During my recent visit to California, I met up with Anthony Austin, the talented Sonoma County winemaker who is producing some of California’s finest new Pinots. Tony is currently crafting the wines at Sonoma Coast Vineyards, where he was a founding partner (the winery has since been sold) and has begun a new 1000 case Pinot project of his own called Left Edge. In both winemaking ventures Tony is focused on producing wine from the southern Sonoma Coast, a region of both challenges and opportunities for great Pinot Noir.
A UC Davis graduate in enology, Tony studied with the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff and later directed the first crush at Firestone in 1976. Firestone was the first modern commercial winery in the Santa Barbara area and, while Tony was at the helm, it won many prestigious awards for its wines. In 1981, Tony left to establish his own label, Austin Cellars, in Los Olivos and made some first-rate Pinots there ( a Sierra Madre Vineyard and a Bien Nacido Vineyard) until 1992 when the winery was sold. Today, Tony has some 30 vintages under his belt and is as passionate as ever about producing Pinot Noir.
The Left Edge project, like Sonoma Coast Vineyards, sources fruit from independent growers such as Petersen Vineyard and Balistreri Vineyard situated along the southern Sonoma Coast. This area is very challenging for growing Pinot because of extreme weather conditions—the cold of the coldest—the left edge of the mountain ranges that run along the coast. Very cold temperatures from the Pacific make for long growing seasons and difficult ripening of fruit. Yields are very low and mature grapes have low sugar levels. Yet, these same conditions can yield elegant wines with just the right balance of fruit and acidity— in the hands of an experienced winemaker.
Tony refers to his new Left Edge venture as producing the “next generation” of Pinot Noir. He does does not manipulate his wines like some winemakers do, preferring instead to follow a low impact regime. He cold soaks his fruit without alcohol to extract rich flavors without tannins, ferments in small lots (using one ton fermenters) , does punch downs by hand, and racks only once in the late spring. The wines are truly handcrafted. Keep in mind that for now, Left Edge is only a 1,000 case project, tiny by California standards—but its prospects are very promising.
Following are my notes on the two Left Edge single-vineyard Pinots tasted. I enjoyed tasting these wines and am happy to report to our readers that the i-WineReview will be reporting in-depth on the California Pinot scene in 2009.
Left Edge 2007 Pinot Noir, Petersen Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
The Petersen Vineyard is located in a cold area of the Petaluma Gap and has yields below 2 tons/acre. The wine is medium ruby in color and shows lovely fruit forward aromas of red raspberry and plum. Aged in 50% new French oak for less than one year, it displays good acidity and balance with high toned ripe fruit flavors on the palate, rounded tannins and good grip on the finish.
Left Edge 2007 Pinot Noir, Balistreri Vineyard, Sonoma Coast The Balistreri Vineyard is situated four and half miles from the Pacific Ocean and is one of the coldest vineyards on the extreme Sonoma Coast. Its yields are very low. Dark ruby in color, the wine exhibits rich and spicy aromas and concentrated flavors of red berries and plums as well as some minerality. Aged in 100% new French oak for one year, it exhibits a bold and rich personality with integrated flavors, rounded mouth feel, good acidity and just the right balance through to the finish.
International Wine Review