Wine Talk

Snooth User: John Andrews

Roessler Visit …

Posted by John Andrews, Dec 8, 2009.

As I had mentioned a while back I am making some wine this year and this means for a short period of time I need to be in Sonoma a lot. I need to be there to see what is going on, do punch downs and take readings on the wine. Harvest is a busy time but if you are only doing work on one ton of grapes there isn’t a lot to do. This means I find myself in Sonoma with time on my hands. This gives me a great opportunity to go visit some of our winery neighbors. This time, I decided to visit the local Pinot specialist, Roessler.

Many people will say that Sideways created the latest craze around Pinot Noir. I say it just accelerated a movement that was already in full swing. Pinot Noir, to me, is a grape that tells more about where it is from than any other grape. I am not the only one. There are a number of Pinot specialists like Loring Wine Company, Arista and Patz & Hall that believe the same thing. Arista is far from where I am, Loring doesn’t have a tasting room and Patz & Hall are by appointment only. That is what makes Roessler unique. Roessler has an elegant (albeit small) tasting room just off the square in town of Sonoma.

Roessler is a relative newcomer to the wine scene. But don’t let that lack of history dissuade you. The team that works at Roessler has plenty of history with wine and the wine industry … and, clearly, a passion for Pinot Noir. Many of the major critics and magazines have taken notice of Roessler. Roessler sources Pinot Noir grapes from all the major growing regions in California and even get a bit from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Roessler does two basic types of Pinot Noirs, a regional blend and single vineyard Pinots. The regional blend (like Sonoma Coast) gives you the general feel of the region and the single vineyard wines (like Sanford & Benedict) give you location specific interpretations. All the grapes are brought to a local facility for production. That does mean a lot of travel for some of the grapes which is what contributes to some of the higher prices. However, the prices are pretty reasonable when compared to single vineyard Pinots from other Pinot specialists. The thing that Roessler does that I really appreciate is really give a sense of place from the wines. The wines really reflect what Pinot Noir is, a delicate but complex red wine with an array of aromas and flavors.

During my visit Casey poured for me and walked me thorough what was available. She also introduced me to the tasting room dog Carter. Carter is high energy and loves chasing his ball but let’s get back to the wines. There is a small tasting fee which will get you a number of tastings. Being part of the industry I got to try a few extra. What was nice to see is that there are a few white wines in addition to pinots. My tasting notes are below:

• 2006 Brosseau Chalone Chardonnay $25 (3.5/5) - To me this was a more rich style chardonnay from the central coast area of California. It has good acid and a nice long finish. There are hints of tropical fruit but is more a caramel and light oak.
http://www.snooth.com/wine/brosseau...

• 2006 Clos Pepe Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay $42 (3.5/5) - Interesting wine. I know Santa Rita Hills more for pinot. This had a nice citrus/lemon character with some hints of corn nuts. Decent acid with minerality in the flavor with a medium length finish.
http://www.snooth.com/wine/clos-pep...

• 2007 La Brisa Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $30 (3.5/5) - This an appellation wine with a blend of a few vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. Light cherry color, very pinot like. Aroma was solidly cherry with some hints of earth. Lots of red fruit in the flavor - cherry, strawberry with hints of earth. Nice balance.
http://www.snooth.com/wine/roessler...

• 2007 Peregrine Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir $34 (3.5/5) - This wine started a little funky. It had a lot of earth and moss in the nose initially but gave a way to nice earth and red cherry. Very silky in mouth feel with good acid. Earthy and very Burgundian.
http://www.snooth.com/wine/roessler...

• 2006 Hein Family Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $46 (3/5) - Definitely not what I was expecting. I would describe this as a substantial wine. The aromas are of red fruit and a little smokey. The wine displayed a sour cherry flavor and was a little hotter than I expected. Probably needs more time to integrate.
http://www.snooth.com/wine/roessler...

