2004 Arista Winery “Harper’s Rest” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA

I first learned about Arista Winery late last year when I had the opportunity to taste what the winery called it’s “first commercial release.” They had made some wines before, under different ownership and with different fruit, but the winery had recently been revamped, and its owners were aiming for a fresh start.

And quite a start they got. Their initial wines were excellent across the board, and their new tasting room, set back among the oaks and rock outcroppings in the rolling hills near Healdsburg, was stunning. The winery has just released its “second” vintage under the new ownership and the wines continue to be excellent. They have also branched out from their initial offering of just Pinot Noir to include a Zinfandel, a Gewurztraminer and a Sauvignon Blanc. As an aside, I had a chance to taste the Gewurztraminer out of barrel this winter and its is excellent.

Arista Winery is run by John Copeland and Al McWilliams. Orthodontist Al McWilliams and his wife wanted to live and work in Sonoma County ever since they first visited from their home in Texarkana, Texas. When Al gained a brother-in-law in wine industry veteran John Copeland, that dream became a reality. In 1996 the two started a winery called Pine Mountain Vineyards just outside of Cloverdale. That project, however, was just a stepping stone towards their shared dream of making Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. In 2003, these two purchased fruit from several vineyards in the area while looking for a piece of land to start their own winery. In early 2004 they found that land: 36 prime acres of land on Westside Road near Healdsburg.

This wine comes from grapes grown in Harper’s Rest Vineyard, which is named after Reuben Harper, a pioneer in the area in the early 1800’s. When he passed away in 1857 he was buried under a large Bay tree which overlooks the vineyard which now bears his name.

The Arista wines are made by Leslie Sisneros, who comes to the estate from nearly 13 years as a winemaker for Rodney Strong, Chateau St. Jean, Haywood, John Culbertson, Vinwood, and most recently, Kendall Jackson. At Kendall-Jackson she was responsible for a large portion of their entire four-tier portfolio of Pinot Noirs, and in this position she made wines from a majority of the major Pinot growing areas of Northern California. Sisneros also has a degree in Viticulture from UC Davis.

This wine is made of all estate fruit, and is aged in 100% new French oak. I’m afraid I don’t know much more about the winemaking than that. 220 cases are produced.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Light ruby in color, this wine has a perky nose of rhubarb, cranberry and mulberry aromas. In the mouth it is light on the palate with excellent acidity and a bouncy tartness that provides flavors of sour plum, leather, redcurrant, and black tea. The finish is substantial and evokes some of the aromas that swirl in the glass. This wine has been made in a lighter style than its inaugural vintage, but loses nothing in the comparison. It is very young and will no doubt settle down into an excellent, very smooth wine in a few years. That is, if you can wait that long to drink it.

Food Pairing:
We drank this recently with roasted Cornish game hens and new fingerling potatoes.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $48

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.