Tonya Pitts leads tasting of diverse pinot noir

Young West Coast winemakers are creating distinctive blends


A comparison of three pinot noir releases, each from distinct regions, unfolded into something more.

Diversity in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) and the rich Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) was on display with wines sourced and blended from multiple sites within each appellation.

Our guide was Tonya Pitts, consultant, mentor and wine director at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco. Tonya is a strong advocate for diversity in the wine industry and her selections often showcase promising young winemakers, including women and people of color.

Tonya was joined by three winemakers: Kate Ayres of Penner-Ash (Willamette Valley), Darrin Low of Domaine Anderson (Anderson Valley) and Michael Accurso of EnRoute (Russian River Valley). They share a breadth of experience and, through their benchmark wineries, are able to capture the best fruit from various micro-climates within their appellations.

While distinct soils and weather patterns exist in each region, diurnal temperature swings are the threads that weave them together. Pinot noir grapes thrive with warm days that turn to cool nights, extending their growing season for fully ripened fruit.

Kate Ayres is winemaker at Penner-Ash. (Courtesy Penner-Ash)

Kate Ayres is winemaker at Penner-Ash. (Courtesy Penner-Ash)

Ayres introduced the flagship Penner-Ash 2018 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($45) as the wine that put Willamette Valley on the map. It is sourced from 18 vineyards in nine sub-appellations and is a snapshot of the region.

According to Kate, sub-appellations like Dundee Hills add spice tones, while Eola-Amity and Chehalem Hills offer red fruit and texture. Ribbon Ridge to the north gives the blend dark fruit qualities and southerly McMinnville adds white pepper.

Aged in 23% new French oak, the Penner-Ash release expressed an earthiness with balanced red and black fruit flavors. A slight sweetness on mid-palate finished with a fresh acidity and savory notes. Tonya spoke of the black fruit and black tea flavors as a perfect pair with grilled salmon.

Owned by noted sparkling wine producer, Roederer Estate, Domaine Anderson creates pinot noir and cool- climate chardonnay still wines from unique vineyards throughout the Anderson Valley.

Winemaker Low introduced the 2017 Domaine Anderson Pinot Noir ($45), which is aged 15 months in 3% new French oak, as a blend of three vineyard sites set across the valley. The grapes are sourced from the warmer Walraven Vineyard near Boonville, the biodynamic Dach Vineyard in Philo and the Pinoli Vineyard in the cooler Deep End, closest to the Pacific Ocean.

Darrin Low is winemaker at Domaine Anderson. (Courtesy Domaine Anderson)

Darrin Low is winemaker at Domaine Anderson. (Courtesy Domaine Anderson)

Darrin explained that while the soils in each vineyard are similar, the climate is quite different. The Anderson Valley is known for producing terroir-driven wines and the vintage 2017 expresses the best it has to offer.

Eloquent red fruit and floral aromas introduce a wine that, according to Tonya, smells and tastes like the Anderson Valley with fresh mushrooms flavors and mineral hints providing a mid-palate lift.

The Russian River Valley appellation has stood for top quality pinot noir production for decades. The name alone sells wine. Its diverse terroir is identified through sub-appellations like Green Valley and even more specific neighborhood designations.

EnRoute winemaker Michael Accurso, who began his career making cabernet sauvignon in the Napa Valley, talked of working with multiple vineyards and clones while introducing the 2018 EnRoute Pinot Noir Russian River Valley “Les Pommiers”($60).

Michael Accurso is winemaker at EnRoute. (Courtesy EnRoute)

Michael Accurso is winemaker at EnRoute. (Courtesy EnRoute)

Established in 2007 by partners at Far Niente, EnRoute produces many single-vineyard wines. However, the popular “Les Pommiers,” sourced from five known vineyards within the Middle Reach and Green Valley areas, showcases the range of Russian River Valley terroir.

To address the challenges of climate change, Michael, who once struggled to achieve full ripeness, now makes every effort to avoid over-ripening. The diurnal shifts are still significant, but days are warmer throughout the valley.

Accurso compared his effective use of nine different clones from five vineyards to planting tomatoes. Cherry, beefsteak, Roma and heirloom may all look and taste different, but, mixed together, can enrich a delicious salad.

He described the red fruit and floral notes from the Swan and Pommard 5 clones, strawberry from Dijon 777 and structure from the Mt. Eden, Dijon 115 and 667.

“Les Pommiers” is aged 10 months in 30% new French oak, 30% one-time used and 40% neutral. The result is a lush and opulent wine with vibrant aromas and layered flavors of forest floor and bright red fruit.

The three pinot noir appellations all enjoy near-perfect growing conditions, but Tonya and the winemakers revealed that the diversity within is what makes them iconic.

Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at or email mourvedre

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