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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 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. 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 Villages or Cru level wines.