2003 Belle Glos “Clark & Telephone Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, CA

So let’s say you’re a winemaker. You have a winery. You’ve been making Cabernet for maybe 50 years. You’ve made a lot of it. You’ve won a lot of awards. You made more Cabernet. You’ve made so much Cabernet, for so many years that your name is nearly synonymous with Napa Cabernet. What happens, then, when one day you want to make Pinot Noir? In 2001 Chuck Wagner faced this precise problem. Caymus Pinot just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Caymus Cab, now does it?

In reality the owner and winemaker for Caymus Vineyards has always had a secret thing for Pinot Noir. Wagner even grew Pinot in Rutherford (of all places) for several years, and made small batches of it under other labels, as well as several prominent bottlings under the Caymus label in the 1960’s, all the while selling most of the fruit off to other wineries. During the last 20 years apparently he also acquired about 150 acres near Santa Barbara as well as some recent contracts for grapes in the Sonoma Coast. In 2001 he got serious about Pinot and started the Belle Glos label, named after his mother Lorna Belle Glos-Wagner.

The vineyards that Wagner purchased contain some of the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in the state, and many acres are on their original rootstock. The yields produced by these vines are naturally low, and they are further reduced by careful pruning and training. For the 2003 vintage, yields were just over one ton per acre, and the fruit so spectacular that Wagner decided to name the vineyard distinctively and produce a single vineyard bottling from it. The vines sit at the intersection of Clark Road and Telegraph Road.

Since 2002, Joseph Wagner, Chuck’s son, has been the winemaker and general proprietor of the Belle Glos label, with some assistance from John Bolta who currently makes Conundrum.

This wine was fermented using three different strains of yeast, and some lots of grapes were given extended maceration while others were pressed immediately. It was aged in French oak with approximately 60% of it new and 40% used three times. I am unsure of the case production on this wine, but I get the feeling it is low.

And why is that? Perhaps because of one of the distinctive features of the wine, which is the Maker’s Mark-style dipped wax capsule which covers the neck of the bottle. This sexy little feature makes for quite a striking profile on the shelf or in the rack. However, it is also a perfect treat for any sommelier you might despise or for a houseguest whose fingertips you would enjoy seeing sliced off onto your dining room floor. Trying to cut through that thick red wax to get to the cork was incredibly annoying and difficult, not to mention dangerous. I had to resort to a rather sharp knife when the blade on my waiter’s corkscrew wouldn’t do it, and felt several times like I was about to slip and draw my own blood.

Note to winemaker: Cool concept. Pain in the ass execution.

Tasting Notes:
A light cinnabar color in the glass, this wine has a very pretty, high toned nose of cranberry, orange mulling spices, and ginger. In the mouth it has a very nice, silky mouthfeel, excellent acid balance, and very spicy flavors of pomegranate, cinnamon, rosehips. I go hints of cloves and black pepper on the finish, which was decent. While the flavors were excellent the wine lacked a little bit of complexity and depth that I would have liked. Perhaps these will develop more over time, as this is a young Pinot which will no doubt improve with some bottle age.

Food Pairing:
The spiciness of this wine makes it well suited to contrast with sweeter mellower flavors. It would be a great complement to Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mongolian Pork Chops.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $34

This wine is readily available for purchase online.