Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Return to Sarah’s Vineyard - Santa Clara Valley

I got off from work a few hours early on Friday on the eve of one of the most heavily traveled holidays which marks the end of summer and kids are preparing to return to school – the Labor Day Weekend. Normally I would avoid traveling anywhere this time of the day as the freeways quickly become a logger jam. But I managed to hit the road just before the big rush out of the Bay Area began.

Located just 30 minutes south of San Jose in the Santa Clara Valley American Viticultural Area is one of California’s finest producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – Sarah’s Vineyard.

I first visited Sarah’s Vineyard tasting room in September of 2008 and so with a continuing quest this summer for great California Pinot Noir I decided to return and write a more extensive review of their wines.

In 1977 Marilyn Clark and John Otterman bought a 10 acre property off of Hecker Pass Road where they planted 7 acres of Chardonnay and named it Sarah’s Vineyard producing the first Estate vintage in 1983. Immediately Sarah’s Vineyard stood apart from its neighbors who   were producing inexpensive mediocre wine. In 2001 the winery was purchased by Tim Slater, who then determined take the vines and the brand and additional step to becoming a world class producer of fine wine.

Located just a few hundred yards from the Santa Cruz mountains, Sarah’s Vineyards encompasses both the Santa Cruz Mountain and Santa Clara Valley appellations with a variety of microclimates and soils that provide a wife range in grape flavor expressions over very short distances. These microclimates provide foggy mornings and sunny afternoons tempered by strong ocean breezes, and cool nights that are ideal for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rhone varietals with great depth and complexity.

Along with the climate and the earth, the character of Sarah’s estate grapes is influenced by the age of the vines and the clonal selections planted. The original vineyard was planted in 1978 with Chardonnay which was then supplemented in 1989 with additional plantings of “Proprietary” clones of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  After purchasing the property in 2001, they went on to plant additional Pinot Noir, Viognier and Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Counoise and Grenache Noir.

Approaching Sarah’s Vineyard’s tasting room, you ascend a beautiful slope dotted with young vines. Winding around to the parking lot, you see the quaint facilities and tasting room for this small winery. In the foreground Sarah’s Vineyard is framed with beautiful rolling hills and a splendor of color from a neighboring nursery.

Sarah’s Vineyard is surely a “must see” and taste for Pinot Noir lovers!

Of their eight released wines I tasted five, and I was particularly interested in their white Rhone varietal blend and their Pinot Noir.

My first wine was a Rhone styled white wine, a blend of Rousanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc – the 2009 Cote de Madone Blanc. A tropical wine with hints of pineapple, orange and lemon zest, dried peaches and apricots. A nice wine but it lacks some “umph,” a little more acidity and minerality. I have no doubt this wine would be fine with a number of dishes and thoroughly enjoyable on a hot summer day, but at $25 a bottle there are too many other wines of higher quality with more pizzaz at that price range.

The second and third wines were the 2009 Chardonnay and 2009 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. I remember when I visited Sarah’s back in 2008 and being pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the Chards. Again, these wines are really nice with classic characteristics of golden apple, pear, melon, and citrus. Both wines are very similar to each other, the 2009 Chardonnay being a hint more tangy and the Santa Cruz Mountains Chard being more creamy. But in this economy, there are a gazzillon wines like this on the market for far less than $30 a bottle

My fourth wine was the 2009 Pinot Noir. Maybe it is because I’ve been in a Pinot Noir mood all summer, but I absolutely loved this wine. Clear, bright and “see thru” ruby red when viewed form the side on the nose I picked up intense and concentrated strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and a lovely smoky potpourri character that made this wine very alluring. A really nice Pinot that is on par with many others I have tasted this summer and yet it was about $10 less than many others of similar quality. So at $27 a bottle so I brought one home!

My fifth wine was the 2009 “Estate” Pinot Noir. A slightly darker wine, with deeper, earthier tones followed by black pepper, cedar, root beer, rhubarb and a hint of anise. Most people would probably prefer this wine over the previous Pinot, but there was a slight woody character in the finish that I didn’t care for.  Still, overall a great wine for $35 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2007 Fifty-Fifty Blend. I have to admit, that I wasn’t really in the mood for a big red wine. It had been a stressful week and day at work, it was a warm afternoon and so my subjective state of mine made me question my own judgment of this wine. I picked up black currant, cherries, eucalyptus, mint, and some heavy dark oak. But I’d have to retaste at another time along and perhaps with a grilled steak or barbequed hamburger to give a just evaluation. So, if you visit Sarah’s Vineyard and try this wine, let me know what you think of it in the comments section! It sells for $25 a bottle.

For more information or to visit:

Sarah’s Vineyard
4005 Hecker Pass Highway
Gilroy, California 95020
Phone: 1-877-44-PINOT