C. Donatiello Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir, Floodgate Vineyard Block 15, 2008 ($49)
As much as I agree with those critics who lament the overly-ambitious style of many California Pinot Noirs today — wines that are too dark in color and in personality, with excessively high alcohol levels and inadequate finesse — I must admit that some California Pinots are absolutely terrific. My favorites hail from California’s cooler regions, especially the Sonoma Coast AVA. This wine is from another cool climate zone, Sonoma’s Russian River Valley AVA.
The C. Donatiello Winery has existed for just a little more than two years, and in that short time it has made quite a name for itself and for its wines. The winery estate is the former Belvedere Winery, on the western side of the Russian River.
Belvedere owner Bill Hambrecht, an investment banker long involved in California wine ventures, sold the Belvedere name and then teamed up with Chris Donatiello to create the C. Donatiello operation, which specializes in small lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from its estate vineyards and other vineyards in Russian River Valley. Donatiello himself had been involved in wine on the sales and marketing end, for the New York City distributor, Charmer Industries.
This particular Pinot Noir comes from one of the winery’s estate vineyard, Floodgate, which is situated in the center of the AVA territory, within reach of maritime influences such as morning fog and ocean breezes. The Floodgate vineyard itself covers about 80 acres, but Block 15 is 3 acres small, with particularly rocky soil. This block of Floodgate was planted 13 years ago with two early-ripening Dijon clones of Pinot Noir, clones 667 and 777, which are well-suited to cool areas.
This wine is classically Russian River Valley Pinot in its rich texture, its opulence of fruitiness and its full-throttle presence. But it has a distinct earthiness that’s unusual for the area and extremely appealing as a counterpoint to the wine’s cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit elements.
The wine starts out fruity in your mouth — plenty of fruit, fresh berry fruit, delicious and showing terrific concentration — and then a velvety texture emerges, which evolves into a very delicate grip on your tongue that carries through the wine’s finish, along with concentrated fruity notes. Some of that grip is tannin, of course; 35 percent of the wine aged for ten months in new French oak barrels. But some of it is that earthiness, which grounds the wine and gives it a dimension beyond round and fruity. The wine also has depth; hold the wine in your mouth for many seconds and it never loses its vitality.
This wine will age. My estimate is ten-plus years — but of course, no track record exists for it. With only 400 cases produced, it will be a real find when you find it. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.