Santa Cruz Ramblin’ and Savannah-Chenelle Pinot Noir

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the April 19th, 2007

redwoods: ancient souls Rambling through the Santa Cruz mountains on a beautiful, sunny weekend afternoon, my wife and I decided to hit at a few vineyards before heading north for a couple of days in San Francisco. The scenery up there is, at times, breathtaking. You are slowly (and I mean, slowly) rambling up some winding one-way road surrounded by foliage with the sun peeking in dotted patterns through the leaves onto the weatherworn pavement for fifteen minutes or so. Suddenly the trees clear and you see for yourself what you have just climbed as the road twists through a cliffed valley at about 3000 feet above sea level and outside the passenger’s side window all you see is miles and miles of redwood forest covering mountainous hills below. The map says go straight and then turn here. Go for one or two miles and turn left. Go up this very narrow, steep hill and right smack dab in the middle of redwoods and altitudes is a sprawling vineyard starting at the top of a hill and sloping downward out of view. Before us, acre upon acre of cleared land with vines just now producing buds with the Santa Cruz Mountains as a backdrop burning off the last of the morning fog. Very descriptive, I know but there is really no other way to tell it.
While in this area or AVA we hit up a few producers before getting on the road. Tucked away off the beaten path outside a sleepy little town called Los Gatos (pretty cool name) and up a steep narrow road flanked by redwoods is the winery Savanah-Chanelle. And this was the first place we stopped. According to them pinot noir is their specialty. They had about five or so pinots they were tasting and a smattering of other ventures such as the famous zinfandel (man zin is just all over this state) and of course chardonnay with a syrah or two thrown in there. Tasting through them I found the whites were good but didn’t knock me out. The reds were nice. The syrah had depth yet was a little lean. Lean isn’t a bad thing mind you; it is a characteristic some find appealing in a syrah. Some people like the unruly green tannins to cut through the dark fruit and amplify the smokiness. I personally love when the fruit is deep and the smoke is integrated. The cab franc was crazy and untamed and a little too intense and green for me. As for the zins, I just don’t know about this grape. We can’t seem to get along. I want to be friends, but it hasn’t shone me the love I need for a long-term commitment.
Then we got to the pinots and now we were talkin’. It seems to me that former thespian and Savanah-Chanelle wine maker for twelve years, Tony Craig loves messing with pinot noir. And I commend him. Of all the varietals out there to experiment with and try to perfect one of the toughest would be this one. The five or so that we tasted were pretty unique from one another. The two that I dug the most were the higher-end 2003 from the Russian River Valley and the entry-level 2003 form Arroyo Grande Valley. We wanted them both but I knew we had many more vineyards and tasting rooms to visit and many more possibilities to fill the trunk with mas vino. We decided on the entry-level because…well…it was the entry level. The high-end was beautiful and balanced with soft tannins and soft acidity with a nice color but so was the Arroyo Grande Valley. To me (and I am by no means an authority) it’s nice to see a winemaker approach each wine with confidence and finesse. And this case it was the pinot noir. Mr. Craig has a love for this grape and he is able to make each one with a personality of its own yet keep the balance.
Back in NYC Guero (One of the guys I am soon opening a wine shop with) was pretty stoked when I pulled out a wine that can’t be found in any of the five boroughs. We popped it and poured it and everything was different. He was swirling and sniffing and sipping and raising his eyebrow and I was with wrinkled brow and mild confusion. When we tasted this pinot in Cali I guess it had been open for a while because with it is tight you really get that vanilla flying around on the nose. It’s the kind of vanilla that covers up the beautiful aromas in wine. I think Guero was seeing past this and probably had immediately told himself it was a bit tight and needed some time. The reason I was so taken aback was because I had already tried it and didn’t realize the subtle balance that it had in Cali was so shy. I did like it though and saw through the rain to a sunny day. I left half the bottle overnight and re-approached it the next day and…voila! There it was. It was deep and smooth, coating the palate with soft tannins. The nose had worked itself out beautifully and it had all the balance of cherries and pepper that I had experienced at Savanah-Chanelle. Deezy was with me (the other guy I am opening a shop with) and he immediately liked it seeing the balance my wife and I had experienced that sunny day in California. This is a really nice wine. You could eat with it but I would just sip and enjoy it. The food may just go cold. It has a wonderful mouth feel that might be compromised with food. I wish I could get it here in NYC and hold on to it for a couple of years and let it settle a bit. I would buy a case and just “observe” every six months or so. I am definitely looking to get this wine here and if I can pull it off before Christmas I will have it in the store (Please, SLA, give us our license). Until then Savanah-Chanelle have a wine club available on their website. Cheers!

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