Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sunny Autumn Wine Tasting at Harvest Moon Estate and Winery – Santa Rosa, California

It was another beautiful sunny Autumn weekend, so I headed out to visit two neighboring wineries in Santa Rosa. The first was Harvest Moon Estate and Winery, located at 2192 Olivet Road in Santa Rosa, California, which was founded by the Pitts family who are dedicated to grow, produce and bottle world-class Russian River Valley wine in a balanced, elegant style.

The name Harvest Moon refers to the moon at the period of fullness that is nearest to the autumnal equinox. In the legend of the Harvest moon, it is said that all full moons have their own special characteristics based primarily on the whereabouts of the ecliptic in the sky at the time of year that these moons are visible.

While many wineries in this region focus on Pinot Noir, Harvest Moon Estate and Winery believes that Russian River Valley Zinfandel can be just as layered and complex as any Pinot Noir or Bordeaux variety in the world and receive the same respect. 

The Pitts family has grown quality grapes in the Russian River Valley since 1976. In the 1990s, Randy Pitts had moved south from his family’s vineyard to become an “aspiring corporate CPA” in San Francisco. However the role wasn’t a good fit for him. So in 1999, Randy went back to his roots and picked up where his father had been for 26 years – farming 9 acres of Gewürztraminer and Zinfandel that were destined for the winery of Cecil DeLoach, just down the road. In conjunction with lessons on farming by his father and a few viticulture/enology courses at the local junior college, Randy made a barrel of homemade Zinfandel off the ranch’s back block that turned out exceptionally well. They then concluded that properly farmed and judiciously fermented, Zinfandel has great capabilities of being California’s own wine nobility. The growers-turned winemakers birthed their inaugural vintage in 2002. 

In addition to growing Zinfandel, Harvest Moon Winery also hand crafts small amounts of Russian River Valley Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and a “Randy Zin” blend. And they make their wines in four different styles: sparkling, dry, early harvest, and late harvest. So, for sweet wine fans, Harvest Moon Winery offers both an “eiswein” style late harvest Gewürztraminer and a late harvest Zinfandel.

While at the winery I tasting the following for a modest fee of $10 (waived with purchase):

My first sample was the 2010 Estate Dry Gewürztraminer. When they say “dry,” they really mean DRY.  On the nose I picked up melon, apricots, lemon peel and on the palate it is a bit more tart that I would expect from this varietal. If you don’t like Gewürzt because they tend to be so floral, fruity and seemingly “sweet” (even though it has no residual sugar) then you may enjoy this wine. My only critique is that it’s about $6 over priced at $26 a bottle.

My second wine and first red, was the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. A huge spicy potpourri nose, followed by sour cherries and a hint of cedar. On the palate the nose is confirmed with really good acid and a long cigar box finish. For this quality of wine, $38 a bottle is just about wines like this are selling for in all the wineries I have visited over the summer.

Next, I tasted two wines side by side, the 2006 and 2009 Russian River Valley Zinfandel which sell for $34 and $38 a bottle. Both are almost Pinot Noir like in color and body and are a lighter more elegant style of Zin. These are not your high alcohol, big jammy “in your face” zinfandels. The ’06 is earthier with rose pedals, violets, fresh raspberries and some pepper. The ’09 is similar but not as earthy, and it has more spice and has some tartness to it. I bought a bottle of the ’09 specifically because I think it will pair well with spicy pasta dishes.

My next wine was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a little green and reminded me of a Cab Franc. On the nose and palate I picked up bell peppers, mind, eucalyptus followed by cherry. This wine sells for $38 a bottle and wasn’t my style.
My next three wines were desert wines, all very delicious!

The 2009 Estate Late Harvest Zinfandel has no heat, just a nose mouth full of dried cherries, dire plums, raspberry jam. It is sweet but not goopy or syrupy and it sells for $28 a bottle.

I then did a side by side tasting of the 2009 and 2010 Ice-Style Gewürztraminer. The ’10 is lighter in color with canned pears, melon and light peaches while the ’09 is more golden and honeyed with a mouth full of caramelized pears. I preferred the ’09 but I suspect that the ’10 will taste like the ’09 as it continues to evolve in the bottle. Both sell for $36 a bottle.

Harvest Moon Estate does not have a distributor and so they sell 98% their wines direct from the tasting room, so a trip to the winery is a must for anyone seeking out Randy’s traditional style of winemaking. 

For More information or to visit:
Harvest Moon Estate and Winery
2192 Olivet Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Phone: 1-707-573-8711