TODAY, THE FAR SONOMA COAST is a hotbed of artisan Pinot Noir production. But back when the Cobb family — David and Diane, and son Ross — had their eye on the cold, barren ridges just inland from the Pacific, winegrowing of any kind was discouraged there. But David and Diane thought otherwise and in 1989 began planting their Coastlands Vineyard with Pinot Noir to sell to select vintners. With son Ross as winemaker, the notion to start their own winery, Cobb Wines, gelled in 2001.
Working with the University of California-Davis, Diane established a university-licensed nursery to cultivate Pinot Noir — more than 20 relatively unknown varieties. Diane, who died in 2006, is memorialized by the “Diane Cobb” designated Pinot Noir from Coastlands Vineyard that is a co-fermentation of 18 to 20 clones from this early nursery. It is the most prized wine produced by Cobb Wines and the vines are some of the oldest in the region.
Today, her husband David Cobb still manages the vineyard and works with growing partners at other nearby sites, and markets the wines. Son Ross, with years of experience making wines for other producers and trips to Burgundy, is winemaker at Cobb Wines and is considered one of California’s masters of Pinot Noir.
The Cobb style of Pinot Noir is complex and graceful without excessive alcohol or overuse of new French oak. The wines are all single vineyard and produced in small lots. The wines need time to aerate in the glass, bottle or decanter to reveal their soul — this contact with air helps them relax and knit together in wondrous fashion.
With production being so limited, the best place to buy these wines is at the Cobb Web site.
Cobb Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, 2012, $75: This Pinot makes its own statement with its intense color; cherry-berry aromas along with toast, spice and vanilla off the barrels; and mouthfeel like a true Burgundy. As it sits in the glass, it changes dramatically: Flavors are intensified, and you grasp how young and still closed in this wine is. It’s an infant in wine years. In the mouth, it’s Pinot through and through with layers of black fruit, depth, sturdy acidity, rich tannins. It spent 22 months in barrel, 35 percent of which was new French. Alcohol is 13 percent, Production was 225 cases. Rice-Spivak Vineyard is near Seabastopol. It is six miles inland from the Pacific; soils are laden with volcanic ash.
Cobb Pinot Noir Emmaline Ann Vineyard 2012, $75: So aromatic, so intense, so elegant. This Pinot is off a tiny little vineyard with some of the finest soils in the Sonoma Coast. Aromas are dark cherry, blackberry, cola, vanilla, followed in the mouth by sturdy acidity and tannins that grip the palate. It’s a subtle but full-throttle wine for people who are passionate about Pinot — especially Burgundies. Emmaline Ann Vineyard is near the town of Occidental. The soil of this three-acre vineyard is Goldridge sandy loam. Goldridge soil, prized by Pinot Noir growers, is decomposed sandstone from a seabed. Cases produced: 175.
Cobb Wines Pinot Noir “Diane Cobb” Coastlands Vineyard 2012 $85: Decant or not, this Pinot is intense, concentrated and powerful from the get-go. Think smooth, luscious tannins; flavor that explodes with cherry, raspberry, vanilla and cola; sturdy acidity; integration of oak. It’s complex and spicy and made off that small block in the Coastlands Vineyard that Diane Cobb nurtured. It’s a co-fermentation of 18 to 20 different Pinot Noir clones and this vintage is the seventh designated wine. Cases produced: 225.
You can reach Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@Hotmail.com.