The 2016 Pinot Noir “Petaluma Gap” from Kendric Vineyards is yet another beautifully transparent and complex wine from Stewart Johnson, who is clearly one of America’s foremost pinot noir specialists. The wine comes in at a very civilized 13.1 percent octane and offers up a pure and vibrant bouquet of raspberries, cherries, a touch of cola, marvelously complex soil tones, a touch of bonfire, clove-like spices, a dollop of fresh thyme and a discreet framing of cedary oak. On the palate the wine is deep, pure and full-bodied, with stunning soil signature, a fine core of fruit, ripe, seamless tannins and a long, tangy and still quite youthful finish. Stewart Johnson has made some beautiful bottles of pinot noir in the last decade, but this may well be the most complete wine I have yet tasted from him! I hope there will be a 2016 Reserve bottling down the road. Great juice that I would give three to five years in the cellar to allow it to blossom into its secondary layers of complexity and allow the moderate tannins here to soften up a bit more. 2023-2050.
- 93+ Points, John Gilman’s View from the Cellar, Fall 2018
Light garnet color in the glass. The nose opens over time in the glass to reveal aromas of cherry, spice and timber. Light in color, yet possessing excellent weight on the mid palate, with juicy flavors of red cherry and cranberry and a touch of spice. Energetic acidity provides freshness and lift and integrated tannins allow for easy drinking. A delicately styled wine that can be enjoyed slightly chilled.
- 91 Points, The PinotFile, Fall 2018
Vineyard and Winemaker’s notes
Marin County wines mostly tend toward the lighter bodied, brighter acidity end of the California spectrum, and that’s generally true of my pinot also. I’m more interested in letting secondary earth and spice notes show through than I am in presenting a wall of primary fruit in my wine.
- Kendric Vineyard, Marin County/Petaluma Gap:
This is an “Estate” bottling but for the technicality that the vineyard and winery are in separate AVAs.
Off San Antonio Rd., between Novato and Petaluma, west of Olompali State Park
8.5 acres on ENE facing slope
Loam topsoil, clay loam subsoil from sandstone and shale parent material
Clones 37 (Mt. Eden), 115 and Pommard on 101-14 and 3309 rootstock
This vintage comes from the upslope portion of the vineyard that had previously gone to the Reserve bottling.
4’X 7.5’ spacing with vertical shoot positioning
~1.8 tons/acre, hand-harvested Sept 4, at ~23 brix
100% whole cluster into open top fermenters; uninoculated fermentation; trod daily during active fermentation; 91° F peak temperature; half the lot pressed at dryness after 14 days; the other half went 38 days on the skins; press and free run combined; aged in French oak barrels, 30% new; 19 months in barrel on lees w/o racking; egg white fined; unfiltered; bottled Spring 2018
Stewart Johnson farms the Kendric Johnson Vineyard on leased land at the boundary of the Marin County and Sonoma Coast appellations 8 miles west of the Pacific Coast. This 8.5-acre vineyard was planted in 2002 to clones 37, 115, 667, 777, 828, Pommard, and Martini. Yields are extremely low at this very cool site. Stewart graduated from University of California at Berkeley, obtained a doctorate in political science from Yale, and graduated with a law degree from Hastings. While interning at the Environmental Protection Agency, he was drawn to winegrowing and winemaking rather than being confined to an office practicing law. With his wife, who is a Marin native, he discovered the pastoral beauty of Marin County and ended up growing grapes there.
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@KendricPN i have a question, but dont know if it is a softball one or not You talk about letting the earthy parts of the bouquet shine through the fruit. I personally love pinots that start with earth or even better barnyard type scents balancing and blending with the fruit. How so you go about shaping the wine to get this result? I find it rare that pinots are made to highlight these non fruit scents, is that true or am i just looking in the wrong places?
@StingingJ I don’t have a single protocol and will divide the vintage into several lots that are handled differently that try to bring out different components, but the balance does skew a bit towards earth and spice in that mix. The most general thing that shifts a wine earthward is ripeness at harvest. I think it’s possible to ripen past the point where any terroir is recognizable. There was a point where “gobs of fruit” was the highest praise, and it was tough to tell one CA pinot from another. With the retreat from super-ripeness, I think vineyard sites are showing thru a little better these days, and we have more distinctive wines to show for it. More specifically, in my vineyard, the upper edge of the vineyard has a more distinctive, savory soil signature than the lower part which shows more ebullient fruit. This vintage comes more from that upper edge than past vintages. In the cellar, measures like stem inclusion, higher fermentation temperatures, extended maceration, a little reduction and extended barrel aging will all tend to highlight earthier components – somewhat at the expense of fruitier characters. That probably also applies to tannin management. I’ve become more tolerant of a bit of “grip” in my pinot, as it seems to me that that also conveys a sense of earth.
