Ever since California pinot noir has been on my radar, the Saintsbury winery has been a barometer, and quite often a beacon. So when I recently was offered a chance to chat with co-owner David Graves over lunch, I did not hesitate. (His partner is Dick Ward – no relation, alas).
Graves, not surprisingly, proved to be an engaging, entertaining and edifying fellow. He calls screwcaps “twistoff closures” and readily admits that ” ‘Sideways’ floated the boat of everybody who made pinot noir.”
Here’s Graves on other topics:
*On Saintsbury’s new-ish lot of single-vineyard pinots (Lee, Stanly, Brown, Tonos): *The monks were right: Pinot noir is very site-specific. … We hired a new winemaker [Jerome Chery] in 2004 and said ‘let’s relaunch a series of individual wines.’ We had been doing the reserve wine, which I call the Duran Duran program because it’s so 1980s.There’s no definition of what’s regular and what’s reserve except for the 20-buck difference. You make wines from individual vineyards sort of by definition. So now we have vineyard designations that are just sort of an upgraded version of reserve."
*On the characteristics that Carneros pinot noirs should have: *often a brown spice character, nutmeg or clove, a combination of red and black fruit. Maybe a vegetal note; people assume that’s bad, but I think as a note, it’s good. A broadness on the middle palate.”
*Pinot noir vs,. chardonnay terroir: “I believe pinot noir sites that do well are a little less fertile and under a little stress. You can grow chardonnay in fatter ground than pinot. I wanna be able to drive the bus a little more, do irrigation and other things.
*Terroir in general: “Terroir is mediated by human choices in more ways than people realize. All the choices made by the grower, by the winemaker. There are human choices with the trellises or the clones. The place didn’t change, but the choices mediating between the place and the wine did. … We ended up with richer, darker wines as a result of those choices over the years.”
*Misc.: “Being anti-oak is like saying you’re tired of Mozart because you heard it in a dentist’s office and an elevator.” … He and Ward are heavily involved in making the final blends because “we’re sort of the continuity, and the adult supervision.”
Saintsbury’s wines, as ever, are delicious. The Unfiltered Carneros Chardonnay is bright, vibrant and focused. while the Brown Ranch Chardonnay is racier and more voluptuous. The Vin Gris of Pinot Noir is focused but friendly and firm. The Garnet Pinot Noir is lush and supple, the Carneros Pinot Noir even moreso, with a bit more grip and length.