While partners in the development of Grand Cru Custom Crush in Windsor, Calif., Erin Brooks and Todd Gottula are also member winemakers who work closely with many of the finest Sonoma County vineyards and growers to produce pinot noir, chardonnay and other varietals under their Ernest Vineyards, Edaphos and Eugenia labels. With extensive résumés in technology and sales, both have married their agricultural roots on second careers in winemaking.
A small producer, Ernest has stayed focused on relationships with growers and on making the wines they like. However, it’s always nice to be appreciated. Last week, Ernest received word that Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded four 2015 pinot noir releases with 90-plus-point ratings, including 95-points to the Cleary Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, aka “The Settler.”
The Settler is sourced from a vineyard in Freestone, located in the coastal portion of the expansive Sonoma Coast appellation. Relentless fog and no wind to burn it off pushes temperatures lower, extending the ripening period. The result here is expressive, spicy aromatics and flavors with low alcohol (12.5 percent).
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I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Brooks as she curated a tasting of her current releases, including a single-vineyard pinot noir with a distinct profile. To begin, she poured a 2016 Aligoté from their more experimental Edaphos label, sourced from a vineyard near my home in Bennett Valley, south of Santa Rosa. I knew nothing of the aligoté grape other than it was a rare Burgundian varietal that produced dry wines. My interest was heightened.
Dave McIntyre, in a Washington Post article, called aligoté, “an explorer’s wine” there only for those willingly to look past chardonnay in Burgundy. Everyone should try an aligoté once in their lifetime, and this one is nearby.
Having previously enjoyed a bottle of the Ernest Black Emerald Vineyard Chardonnay Russian River 2014, we tasted the final vintage Ernest Green Valley Ranch Chardonnay 2015, aka “The Farmer,” and the Ernest Fallenleaf Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, aka “The Jester,” two very different releases.
The Farmer is sourced from a Russian River Valley vineyard near the town of Graton. Aged in equal parts stainless steel, neutral and new oak, the result is a crisp, more austere wine. The Jester originates from a warmer inland vineyard near the town of Sonoma. With full malolactic fermentation and aging in 60 percent new French oak, it expresses more stone fruit flavors with mineral notes, all soft on the palate.
The fog is a real influence on the organically farmed Rayhill Vineyard that sits 500 feet above it in the Sebastopol Hills. I found that the Ernest Rayhill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, aka “The Grandfather,” was the most unique pinot noir of the four we tasted. Herbal and wet stone hints in the bouquet continued with a rich mouthfeel and eloquent dark fruit and white pepper flavors. Brooks suggested that it was bold enough to pair with beef.
Two other single-vineyard pinot noir releases were tasted, both with 90-plus scores from Robert Parker. Green Valley is known as “the coolest, foggiest region in the Russian River Valley” and is the source of the nicely defined Ernest App Road (Bush) Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, aka “The Artist.” From a tiny vineyard blocks from the Sonoma Plaza, the Ernest Romanini Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, aka “The Engineer,” parlays warm days and cool nights into intense fruit flavors.
My first introduction to Ernest Vineyards came by enjoying a bottle of the Edaphos Grenache 2014 from the Steel Plow Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley. I discovered that grapes in the vintage 2014 and the current Edaphos Grenache 2015 are carbonically fermented, exposing the uncrushed grapes to carbon dioxide before being transferred to a concrete amphora for aging. This process pushes the fruit forward and lowers the tannins. The layered flavors and rich texture of this wine defy its price.
Another fine value is the Edaphos Barbera 2015 sourced from the Madhaven Vineyard in Glen Ellen. The winemaker feels that barbera has enough tannins, so there is no oak in this one. It is hatched from a concrete egg and has a rich, soft texture.
Ernest Vineyards currently produces 3,000 cases per year. Their growth depends upon building more relationships with quality vineyards and growers, and they seem to be moving in the right direction.