Each April brings the Spring pick-up event at Williams Selyem Winery on Westside Road in the heart of the Russian River Valley.
Full disclosure: I like their medium-bodied pinot noir and beautifully structured single-vineyard chardonnay releases, and there are always bottles from various vintages in my cellar. This release includes pinot noir, blended from multiple vineyards within the best appellation with some single-vineyard chardonnay and zinfandel.
Williams Selyem has become one of the finest producers of Burgundian wines in California, but it began in 1979, after two guys decided to take up the hobby of winemaking in an old garage in Forestville. Over the next 20 years, Ed Selyem and Burt Williams set the standard for fine pinot noir in California, putting the Russian River Valley on the wine map.
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The next phase of Williams Selyem began when the originators, after carefully researching a buyer within the industry, sold the winery to John Dyson, who had previously converted his New York dairy into Millbrook Vineyards and Winery. The Dyson family pushed the winery forward by purchasing their first estate vineyards, including the Litton Estate, where additional ones were planted and their impressive contemporary tasting and production facilities were built.
Starting with something new, the 2013 Williams Selyem Rosé Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, consisting of juice from the estate vineyard that was “bled off” and fermented in neutral oak. It was light, but complex with hints of strawberry on the nose and palate. The rainy weather did not fit its profile, but warm afternoons are coming.
There were three chardonnay releases on the menu, two single-vineyard and the 2016 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay ($39) that got my attention. Sourced from four vineyards, it was certainly crisp, but the expressive stonefruit flavors offered a nice balance to the wine, a fine example of what can be achieved without oak. This chardonnay is a good value for the price.
A staple in the region, the Olivet Lane Vineyard sources grapes to many producers of fine pinot noir and chardonnay in the Russian River Valley. The 2016 Williams Selyem Chardonnay Olivet Lane Vineyard ($65) conveys baked apple and hints of spice throughout the aromas and flavors.
The Heinz Vineyard is located in Occidental, which experiences very cool evenings. The 2016 Williams Selyem Chardonnay Heintz Vineyard ($65) has a healthy acidity and rich expressions of spice, stone and tropical fruits. There is also a Burgundian minerality that lingers on the tongue.
Of the appellation-specific releases, my preference is the Sonoma Coast that extends from the ocean to the town of Sonoma. Thus, it offers the most diverse flavors. The muscular 2016 Willams Selyem Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($55), with healthy tannins and clear minerals elements, boasts herbal, wild berry and spice flavors delivered with a rich mouthfeel.
Driven by a classic pinot noir bouquet, the 2016 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($55) delivers more traditional dark cherry, clove and vanilla. Sourced from two estates and the nearby Bacigalupi Vineyard, the hardy tannins will ensure extended aging potential.
The Fall offers numerous single-vineyard pinot noir releases from known neighboring vineyards like Bucher, Allen and Bacigalupi. In the Spring, we can enjoy the 2016 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir ($72), combining grapes from those and other vineyards that share the nearby hills and valleys. Forest floor, tart cranberries and hints of lavender combine with more traditional cherry and spice to create a balanced and accessible flavor profile.
Some years ago, the winery released its first zinfandel with fruit from the Bacigalupi Vineyard. They added another from the Papera Vineyard and now an inaugural release from the Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard is available. They are all sourced from old vines within different Russian River Valley micro-climates. Rich, baked blackberry flavors in the 2016 Willams Selyem Papera Vineyard Zinfandel ($65) are intense and balanced with a lingering candied finish. It’s the one I always take home.
Although they are included on some online sites, the best way to access these wines is by joining their allocation list. Aside from being a good fit for my palate, Williams Selyem wines are competitively priced among their peers and the estate is a special place to visit. With these new vintage 2016 wines in my cellar, I can now begin to enjoy the vintage 2014.