James MacPhail is one of several California winemakers who make small lots of handcrafted Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from single vineyards. In Sonoma County, (the focus of our next report) Kistler Vineyards and Paul Hobbs are among others who immediately come to mind. MacPhail and these producers are also part of a growing trend among California’s top winemakers, to craft Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from vineyards along the Sonoma Coast.
Since the 1990s the Sonoma Coast and more recently Anderson Valley have become increasingly popular areas for producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While Russian River Valley and Santa Maria Valley are still seen as top growing areas for these wines, the special characteristics of the Sonoma Coast, and the new Fort Ross-Seaview AVA have been attracting increased attention for their unique characteristics. These include very cold temperatures from the Pacific winds which make for long growing seasons and difficult ripening of fruit, low yields and low sugar levels of mature grapes. Under these conditions winemakers are challenged to produce wines with just the right balance of fruit and acidity. And when they do, the wines are extraordinarily refined and elegant.
The wines reviewed here are from a wide variety of vineyards located in Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Santa Maria Valley as well as Anderson Valley and even the Willamette Valley in Oregon. And Mac Phail practices winemaking techniques that let each vineyard express itself in the wine. The Pinot Noirs are all crafted following rather similar winemaking regimes consisting of five to seven days of cold maceration and 11 to 14 days total cuvaison, the use of natural yeast, 100% destemming, native malo, and no fining or filtering. The grapes, however, are blends from many different Pinot Noir clones: Dijon 115 667,828 777 as well as Pommard, Calera, Dehlinger, Swan, Eden, Wadenswill and Martini and others. The Chardonnays are of Dijon 76 and 96, whole cluster pressed, fermented with indigenous yeast, but aged different, one fruit focused and unoaked using stainless steel and 60% malolactic fermentation, the other 11 months in 1/3 new French oak with regular battonage.
Although these wines are from different vineyards, they share certain characteristics in common, and they bear the stamp of James McPhail’s winemaking. They are generally quite elegant tasting with dark cherry fruit and rich floral, earth, minerals and cedar nuances. They also share a velvet texture, roundness in the mouth, and have soft polished tannins. That said, these wines all have their own distinctive features, which makes tasting them so interesting and satisfying. All the wines are made in very limited quantities, usually around 300 cases or less.
Macphail Family Wines 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($40) 91 The 2012 Sonoma Coast offers fragrant aromas of orchard fruit, minerals and herbs. It shows good density of flavor on the palate and is quite focused. Fruit forward and unoaked, it is aged in stainless steel with regular battonage and has a full rich mouth feel and a long finish. Macphail Family Wines 2012 Chardonnay Gaps Crown Sonoma Coast ($45) 91 The 2012 Chardonnay Gaps Crown displays an attractive yellow gold color and aromas ofripe pineapple with notes of dulce de leche on the nose. Aged11months in French oak, 30% new, it is big, round and ripe and mouth filling with14.5 alc. Gobs of tropical fruit are well integrated with oak notes and the wine finishes clean with good extract. A lovely traditional-style Chardonnay.
Macphail Family Wines 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($22) 89 A pink orange color is followed by cherry watermelon and floral aromas. The palate is crisp with ripe red berry fruit flavors, good acidity and a persistent finish. Macphail Family Wines 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($40) 91 The 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast is a flavorful wine revealing aromas of ripe dark cherry, raspberry and toast. Aged 11 months sur lie in 100% French oak 40% new, it is ripe and full in the mouth with good extract and flavor and a rich tasting finish. Macphail Family Wines 2011 Pinot Noir Sundwag Ridge Vineyard Green Valley ($49) 90 The 2011 Pinot Noir Sundwag Ridge Vineyard displays red cherry aromas and flavors on the palate with traces of light herbs and toasty oak. Aged 11 months in oak, 41% new, it reveals good red berry fruit and spicy flavors with moderate intensity on the finish. Macphail Family Wines 2012 Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard Anderson Valley ($49) 89 The Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard reveals a light ruby color and aromas of fresh cherry and toast. On the palate it offers light fruit flavors with hints of herbs and high acidity. Aged 11 months sur lie in 100% French oak, 40% new, it has a fine and elegant mouth feel with freshness and firm tannins on the finish. Only 12 barrels made. Macphail Family Wines 2012 Pinot Noir Vagon Rouge Russian River Valley ($65) 93 The Pinot Noir Vagon Rouge Vineyard displays pretty plum fruit with hints of vanilla and toast. Aged 11 months in French oak, 50% new,, the palate has a lush silky texture with bright, fresh and concentrated red berry flavors from a combination of Calera, Pommard and Swann Pinot Noir clones. A lovely wine with impressive primary fruit qualities and a flavorful finish. Macphail Family Wines 2012 Pinot Noir Wildcat Sonoma Coast ($49) 91 The 2012 Pinot Noir Wildcat is sourced from a hilltop vineyard along the Sonoma Coast with small grape clusters and intense fruit flavors. It offers dark cherry fruit aromas followed by a flavorful feminine-like palate of dark berry fruit and Asian spices, high acidity and firm round tannins with a persistent finish. Macphail Family Wines 2011 Pinot Noir Rita’s Crown Vineyard Sta Rita Hills ($49) 89+ Light cherry and plum aromas are revealed in this lovely tasting wine together with crisp acidity, a hint of minerals, earth and chalkiness. Aged in 100% French oak, 50% new, it has rather ripe flavors of plum and blue berry although only moderately concentrated through to the finish, Macphail Family Wines 2011 Pinot Noir Roserock Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley ($49) 90 The Pinot Noir Roserock Vineyard is a delicious wine offering ripe cherry aromas on the nose with a touch of toast. Aged 11 months in French oak, 60% new, it has a flavorful palate with notes of earth and red berry fruit and perfect balance with a long finish.
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler, June 2014