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A Cabernet Winery Identifies as Pinot Noir, Too
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 27, 2018
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Ladera Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir, Pillow Road Vineyard 2015 ($50) and Chardonnay, Pillow Road Vineyard 2015 ($50):  Identity politics are not normally associated with wineries, but as I tasted these two wines, the topic sprang into my mind. 

Ever since its first commercial vintage in 1997, Ladera Vineyards has identified as a mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon property, producing intense, authoritative Cabs with the concentration of mountain fruit and yet subtlety of expression.  When the winery purchased a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyard in Russian River Valley in 2006, and an adjacent parcel in 2008, it created a separate label for the wines from that area, in order to preserve its identity as a Cabernet specialist. But identity politics can be limiting.  With the 2015 vintage, Ladera has incorporated the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay into its Ladera brand.

The interim brand for the two Russian River Valley wines was Pillow Road, the name of the property.  Now “Pillow Road” appears as the single-vineyard name for Ladera Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Ladera Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  The vineyard itself is situated in the Sebastopol Hills area, southwest of the city of Sebastopol, just ten miles from the Pacific Ocean.  With its morning fogs, large diurnal temperature swings and its Goldrich sandy loam soils, this area is considered an especially favorable location for these varieties.  The 2015 wines represent the tenth vintage since Ladera’s purchase of the site.

Ladera’s Pillow Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 is the subtler of the two wines, with a gentle and earthy expression rather than exuberance of fruit.  Its aroma suggests plum, tart red berries and black cherry with notes of smoke, dry earth and fresh herbs. In your mouth this wine is nearly full-bodied but not dense, showing supple texture and a measured amount of dusty tannins that are well-integrated with the fruit.  Flavors suggest red fruits, cinnamon baking spice, bakers’ cocoa and dry forest-floor notes. These flavors are relatively subdued, so that the wine’s structure and its smooth, agreeable texture capture your attention.  In terms of winemaking, the whole berries underwent a seven-day cold soak before fermentation, and the wine subsequently aged for 15 months in French oak barrels that were 65 percent new.  It is a credit to the fruit that the new oak does not dominate the wine.

In contrast, Ladera’s Pillow Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 is a flavorful, exuberant wine in which fruit expression trumps structure.  Nothing lacking in the wine’s structure: full body, uplifting acidity, a slight phenolic grip from oak, and seductively creamy texture.  But what’s within this structure is what entices.  The wine’s aromas and flavors suggest ripe red apple, ripe pear, ripe lemon, and a bit of peach, with brioche, vanilla and white-chocolate notes.  This wine exudes juiciness and flavor, and if that is what you like, you might find it irresistible.  The winemaking for this Chardonnay involved whole cluster pressing, barrel fermentation, partial malo-lactic fermentation, and aging on the lees for 15 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent of which were new.

I suspect that the Pinot Noir has a longer future ahead of it, as the fruit character emerges from the structure, but I don’t believe it is destined to be as forthcoming as the Chardonnay is now.  Two terrific wines with very individual expressions.

Pinot Noir, 91 Points
Chardonnay 92 Points