2018 Holdredge Saralee's Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - 95 points
While I feel a close connection to each vineyard I work with, I have a deep emotional bond with Saralee’s Vineyard. When we started out, we wanted to make Pinot but it was hard to find then. I had taken care of a problem she had, and one day in early 2001, she called and said she had heard I was looking for Pinot and would be willing to sell me 5 tons. While we had planned on being a Zin and Syrah house, we really loved Pinot and wanted to make it too. So with no experience with the grape, we plunged ahead with a wine to compliment our mainstays.
While the Zin and Syrah did great, the response to our (her) Pinot was fantastic. Four years later, we were making even more Pinot, and the movie “Sideways” came out, and the world of Pinot just exploded. A couple of years after that we decided to simply focus on our favorite grape, from our favorite region. Although we’ve added quite a few Pinot vineyards to our lineup since our start, we have made wine from this vineyard every single year; some formed the backbone of our Russian River blend, and some (Martini Clone) was used to make our single-clone Pinot called “Shaken Not Stirred”.
We had some great times with Saralee and Rich, a party at their house was always epic. But my bond here goes deeper than grapes and socializing- I taught my son, Will, how to fish in the ponds in this vineyard starting just before his fourth birthday. A father never forgets the moments and places where his son learned how to fish. He went with me on vineyard checks, and over time, got to know a lot of the guys on her crew, many of whom still remembered him years later when he began doing field labor in the vineyards. I also forged a friendship with winemaker Rod Berglund out of our shared love for this vineyard that lasts to this day. So this place has played a central role in my life, and that of my family and my connection runs very deep.
Saralee sold the vineyard to the Jackson Family in 2012 two years before she passed away, and the Jackson family has been exceedingly gracious and continues to sell us fruit. They farm the vineyard as they do all their vineyards- sustainably, and with respect for the place. Walking this vineyard stirs a lot of memories, all of them good. A few years ago, when Will made his first wine to commemorate Saralee, Carri and I realized we needed to designate a wine from this very special place that has touched our family in so many ways, and show our love and respect for SaraLeee. Starting with the 2016 vintage, we are finally doing so. I hope to make Pinot from here for as long as I make Pinot.
I learned a lot about the voice of place from this vineyard. It sits in a soil series known as “Yolo” – the soils are quite deep and quite vigorous (they use a double cordon to keep the vigor at bay and balance the vines). It took quite a few years of working with this place until I understood that no matter what I wanted this place to be, the wines were going to be what nature would give me: red, pretty, and elegant. Really grasping this was a real milestone in my development. That lesson of yielding my goals to nature’s gifts is an approach I take into every vineyard with which we work.
Nature has lots of ways to toy with winemakers. One of her favorites is to make sure lots of grapes are ready at once, so you run out of fermentation vessels. It happens every few years or so, and it forces decisions when the wines you have in tank aren’t completely ready to be drained and pressed, but you need something to ferment the new grapes in. We have a couple of 5-ton fermenters; meaning they’ll ferment five tons of destemmed fruit. I originally got them for zinfandel (remember those days?!), and while they are small by any standards, I never felt that I got the extraction I needed for Pinot.
By the time the 2018 Saralee’s fruit arrived, we were totally filled up with fruit; I had used every fermenter we had was in use – even the backup to the backup. And I had 5 tons of Saralee’s fruit to ferment. So, “I” decided to use a 5-ton fermenter, funny how that happened. And it became a really amazing wine, and even in tank, it was showing some real nuanced aromatics. From there, it blossomed into one of the highest-rated Pinots to ever come from this vineyard, if not the highest.
The wine itself expresses a voice of place, with the quintessential “red fruit” of the Russian River, and quite candidly, a completely beguiling range of floral aromatics, that for me veer from rose petals to violets. It definitely has the mid-palate weight I expect from the Russian River, and it’s pretty darn seamless. I think it’s got a heck of a life ahead of it; which has been the case with all the wines from here. But what I think I like best is how every time I drink it, I think of my friend Saralee, and what an extraordinary impact she had on our lives. If you ever had the good fortune to meet her, you’ll understand.
Drink now- 2029. Only 129 cases made. 95 Points Wine Enthusiast 92+ points Jeb Dunnuck