by Fred McMillin
for November 29, 1999


In a Class By Itself



San Francisco City College, Ft. Mason Campus, Wine Course FW#311—Instructor Edgar Vogt and I just finished the last class. Bottles from 35 wineries received an average rating of 80.6. The 36th winery was in a class by itself, its sole entry, a red, receiving a NINETY ONE! Who made it?

The Rest of the Story

"In the 1960's I found I had an intuitive knack for discovering the underlying causes of skin conditions."

In the 1970s, that same Stanford dermatologist discovered he had an intuitive knack for discovering the underlying causes of California's inability to make great Pinot Noir.

Bruce Estate The dermatalogist-winegrower was Dr. David Bruce, whom David Darlington (in his Angels' Visits) called "one of California's great experimenters." Now, not all experiments are successful. Darlington tells of a Bruce tasting of 22 different casks in which "each was more disgusting" than the last.

BUT, by 1975, another Stanford graduate, and one of the keenest observers of the wine scene, Robert Balzer, would write, "The 1972 David Bruce Pinot Noir is truly fine, rich and mouth-filling with an intriguing trace of smokiness. It stands as rare evidence that California can produce a great Pinot Noir."

However, sales were slow. Dr. Bruce was saying, "We are making some superb Pinot Noir, but you can't sell it for anything because it has no SNOB APPEAL."

"BUT, he took care of THAT problem too. Before long the press had such comments as, "the Bruce Estate Pinot is the best wine of the year, a 99 rating!"... San Francisco Vintner's Pinot tasteoff winner was the Bruce "Estate" Reserve. A handwritten note from Dr. Bruce says, "It was the high point in my wine career at the time." So here's our "Estate" Wine of the Week, snob appeal and all.

1997 Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir
Vineyard—Bruce Estate
Winemaking—GENTLE handling. No fining. No filtration. As early as 1975, David said, "I handle wines less than other wineries. Fining, filtering, racking all increase air contact and reduce flavor. The less I tamper, the more flavor."
Price— That 1972 would hardly sell at $7.50.
Today, this Pinot will sell out at $35.
Contact—Phone (408) 354-4214, FAX (408) 395-5478


During a summer break from Stanford medical school some years back, the future dermatologist visited a wine cellar where he saw these words of wisdom: Work in the ruin of the drinking classes.

Credits: 1) R. Benson, Great Winemakers, 2) Research—Diane Bulzomi

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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