We recently had the opportunity to taste three outstanding Pinot Noirs released by Beau Marchais, a new project launched in 2019 by two seasoned winemakers, Adam Lee of California and Philippe Cambie of France. Their joint venture brought together the talents of one of California’s finest Pinot Noir winemakers with one of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s most illustrious enologists and consultant to more than 80 wineries. Despite his extensive winemaking experience, Philippe never had opportunity to produce Pinot Noir, yet he and Adam Lee jointly crafted outstanding wines that in our opinion exhibit new expressions of California Pinot Noir.
The three wines under review have much in common, but also exhibit unique features of their terroir. (Two of the wines are sourced from the Clos Pepe Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills and the third from the Soberanes Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands.) First and foremost, these wines are relatively bold flavored for Pinot Noirs and are also high in alcohol despite being sourced from relatively cool climate growing areas. Second, they exhibit relatively dark cherry fruit aromas and flavors with a touch of earthiness which at first suggested a blend with Merlot or Syrah (viz a winemaker from Châteauneuf-du Pape), yet they are 100% Pinot Noir. Thirdly, the wines exhibit noteworthy elegance and refinement on the palate with a lovely mouth feel, perfect balance and silky fine-grained tannins.
In a video conference with Adam Lee, we learned about the team’s winemaking approaches which helped explain the character of the wines. For example, in both vineyards, not surprisingly, they dropped a lot of fruit with multiple thinning passes, which resulted in yields of only 1.5 clusters per shoot that in turn fostered fast sugar accumulation and faster ripening. They selected a Rhone yeast (D80) for fermentation and used hoses to stir up the tanks from the bottom. They also used the Gaia enzyme to promote a creamier and rounder mouth feel, and most notably employed a long maceration of 45 days mainly to soften the tannins. They aged the wine in new French oak for nine months followed by bottling.
In this its first year of operations, Beau Marchais has been highly successful. The collaboration and synergy between Adam Lee and Felipe Cambie has resulted in some wonderful new expressions of California Pinot Noir. It is hoped their collaboration continues so that we might continue to enjoy new vintages of these magnificent wines.
Beau Marchais 2019 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard Est Sta. Rita Hills ($95) 95 Medium dark red. A blend of Pommard and Dijon clone 115, the Beau Marchais Pinot from Clos Pepe Est shows a spicy nose of pomegranate, plum and Montmorency cherry with an herbal edge. Layered on a lightly creamy palate with notes of dark red berries and a subtle herbal/tobacco like touch, all with toasty oak in the background. Beautifully integrated and sophisticated with a lingering bright note on the finish. The high point for this wine is purity and refinement.
Beau Marchais 2019 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard Ouest Sta. Rita Hills ($95) 96 The Beau Marchais 2019 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard Ouest Medium is a dark red blend of Dijon clone 667 and Pommard. It shows a bouquet that’s a mélange of black raspberry, dark cherry, and fresh garden herbs and is vibrant and fresh, not at all earthy. Silky on the palate with generous, refined flavors that mirror the bouquet with additional light notes of cedar and oak. But it’s the texture that’s the highlight of this wine—smooth and elegant and rich without any heaviness, despite the 15%+ alcohol. The fine-grained tannins give the wine just enough spine, and the finish is long and graceful with a lovely red cherry note on the very end. California Pinot Noir at its best.
Beau Marchais 2019 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands ($95) 95 Dark ruby showing rich, concentrated red berry fruit on the nose with a hint of wild herbs. Spicy palate of dark red fruit flavors with hint of chocolate and barrel notes with hints of tobacco and tar. A distinctive wine with notable ripe red berry fruit and a long and persistent finish. A unique Pinot Noir. As with the other wines, relatively high in alcohol at 15.1%.