2022 Holdredge Saralee's Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Every Pinot you’ve ever enjoyed from our winery was made possible by one person: Saralee Kunde. Since this is the last time I’ll write about a Pinot from her vineyard, I wanted to acknowledge the impact she had on me, my family, and our winery. You might want to open a glass of wine for this- it’s a bit lengthy. May I recommend the 2022 Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Noir?
Back in the 90’s, Carri and I had a small Syrah vineyard (Lover’s Lane Vineyard) at our old house. We were selling the grapes, but keeping some and making a little Syrah. After enough friends convinced us that our wines were pretty good, we decided to take the leap to making wine professionally, and naturally, Syrah seemed like a logical starting point. (I’ll digress and mention that last Friday evening, I made a very quick sausage-white bean cassoulet which we had with a 2005 Lover’s Lane Vineyard Syrah and it was simply amazing).
In any event, we also loved Zin and I had a source for some old vine Zin grapes, so we figured we’d be a Syrah and Zin winery. Our first vintage was 1999; there wasn’t enough Syrah that year or the next for us to make a wine since almost all the grapes were under contract, and a barrel of Syrah wasn’t how we wanted to start, so all we made was Zin. As it turned out, I wasn’t wild about the 1999 or 2000 Zins, and we ended up selling the wines in bulk to another winery that actually did quite well with them. But when 2001 rolled around, we had all the Syrah we needed, and some wonderful Dry Creek Zin was available as well. But deep down, I had a real hankering to make Pinot.
Back then, Pinot wasn’t remotely as popular or prolific as it is now. We’ve always loved Pinot, and for years had been buying the best Pinots being made around here; Joseph Swan, Rochioli, and Williams Selyem, and of course, we drank a lot of Burgundy. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t much Pinot planted here back then, and what very little was being farmed for highest-end wine was all tied up by the “big guys”, and we were nobody. It’s not like people were slamming doors in our face, but there just weren’t any options available.
As it turned out, I had done a favor (as a lawyer) for a couple dozen guys that worked for Saralee. She had been instrumental in putting the Russian River Valley on the map, and owned a number of vineyards. Although I knew her a little, I didn’t know her well, but I later heard that she was grateful for my having helped her guys. Out of the blue, in early 2001, she called me and said “I hear you’re looking for Pinot, I’ll sell you 5 tons”. Knowing her vineyard and her reputation as a grower, I immediately said yes, not knowing what a change in the course of my life that phone call would make.
The Pinot we got from her was stunning that year – we only took one clone (777); the clusters were small, the berries smaller, and the balance impeccable. We bottled it in 2002 and almost immediately released it, adhering, as we always have, to the mantra that “we will sell no wine before its time, and the bank says it’s time”. The 2001 Zinfandel did really well for us. The 2001 Syrah was really well-received. The Pinot eclipsed them both.
A few short years later, we were making several Pinots, and had somehow been identified (or categorized) as a “Pinot producer”, when the movie “Sideways” came out. With that, the world of Pinot exploded – consumers began wanting to try Pinot, and we found ourselves riding the biggest wave in the modern history of wine. In 2008, I told Carri that while the Zins and Syrah’s were selling well (we were making multiple versions of each), I was working pretty hard to sell them, whereas the Pinot sold itself. I said I thought we should just make Pinot, Carri agreed, and the rest, as they say, is history. It was our success with Saralee’s fruit that opened other doors for us, and I’ve never forgotten that.
Over the years, she let me move around the various vineyard blocks, trying different clones – her fruit was always a big piece of our Russian River blend, but wines like “Selection Massale” and Shaken Not Stirred” came from her vineyard. She was a dedicated grower and expected to deliver the same quality grapes that we expected to receive. One year there was quite a bit of mold in the fruit that was delivered, and I called her. She asked us to segregate as much as we could while sorting. She personally drove over, loaded the bin into her truck, called all her workers together, dumped the bin in front of them, and told them this could never happen again, and it didn’t.
But aside from being a great farmer, it was her spirit and smile that was the best of her. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be in the vineyard checking fruit and run into her and how she was always upbeat and positive, even during the exhausting days of harvest. Over time, we became close, and I always felt lucky to count her as a friend, and she impacted my family closely. She let me teach Will how to fish in her ponds, which as a father and a fisherman meant the world to me. He grew up running around those vineyards, and knew a lot of her vineyard guys that he later worked with doing field labor during summers in high school, and he made his first wines from her vineyard.
The Jackson family had bought the vineyard in 2012, and apparently Saralee had asked if they would continue to sell fruit to us (and Rod Berglund), which they were kind enough to do. She passed away in 2014, far too young and far too soon, and as you might guess there was a void in our life. But the change she made in our life continues to this day.
Over the years, if you tasted with me, I may have seemed more enthusiastic about the wines from her vineyard. I’ll admit my friendship with her may have been part of it, but I always thought the wines were special-, they always had a red fruit and baking spice profile with a mouthfeel I thought was quintessential Russian River Valley. The wines from there are rarely the most dramatic of our wines when they are young, but without question, they have always been some of the most age-worthy wines we’ve ever made. In recent months we’ve had wines from 2004, 2005, and 2006 from her vineyard and they’ve all been glorious.
Little makes me happier than thinking about her as I drink one of those wines, or as I write these words, and the 2022 vintage (which is what I’m supposed to be talking about here) is a wine I’m very happy to have made as my final “goodbye” to her vineyard. It’s all I could want in a Russian River Pinot; it’s rich and round and has plenty of acid, and will pair with almost anything but dessert. Ironically, like the past several vintages, it shows a darker fruit profile than it has over the years; this is largely owing to the miniscule sized berries in the “Martini” clone (13) we received- just an extraordinary ratio of skin to juice, and with it a color and tannic structure that amazes me.
It will age wonderfully, I’m thinking 10-15 years easily, but I’ve already enjoyed a few bottles, so I’m left to wonder if I’ll have any then. We only made 129 cases in 2022, and every one of them was possible because a woman of immeasurable kindness opened a door for us. This wine is very special, just like my friend, Saralee Kunde.