|For The Distinctive Epicurean and Wine Enthusiast
|California's Most Exclusive Gourmet Wine Club
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Friday, October, 01,2010
Location: 4401 Slusser Road,
Windsor, CA 95492
Time: 12:30 PM,
Weather: 78 F, Sunny, Light breeze.
T.G.I.F indeed! It is Friday during harvest in Sonoma with plenty of hustle and bustle. It is an active time
for the wineries although harvest is about 2 weeks late this year due to the coolest summer ever on
record. Never-the-less farmers are hard at work between 2:00 AM and 10:00 AM picking the fruit and
transporting ripe grape berries to their prospective processing plants to start a long journey of
transformation from fruit to wine.
It was a coincidence that I had received a few emails from some of our members suggesting
Sonoma-Cutrer as a winery to add to our portfolio. I made contact with Michelle Wing, the homeplace
manager, to arrange for a tour / tasting at the vineyard. She was very pleasant and accommodating to
host us during such a busy time of the year. An appointment was set for 2 weeks later. We arrived
around 12 noon at Sonoma Cutrer's inviting tasting room where were met by Michelle and Margaret,
tour guide / wine educator. We spent a few moments talking to Michelle as she was describing all the
different activities that were all around us; trucks that lined the driveway, white bins piled high and
meticulously placed in line awaiting their turn of pampered treatment prior to their final destination of an
elegant fine wine.
Sonoma Cutrer was founded as a vineyard company in 1973. It's appellation is unique from the hillsides and rocky foothills and currently recognized as a Sonoma Coast
appellation-an area with long, even growing seasons due to the cool and foggy coastal climate. Initially, the company planted several different grape varieties. By the end
of the '70s, Sonoma-Cutrer's Chardonnay grapes had a reputation for exceptional quality and were in great demand by premium wineries. Under the guidance of a group
of legendary wine experts, in 1981 ground was broken for a new winery to focus on the production of one wine: Chardonnay produced exclusively from Sonoma Cutrer's
own vineyards. Over the next several years, a winery that is the envy of the industry was constructed at the Cutrer Vineyard, home base for the vineyard operation.
Today, Sonoma-Cutrer's flagship wine, Russian River Ranches, is the number-one-selling Chardonnay in America's finest restaurants according to the annual Wine &
Spirits magazine 15th annual Restaurant Poll, April 2004. For many wine consumers, the name Sonoma-Cutrer is synonymous with superb Chardonnay.
If conditions are ideal in the Russian River Valley for growing Grand Cru-class Chardonnay, it stands to reason that world-class Pinot Noir can spring from the same soils.
This lingering notion led to an ongoing debate as Sonoma-Cutrer established itself as a winery singularly focused on Chardonnay. It turns out that focus was sometimes
just a bit blurred. In 1992 the idea of producing Pinot Noir was put into action. 1500 cuttings of various Pinot Noir clones, including legendary selection Martini and
Pommard were secured. Although the production of Pinot Noir was produced for several years as an in house treat, without the knowledge of the Sonoma_Cutrer
proprietor, very quickly Pinot Noir was well established at Basura and the once-renegade vineyard plot was fully exposed and fully appreciated. The first “official” vintage of
Sonoma-Cutrer limited-release Pinot Noir was offered to a few select restaurant clients in 2002 and the current release, vintage 2005, is a prized offering where demand far
Our tour guide, Margaret Chastain lead us through the
vineyards, stopping at various blocks explaining the different
planting methods of spacing, trellising, irrigation systems and
vine row spacing. We were able to stop and taste fruits from
each block. It was interesting to see how berries differ from
one block to the other that are only a few feet away from each
other. Margaret pointed out a fundamental and crucial part of
Sonoma Cutrers vineyard planting, where all the rows are
pointed at a 270 degree angle to guarantee equal distribution
of sun light from dawn to dusk, East to West. I was interested
in finding out the Brix level of the hanging grapes in one of the
blocks. Margaret tested them using refractometer which the
fruit was 22.5 for that particular Chardonnay block. The goal is
to pick grapes at around 23-24 Brix. This block should reach
there within a week or so.
