Over fifty years ago Warren Dutton planted the first of many vineyards in the Russian River Valley, giving birth to Dutton Ranch – a name which appears on the labels of many of the region’s top wines, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in particular. It’s not a single vineyard designation, though; more of an acknowledgement of a top grower’s sense for site and vineyard management. Dutton Ranch today encompasses 1,150 acres of vines, scattered over 80 individual vineyard sites.
It was a long time before any of the Dutton family would make their own, commercially available wine from their vineyards. Steve Dutton, Warren’s son, partnered with Dan Goldfield in 1998, and their co-eponymous brand has grown ever since then. At first they confined themselves to the Dutton’s own vineyards within Russian River Valley, especially the Green Valley sub-AVA. Today, however, they source single-vineyard wines from up and down the North Coast, offering an opportunity to taste wines from a wide spectrum of Californian terroir, all made under the guidance of the same viticulturalist-winemaker team.
Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Marin County: It’s easy to associate Marin County with the sprawling suburbs visible from the highway north of the Golden Gate Bridge, but growers are increasingly taking advantage of the farmlands to the west, closer to the cooling Pacific Ocean. The Devil’s Gulch vineyard is a steep, terraced plot, winding around the curves of the hills. Owner Mark Pasternak first planted vines there in 1980, and today he is one of the guiding lights for newer vineyards, many of which he manages or consults for. The 2017 shows a mix of dark and red fruits on the nose, but is brighter on the palate, with touches of redcurrant, strawberry and raspberry. Medium-bodied, it’s a bit juicy, with lively acidity. 89
McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Fort Ross Seaview: Relatively light in color, with a mix of red fruit, forest floor, and savory notes – red raspberry, cranberry, bay leaf. Fresh, this is a smooth and elegant wine, with fine tannins on a long finish. Fort Ross Seaview, as the name implies, is one of Sonoma’s most maritime, ocean-cooled sub-AVAs. 92
Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Green Valley of Russian River Valley: A somewhat newer vineyard, planted in 2002, Fox Den lies on the western edge of Green Valley. The 2017 is fairly dense and chewy, but not heavy. The fruit spectrum is darker, with notes of plum and raspberry supplemented by sandalwood and exotic spice notes. Tannins are ripe but firm. 91
Dutton Ranch, Emerald Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Green Valley of Russian River Valley: From a vineyard in the northern portion of Green Valley, this wine shows classic Russian River Valley fruit on nose, especially raspberry liqueur, blueberry, and blackberry. Some clove and smoke notes appear on the palate, which is concentrated and intense. Medium body, with a rounded mouthfeel that’s still firm and dry, with light tannins. 89
Dutton Ranch, Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Russian River Valley: This vineyard, planted a couple years before Dutton Goldfield began production, is nestled in the southwest corner of the Russian River Valley, enjoying some of the cooling influences of the Petaluma Wind Gap. This is a dark-fruited wine, with notes of blackberry, raspberry, and plum as well as a touch of spice. It’s lush, weighty, and rounded, with satisfying length. 90
Azaya Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Petaluma Gap: While Freestone Hill looks out from the northern side over the Petaluma Wind Gap, Azaya is on its southern edge. It’s a cooler site, with more direct wind. This is a more concentrated, somewhat powerful style of Pinot, with blackberry, black cherry, and boysenberry fruit offset by touches of spice, smoke, and graphite. It’s full-bodied, and dense, with well-balanced, moderate tannins and good length. 91
Angel Camp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Anderson Valley: Angel Camp overlooks the Navarro River, in the northern half of Anderson Valley, where cooling fogs and a large diurnal temperature variation are commonplace during the growing season. The 2017 is on the savory side, showing black tea, earth, and floral notes alongside red cherry and red plum fruit. Some sandalwood and spice show on the palate. The wine is smooth, with good length and slightly drying tannins. 92
Docker Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Mendocino County: This is the most northerly vineyard Dutton Goldfield sources from, lying some ways past Anderson Valley. It was planted in 2010 and at 1,000 feet elevation lies above the usual fog line. The 2017 shows, ripe blue and black fruits such as black cherry and boysenberry along with touches of pipe tobacco and clove. It’s medium-bodied and well-focused, with firm tannins and good length. 91
Redwood Ridge Pinot Noir 2017, Sonoma Coast: From another higher-elevation site, surrounded by the trees that give it its name. It shows a generous nose, with notes of spice, lavender, pomegranate, and raspberry. On the palate it’s concentrated and firm, with slightly drying tannins and a concentrated, long finish. 93
Deviate Pinot Noir 2017, Sonoma Coast: An exception to the single vineyard concept, Deviate combines fruit from two sites, Jentoft Vineyard in Green Valley and Putnam Vineyard in the West Sonoma Coast. It’s a rich, round, and aromatic wine, with dark fruits – black cherry and plum – complemented by touches of anise, smoke, and black tea. Tannins are ripe and well-integrated; overall the wine is generous and easy to enjoy in the best possible way. 92
Dutton Ranch, Morelli Lane Vineyard Zinfandel 2017, Russian River Valley: Dark fruited and ripe, but well-structured, with blackberry, black plum, and black cherry notes. Shows some licorice and vanilla notes as well. Fairly weighty, but still nimble, with moderate tannins. 88
Dutton Ranch, Walker Hill Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, Green Valley of Russian River Valley: A classic Russian River expression of Chardonnay, with a pleasing mix of vanilla, pear, mandarin, and almond notes. On the palate shows more citrus and pineapple; it’s rounded but not fat or heavy, with a dry, clean finish. 89
Rued Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, Green Valley of Russian River Valley: Rued Vineyard, in the heart of Green Valley, is home to two notable clones of dry-farmed, old vine Chardonnay, Wente and a Chardonnay musqué now known as the Rued clone. The 2017 is generous and even fruity on the nose, showing Meyer lemon, ginger, and Asian pear notes. It’s a touch over medium body, ripe and rounded, with good length. 89