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October 10, 2018

The Joy of Discovery: Baxter Winery

One of my favorite aspects of wine lies in the endless possibility that something new will cross my horizon, something that makes me consider the world from a different perspective, whether it be the beverage world in particular or the broader world we live in.  Sometimes it is a bottle that arrives from a producer that is familiar but comes from a different site than last year’s offering.  Sometimes it is an older wine that I tasted in its youth that has evolved into a completely different animal.  Sometimes -- and this may be the best way -- someone who knows what I like makes a recommendation for a site visit that ends up knocking me out.  Such was the case with a recent visit to Baxter Winery in Mendocino County’s idyllic Anderson Valley, a place where Pinot Noir is king, but other surprises lurk, awaiting discovery.

Phil Baxter Jr. took a time out from new fatherhood to meet at the tasting room in Philo and show off the current offerings, and to say that they knocked me out would be an understatement.  Everything poured was beautiful and promises to remain so in the future.  The family wine philosophy is to focus on purity of fruit that expresses each site clearly, with minimal intervention.  They use only neutral oak -- white wine barrels that were used for multiple vintages -- and aim at lower-than-average alcohols so that the cool climate acidity keeps the wines fresh and lively.  To my taste, there’s clearly a table-friendly thread of continuity that runs through the portfolio.  Phil grew up in Napa Valley and made his first vintage in 2003, and his wines show the gracious living style that comes with the locale.

If you find my praise of the wines overly effusive, I will add that during our meeting several locals noticed that we were inside and stopped in to taste, and no one left without purchasing a few bottles.  Some highlights:

2014 Pinot Noir, Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $52:  This vineyard faces northeast, so it is a cooler site that gets morning sun, which means it gets more solar ripening than heat ripening, preserving natural acidity in spades.  The wine received a 30% whole cluster fermentation treatment and finished at 13.4% alcohol.  The result is a glassful of cherry, cranberry, umami, rich oak spice, vibrant acidity and subtle stemmy character that gives the fruit and spice good push in the finish.  An impressive first taste of the producer!  93

2014 Pinot Noir, Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $48:  This bottling is primarily clone Roederer 32, a sparkling wine clone that Phil allows to ripen longer -- this vintage was picked at 24.5 brix, a point higher than most of his other Pinot Noirs -- which reduces the acidity levels.  Don’t fear, there’s plenty of acidity left to carry bold cherry and strawberry fruit and complementary spice and dry earth notes.  A very lively, age-worthy wine.  95

2014 Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County, $60:  A vineyard that’s gaining in Pinot Noir fame located northwest of the northern end of Anderson Valley near the small town of Comptche.  This bottling is another snootful of fruit from Baxter, with ringing cherry, fall spice and wildflower aromas.  The palate is quite rich, with crazy bright acidity managing the richness and allowing notes of barrel crème, dry and damp earth minerality and soft savory notes to balance the fruit load.  Delicious!  93

2015 Pinot Noir, Run Dog Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $52:  A tiny vineyard -- just .7 acre -- that is planted to clones 114 and Pommard.  Small but mighty, I’d say!  This wine is wildly floral on the nose, with pine and forest floor joining high toned cherry and fall spice.  The palate folds the elements together beautifully with a silky entry and a trailing pop of acidity.  A touch of pepper joins the fruit in a bright, mouth-watering finish.  94

2014 Carignan, Caballo Blanco Vineyard, Mendocino, $34:  There are a few pockets of this varietal kicking around the state that produce some great fruit -- it’s a shame that more of it doesn’t find a home in varietal bottlings like this one, sourced from a dry farmed vineyard of nearly century old vines.  A wild, spicy raspberry nose translates well on the palate, where the fruit and spice are presented in bone dry, bright fashion, and there’s well played extraction of skin tannins that don’t get into sour tones at all.  Soft pepper notes and a long finish make for a great red meat accompaniment.  93

2014 Montepulciano, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino $34:  This bottling pulls off classic Italian style better than just about any domestic wine I’ve tasted to date.  The vineyard is near the old Whaler winery east of Highway 101 near Hopland, and it’s another great find by Baxter.  A wonderfully deep nose of blackberry, plum, fall spice and damp earth lead to a plush palate with popping acidity and supple grip that carries the nose elements through a blossoming, lingering finish.  Bravo!  95

Some great wines await you at Baxter -- if you find yourself in Anderson Valley, make a stop a top priority.

Follow Rich Cook on Twitter as @RichCookOnWine

Posted by Rich Cook at 3:26 PM