1993 was a variable year and a bit of a challenge for growers. It began with a warm spring that ended with rain during the bloom in May, lowering crop size by 20-30% from the start. The summer was moderately cool, with several heat spikes in August and September, forcing growers to harvest in spurts of activity as ripening alternately accelerated and slowed. It was a very good year for early-ripening varietals, white grapes, and Pinot Noir.
It was a good to very good year for the Cabernets and late-ripening grapes, with complexity and moderate depth and power. But, one wonders how much better they could have been if they had enjoyed more even weather conditions. A sound vintage that turned out some excellent wines, but it is mostly outshined by the 1992s and 1994s on either side of it.
Unexpected rain during the bloom period resulted in a small set
Intermittent heat spells
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.