But we may be talking about different things. I’m usually thinking about wet stone, forest floor and damp dirt when talking about earth in pinot. I guess mushroom too. You probably already know that “barnyard” is another name for the effect of brettanomyces. It’s a pretty classic descriptor for Burgundy. There are nice clove-like strains of brett that I would like to be able to manage and incorporate, but I have to admit that I have lacked the nerve to cultivate anything like that. If you set out to tolerate brett, I’m not sure how you avoid opening the door to every other microbe with no redeeming qualities. I lost my whole first vintage of syrah when it caught brett (not the good kind) from another winery going into bottle when we shared a bottling day. I expect there are Old World wineries that have lived with their resident strain of brett for generations and for whom it has become a predictable and manageable part of their winemaking, but I’m not there yet.
@KendricPN@StingingJ Very interesting. I knew very little about that. Had to look it up.
“Brettanomyces, or “brett,” as the cool kids call it, is a yeast, and since it can ruin a wine, it’s generally considered a spoilage yeast. But many wines, including some really terrific ones, have brett in small concentrations. Though brett can occur in white wines, it’s mostly an issue for red wines”
@scott0210@StingingJ There are some who contend that every great wine is at least touched by Brett. Some Brit was quoted to the effect that that “all great Burgundy smells of shit.” The problem is to try and keep the effect at just a touch. I’ve had a number of brett affected wines where I thought its influence was just perfect, adding a spicy note. But a year later, the same wine had lost all its fruit as the effect of brett marched onward, past the point where it was merely a grace note. I think it could be managed if you had a barrel infected with one of the more appetizing strains and kept it completely isolated within your winery. Then, when it’s time to put the whole vintage together, you could sterile filter that barrel into the main lot. I’ve got to admit though, that the first instinct upon finding a whiff of brett in the cellar is to turn the offending barrel into a planter and strafe the area with ozone and SO2.
@KendricPN Thank you for talking about this; I’m loving this discussion. I’m certainly a fan of a little “Brett” in some wines, pinot noir and syrah among them. Although I’m not sure my palate is clear enough to always sort out what comes from brettanomyces vs. other influences.
Sometimes it’s crystal clear: I’ve got some Rhône-style blends from California where I cannot drink the wine until at least 30 minutes after I pour the glass: the barnyard is simply too strong. Three years ago I could pop, pour, and drink. But today it’s still a great wine to my tastes, although maybe more so on the second day after opening.
To my thinking, sterile filtering sounds like a great way to start experimenting with this, as you should have far less risk of the wine going this way a few years down the road.
@KendricPN Perhaps 35 years ago, I had a Pinot Noir from (if I recall correctly) Trefethen vinyards. It had a wonderful bacon-y character to it. Is this the “Brett” that’s being talked about?
That wine was amazing …
@SelfGovern I’m guessing that was reduction/sulfides. It may be the same as the refried bean note I sometimes pick up in pinot – that owes a lot to bacon fat but with some H2S added. Is bacon-fart a valid tasting note? In any case, the spectrum of sulfide expression is really broad. A lot of both the good and bad wine aromas are sulfides – from passionfruit to sewer gas. And it can be a little unclear what’s at play. The guaiacol strains of brett can have a smoky/clovey character that can be taken for barrel or stem influence. That could also easily account for a bacon note. The phenol strains are better likened to the chemical smell of band-aids, and that’s a little easier to distinguish from other causes.
@chipgreen@SelfGovern Me too. At least I think it’s more part of the classic set of syrah descriptors. I thinks it’s been established that the “meaty” aromas in syrah usually derive from reduction/sulfides, and when I pick that up something akin to that in pinot, I think reduction before I think brett.
@rjquillin@SelfGovern Brett is more easily controlled these days as the use of various formulations of chitosan becomes more common. It’s a derivative of a naturally occurring mold that is both more effective and more benign than some of the chemical alternatives.
@KendricPN@scott0210@StingingJ I’ve always been nervous about Brett, given the consequences in most cases… But, I also know what you mean that the tiniest whiff can be positive. My rule of thumb is that if I get a whiff of a wine and the first thing that comes to mind is Brett, it’s a big problem. When I get a barnyard hint, but not so strong that I’d use it as a major descriptor, it’s probably OK. The range in between… well, I’m probably less a fan that you are…
Although with the usual drama involved (email to old account, UPS Store misidentified it as a USPS shipment on Tuesday instead of a FedEx shipment (which would have triggered a call to find out what it was, instead of a “It’s USPS, so some envelope”), looking on old email to find out it was up tonight which meant a text sent this morning instead on Tuesday) in Casemate ratting.
