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Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 2008
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 which flows through the region. 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, further 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 difficult yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is commonly referred to by winemakers as the “heartbreak grape.” However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. More reflective than most varieties of the land on which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality, and demands care in the vineyard and lots of attention in the winery. It is an important component of Champagne and the only variety permitted in red Burgundy. Pinot Noir enjoys immense popularity internationally, most notably in Oregon, California, and New Zealand.
In the Glass
Pinot Noir Is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and lively acidity. It ranges in body from very light to the heavier side of medium, typically landing somewhere in the middle—giving it extensive possibilities for food pairing. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount), it can develop hauntingly beautiful characteristics of fresh earth, autumn leaves, and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon, ocean trout, and tuna. Its mild mannered tannins don’t fight with spicy food, and give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry—chicken, quail, and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, it can even match with heavier fare. Pinot Noir is also very vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
Pinot Noir is dangerously drinkable, highly addictive, and has a bad habit of emptying the wallet. Look for affordable but still delicious examples from Germany (as Spätburgunder), Italy (as Pinot Nero), Chile, New Zealand, and France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions.