by Fred McMillin
for October 14, 1997

The Pinot Problem

A decade ago...

  • "California Pinot Noir often has an unnerving suggestion of overboiled cabbage about it."

    ...by Jancis Robinson in "Vines, Grapes & Wines."

  • "The problem was the California winemakers plunked the Pinot vine down into arid heat, where the poor thing became sunburned and petulant."

    ...by Marq de Villiers in "The Heartbreak Grape."

  • Taittinger, the big French champagne house, has completed a classic four-story chateau and large vineyard in the Carneros region of southern Napa County, to house its California subsidiary, Domaine Carneros.

    ...The San Francisco Chronicle, November 1989

The Rest of the Story: You don't get sunburned in foggy, windy, cool Carneros. When it's a hot 92 degrees in the central Napa Valley, Domaine Carneros Pinot grapes will be gently ripening at around 80 degrees.

While the Pinot Noir was planted for use in sparkling wine, the grapes are so good ace winemaker Eileen Crane now also turns out a stunning still Pinot. Critic James Halliday has noted that Carneros Pinot cherry-red berry flavors are "consistently correct, pure and delicate." Eileen's '95 is about as "correct" as you can get...seven clones...100% estate grown... hand harvested in the the coolest morning hours...12 months in 100% French oak...minimum of six months bottle age...some uncrushed grapes included in the fermentation to further magnify the magnificent fruit flavors. My 15 tasters gave it a rare rating of EXCELLENT...not even a hint of that "overboiled cabbage"!

1995 Pinot Noir, 100% Estate-Grown Carneros
Domaine Carneros
Napa Valley, CA
California Contact—LaVon Allan, (707) 257-0101
New York Contact—Kobrand's Kimberly Charles, (212) 692-4710
Food Affinities—Veal, lamb, pasta; all that fruit went nicely with a multi-flavored Oriental meal, too.
Price—$20 range

Postscript: What's the origin of the name "Carneros"? Prof. John Baxevanis tells us carneros means "ram" in Spanish. Hence, in the 1830's, General Mariano Vallejo named the sheep-herding region "Rancho El Rincon [corner] de los Carneros" when he issued the Mexican land grant for the area.

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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