Absolutely voluptuous on the attack, packed with mentholated black and red fruits, the finish remains fresh and vibrant, bracing opulence with stunning acid backbone.
In 1996, third-generation banker Jim Dierberg and his wife Mary undertook one of the most impressive vineyard development projects on the southern coastline. For Dierberg — whose family owns First Banks, one of the largest family-owned bank holding companies in the country — the world was his oyster. The choicest vineyards in Napa Valley or Bordeaux were his for the purchasing, but instead he opted to take on a daring Pinot Noir planting on Santa Maria hillsides bathed in chilly maritime breezes.
He approached the land with all the rigor and diligence of a seasoned businessman. Extensive soil studies were carried out, hundreds of pilot holes dug. Pinot Noir clones were carefully chosen, tailored to each contour of the property. After planting, he recruited Paul Hobbs, one of California’s most brilliant Pinot-makers. After dotting all the i’s, Dierberg penciled out a business plan that was not for the faint of heart. Would it pay off?
Within the first few years of the wines hitting the market, he had his answer. Dierberg was putting out some of the flashiest, sexiest, most concentrated Pinot Noirs on the coast, marrying Russian River opulence with scintillating Sea Smoke-like vibrancy. The scores ranked them among the greats, shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter Michael, Luc Morlet, Kosta Browne, and Brewer-Clifton.
In 2003, they planted their second vineyard, Drum Canyon, a steep, rugged plot in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills pounded by coastal winds. A steady progression of excellence ensued, and the critics noticed. In 2009, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate rated the single-vineyard release 92 points. In 2010, 92+. In 2012, 93. In 2013, the publication let loose and issued a 94-point bomb, calling the wine a “high-class release … silky, seamless and with rocking purity, it will have a decade of longevity.”
Winemaker Tyler Thomas says that the story behind Drum Canyon is “a tale of two vineyards.” The plot climbs more than 400 feet above the valley floor, inclining up to 45 degrees. The grapes are drawn off the benchlands of the valley, just as they are in Grand Cru Burgundy sites. A good portion of the soil is sandy, like much of the region, providing excellent drainage and silky elegance in the wine. But the whole other half of the hillside is composed of calcareous chert — a dead ringer for the calcareous slopes of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, where the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs are grown. This is the source of the wine’s incredible structure and density.
Heavy, rolling winds and essentially having two vineyards in one, thanks to the dual soil character, produces tiny berries of immense concentration and aromatic complexity. In the phenomenal vintage of 2013, Thomas had to do very little as Mother Nature took the driver’s seat. “You want two things,” Thomas told us. “One, you want the weather to avoid extremes. Two, you want time to let the grapes do their thing. In 2013, that was exactly what we got.” Despite a warm dry spring that pushed ripening times into August and September, they avoided any of the drastic heat spells that can sometimes come with that advanced timing. “That allowed us to pick at the absolute perfect time, leading to a massive fresh fruit expression in the wine.”
The 2013 Dierberg Drum Canyon Pinot Noir is deep ruby/purple to the rim, infused with black cherry and black raspberry preserves, laced with sweet herbs. Absolutely voluptuous on the attack, packed with mentholated black and red fruits, the finish remains fresh and vibrant, bracing opulence with stunning acid backbone.
Now that we’ve got your mouth watering, here’s the bad news: There’s not much to go around. Drum Canyon is small to begin with and on top of that, yields in Sta. Rita Hills are notoriously puny. After a long negotiation, we finally eked out just 480 bottles. 94 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate for one of the most extravagant high-end Pinot Noir deals to grace our pages in some time. $49.99 — the best delivered price in the country. Shipping included on 4. This one’s special.
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