bleeding by chilling the fruits prior to sorting) that were picked early that morning. Then the fruit is transferred to a destemmer
and then into the crushing tanks. At Sonoma Cutrer only the juice from the gentle crushing is used to make their wines. Full
crushed juice is sold off to other wineries to maintain a superior level and consistent quality. After all that is what Sonoma
Cutrer is all about. Prior to our tasting we had the opportunity to meet one of the winemakers, Cara Morrison. We were then
escorted to a pre-set tasting table on the patio across from 2 well groomed Croquet courts. A stunning setting to say the
least. We tasted 6 different wines, 4 Chardonnays and 2 Pinot Noirs as follows:
Russian River Ranches Chardonnay
Pretty aromas of jasmine and rose petal give way to tropical fruits like pineapple and mango. Roasted hazelnut joins nougat
and almond butter, finishing with a touch of lime and lychee. Medium-weight and clean with a wonderful acid backbone, the
wine expands in the glass, offering up grapefruit, lemon, pear and kumquat with subtle vanilla bean and herbal mushroom. The
lingering finish displays hints of minerality, along with apple, lime and a surprising kiss of strawberry. A market basket of
aromas and flavors.
Les Pierres Chardonnay
Full of deep, complex flavors that speak to the leanness of the soil, Les Pierres is a wine worthy of our Grand Cru approach.
Fine yellow-gold with perfect clarity, the wine displays distinct aromas of spice and lemon-lime over a pronounced flinty mineral
backbone typical of the vineyard. Signature flavors of green apple and lemon evolve to dried lemon peel and lime zest, while
floral notes recall the acacia flowers of the Burgundy countryside in spring. A broad mid-palate reveals a touch of spun honey.
Careful oak aging and fermentation impart a hint of fresh-baked bread crust. The wine’s structure is firm, focused and elegant,
and the remarkably long finish is classic Les Pierres: tight, lemon-mineral, extending with great acidity. A Chardonnay for the
Intense aromas of ripe apple are dotted with cinnamon and clove, as hazelnuts bathed in cream join fragrant notes of acacia
blossoms. In the mouth, the wine is dense and concentrated, while simultaneously offering a softer, sensual side in balance.
Flavors of baked apple appear alongside glazed pineapple and fresh tangerine, as a hint of clove entertains the taste buds.
With its perfect backbone of acidity, the wine is fresh, alive and begging to be enjoyed again and again.
Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
In this vintage the Pinot Noir shows the intense ruby red color we've come to expect from our estate-grown fruit. This wine is
not shy. Aromas of black cherry and currants leap from the glass, quickly followed by notes of cedar and allspice. A strong
floral component marries the fruit bouquet, while leaving room for the subtle influence of the new French oak. In the mouth the
first impression is berries, berries, berries, with raspberry, blueberry and blackberry all enjoying a turn.
Founders Reserve Chardonnay
This is a blend of winemaker Terry Adams' five favorite barrels of the year. However, block A/B of the famed Cutrer vineyard
has often been the focus of our rare limited-production Founders Reserve. On a slightly raised knoll with a gentle slope to the
south, these vines have watched three decades pass in the Russian River Valley and are fully mature. Each year they form the
backbone of the Cutrer blend. The well-drained soil, characterized as "Merced Sea Bottom", is layered with decomposing
fossilized shells. Just beyond the hills, the Pacific Ocean brings frequent morning fogs to caress the grapes, even as the
steady afternoon breezes chase the fog away.
Founders Reserve “Basura”Pinot Noir
In vintage 2003, a little more than a decade after a dog named Blanco and two guys with a bottle of tequila stuck vines in
crooked rows into a combination burn pile and trash compost site, the Pinot Noir that was captured from these suspect soils
was so unexpectedly exquisite that Terry Adams held back a barrel or two and quietly paid the wine its due: as a Founder’s
Reserve selection, the first Pinot Noir to gain this honor. The following vintage, 2004, was equally grand.
This is a wine with a special provenance and only a few will be able to finish telling the tale of Basura by raising a glass to the
possibility of what may come in a special year from a special place.
Vintage 2003: Basura Block, Cutrer Vineyard
Not fined or filtered, 100% fermented in French oak
Aged 12 months in 84% new, 16% once-used French oak barrels
14.3% alcohol ● TA .58gms/100ml ● pH 3.44
A blend of six clones on three rootstocks in a 1.79-acre block, 1,497 vines, 6.54 x 8-ft spacing.
At the end of my visit I found myself more informed about Sonoma-Cutrer's philosophy. They are dedicated to the pursuit of original expression in their wines. Each wine
reflects its regional and seasonal climate, its specific vineyard character – its terroir. From their basic Chardonnay to their limited production of Pinot Noir, this dedication
has taken root and continues to grow. Their "Grand Cru" philosophy is a unique assimilation of traditional Burgundian winemaking methods, with a well balance of
traditions and innovations that they are able to bring forth noble and consistent wines vintage after vintage. 'Till next time.