by Fred McMillin
for December 11, 1998


Winery of the Week

The Durell Spell


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF)—If a vineyard is named on a label, 95% of the grapes must come from that vineyard.

The Rest of the Story

Steele The names of five vineyards appeared on the labels of our last blind tasting. After ranking the wines, we uncovered them, and suprise. The top two bottles were from different wineries, but from the same vineyard, owned by Ed Durell. So our "Winery of the Week" is the Durell Vineyard. Its 150 acres extend from the southern end of the Sonoma Valley south into the western portion of the cool Carneros. It is located in the hills. Wine whiz Jed Steele says this provides protection from the cool winds off the San Francisco Bay, producing richer-flavored grapes. Those grapes are chiefly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Vineyard manager Steve Hill found Pinot Noir the more difficult to master. It required such heart-wrenching steps as snipping off all the clusters that lacked the richest color. In any case, my tasters are convinced that his tricks really work, as displayed in these two winning wines.

Chateau St Jean Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir by Chateau St. Jean from vines planted in 1980
Vintage 1995—I held it in my cellar for a year after release. SILKY!
Price—$30 range

Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir by Steele Wines
"Grapes of the Durell yield the most complex, the most Burgundian of the Pinots we produce."
Vintage 1996—Grapes ripened unusually well...hence, a velvety wine.
Price—$26 range.


Winemaster Jancis Robinson in Vines, Grapes & Wines wrote that California Pinot Noir "often has an unnerving suggestion of overboiled cabbage about it." For sure, the Durell Vineyard is not cabbage country.

Credits—Marie and Jed Steele provided much of the information about Durell.


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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