Anywho, I found a similar Sonoma Coast PN that used 2 Petaluma Gap vineyards, Anthill Farms Pinot Noir, also a 2016 and around the same retail price of $38. Both were served at 64° when opened. We ate at Baba Ghanouj for Phase 1 (tonight) and will get to Phase 2 tomorrow night.
Sadly, while making sure I had most of my wine accessories, I forgot to grab my PN glasses from my wine locker or home. So we had to use their glasses, which were smaller bowls with rolled rims (after going to 3 Riedel tastings, it really does matter!), and I think that affected tonight’s tasting.
Both wines we thought were muted, but that was probably due to the glasses. They both went well with the food at different times. Remainder of wine was protected with Argon. To prevent over-oxygenation.
Sorry for the short report, but better details with Phase 2 (with proper glasses!).
Late night Cliff Notes summary, since it’s almost midnight here. Full summary tomorrow morning.
Much better with the PN glasses, not as muted as last night’s generic glasses. Also grabbed another bottle of the Anthill to compare to last night’s initial opening, and it was not muted on aroma or flavors.
Sadly, the 3rd Amigo(Casemateer?) was unable to join us this evening. Tim and I enjoyed the Kendric much more tonight.
This was a very enjoyable PN, and will be added to my cellar (tomorrow, after full summary). There have been other PN’s I’ve enjoyed more, but those were Iron Horse and Buena Vista ones.
@MarkDaSpark Like Sparky said, I wasn’t able to make tasting part deux. Going back to our first tasting over dinner on Friday, not much more to add except to really stress how much more muted and earthy this PN is as compared to your typical California offering. Very light on the fruit and definitely not your funky barnyardy PN. I was a bit skeptical at first but I also put a lot of the blame about my first reactions to the crappy restaurant glasses. The Kendrick really grew on me as dinner went on and we determined this was a good food PN. We’re in for a few as I’m excited to see what this wine can be after sitting in our cellar for a bit.
@deadlyapp I’m never real confident about these projections. I do feel like the acid and tannin auger well for this wine’s longevity – that is, it has a chance to improve with age because it will not fall apart in the next several years. But just hanging in there is not the same thing as evolving in the way that you hope a great wine will age.
My forecasting ability in this regard is diminished by the very uneven performance of the natural corks I used in my first 7 or 8 vintages. The best bottles of the 2005, 2006 and 2009 vintages, for example, have evolved beautifully and are very encouraging about the aging potential of the basic material of my pinots. All too often, though, the seal or the permeability of the natural cork has performed poorly in those older vintages, and the wines pulled from the library are disappointments.
More recently, I’ve switched to DIAM corks (natural corks ground up, treated with very dense CO2 to drive off impurities and re-agglomerated into regular cork configuration) that seem to solve the problem. Their initial appeal is the removal of TCA (cork taint), but I value them at least as much for the consistency of their seal and permeability and the hope that they will make aging my wines a more predictably worthwhile undertaking. So, the gist is that I’m more confident than ever in the age-worthiness of my pinot, but I haven’t really proved it yet or dialed in an optimum window with the new closures.
I think there is a bit more fruit in the 2016 than, say, the 2013, making it a little more consumer friendly in its youth. Still, I think there is more to come from this vintage, and I’d love to think that folks would lay a couple bottles down until 2023, or so. I opened a 2012 Reserve last week, and it still wanted a couple hours of decanting to open up and show its charms, so I think 7 years past the vintage date is a conservative rule of thumb.
@deadlyapp@KendricPN I agree on the inconsistency of some of the older corks. My first and last bottles of the 2009, for example, were the best of the four (with the last 4.5 years after the first). I found the two in the middle to be verging on oxidized.
It’s going to be time to try a 2010 again soon, and my note from about a year ago suggests there may be some oxidation issues there as well.
Then there’s the 2014, which you did note was not as structured as some other vintages. I’m drinking that one younger.
I’ll probably end up splitting with Ron, since when you tell us this vintage is more toward structured and earthy I’m more interested!
@deadlyapp@klezman I think that what I actually said about the 2014 was to give it a pass entirely. That wasn’t a cork issue, just a struggle from start to finish that turned out to be a plain old “off vintage.” I gave it away to a couple flash sites without offering it to any of my customers.
I remember the '14 from 'tso. The few bottles I ended up were at least decent, in that they weren’t defective; definitely on the tart end of the spectrum from what I recall.
The discourse and honesty is what ultimately did me in. I really wanted to get a case but couldn’t justify that much more Pinot after the torii mor and Attune deals. Hopefully it will be back after I have a chance to try it.
