A Pinot Noir Master’s Bargain Buy
Bill Knuttel is one of the greats of California Pinot Noir. A pioneer of elegance and opulence at Saintsbury, Bill moved north to Russian River Valley to craft superb single-vineyard and small-production wines. Rich, complex, and deep-fruited, refined by the hand of a master — at $35 from the winery, Bill’s 2014 Russian River Pinot is still a bargain. At $21.99 today from Wine Access — 37% off — this is a stunning value.
After almost a decade at Saintsbury, where he fashioned Carneros’ richest, most elegant Pinot Noirs, Bill Knuttel moved north to Dry Creek, where he focused his winemaking talents on warmer-climate varieties. But, as Bill has always told us, once Pinot Noir gets its hooks in you, it doesn’t let go.
So even as Knuttel crafted some of the most lavish old-vine Zinfandels in Sonoma, he spent weekends scouring the Russian River Valley, slowly rekindling the Pinot Noir fire. “At first, when I went out crisscrossing the hillsides of Russian River, perusing various lots, asking about clones and rootstocks, I reminded myself to walk away from whatever I might find. As busy as I was, I needed a Pinot Noir project like I needed a hole in the head.”
For a couple of years, Bill remained disciplined. He ran up and down the hillsides outside of Occidental, then pushed north, to the warmer reaches of the valley. Finally, on a Saturday in March, Knuttel did what he swore he’d never do, and took the plunge.
We’re sure glad he did.
The day Bill shelled out for a lot of top-quality Pinot Noir was a coup for fans of juicy California Pinot Noir with a Burgundian cut. And while many toss around the term “Burgundian-like” far too cavalierly, Bill is not one of them. “It means 100% Pinot Noir, all the time,” Bill said, “with French oak and toast that augments the spice of the grape.” Russian River, as Bill sees it, gives the best of all worlds. “We don’t over-extract. We take what the vintage gives us, and we always get it good and ripe, with good fruit character and acidity.”
In 2014, Russian River Valley gave Bill an extraordinary harvest. At the Rued family’s Mt. Olivet Vineyard, where Bill sources most of his Russian River bottling, vines ripened beautifully over the course of a long, dry, temperate growing season, yielding deeply flavorful, small-berry Pinot Noir. In the cellar, Bill used decades of experience to craft a beautiful, ripe yet complex Pinot showing deep notes of black cherry and strawberry accented by vanilla bean and subtle espresso. This would be well worth the cost at full price, but at 37% off, it’s a downright steal.
Editor-in-Chief, Wine Access
Contributing Writer, Food & Wine