could hang their hats on the regularity of their growing seasons. Ripeness was never a problem, and for consumers who didn't mind a spoonful of raspberry preserves in their Pinot Noir, the top names in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast were sure bets. But, since the turn of the century, even the most expert and experienced growers have been kept on their toes. Vintages on the Golden Coast have turned into crapshoots, not unlike Burgundy's Côte de Nuits.

The 2004 campaign was a scorcher, only to be followed by a rainy, high-yield crop in 2005. 2007 was unusually dry and mild. Then came the topsy-turvy summer of 2008, one that would cause plenty of hair loss with its mix of cool days and unpredictable hot spells.

The 2010 vintage was one of the coolest on record. Maturity lagged well behind when the valley was scorched by two torrid heat waves in July and August. Those who practiced patience in the vineyards turned out beautiful, unusually Burgundian-styled Pinot Noirs. As to those who panicked — pulling leaves in June to jumpstart maturity — all paid dearly for their impatience.

By spring 2011, even the most experienced growers on the Sonoma Coast felt like they'd been put through the ringer. Suddenly, there seemed to be no such thing as a "normal" growing season. In March and April 2011, even the likes of Kistler, Peter Michael and Williams Selyem were reminded of Nature's new millennium caprice.

Spring came late in 2011, and the cold, wet weather made for what the Phelps vineyard manager called "tricky flowering." On June 4th, the day of the Napa Valley auction — held on Meadowood greenery below The Grill — it rained heavily for the first time in memory. That storm set the stage for a number of viticultural decisions that required equal parts of patience and obsessive vigilance.

By the end of June, Phelps's Freestone Vineyards were a full three weeks behind schedule. As most viticultural calamities occur in the last weeks of the growing season — and the 2011s would never be harvested before the first week of October — growers were uneasy. And when July and August remained unseasonably chilly, with many days shrouded by a heavy cloud cover, Phelps did what only the deepest pockets in the valley could afford to do. Following strict Burgundian protocol, Freestone tripled labor in the vines, and had ill-formed clusters clipped by hand in order to provide ample aeration. The cost was colossal. But so were the dividends paid at harvest.

We often speak of something the French call millerandages, but as some of you have reminded us, it seems we've never provided an adequate explanation of the flavor profile of "shot-berry" Pinot Noir. In years with stormy Springs like 2011, clusters form irregularly. On the same bunch, you'll see fatter, well-formed berries right next to tiny seedless berries. Those seedless (or "shot") berries are exceedingly sweet, but too many of them makes for dark, juicy wines that lack the tannic backbone provided by seeds and skins. Freestone's tiny crop — just 1.5 tons per acre! — matured quickly in the last weeks of September. While most of the berries were high in acid, infused with cherry-like vibrancy, the seedless berries were in perfect proportion, filling out the core of the luscious 2011 Freestone Pinot Noir like strawberry jam in a jelly donut.

If your predilection is for coastal Pinot Noir that's dark and plump, but absent the riveting backbone that makes red Burgundy sing, this bottle may not be for you. But if you're looking for a stunning Burgundian rendering of this one-of-a-kind harvest on the Sonoma Coast, the 2011 Estate-Grown Freestone is the most complex Pinot Noir to come off this world-class property in a decade.

Brilliant deep ruby to the rim with luscious aromas of black cherry, sweet herbes de Provence and violets. Rich and piercing on the attack, packed with a gorgeous mix of cherry and sweetest raspberry preserves, all braced with riveting cold-vintage acidity a la Chambolle-Musigny.

Tasting Notes

2011 Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast
"Gorgeous dark red cherries, savory herbs, licorice and mint are woven together in the 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Freestone Vineyard. Intense and rich, the 2011 is surprisingly rich for the year. Wilder, gamier notes appear later, adding complexity on the inviting finish."
90-92 points -- Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate


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