Food & Drink

Mendocino County shows off its 2012 pinot noir

Laurie Daniel
Laurie Daniel

The 2012 vintage was a dream for much of the California wine industry. The weather was moderate to cool during the summer, with a nice warm spell around harvest to ripen the grapes sufficiently. It was also a large vintage, with good supplies. The contrast with the difficult 2011 vintage was huge.

Mendocino County pinot noir was among the beneficiaries of the good conditions in 2012. That certainly was evident at the recent Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, where I was on the panel that assessed the 2012 pinots. A number of gold medals were awarded. There were even three double golds, awarded when all four judges on the panel vote to give the wine a gold medal.

The wine ultimately judged to be the best red in the competition was a 2012 pinot from Anderson Valley: the 2012 Panthea Winery Klindt Vineyard Pinot Noir ($42), a structured yet supple wine with lively cherry fruit, baking spices and a hint of forest floor.

It was a more hectic-than-usual harvest for Kelly and Jessa Boss, who own Panthea. Kelly, the winemaker, had worked with the previous owner of the property, Dan Sokolow, when it was Raye’s Hill. In August 2012, the Bosses said in an email, they moved into the house on the property and were awaiting the birth of their son, who was born two weeks before harvest started. Then the harvest turned out larger than expected, creating even more work. But clearly things turned out OK.

Another winery whose 2012s were standouts in the competition was Handley Cellars. Handley cowinemaker Randy Schock’s observations on the vintage were more viticulturally focused. “I don’t think any of us expected the quality or the yields that we had,” he says. The 2012 vintage, Schock says, “made it real easy to be a winemaker.”

Some of California’s most sought-after pinot producers make wines from Anderson Valley. Such wineries don’t enter competitions, so their wines weren’t part of our judging. But they’ve set the bar higher for the valley’s resident winemakers.

The 2012 Handley Estate Reserve Pinot Noir ($42) is structured and a little brooding, with raspberry and dried cherry and a long finish, while the 2012 Handley Estate RSM Pinot Noir ($52) offers raspberry and strawberry fruit, a hint of forest floor and firm structure.

Some of the wines made from grapes grown elsewhere in Mendocino County offer better value. The 2012 Handley Mendocino County Pinot Noir ($25) draws on fruit from a number of sites, including some in Anderson Valley. The wine displays plump, lively cherry and crushed strawberry with some spicy notes and a slight leafy character. And the 2012 Saint Gregory Mendocino County Pinot Noir ($20) is lively and pure, with red cherry and raspberry flavors.