Ryan Cochrane Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015
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Ryan Cochrane makes hand-crafted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in extremely small quantities. With grapes sourced from the best vineyards, Ryan produces food-friendly, structured wines that reflect the sites from which they originated. More importantly, he just wants to create wines that make people smile.
Back in 2009, he wasn’t smiling a lot. The advertising agency he was working at had just imploded. Ryan started freelancing, but it was a bad time for work in San Francisco. He had always dreamed about making wine, so one foggy morning in July, he decided to stop dreaming about it and do it for reals.
He contacted Roger Nicolas at RN Estate in Paso Robles and asked if he could intern with him. Roger makes beautiful wines, but he was equally enamored of his DEY (do everything yourself) approach to his business. That year, he helped in all phases of harvest, from vineyard work in the spring to pressing and barreling in the fall.
Ryan came back to RNE in 2010, and made 24.5 cases of his inaugural Pinot Noir on the side. In 2011, he tripled his production and was promoted to Roger’s assistant winemaker. He made two different Pinots in 2012 and his very first Chardonnay in 2013. All from two of the most extraordinary vineyards in Santa Barbara County.
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).
Tasting Notes for Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a dry red wine, typically diominated by red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and cherry with some heftier styles showing black plum and more delicate styles of Pinot giving citrus qualities. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and a lively acidity. With age Pinot Noir can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice and dried fruit.
Perfect Food Pairings for Pinot Noir
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of salmon or texture of 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.
Sommelier Secrets for Pinot Noir
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.