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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wine Banter - October 2011

Precious Mountain
Last week Donnie Schatzberg (owner of Precious Mountain Vineyard) stopped in to Sophie’s Cellars and said they would be picking on Saturday and I volunteered. Now I’m not the world’s greatest picker – and Donnie certainly has plenty of friends and neighbors to help – indeed, it’s become quite a tradition for a whole group of neighbors and friends (some for more than fifteen years) from Cazadero to Monte Rio and some from hundreds of miles away to gather and pick in what is one of Sonoma County’s greatest pinot noir vineyards – certainly one of the most prized of Williams Selyem – and I too was most excited to have the opportunity to see first-hand how mother nature has crafted the 2011 vintage here at the Sonoma Coast – driving by vineyards is just not the same.

 Donnie and Lyndon Schatzberg dry farm their vineyards. Their home, located by the vineyard is solar, wind and hydro-powered. The water is spring water and only a few new vines planted each year need irrigation from the spring to start them off for three or four years until their root system is able to sustain the vine through the dry summers all on its own. Fruit, fig and apple trees are planted around and some in the midst of the vineyard. It is truly heartening to know that such sustainable practices produce one of the most celebrated pinot noirs in Sonoma County, indeed in the United States.

The original vines are the ones that are most intriguing to me at Precious Mountain because they are planted on St.George root stock which was then grafted to a gewürztraminer budwood and then in the mid-1970’s, the gewürztraminer was cut out and grafted over to pinot noir. Some of the canes of gewürztraminer can be found sporadically throughout the vineyard and are harvested and co-fermented with the pinot noir (just a very tiny percentage of the gewürztraminer).

It is believed that the gewürztraminer adds another layer of complexity to the pinot noir from Precious Mountain. The berries in this vineyard are rather small. Some clusters are as small as only a few berries whereas other vines tend to produce dozes of clusters with a dense foliage. Each of the blocks is planted in different directional patterns creating varying sun strikes which, no doubt, add more complexity and flavors to the fruit.

At the beginning of the day, high clouds and cool breezes provided for the perfect picking conditions – however that would not be the case as we wandered up the hill and into four small blocks, Kitchen Block, Point Block, House Block and Tank Block – this is when mother nature turned the heat up as we made our way up and down Precious Mountain’s sloping hillsides.

All of the fruit is picked into five gallon buckets and then transferred via small trailers pulled by tractors (driven by Donnie and his vineyard manager Heron Fox) through the narrow rows and transferred to the awaiting lugs atop flat-bed trucks. One of my picking partners that day, Sarah, pointed out one of the vines had some of the few gewürztraminer grapes which we both tasted – I tasted sweet pineapple flavors from this little berry.

As we made our way picking down the hill towards the entrance of the property, the new vines had only produced tiny clusters and we quickly moved through this part of the vineyard just as the fog began blasting overhead and the temperature dropped some twenty degrees.

As the last of the lugs were being sorted on the trucks – a mist began to fall, the sky turned gray and sat over Precious Mountain. The next day, it rained. The Schaztbergs had made the perfect timing call to get his berries off the vine. Williams Selyem Precious Mountain Pinot Noir at an average of $140-$200 per bottle for any vintage may not be an every-day consuming pinot noir, but it is a pinot noir that can age decades (unusually) and most definitely one for that very special occasion.

John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, The Sonoma Wine & Cheese Market in Monte Rio, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open 11am – 7pm, closed only on Wednesdays.