This will interest nobody, but I still feel obliged to correct the record when it gets repeated, as above, that I got my PhD from Yale. That was an error that made its way into a profile by the Chronicle wine writer about a decade ago, and that article keeps getting unearthed every once in a while. It makes no difference to anyone, but, still, if you fail to publicly correct it, you’re sort of complicit in a false claim. I spent 4 years in the PhD program there but burned out without finishing my dissertation. Left with an Masters as a parting gift.
@KendricPN Thanks, I was just curious. I have a friend that went to Yale several years ago and bailed on the chemistry PhD program after 4 years. On a separate note, I am a chemist and am thinking about trying to find a part time position at a vineyard on the weekends. Any thoughts on how to go about this? I live in Walnut Creek, so getting to Sonoma and Napa isn’t a problem.
@Turner103200 Are you thinking about lab work or actual hands-on-the-vines work? Vineyard gigs don’t get advertised the way winery jobs do. And they don’t pay very well – $15/hr for guys who are skilled enough to be turned loose on their own. Unfortunately, the only part of the industry that really lends itself to weekends only work is tasting room staff. I have a couple longshot ideas though. There is a small chance I will do some grafting this year, and I might want some help caring for that small patch of the vineyard. I also have a friend with a backyard vineyard in Alamo that might want some help. Why don’t you whisper your contact info.
Already in for a case to add to my modest collection from past offers here and on BD.
While I’ve not asked a question until now, I want to thank you for your engaging dialog and information shared with us.
It really makes this site unique and educational.
I’ve got your Marin bottlings back to the '08 vintage and wonder how this Petaluma Gap differs. Also, how is the '10 doing Marin doing?
@rjquillin It’s the same vineyard (in Marin), so there’s no dramatic difference there. It’s just that the new Petaluma Gap AVA got approved a year ago, encompassing my existing vineyard, so I use that on my label now – along with the Marin County designation. The Gap is like the Carneros AVA, in that it crosses county lines to include parts of both Sonoma and Marin more directly exposed to the wind off of the ocean. Most of the Marine influence that eventually reaches Carneros flows thru the Gap first. (Jeez, I can ramble off track!)
Back to my wine … the '08 was the most delicate vintage, without the tannin to resist any flaws in the cork’s seal. The good bottles are really beautiful right now, but I’ve batted a lower percentage with that vintage than almost any other. Definitely a “drink now” designation on that one. 2010 is more sturdily built, though not as pretty as '08, and I think it is hanging in more consistently. That said, I haven’t tried the '10 in at least a year, but I don’t remember it having developed the sort of bottle bouquet that years like '05, '06, '08 and '09 can show. If I get to the winery this afternoon, I’ll dig up a bottle and give an updated report.
Labrat Bottle (LB): 2016 Kendric Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap
Test Bottle(TB): 2016 Anthill Farm PN, Sonoma Coast (using 2 Petaluma Gap vineyards)
Both bottles retail around $38
Proper glasses really do make a difference. While we liked both bottles (Kendric and test) with food, the small bowl glasses really didn’t give us much in aroma or taste. My bad on forgetting to grab my PN glasses (my travel set only had Bordeaux, Riesling, and dessert glasses). Doh!
Picked up another of the test bottle (Anthill Farms, using 2 Petaluma Gap vineyards) to test with PN glasses on opening. As previously noted above, the 3rd Casemateer (@javadrinker) was unable to make Phase 2 at Chez Timothy (@TimothyB).
Brought some cheeses and crackers, while Tim’s SWMBO gracefully prepared a wonderful dinner (salad, veggie soup, and pasta (meatballs on side).
Opened new TB and poured into PN glasses. Eureka! As expected, the wine had more aromas and tastes. Put that bottle (TB2) aside and opened LB and TB1. Much more aromas and taste from these as well.
The LB had a slight discernible bit of tannins, but not the mouth puckering face smashing ones of Petite Sirah. Didn’t really get much tannins on the TB bottles, so not sure that will evolve much more.
The TB1 and TB2 had more of a barnyard aroma (mushroom was noted by a previous reviewer elsewhere), while the Kendric was as expected from the winemaker’s notes.
We both liked the Kendric more than the test bottle (Anthill Farms). Went well with the foods on both nights, but I enjoyed it by itself as well (forgot to ask Tim that).
My ranking was 90 for the Kendric, and 87 for the comparison bottle. Two thumbs up!
I don’t have a lot of PN in my cellar, but I will be adding this. Refer to winemaker’s notes on cellaring, but this should be good for a while (7 years?) in your cellar, for those who can wait.