1995 Napa Valley — A Prolonged Growing Season Yields a Superb Crop
The 1995 vintage was one of wild weather events that included winter storms and flooding. The Napa River set a new peak record and the Russian River was near its record crest. Fortunately, the vines were dormant and damage was minimal. Spring rains and a June hailstorm did have some impact though, and the growing cycle got underway with a late start. The summer was moderate to warm and made up for some of the delay, but overall, the harvest remained stubbornly late. There was practically no rainfall until long after the harvest, but the wet winter and spring had assured there that there were plenty of water reserves for the vines to thrive.
The arrival of fine Indian summer weather provided the much-needed hang-time the slowly maturing grapes required to reach full physiological ripeness, and the vintage ended up producing wines with a great combination of rich fruit, bright acidity, and freshness, and a finely tuned focus and structure. Perhaps more elegant, tightly wound, and fresh when compared to the powerful opulence of the 1994s, it is a superb year in its own right, and the best wines are still in deliciously fine form.
Rainfall delays growing cycle
Long and moderate, allowing extra hang-time for grapes
Tony Soter, who now makes excellent Pinot Noir in Oregon under his Soter Vineyards label, laid the groundwork at Etude before selling it to the Beringer-Blass conglomerate. Current winemaker, Jon Priest, continues to make velvety, suave, immediately enjoyable Pinots that are characterized by red fruits, spices, forest floor scents and particularly fine-grained tannins. Grapes are harvested from the Etude Estate Vineyard in Carneros, a patch of rocky, well-drained soil of volcanic origin, unusual for the region. Pinot Noir for the Heirloom release comes from specially planted old Burgundy clones and is a step up in intensity and density from the regular bottling without the loss of elegance. For years, Etude has been one of America's favorite Pinot Noirs on restaurant wine lists but don't sleep on the Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Merlot, which are catching up.
Pinot Blanc Facts
Rich and medium bodied, with hints of honey, tropical fruit, and smoke
Poultry, seafood and pork
Pinot Blanc may not receive the same respect given to noble varieties like Chardonnay and Riesling, or even other Alsatian whites like Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. But at its best, with grapes from low-yielding vines, Pinot Blanc can produce exciting values: creamy, medium bodied wines, with honey-like aromas and flavors.
A relative of both Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc is grown in a number of countries under a variety of names. In Germany, it is Weisseburgunder, while in Italy, it is called Pinot Bianco.
Still, the fact that we are most familiar with the grape as Pinot Blanc is a dead tip-off that the best examples of the grape come from France. In France, Pinot Blanc is most notably grown in Alsace, where it is either bottled on its own, used as a major component in the sparkling wine Cremant D'Alsace, or blended with other varieties in the region's traditional wine, Edelzwicker. We don't see much Edelzwicker, since the export market for this wine is virtually non-existent. But we're happy that we can get a decent amount of single-varietal Pinot Blanc from Alsace; the wine is made in some form by almost every Alsatian winery. These can be rich, sometimes tropical, smoky wines that are low in acidity. Look for offerings from Domaine Marcel Deiss and Domaine Schoffit.
In the U.S., some California vintners are producing Pinot Blanc with the same techniques used to make expensive Chardonnay, including new oak and malolactic fermentation. We're not convinced that this is the best way to showcase the grape, and lean more towards the wines being made in Oregon. Here, vinification techniques more closely follow the model established in Alsace, with fermentation in stainless steel or older oak leading to wines that are rich and smoky. Consider wines from Amity Vineyards and Elk Cove.
Pair Pinot Blanc with poultry, seafood, and pork.