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Byron Pinot Gris 1999
Alcohol: 13.5% by volume
In 1990, the Robert Mondavi family purchased Byron, and Ken Brown became Winemaker and General Manager. He and Tim Mondavi, Robert's son, set about designing the new Byron Winery as an expression of their shared belief in natural farming, experimental viticulture and gentle grape handling. They wanted to eliminate pumping, which shears grape stems, skin and seeds, allows tannins and other harsh elements into the juice and can make wine bitter.
With the aid of noted architect R. Scott Johnson, who designed the Opus One winery in Napa Valley and San Francisco's Transamerica building, Ken designed a multi-level winery that replaces pumping with gravity flow, resulting in more complex, dynamic wines. Byron's vineyards were also expanded and replanted as Ken Brown experimented with trellising systems, new rootstocks and clones, row orientation, and planting density in his quest for the perfect grape.
Responsible for the vast majority of American wine production, if California were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest wine-producing nation. The state’s diverse terrain and microclimates allow for an incredibly wide-ranging selection of wine styles, and unlike tradition-bound Europe, experimentation is more than welcome here. Wineries range from boutique to massive corporations, and price and quality are equally varied—plenty of inexpensive bulk wine is made in the Central Coast area, while Napa is responsible for some of the world’s most prestigious and expensive “cult” wines.
Just about every style of wine you can imagine is made in California, from bone dry to unctuously sweet, still to sparkling, light and fresh to rich and full-bodied. Each AVA and sub-AVA has its own distinct personality. In the Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other Bordeaux varieties dominate, as well as Sauvignon Blanc. Sonoma County is best known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. The Central Coast has carved out a niche with Rhône blends based on Grenache and Syrah, while Mendocino has found success with Alsatian varieties such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. With all the diversity that California has to offer, it is certain that any wine lover will find something to get excited about.
One grape variety with two very distinct personas, Pinot Gris in France is rich, round, and aromatic, while Pinot Grigio in Italy is simple, crisp, and refreshing. In Italy, Pinot Grigio is grown in the mountainous regions of Trentino, Friuli, and Alto Adige in the northeast. In France it reaches its apex in Alsace. Pinots both “Gris” and “Grigio” are produced successfully in Oregon's Willamette Valley as well as parts of California, and are widely planted throughout central and eastern Europe.
In the Glass
Pinot Gris is naturally low in acidity, so full ripeness is necessary to achieve and showcase its signature flavors and aromas of stone fruit, citrus, honeysuckle, pear, and almond skin. Alsatian styles are aromatic, richly textured and often relatively high in alcohol. As Pinot Grigio in Italy, the style is much more subdued, light, simple, and easy to drink.
Alsace is renowned for its potent food–pork, foie gras, and charcuterie. With its viscous nature, Pinot Gris fits in harmoniously with these heavy hitters. Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, with its lean, crisp, citrusy freshness, works better with simple salads, a wide range of seafood, and subtle chicken dishes.
Outside of France and Italy, the decision by the producer whether to label as “Gris” or “Grigio” serves as a strong indicator as to the style of wine in the bottle—the former will typically be a richer, more serious rendition while the latter will be bright, fresh, and fun.