The first thing I noticed when a box of La Pitchoune wines showed up was that I'd never heard of 'em. But I'd sure heard of the vineyards that they're working with, with names like Pratt and Van der Kamp. Ever wondered how relative unknowns can make a splash with such vineyard designates of renown?
It is partly to do with the money to buy the grapes, of course—owners Tracy and Peter Joachim Nielsen have backgrounds in marketing and business—but it comes down to wine country connections. Tracy wanted to get into the wine business, but everyone from barrel makers to cork companies turned her away for lack of experience in the industry, until she met up with winemaker Andrew Berge at a wine party. "He wanted to get out of what he was doing at the time, and I wanted to get in," Nielson says. Taking on Berge as a partner, they started the bonded winery with five tons of Pinot Noir. Now they're up to 20, made at Vinify Wine Services in Santa Rosa. With a laugh, Nielsen says she's been promoted to assistant winemaker.
When I see Chenoweth Vineyards, I think of the Sonoma winery Patz & Hall, which makes a vineyard-designate Pinot Noir of that name. It's hard to believe the 2013 Chenoweth Vineyards Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($48) was fermented in all-neutral oak. The cool but toasty aroma first brings to mind a shortbread cookie by the hearth on a winter's evening, but the season soon turns in the glass, and our cookie is instead roasting on the beach, slathered in coconut lotion. Pineapple flavor picks up the tropical theme, while crisp, just-ripe pear freshens up the butterscotch candy finish.
The 1.25-acre Holder Vineyard would have been hard to find if it weren't for the Chenoweth connection. Savory notes of marjoram and sandalwood hardly hint at the exuberant, sweet palate of cherry-raspberry-cranberry sauce that makes the 2013 Holder Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($68) such a pleasure.
English Hill is certainly an obscure vineyard designate. It just happens that Bohème's Kurt Beitler, who farms this eight-acre vineyard in a windy area south of Sebastopol, is a friend of Berge. Folks who know that wading past a weedy, slightly reductive initial aroma can lead to the best kinds of Pinot complexity will want to follow the 2013 English Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($58) to its comparatively more tannic conclusion. Along the way, flowering mustard, clove oil and suede aromas weave in and out, while deep flavors of plum and pomegranate lacquer the palate.
The 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($48) seems like a less intense selection of the English Hill, but the baking-spice notes and cranberry, plum and strawberry flavors invite another sip.