• 2006 Savoy Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $46 (4/5) - This definitely reminds me of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. There is some nice earthy character and hints of red fruit. The taste is more red fruit than earth but is nicely balanced.
http://www.snooth.com/wine/roessler...

• 2007 Widdoes Russian River Pinot Noir $48 (3.5/5) - As the Savoy is really Anderson Valley, the Widdoes is really Russian River Valley. Deeper in color with red (almost black) cherry aromas with hints of oak. Nice and silky texture with red fruit aromas and good acid balanced with nice tannins.
http://www.snooth.com/wine/roessler...

• 2006 Brosseau Chalone Pinot Noir $42 (4/5) - Deeper, more rich pinot than the others. Darker fruit in the nose that is red plum and nice earth. The wine is earthier than the others. Big acid to the wine. Needs time to integrate but will be very nice.
http://www.snooth.com/wine/brosseau...

• 2006 Roessler Ridges Estate Bottle Pinot Noir $56 (4/5) - Bigger, richer pinot. Dark fruit, almost blackberry like on the nose. Bigger style and the most powerful of the pinots sampled. Good tannin and one, again, I think needs time to integrate.

Being a lover of Pinot Noir I am a bit disappointed with myself that I had not made a visit to Roessler before. For me, this is a required stop for a Pinot Lover as you get to taste the regional differences of California Pinot Noir in one place with a lot less travel. If you drop by, make sure to say Carter for me … but I’m sure he’ll be chasing his ball.

Contact Info:
Roessler (http://www.roesslercellars.com, http://www.snooth.com/winery/roessl...)

380 First Street West
Sonoma, CA 95476
P: 707-933-4440
E: tastingroom@roesslercellars.com
Hours of Operation: 11am - 6pm, Daily

Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 8, 2009.

Thanks for the visit and tasting report, John. Would be great to have as many of these as possible for reference by the community, IMO.

Am curious about the Brosseau Chalone chardonnay and pinot noir. I've had a lot of the Chalone Vineyards chards and pinots, from the vineyards and winery down in the Pinnacles area of Monterey, from their '70s vintages up through earlier this decade. They were the first place in California to get me really excited about California chards, though there were a few others I also liked way back when, and California pinots, back when *nobody* else was making any that I considered drinkable. Unfortunately they've fallen down, IMO, over the past decade, and especially since Diageo took them over in the middle of this decade. Dick Graf (together with his brothers) was originally in charge and was one of the Northern California wine pioneers in the '60s through '80s, along with the Drapers, Mondavis et al. Unfortunately he flew his Cessna (I think it was) into some power wires in the second half of the '90s, and the winery never seemed the same after that. Though they'd started with only Burgundian varietals they expanded and began creating and buying up a bunch of wineries, or doing joint ventures in California, the Pacific Northwest and France (spreading to include cabs, chards, pinot blanc, pinot noir, merlot, sauvignon blanc, and syrah under the Acacia, Canoe Ridge, Chalone, Echelon, Jade Mountain, Sagelands Vineyard, and Edna Valley labels; they also bought something like 1/4 of Chateau Duhart-Milon in Bordeaux) before that, and this expansionist business mentality seemed to take over more of the organization's soul, until they sold out to Diageo. But I digress.

One of the characteristics of the Chalone 'terroir' up on those hills near the national monument is an earthiness, perhaps such as you describe, that is particularly clear in the pinot noirs. So my question is, what is Roessler doing with Chalone grapes, if that is what is happening? In the past Chalone couldn't grow enough grapes to meet the burgeoning demand for their own pinots. Graf also made an effort to keep production per acre low, something like 2 1/2 tons at one time. Wasn't difficult since at first they didn't even have a regular water supply and had to truck it up the hill. So is Diageo upping grape production and selling it elsewhere? Or are the grapes from another grower in the 'Chalone' AVA, which I thought was mostly just Chalone itself?

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Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Dec 8, 2009.

