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A Beauty of a Pinot
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 12, 2014
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Charles Heintz Vineyards & Winery, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2012 ($48):  Even if you have never encountered a bottle of wine produced by Charles Heintz Vineyard and Winery, you might have seen the Heintz Vineyards name listed as the source of fruit on other brands of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  More than two dozen wineries purchase grapes from Heintz Vineyards, including highly-respected names such as Littorai, Peay, Freeman, Flowers, Radio Coteau and Williams Selyem. 

Heintz Ranch, the farming arm of the Heintz famly, has existed since 1912; today it includes vineyards in Sonoma County’s cool western AVAs -- Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Green Valley.  Heintz Vineyards is particularly renown for its Chardonnays, but in a recent blind tasting of Pinot Noirs, I could see that the land is equally gifted for its Pinot Noir. 

Among its 50 acres of vines, Heintz Ranch has 20 acres of Pinot Noir planted in 1996.  This particular wine, the family’s own production, comes from another part of the ranch, a two-acre site planted to Pinot Noir in 2000.  The vines here are all Swan clone, one of California’s heritage clones of Pinot Noir; it derives from a selection of Pinot Noir plants sourced in the 1960s by the late Joseph Swan, a pioneer of Pinot Noir in Sonoma County, and propagated in his vineyards.

In terms of winemaking, consulting winemaker Hugh Chappelle -- whose credits include Flowers, Lynmar Estate and Quivira wineries -- now directs the production of wines under the Charles Heintz Vineyard and Winery label.  The 2012 vintage was the first under Chappelle’s direction.

What I enjoy most about this 2012 Pinot Noir is its moderate palate weight, which allows the wine’s delicacy and its complexity of aromas and flavors to emerge.  The wine’s aroma suggests fresh red fruits (red cherry, raspberry, a bit of cranberry) with a lovely hint of floral scent; the wine’s flavors echo these aromas, and also feature notes of vanilla, nutmeg and sweet baking spices.  The wine fills your mouth, but it does so in a finessed rather than powerful way.  At the heart of the mouth-impression is a concentration of flavor, a purity of fruit character; soft, gentle, silky texture surrounds that core of fruit.  The wine has tannin -- you can find it if you look for it, a dusty graininess and grip on your tongue -- but the oak that brings this tannin is so modulated within the wine that thoughts of oak or tannin seem irrelevant.  (For the record, the wine aged for 11 months in French oak barrels, 40 percent of which were new.)

You could call this a “pretty” Pinot Noir for its delicacy and moderate weight, but have no doubt that it is also a serious Pinot Noir.  The production of this wine is small, only 200 cases.
 
91 Points