2009 Saintsbury Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Sampler (and VIP Vineyard Experience)
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Richard Ward and David Graves and the Saintsbury Tasting Table 92pt Pinot Noir 401 from Spectator's "Nirvana" Vintage

In retrospect, they were mirror images, each plunging ahead with a variety that no one else even seemed to care about. All four were highly educated -- one might argue, over-educated. The diplomas they hung behind their desks, or in the case of Graves -- misplaced -- came from places like Stanford, Tufts School of Engineering, UC Berkeley, and MIT. But it wouldn't take long for both teams to learn that all the philosophy and hard science courses in the world weren't going to help when trying to tame Pinot Noir's caprice.

In 1979, Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler founded Kistler Vineyards. Just two years later, Dick Ward and David Graves would hang up their Saintsbury shingle. Over the next 30 years, more than any other wineries in America, the four guys with the top-tier educations would carry the torch, pioneering the making of world-class Pinot on the coast.

As Kistler adopted Dutton Ranch as its own, the Saintsbury duo flirted with many growers, challenging each to grow Pinot Noir to their specifications. At a time when Pinot Noir clusters were fetching little at harvest, Ward gently pushed growers accustomed to farm for quantity -- in lieu of quality -- to reshape their plants, dropping crop so as to spike maturity. Graves built relationships with dozens of farmers, none more remarkable than the late Ira Lee, slowly forging partnerships that would last three decades.

Finally, in a 2009 harvest that Graves, Ward, and surely Kistler and Bixler consider to be one of the greatest in coastal history, Saintsbury turned out a lineup of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs that may well define their careers. One would come off the poor soils, cooled by maritime breezes, of Toyon Farm. The second was 100% Ira Lee.

A cold, wet finish to 2008 provided the well-drained soils at Toyon and Lee with ample water reserves, something that would pay large dividends during the unusually warm, dry spring of 2009. The summer turned magically mild, absent the heat spikes that blistered clusters in 2008.

"In August," Graves told us, "the Pinot Noir was still a week behind. But as they've always said in Burgundy, Pinot Noir vintages are made in the last weeks before harvest. If we waved a magic wand at the end of August, we couldn't have done any better than the weather we were delivered."

Those last weeks offered turquoise skies and higher temperatures, gently nursing the small berry Pinot Noir to superb maturity without sacrificing a gram of acid backbone.

The 2009 Saintsbury "Toyon Farm" Pinot Noir is brilliant ruby/purple in color, infused with piercing aromas of black cherry laced with raspberry preserves, tinged with sweet herbs. The attack is rich and lush, packed with crushed red fruits and black cherry preserves, all bracketed by textbook Saintsbury backbone.

As for the 2009 "Lee Vineyard," the only sad aspect of this brilliant release is that Ira Lee -- who passed away before bottling -- isn't here to taste it. Darkest ruby to the edge, with sumptuous aromas of dark cherry and plum. Plush and voluptuous on the attack, slowly peeling off fine layers of black cherry confection, all supported by a high energy, nervy finish that argues strongly for a half decade in a cool cellar. This is a phenomenal bottle, in our opinion, one of the finest ever from Ward and Graves.

That's good. This is even better.

The Experience: 2009 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 401

There's no place like the Saintsbury tasting table to gain a graduate-level education on the making of world-class Pinot Noir on the coast.

All buyers will receive a personal invitation for a tasting for four, accompanied by an artisanal charcuterie spread from Fatted Calf. A full lineup of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs will be poured, as well as back vintages from Toyon Farm and Lee Vineyard.

Tasting Notes

2009 Saintsbury Pinot Noir Lee Vineyard Carneros
"Tight, trim and spicy, with aromas of soy, wild berry, black cherry, mineral and cedar. Young and closed, but all the right things are in place, fanning out nicely on the finish, where this gets more detailed. Drink now through 2018. 716 cases made."
92 points -- James Laube, Wine Spectator

2009 Saintsbury Pinot Noir Toyon Farm Carneros
"Marked by spicy anise, dried berry, cedar and mineral flavors that are tight and concentrated, this is medium- to full-bodied, at points dense and concentrated, even chunky, ending with a loamy earth aftertaste. Drink now through 2018. 826 cases made. "
92 points -- James Laube, Wine Spectator

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