What’s the take-away after tasting the six Pinots in Etude’s Appellation Series? After trying all of them, each from a different region, and not just in California, one thing is clear: Etude maintains certain “hallmarks” — that’s the word they use. Whether grown in some of the coolest, most brutal growing regions on the West Coast or the world’s southernmost winegrowing region in New Zealand, each wine has a distinct character but also offers common traits: vibrant flavors, bright aromatics and the ability to age.
You could say Etude winemaker Jon Priest is not just bitten by the Pinot Noir bug, he is consumed by it. But Pinot Noir is part of the history of this venerable winery established in 1982 by one of the earliest proponents of the grape, Tony Soter.
As winemaker at Etude (Etude means “study” in French) since 2005, Priest has had access to pinot noir grapes not only from Etude’s remarkable Carneros estate vineyard, Grace Benoist (ben-wah) Ranch, but top vineyards in California’s Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills, plus Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand.
These Pinots offer quite the tasting experience. They range in price from $45 to $60 and are best purchased at the Etude Web site or at other online wine sellers.
Etude Pinot Noir Grace Benoist Ranch Carneros Estate 2014, $45: This baby is big — built sturdy as a Cabernet Sauvignon with firm acidity and fine tannic structure. It’s packed with dark berry fruit and notes of ripe plum and savory bacon. This vineyard became accessible to Etude when Tony Soter sold the winery to Beringer Blass in 2000. It’s a huge vineyard with variable soil types, elevations and exposure to the sun in the Carneros district of southern Sonoma. Winemaker Jon Priest chose from as many as 60 lots to craft this wine.
Etude Pinot Noir Ellenbach Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2014, $60: This beauty is all about cola, cherry, dark chocolate and vanilla with notes of lilac and violets. It has rich fruit flavors, vibrant acidity, silken tannins. Ellenbach Vineyard is on steep, remote hillsides a few miles from the Pacific in the northernmost part of the “true” Sonoma Coast appellation. It sits on ridges above the fog line on desirable Goldridge soils composed of the sand, silt and clay of an ancient sea bed. Vines struggle to grow here, which adds to the complexity and intensity of the flavors.
Etude Pinot Noir North Canyon Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 2014, $45: Inviting red berry flavors with an underpinning of cinnamon, cola and black tea give real personality to this Pinot. It pours with the “lighter” density of a French Burgundy that belies the ensuing blast of pure, complex, intense fruit. North Canyon Vineyard is in northernmost Santa Barbara County in the Santa Maria Valley famous for its funnel-like channeling of breezes off the Pacific because of the two mountain ranges that run mostly east and west, not north and south like other ranges along the West Coast.
Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2014, $45: While cherry and cola are typical flavors in Pinots, another fruit comparison can be pomegranate — and it’s pronounced here, along with cherry and raspberry, and earth and spice. Flavors are intense, tannins are supple, acidity is bright and refreshing. Fiddlestix Vineyard is in the Santa Rita Hills region of Santa Barbara County.The east-west hillsides channel the winds and cold air off the Pacific. The vineyard sits low enough in the hills to get some protection. Etude partners with the owners to ensure the viticulture practices are comparable to Etude’s estate vineyards.
Etude Pinot Noir Yamhill Vista Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley Oregon 2014, $60: Oregon Pinots, specifically those from the Willamette Valley, are usually earthy and hearty, with lots of complexity. This one is a great example: It has savory notes in tandem with cranberry and pomegranate flavors, along with plum and earl gray tea. The Yamhill Vista Vineyard is in the northwest corner of the valley at an elevation of 600 feet. The vintage was spot-on for Oregon, where some vintages put up with heat spikes in spring and summer and heavy rains at harvest — but that was not the case in 2014.
Etude Pinot Noir Bannockburn Central Otago, New Zealand 2014, $60: Wow. Aromas explode from the glass — intense dark cherry, raspberry, plum, cinnamon, dark chocolate and vanilla. It has firm acidity and supple tannins with good structure. In one word: Delicious. Central Otago is an informal name for the inland portion of the Otago region on the South Island of New Zealand. It is the world’s southernmost commercial winegrowing area and the specialty is pinot noir. It has a continental climate with low rainfall, low humidity and daily extremes of temperatures. Bannockburn is slightly warmer and drier than the rest of the region.
YOU CAN TASTE THESE WINES at Etude’s tasting room in the city of Napa. Make reservations for the “Study of Pinot Noir” online or call 707-257-5782.
You can reach Sandra Silfven at firstname.lastname@example.org.