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Davis Bynum Jane's Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011
In 1971, Davis acquired vineyard land in the Napa Valley, near St. Helena. After unsuccess-fully attempting to build a winery on the property in 1973 (due to a moratorium on new winery construction by the Napa county planning commission), the Bynum Family -- Davis' wife Dorothy, son Hampton and daughter Susan -- purchased the 83-acre River Bend Ranch in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. On the property was a 1950's hop kiln which the Bynum Family converted into the winery and permanent home. "A friend convinced us to come over to the Russian River Valley. You can grow better grapes there anyway," Bynum chuckled.
In the first few years of operation at the new winery, grapes were hauled over from Napa and crushed along with local Russian River Valley fruit. This ended when the Napa property was sold off in 1976. During this period, the Bynum Family made their first pinot noir -- the 1973 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard was the first ever pinot to carry a Russian River designation.
Today, Davis Bynum Winery crushes about 250 to 275 ton of grapes annually (which makes about 15,000 cases of wine), bottling premium varietals under the Davis Bynum label. It is still family oriented: Davis oversees the vineyards and finances, though he now leaves winemaking decisions in the capable hands of Gary Farrell. His son, Hampton, oversees the daily operations at the winery as well as sales, and is responsible for product development. During harvest, Hampton helps with winemaking. Dorothy, Davis' wife, oversees the landscaping and a building improvement program.
A standout region for its decidedly Californian take on Burgundian varieties, the Russian River Valley is named for the eponymous river that flows through it. While there are warm pockets of the AVA, it is mostly a cool-climate growing region thanks to breezes and fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reign supreme in Russian River, with the best examples demonstrating a unique combination of richness and restraint. The cool weather makes Russian River an ideal AVA for sparkling wine production, utilizing the aforementioned varieties. Zinfandel also performs exceptionally well here. Within the Russian River Valley lie the smaller appellations of Chalk Hill and Green Valley. The former, farther from the ocean, is relatively warm, with a focus on red and white Bordeaux varieties. The latter is the coolest, foggiest parcel of the Russian River Valley and is responsible for outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
One of the most finicky yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is a labor of love for many. However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. In fact, it is the only red variety permitted in Burgundy. Highly reflective of its terroir, Pinot Noir prefers calcareous soils and a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality and demands a lot of attention in the vineyard and winery. It retains even more glory as an important component of Champagne as well as on its own in France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions. This sensational grape enjoys immense international success, most notably growing in Oregon, California and New Zealand with smaller amounts in Chile, Germany (as Spätburgunder) and Italy (as Pinot Nero).
In the Glass
Pinot Noir is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and cherry with some heftier styles delving into the red or purple plum and in the other direction, red or orange citrus. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and a lively acidity. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount) it can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice, dried fruit and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon and tuna but its mild mannered tannins give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry: chicken, quail and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, Pinot noir has proven it isn’t afraid of beef. California examples work splendidly well with barbecue and Pinot Noir is also vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
For administrative purposes, the region of Beaujolais is often included in Burgundy. But it is extremely different in terms of topography, soil and climate, and the important red grape here is ultimately Gamay, not Pinot noir. Truth be told, there is a tiny amount of Gamay sprinkled around the outlying parts of Burgundy (mainly in Maconnais) but it isn’t allowed with any great significance and certainly not in any Village or Cru level wines. So "red Burgundy" still necessarily refers to Pinot noir.