Pinot Days and an Introduction to the 2012 Vintage
by Chuck Hayward
Pinot Days is an annual pinot noir tasting that has been organized by something quite rare. Lisa and Stephen Rigisch are simply plain ol’ wine enthusiasts who shared a passion for the grape and wanted to bring like minded people together and clink glasses. An offshoot of informal tastings that they sponsored in San Francisco, Pinot Days is now in its tenth year and has become a serious event on par with other tastings such as those organized by regional wine marketing groups or wine focused magazines. The event's success has led to the Rigisch family to expand their annual tastings to Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
The San Francsico conclave is usually held right as summer rolls around which is also when the latest vintage of California pinot noirs start to enter the market. This tasting would feature new pinot noirs from 2012 which has been a highly anticipated vintage thanks to the dismal wines from 2011. The vintage was highly praised thanks to problem free weather throughout the growing season, all of which has led to high expectations for the 2012s.
The year started with nice dry conditions in spring which allowed for good flowering. Temperatures were moderate as the vintage progressed, and more importantly, there were none of the high temperature spikes that traditionally affect the end of the growing season. This allowed growers to pick fruit at times of their choosing and under ideal conditions without pressure from heat or rain. This was in stark contrast to the previous year which saw North Coast wineries dealing with some of the worst weather in decades. Cold temperatures, grey skies and lots of rain resulted in wines from 2011 that lacked ripeness and concentration.
Tasting through the 2012s at Pinot Days was very informative and confirmed many impressions gleaned from an earlier look at the vintage at this year's ZAP tasting. It was clear that they had much more to offer aromatically and on the palate compared to the 2011s. Most pinots possessed a darker hue while still maintaining some translucence at the center of the glass which is reflective of the increased sun exposure in 2012.
The structure and palate intensity of North Coast pinots mirrored what was encountered with 2012 zinfandels this last January. While there was breadth across the palate alongside fruit that was ripe, there was probably less density, concentration or extraction than might have been expected given the good weather. This is not a year for super-ripe and viscous palates. Yes, the wines are ripe and have a sweetness to the youthful flavors but there's an elegance, a sense of prettiness on the midpalate.
In years where California's sunshine and moderate weather abounds, it's common to find wines of intensity and extract so the traits witnessed so far rightfully seem a bit unusual. It turns out that the benign conditions also resulted in very high yields throughout the North Coast. With little rain or wind during spring, flowering proved to be successful setting up a harvest with large bunches full of big berries. The big yields led to large berries with lower skin-to-juice ratios giving the final wines plenty of volume but not much concentration.
The tasting also pointed to some regional variations in 2012. Russian River and the Sonoma Coast often showcase the richer, denser styles of pinot was the locus for many of the most of the finesse in this vintage. Estates like Martinelli and Failla are known for some generosity on the palate in top vintages but 2012 saw lots more delicacy in Russian River and the Sonoma Coast than would be expected given the hype surrounding the vintage. Interestingly, wineries with fruit from cooler regions like Anderson Valley and Marin County had wines with much more intensity at the palate core and more opaque coloring as well. Compared to their neighbors, the shape of the palate was more narrow and focused but there was no escaping the fact that intensity was the name of the game here.
It’s also good to remember that Pinot Days was just a snapshot of the wines to be released. More wines will come to market over the next 12-18 months. And this event definitely leaned towards wines from the North Coast, there was just as mattering of wines from Monterey and Santa Barbara. But hopefully these observations will help provide you some framework as you taste more 2012s in the future.
Now about the 2013 vintage…….
Here are some 2012 pinots that have landed at JJ Buckley:
2012 Failla Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
2012 Sidouri Pinot Noir "Pisoni" (Santa Lucia Highlands)
2012 Melville Pinot Noir "Terraces" (Santa Barbara)
2012 Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir "Fox Den Vineyard" (Green Valley/Russian River)
2012 A.P. Vin Pinot Noir "Garys' Vineyard" (Santa Lucia Highlands)