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Pence Pinot Noir 2015
For most of my adult life, I have been obsessed with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For many years, I travelled to France, and more specifically to Burgundy, trying to understand the making of what I believe to be the world’s greatest wines. Over time, I became friends with the vignerons there, learned of their respect for terroir, and their dedication to its primacy. I had the opportunity to drink the wines over and over again, from the barrel and the bottle, and observe how they were farmed and vinified.
BRINGING BURGUNDY TO SANTA BARBARA
Though I fell in love with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as expressed in Burgundy, I have no expectation, nor would I wish to, to produce a Burgundian wine. We are in the United States, after all, and one should hope that the vines grown in these soils are different from those grown in Burgundy. I believe, though, that given a few more decades, or perhaps centuries, we can achieve the same kind of brilliance in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here in the United States as has been achieved in Burgundy.
UNWAVERING STANDARDS FOR WINEMAKING AND FARMING
Towards this end, my team and I have established the highest aspirations for our vineyard and our wine program. It is a purposeful endeavor, in that everything was done very deliberately and without regard to cost to achieve the highest level of quality in our wines. Our philosophy is a non-interventionist, site-driven one. If our wines express typicity, it has much more to do with our terroir and viticulture than with anything we have done in the cellar.
We strive for honesty and elegance in our wines, reflecting the beautiful landscape where our grapes are grown, the richness of the clay soils feeding their roots, and the abundant sunshine that provides life’s energy. The colors, aromas, and flavors in each bottle are the pure manifestation of our vineyard and our efforts to support it.
It is my sincere wish, and that of our team, that our wines transport you to another place; that they are representative not only of their varieties and the terroir of our site, but also of the profound mystery Mother Nature has to offer.
A lesser-known but elite AVA within the larger Santa Barbara district, the Santa Maria Valley AVA runs precisely west to east starting near the coast. The valley funnels cool, Pacific Ocean air to the vineyards more inland, allowing grapes a longer hang time to ripen evenly and achieve their full potential by harvest time. Combined with minimal rainfall, consistent warm sunshine, and well-drained soils, it is an ideal environment for grape growing.
Many of the wineries here are small and highly respected, having established a reputation in the 1970s and 80s for producing excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. More recently, Syrah has also proven quite successful in the region. Many vineyards are owned by growers who sell their grapes to other wineries, so it is common to see the same vineyard name on bottlings from different wineries. Bien Nacido Vineyard is perhaps the best-known and most prestigious.
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.