2021 Holdredge Saralee's Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
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.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that Saralee’s Vineyard produces a wine that has a red fruit flavor profile, and that no matter what, it does not produce a black fruit Pinot, I’d have a lot of dollars. Rod Berglund still occasionally teases me about how, in 2001, I told him I wanted to wait to pick to achieve a darker flavor profile, and how he gently had to tell me it was never gonna happen at that site. It’s the kind of thing you have to find out for yourself, and over time, I came to accept and even embrace it, but if nothing else, winemaking is always a process of re-examining everything you think you know.
Saralee Kunde was as passionate a grower as you could ever know, and in her namesake vineyard, she didn’t cut corners in her farming. She sold the vineyard to Jackson Family Wines in 2012, a couple years before she passed away, and they graciously agreed to continue to honor the handshake agreement I’d had with Saralee. The best change in farming a vineyard is usually change that comes slowly, and the Jackson family did just that. But somewhere along 2017, some of the changes really seemed to start to pay off. It’s not that they were doing things better than Saralee had, so much as they were taking a different approach that allowed the vineyard to speak with a different voice than it ever had. If the 2019 vintage was a suggestion of that evolution, 2021 just brought it home. Maybe it was most evident in the Martini (clone 13) Pinot; it always has smaller berries but these were almost microscopic. The other clone we take from there (Clone 114) was also gorgeous, and on the day the fruit was harvested I called the vineyard manager to tell him I thought it was the best Pinot I’d seen from there (although he may have surpassed himself in 2022).
From the second day of cold-soaking, my notes indicated the extreme depth of color and flavor in both, but especially the Martini clone, it may have been as black as any pinot I’ve ever seen. In the bottle, that color is still quite evident, and with it a flavor profile I’ve never obtained from Saralees- a brambly glass of blackberries and black raspberries. Needless to say, the backbone of this wine is the Martini clone (around 92%), with the 114 giving it a few more layers. It’s as distinctive a wine as I’ve ever made from here or elsewhere, and while a splash and decant for a few hours will serve it well now, if you can wait another few months or more, the story this wine will tell will be amazing. Wines from this vineyard always age well – in this case I don’t expect anything less than a decade of evolution and growth. Only 125 cases produced