A Note from Ian Cauble

Vivi­er, Pinot Noir

Sono­ma Coast, Cal­i­for­nia 2017

We feel tru­ly lucky to offer Stéphane Vivier’s Sono­ma Coast Pinot Noir today. This wine reaf­firms our faith in the future of Cal­i­forn­ian Pinot. It’s noth­ing short of breath­tak­ing, with the aro­mat­ic inten­si­ty and tex­tur­al sophis­ti­ca­tion of a wine two, three, four times its price. –Ian Cauble, Mas­ter Sommelier”

Per­haps it’s no sur­prise it’s made by a French­man and the vines have mys­te­ri­ous Bur­gun­di­an ori­gins. But ulti­mate­ly, this wine is Amer­i­can down to its mol­e­cules; a shin­ing exam­ple of the poten­tial for care­ful­ly farmed Sono­ma Coast fruit to rival the best Pinot from any­where in the world. Vivi­er con­sults for sev­er­al high-pro­file winer­ies includ­ing Hyde de Vil­laine, the com­bined effort of California’s Hyde fam­i­ly and Aubert de Vil­laine of Domaine de la Romanée-Con­ti. Aubert hand-picked Stéphane to impart the strictest French tech­niques on their Cal­i­forn­ian wines. His rig­or­ous clas­si­cal train­ing means Stéphane’s per­son­al projects can afford to be a lit­tle whim­si­cal. Look at the cork on today’s Sono­ma Coast Pinot, for exam­ple. It says, Amer­i­can wines made by a lazy French wine­mak­er.” The wine inside is one of the most impres­sive Cal­i­forn­ian Pinots to date, but Stéphane makes it look effort­less, even fun. Most impor­tant­ly, his wine is priced for the dis­cern­ing col­lec­tor; you can afford to buy in larg­er quan­ti­ty and fol­low the evo­lu­tion of this wine over the next decade-plus. This is an excit­ing new label that is not to be missed!

Stéphane Vivier’s path to wine­mak­ing has been any­thing but tra­di­tion­al. He and his broth­er played soc­cer every after­noon in the town of Beaune, at the heart of the Côte d’Or. Their neigh­bor owned vine­yards and a par­tic­u­lar­ly fine set of ter­ra­cot­ta planters that the Vivi­er boys kept break­ing with their soc­cer ball. Stéphane’s first brush with viti­cul­ture was to pay off the bro­ken flower pots. He enjoyed those after­noons in the vine­yard enough to con­tin­ue work­ing for his neigh­bor — first for the pock­et mon­ey, and the tan, but then for the beau­ty of the viti­cul­ture itself. Stéphane’s fas­ci­na­tion with the vine­yard even­tu­al­ly led to a mas­ters in bio­chem­istry quick­ly fol­lowed by a sec­ond mas­ters in viti­cul­ture and enology.

At the heart of this bot­tle lies a mys­tery. The vines were prop­a­gat­ed from old Bur­gun­di­an cut­tings plant­ed in the mid-1980s. These weren’t suit­case cut­tings” — stolen pieces of vine smug­gled into the US — they were actu­al­ly giv­en as presents to the Amer­i­can vine­yard own­ers vis­it­ing France at the time. This is the process of mas­sale selec­tion, the old­est way of grow­ing vine­yards with extra­or­di­nary pedi­grees. There are a lot of rumors as to which Bur­gun­di­an vil­lage the vines orig­i­nal­ly belonged to; my nose tells me Cham­bolle-Musigny or even Vosne-Romanée, but the secret is too well-guard­ed to get an offi­cial answer. Close your eyes, take a sip, and you’re stand­ing right in Premier/​Grand Cru Côtes de Nuits real estate for a New World Pinot price tag. Sim­ply incredible.

What we do know is that those mys­te­ri­ous cut­tings are grow­ing in the Petaluma Gap region on the Sono­ma Coast. The vines are farmed sus­tain­ably on shal­low, sandy clay with­out the use of her­bi­cides. Stéphane has been dry-farm­ing for the past six years, result­ing in tiny berries with extreme inten­si­ty and fresh­ness. His Sono­ma Coast Pinot Noir is a blend of the best char­ac­ter­is­tics of sev­er­al dif­fer­ent plots to cre­ate a lay­ered whole. The wine is aged in sea­soned French oak and bot­tled with­out fin­ing or fil­tra­tion. Stéphane might joke about being a lazy” wine­mak­er but his approach is hands-off for a very good rea­son. With fruit this ele­gant, any heavy-hand­ed wine­mak­ing would eclipse the nuance and per­fect nat­ur­al bal­ance of the wine.

The wine is a deep, dusty rose with a lighter pink rim. Decant it for an hour and pour into Bur­gundy stems at 60 – 65 degrees. The first thing you notice is a tru­ly extra­or­di­nary per­fume ris­ing up to meet your nose. It’s at once earthy and sweet: black cher­ry, spicy Cal­i­for­nia bay leaves, wet earth, and sticky bal­sam­ic. The fla­vor pro­file is sim­i­lar­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed, with an intox­i­cat­ing top note of can­died blood orange and white pep­per enliven­ing an oth­er­wise earth-dri­ven palate. The wine feels smooth as a peb­ble; tight­ly knit tan­nins give it shape with­out weight, gen­er­ous and fresh at the same time.

And with food? I won’t lie. I drank this with a car­ni­tas tacos from my favorite local truck and it was a rev­e­la­tion. But try a slab of slow-roast­ed king salmon with fresh cher­ry toma­toes, or get real­ly fan­cy and put grilled duck hearts on dense coun­try bread with a smear of pep­per jel­ly. The wine will cel­lar beau­ti­ful­ly for anoth­er six to nine years, but it’s going to be impos­si­ble to wait that long. Jump on this!

This Sono­ma Coast Pinot Noir walks the tightrope right between the plush aro­mat­ics of New-World Pinot and the savory, flo­ral restraint of our favorite Burgundies.”


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