You never really know pinot noir.

She changes her very DNA as easily as teenagers change hairstyles, mutating incessantly.

She takes lovers often and without second thought, spinning off hybrids.

In one terroir she might adopt the bounce of a summertime bombshell serving up fruit daiquiris; in another she’s suddenly still, lost among dusty volumes and creaky floors.

You can attempt to control pinot noir by planting clones which most everyone, at least in the US, does. But don’t fool yourself. She’ll always find ways to surprise you.

We were reminded of this when our most recent wine sourcing effort brought us to a west coast region called Carneros.

We had heard that Domaine de La Romanée-Conti, the Burgundian producer of some of the most expensive wines in the world (founded 1869), had a vineyard there.

What were they doing at the southern tip of Napa and Sonoma?

More on that in a moment. But first... Where does the “aristocracy” of American wines reside?

This week, Julien concludes our tour of West Coast wine regions with an overview of California’s vast wine country… from famous Napa… to the bulk wines of the Central Valley… the rediscovery of the Sierra foothills (and why you should check them out)... and more…

The Coca Cola Wines of Southern Napa (Continued)

As you career south around Napa’s banana shape, the towns begin to thin out.

At its southern tip, where Napa pokes into Sonoma, called the Carneros district, they disappear altogether, as if swept away by the chilly winds coming off the San Pablo Bay.

Carneros AVA

Carneros is a place where one has occasion to wear a fleece almost year-round – if not for the winds, then for the mist. Carneros is the windiest and chilliest region of both Napa and Sonoma. (winemakers there generally adopt either the Napa or Sonoma appellation, yet Carneros wines fit neatly into neither).

Unsurprisingly, the hills in Carneros were once covered in with sheep. Now vines have taken their place, among them those of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which, as a Burgundian producer, surely feels right at home in the cool weather climate.

But it’s not just the weather that makes Carneros stand out among northern California regions.

Something strange happens to pinot noir there.

Bouchaine Estate

The oldest winery in Carneros is the Bouchaine estate, founded in the 1880s by a Missourian called Boon Fly.

When they explain how they make their wines, it sounds like a pagan ritual.

The pickers go out in the dead of night, picking the grapes under a blanket of misty midnight haze.

Back in the winery, they immediately plunge the grapes into cold water (lest the spirit of the grape escape into the ether?), before allowing nature to complete the job with a fermentation by native yeast.

The pinot noir that emerges has a distinct flavor, particular to Carneros. Fair warning: it’s going to sound weird.

A Wine Cocktail?

Before we continue, a confession: we’ve been known to pour red wine into an ice cold glass of Coca Cola, smirking slightly at the horror on our fellows’ faces.

Americans are precious about their wines. Europeans less so. A Spaniard wouldn’t think twice about a refreshing wine and coke; it’s quite common in the summer months.

Once you get past the psychological impasse that comes when mixing the sacred and the profane, you start to appreciate that the cola flavor actually pairs quite well with the slightly drying tannins and, say, deep plum and dark cherry of a great wine.

That the cola flavor fits nicely within the flavor profile of certain reds is not a secret to winemakers in the Carneros district, and certainly not at century old Bouchaine.

Of course, they don’t mix Coca Cola with their wines. They don’t need to. For some reason pinot noirs from the Carneros district have a hint of cola already.

They say it’s the clones. There’s been a lot of experimentation into pinot noir clone types down in Carneros. On the other hand, pinot noir is known to be highly susceptible to influence from its terroir, shifting easily with the composition of the soil.

Whatever the reason, the hint of cola, often accompanied by cherry, is a hallmark of chilly, windswept Carneros. Partnership members recently had a chance to taste it for themselves in the Bouchaine 2018 from our most recent West Coast collection.

There you find it most prominently in the nose, mixed with tart cherry, on a bed of cacao and nutmeg. On the palate, summer strawberries leap into the mix while the nutmeg recedes into the background. A cool weather cola pinot for hot summer days.

Until next time,

The Wine Explorer

Bonner Private Wine Partnership