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Recalibrating My Pinot Noir Benchmarks
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 19, 2013
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Fulcrum Wines, Chalone Appellation (California) Pinot Noir Brosseau Vineyard 2011 ($55):  It was a lucky day early in November when I met David Rossi, owner and winemaker of Fulcrum Wines.  Thanks to David, I discovered a winery that was new to me, and well worth knowing.  I tasted six impressive Pinot Noir wines from four different terroirs in California.  And in the process, I re-discovered the Chalone appellation as a unique site for impressive Pinot Noir.

First, about Fulcrum Wines:  It is a very small operation based in Napa Valley that sources its grapes from respected growers of Pinot Noir.  In 2005, when he established his winery, Rossi chose the name Fulcrum -- the point on which an object balances -- to express his goal of making Pinot Noirs that offer exceptional balance.  In addition to the Fulcrum brand, the winery makes wines under a second label, On Point.  The decision to release a wine under one label or the other comes at blending, and depends on the style of the wine in each particular barrel: the “softer, readier, more elegant” Pinots become On Point bottlings, while the “richer, more structured” wines become Fulcrum wines.  The number of cases for any one wine ranges from 89 to 224 cases.

Rossi currently makes Pinot Noirs from the Anderson Valley, Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Chalone AVAs.  The Fulcrum wines in most cases carry the name of the vineyard, while the On Point wines do not, although the grapes come from the same source.

Now, to the featured wine itself:  I could easily have chosen any of the six Pinot Noirs that I tasted with Rossi.  (In fact, my fellow taster lobbied not too subtly in favor of the 2011 Fulcrum Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, which is excellent, if very young.)  But the 2011 Fulcrum Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Chalone AVA won me over because it is an admirable wine in a style that is not normally my favorite, and from a district that has become overshadowed by many other, currently more exciting terroirs for Pinot Noir in California.

David noted that the Chalone AVA today has only six growers of Pinot Noir, including Chalone Vineyards itself.  The vines grow on decomposed granite and limestone in a cool, coastal climate and produce wines that he describes as having the dark richness of Central Coast Pinots, minerality, and strong potential for aging. 

In 2011, Rossi produced both an On Point and a Fulcrum Pinot Noir, the latter vineyard-designated.  In our tasting, the On Point Chalone AVA Pinot followed the 2011 On Point “Christinna’s Cuvée” Pinot from Anderson Valley, and in the juxtaposition I preferred the Anderson Valley wine for its amazing, stealth acidity that seemed to magically balance the wine’s soft texture.  The On Point Chalone Pinot was more tannic and dense with ripeness and softness -- not my style.  Only when I tasted the Fulcrum Brosseau Vineyard Pinot did I appreciate the Chalone area Pinots.  That wine was a full-bodied, richly-textured Pinot, soft but somewhat gripping on the tongue from delicate, fine-grained tannins.  Its understated aromas and flavors suggested spices, smoke, cedar and dark berry fruits. The wine’s finish was rich and almost endless.  I perceived a chunkiness of style, an earth-driven Pinot, akin to Pommard.  Although I personally prefer more ethereal Pinots such as Volnay, the authenticity of what I perceived to be the terroir expression in the Chalone AVA wine captivated me.

Retasting the 2011 On Point Pinot Noir from the Chalone AVA, I could understand that it is a lighter expression from the same terroir.  It won’t benefit from age as much as the Fulcrum will, but in its relatively easy readiness it still carries the grip and the grain of the Chalone area.

In the end, I recommend any Pinot from Fulcrum Wines -- whether Fulcrum label or On Point -- that you are able to get your hands on.  Pinot Noir aficionados deserve to know about these wines.

94 Points