Np idea regarding the Chalone sourcing but great work John. I'm not a huge fan of California Pinot in generally, and the profusion of unwarranted single vineyard designate wines turned me off completely. Having said that I think Roessler does a great job with pinot and really gets distinct expressions from each of his vineyard sources.

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Reply by John Andrews, Dec 8, 2009.

@dmcker ... the grapes are Chalone AVA but not from 'Chalone' itself. I will check but I believe the are from the Brosseau Family Vineyard (http://www.brosseauwines.com/vineya...). Same area but different producer. I do have to admit I don't really know what is happening with Chalone itself. It seems to be converting itself to a mass producer from the pioneer that it was.

@Greg ... thanks buddy. Appreciate the compliment. I have a couple more of these types of visit reports to write up. I do have to agree with you on the single vineyard wines (not only pinots). It seems to be more of a marketing tool than a justified wine. As you have stated though, Rosseler does a great job and gets the best from the sources.

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 8, 2009.

Thanks, John, and what I guessed. Would be curious to hear any info you pick up, whenever, about Chalone. Guess it's just another California/American horror story about how something pioneeringly great dissipated into mediocrity through the wrong type of corporate meddling. Success breeding failure. Can think of one or two dozen similar winecountry stories off the top of my head, and I live half way around the world. Seems like it might be an interesting theme for a book, or blog series or... 'What happend (or *is* happening) to___?

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Reply by John Andrews, Dec 9, 2009.

@dmcker ... I'll poke around and see what I find out. It is pretty clear that some wineries make the transition better than others. I'm not sure how people feel about Louis M. Martini but they seem to have transitioned under Gallo pretty well.

I would say the same for is probably true for Sebastiani. I think the Foley Group will set a good direction for them.

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 9, 2009.

How about BV, Mondavi et al.? Ravenswood might be an exception, because the founder is still very active, even after selling out.

Though I don't feel that Martini has the edge they used to. They always used to be my under $10 go-to for Napa/Sonoma varietals back in the '90s (probably equivalent to under $25 these days). They don't make the list for me these days, I'm afraid. I can't think of a single wine that's gotten better when a large corporation has bought them, though I haven't tasted anywhere near all....

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 9, 2009.

I suppose I could start a list of those wines I don't buy anymore, though I did under their founders. Though it pains me to say so Chalone is one, on a very different level Murphy-Goode another. Thinking way back when, Sterling, Freemark Abbey et al., et al, ad nauseum. Another list would be wines I'm still buying 20plus years later, including a look at how owners and winemakers have and haven't changed. The comparison would likely provide some insights on how my tastes have evolved, but also how the increasing mass of Napa/Sonoma/CentralCal big business has taken a lot of wineries in the wrong direction. Then there are those who have just plain disappeared, from Inglenook to Paul Masson to Maison Deutz to....

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Reply by John Andrews, Dec 9, 2009.

@dmcker ... I do agree with a lot of what you are saying but, then there are wineries like Roessler that are coming onto the scene are the 'new wave' of California wineries. They are really taking the mantle of leadership in California wine scene and where the buzz really is. While the old guard consolidates, the new wave is bring a lot of excitement and are very much like Freemark and Stags Leap of the 70s.

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 9, 2009.

Every generation seems to have their pioneers/upstarts/innovators, and praise the Lord for them. What I was talking about is the common-in-the-American-model (maybe North American; what do you think the future of Clos Jordanne will hold?) but unfortunate (for everyone except the main shareholders) middle-age crisis they resolve by selling out to large corporations and just going mediocre blah when they were cutting edge in their youth....

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Reply by zufrieden, Dec 13, 2009.

Nice effort reviewing such a diverse group of California Pinot Noirs. I have found that the clone used is of some interest, however. I'm no expert in this area (I drink rather than grow wine) but I would be interested in any informed commentary on clones preferred in the California vineyards.

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 13, 2009.

Good question, zufrieden. Perhaps it warrants its own thread?

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Reply by zufrieden, Dec 18, 2009.

Not a bad idea - about a new thread, I mean. I'll give it a think.


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