When we last left Bob Cabral a year ago, he was about to embark on his 17th and final vintage with Pinot Noir powerhouse Williams Selyem, located in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA. At the time, Cabral said he needed a change, wanted new challenges, but was not specific.
Six months ago, Three Sticks Winery owner Bill Price announced that Cabral would direct winemaking at the Sonoma-based winery, working with his longtime winemaker, Don Van Staaveren. Cabral handles the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, Van Staaveren the Cabernets.
Three Sticks -- referring William S. Price III’s surfing nickname, “Billy Three Sticks” -- was founded in 2002 and over time, Price has assembled an impression roster of vineyards and winemakers. He owns Durell Vineyard in Sonoma Valley/Carneros and Gap’s Crown in the Petaluma Gap in the Sonoma Coast AVA, and has a stake in such revered brands as Kistler Vineyards, Kosta Browne Winery and Gary Farrell Winery. Price also has access to great grapes grown throughout California.
Many Pinot Noir fans have Three Sticks on their radar, but for those who don’t, keep an eye out for the wines, particularly with Cabral behind the barrels.
Snapshot Pinot: Three Sticks 2013 Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($60). This new release, made by Van Staaveren and with Cabral participating in blending, has subtle caramel oak framing the deliciously bright, lively red cherry fruit. With hints of raspberry, beetroot and vanillin, it’s super-pure and bracing, with a long, succulent finish.
Here are other California producers, somewhat off the beaten path, that every Pinot Noir fan should know about.
David Rossi has it bad for California Pinot Noir. A former home winemaker, he crisscrosses the country, from his New Jersey home to Sonoma and Mendocino counties, where he sources Pinot Noir grapes for Fulcrum Wines.
Rossi’s flagship Fulcrum Pinots are ripe, juicy, bold yet remarkably balanced. His new line of Pinot Noirs, On Point, are a less-is-more concept, racy and vibrant, with subtle oak influence, moderate alcohols and snappy acidity accenting the bright red-fruit character.
Snapshot Pinot: On Point 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($36). The inviting floral and cherry pie nose leads to a palate of vivid black cherry and raspberry fruit that’s very bright, juicy and mouthwatering, with finishing notes of Asian spice and licorice. It’s a pretty side of Pinot Noir.
Jamie Kutch left Wall Street for life as a winemaker -- specifically a California Pinot Noir winemaker. In the mid-2000s, he and his then-girlfriend (and now wife) Kristen Green left New York and established a base in San Francisco. Kutch worked at Kosta Browne Winery in Sebastopol, where he realized that Pinot Noir best expresses itself and the place the grapes are grown at lower alcohol levels.
He purchases Pinot Noir grapes from vineyards on the Sonoma Coast, among them McDougall and Falstaff, where ocean influences keep ripeness down and complexity up. His wines have remarkable depth of flavor and a complex savory character, with alcohol content typically under 13 percent.
Snapshot Pinot: Kutch Wines 2013 McDougall Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($59). Weighing in at just 12.9% alcohol, this wine has earthy forest floor, black olive and vanillin notes on the nose. Ultra-smooth tannins, plump black cherry, plum and pomegranate fruit, and hints of Christmas spice and tobacco make this a distinctive wine California Pinot, finishing with racy acidity.
Eric Hall migrated from a career in high-tech in San Francisco to winemaking at Flowers Winery on the Sonoma Coast and Papapietro Perry Winery in Dry Creek Valley. He co-founded the Pinot on the River Valley wine festival, and had a turn as a lodge-keeper at a resort on the Russian River.
Yet Hall found his groove as proprietor and winemaker at Roadhouse Winery in 2010, with a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg. He purchases grapes from such revered vineyards as Sangiacomo and Olivet Lane, and turns them into wines with vibrant fruit character, moderate oak and refreshing finishes.
Snapshot Pinot: Roadhouse Winery 2012 Green Label Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($59). Grapes from the Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast give this wine its layered black cherry, dark plum and Asian spice notes. The finish is long and juicy.
Heintz Vineyards & Winery
Charles Heintz and his family have farmed on the Sonoma Coast since 1912. Wine grapes -- Pinot Noir and Chardonnay -- command Charles’ attention these days, and while he has long sold his grapes to top-notch producers, he created the Heintz brand in 2004 to showcase his 55 acres of estate-grown fruit near Occidental.
Just 1,500 cases of wine are made annually at Heintz, by Charlie and consultant Hugh Chappelle, winemaker at Quivira Winery in Dry Creek Valley and who has a stellar resume of winemaking at Flowers Vineyard & Winery on the Sonoma Coast and Lynmar Estate in Russian River Valley. Chappelle has a deft hand at making Pinot Noirs with nuance and transparency, never allowing over-ripeness or toasty oak to mask Pinot Noir’s inherent delicacy.
Snapshot Pinot: Heintz 2013 Valentina Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($48). A lively wine with fresh strawberry, red cherry and cranberry fruit. Lightly oaked and medium-bodied, it’s seamless and refined. If you’re looking for bombast, you won’t find it in this polished, elegant wine.