Where to Look for California Pinot Noir

Where to Look for California Pinot Noir

Feb 23, 2024Sadie Williams

California isn’t a monolith. Yes, you can find stellar Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Napa Valley — but that’s a tiny region! It only accounts for only 4% of the wines made in the state. So what else can you find in the forests, hills, and ocean-side vineyards of the Golden State? Pinot Noir, to start.

The Sonoma Coast and Santa Barbara are two regions where you can find beautiful Pinot Noir. They’re making wines that skew away from the big oak influences we’ve come to expect from California. Wines that take advantage of cool microclimates, strong Pacific winds, and an extraordinary diversity of soil types.

Sonoma Coast

Our Director of Sales Charlie Gaeta traveled to the Sonoma Coast a few years ago to tour some vineyards with Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards. Andy had wrangled a group of winemakers: together, they were on a mission to carve out a smaller region within the half a million acres that makes up the larger Sonoma Coast AVA: the West Sonoma Coast AVA.

“The difference between what we see as Sonoma Coast and the true western Sonoma Coast is so stark,” Charlie says. “These wines from what is now the West Sonoma Coast AVA were veering off from that richer style of Pinot Noir. They were wines with a sense of place, a very specific maritime influence, a beautiful acidity and purity of fruit.”

Charlie says to look out for Sonoma Coast wines from Peay Vineyards and Littorai. The latter is the project of biodynamic guru Ted Lemon and his wife Heidi. Ted was just 24 when he took over as winemaker at Domaine Roulot — with those credentials, you know you can expect great things.

Santa Barbara County

The second place Charlie recommends looking for California Pinot Noir is south of the Sonoma Coast, in Santa Barbara. “Take the Pinot Noir from Presqu’ile, those can be almost salty…these crazy delicious notes of salted red fruit. You don’t taste Pinot Noir like that very often,” he says.

Even at the more southerly latitude, Pinot Noir planted here can yield wines of purity and elegance. You could walk into a vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills and be sweating through your T-shirt in minutes, only to climb further up and be forced to pull on a sweater. These pockets of truly cool climate vineyards with the Pacific influence make for amazing wines.

Who to look out for? Start with our friends at Presqu’ile. This family-run winery has the added benefit of working with consultant Jeremy Seysse of Domaine Dujac to refine their house style. Burlington Wine Bar General Manager Liza Morgioni says that these their wines are “so approachable, classic, and juicy — it just goes to show that California contains multitudes!” She notes that Presqu’ile’s light use of oak in combination with stainless steel leads to a balance of freshness and complexity that captivates anyone who gets a glass of this at the wine bar.

Charlie also says to look out for the wines of Domaine de la Côte, a project of Raj Paar and Saashi Moorman. In fact, it was working a harvest for the estate in 2016 that led Charlie to start tuning into Santa Barbara and cool climate pockets of California — so much so that he even makes his own wine there.

Peay, Littorai, Domaine de la Côte, Presqu’ile,…these are just a handful of the dedicated winemakers making beautiful Pinot Noir in California. They’re working organically, biodynamically, and sustainable to craft delicious wines that stand the test of time. We can’t get enough of them. If you see these names on shelves, you know you’re in for a good time.

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