Vine varieties: Pinot Noir

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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The secrets of Pinot Noir in California turned out to be two: marine-induced fog in the vineyards (or, increasingly, planting at elevations too high to be much influenced by fog) and less time in wood in the cellars than it was given in the early 1980s. Pinot Noir perplexed California winemakers for decades by producing truly outstanding wine once in a great while, but dull stuff most of the time. André tchelistcheff symbolizes the struggle, never having equalled by his own judgement the splendid pair he made for Beaulieu Vineyard in 1946 and 1947. The harder people tried to make something grand, the more often they fell short. In the 1970s, the search for more suitable vineyards began to move ever closer to the coast. By the end of the 1980s, three districts had emerged, if not triumphant then at least much closer to triumph. Unified only by their proximity to a saltwater shore, they are Carneros, the Russian River Valley of Sonoma, and Santa Barbara county, especially its Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills. And by the late 1990s there was a great awakening of the virtues of growing Pinot Noir in the most marginal zones on the sonoma Coast, in the areas of Cazadero, Fort Ross, Freestone, Occidental, and Annapolis, where scintillating acidity and fruit purity can be relied on.