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2002 Nicolette Christopher "Daniela" Pinot Noir, Carneros, CA

Hand-crafted is a term that has been abused by wine marketers and copywriters for a long time, but it still means something, and there are still winemakers who live up to its humble promise. There are a lot of small wineries that could qualify for the use of this descriptor, all at varying sizes, but you don't get much closer to hand crafted than a man, his wife, a friend, 5 barrels and 2186 pounds of Pinot Noir.

Nicolette Christopher is a tiny winery started in 2001 by Chris and Nicolette Demetre. Like many small wineries, it represents the realization of a long held dream.

n-and-c.jpgChris has a degree in geology and worked for the petroleum industry for years before switching to biotech manufacturing. In his last corporate job he ended up managing the production of the number two Aids test line in the world. His wife Nicolette was a foot and ankle specialist. After years of hard work in their respective careers, the Demetres quit their jobs, took a long needed break, and spent some time trying to figure out what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. Perhaps to give themselves time to think, they decided to circumnavigate France on bicycle, with detours through ever major wine region of the country. Is it any wonder that when they returned they immediately enrolled in courses at Davis and Napa College, and dreamt of making a great Napa Cabernet.

After learning how to make wine, the Demetres both got jobs in the wine industry, and over the last few years have managed to hold down nearly ever production job in the business, all the while biding their time for the opportunity to make their own wine.

It was only a matter of time before the chance came along, in the form of several small opportunities -- an offer of a half a ton of grapes here, a few more there, a friend of a friend who mentioned he had some production capacity in a new winery he was building -- and viola, Nicolette Christopher Winery was born, and the Demetres now produce their very own Napa Cabernet.

So what are they doing with a Pinot Noir?

Well, that is another story entirely, and a heartwrenching one at that. Chris and Nicolette had a good friend who was a professional chef, and who, in her spare time, also enjoyed helping them with the day-to-day production tasks of the winery. She also happened to be a lover of Pinot Noir, and when a block grapes from the Thompson Vineyard across from Saintsbury in Carneros became available, Chris jumped at the chance, with no lack of encouragement, no doubt, from Daniela.

"When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, we thought that involving her in the production of Pinot Noir would be helpful " and she loved it," Chris told me in an e-mail. "She and I chose rows in the least vigorous part of the vineyard and did all pruning, suckering and vine care to give crop level of one and a half tons per acre. She was with me through all the production until the day of bottling. That was the first meeting she missed, and we lost her three months later. Now, it feels really good knowing people are enjoying the fruits of our labor."

Chris and Nicolette released two batches of this wine, a 48 case lot with a black capsule on top, and a 65 case lot with a red capsule on top, which is the wine I am reviewing here.

The wine comes from Pinot Noir vines at least twenty years old. The wine spent 14 months in French Oak barrels and was never racked (sediments weren't removed) until bottling.

Tasting Notes:
Light garnet in color, this wine has a beautiful nose of tobacco, dried cranberries, violets, cedar and a light hint of oak. In the mouth it is very smooth, with classic cool-climate Pinot Noir flavors of cranberry and raspberry with a little tart pomegranate and lovely earthy, black tea flavors that taper into a substantial finish.

Food Pairing:
This would be a perfect accompaniment to this spice rubbed quail.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $20

Amazingly, there is still some of this wine (and the $30-per-bottle black capsule lot) left for purchase. If you are interested please contact Chris at Christopher @nicolettechristopher.com and he will be happy to sell you some.

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