2004 Radio Coteau “La Neblina” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, CA

As many of you know, one of my favorite things about the way the wine world works today is how anyone can get their hands on excellent fruit and make great wines without even having a winery or vineyard of their own. These boutique estateless wineries are now quite common, and some of them are making some pretty incredible wine.

I’ve been hearing about Eric Sussman for quite some time. His winery, Radio Coteau is not only a perfect example of this sort of winemaking operation, it seems to be founded precisely to capitalize on the potential that exists for small lots of grapes to be purchased from a wide variety of high quality vineyards. Sussman has created a virtual winery — one with which he can focus on making wines that he loves, namely red wines from coastal grapes.

Like many of these small estateless wineries, Radio Coteau marks the end of a long journey for its owner. Sussman began his interest in viticulture as a student of agriculture at Cornell University. Some people take a passing interest in a subject that they dabble in for years without really committing. The folks who get the wine bug, though, tend to get it bad. Sussman left Cornell with a singular purpose: to learn as much about winegrowing and winemaking that he possibly could. This purpose would drive him (and fly him, and float him, and hike him) all over the world and into some pretty impressive vineyards and cellars over the years.

Sussman’s journeys were first to the Yakima valley to manage vineyards and eventually become the winemaker for a small estate whose name he doesn’t disclose. From there, his educational and apprenticeship journeys took him to the Bordeaux estate of Baron Philippe de Rothschild and the Burgundy estates of Domaine Comte Armand and Domaine Jacques Prieur where he absorbed as much in the field and in the cellar as possible — not to mention stealing away on weekends to taste his way through most of both regions. After a thorough dunking in Cabernet and Pinot Noir, he returned to the states to work for a year at Bonny Doon, and then two years as assistant winemaker at Dehlinger before finally coming home to Radio Coteau.

That long road, in addition to providing Sussman the time to think about what sort of winemaker he wanted to be, gave him a breadth and a depth of experience in a list of things that might as well be a class called Boutique Winemaking 101: organic, low-yield viticulture; vineyard management and block-level selection of fruit; small cellar management; Bordeaux-style varietal blending; high-end brand marketing; etc. Now he’s a one-man winery (of course, with a lot of help from friends) that is producing some extremely sought after wines from both famous and unheard-of vineyards throughout Northern California.

Radio Coteau is a French expression which is used much like the English phrase “word of mouth.” It literally translates to “broadcasting from the hillside.” Sussman picked it up in France and found it embodied many of the things he was trying to accomplish with his winery, from the hillside focus to the word of mouth so crucial for a small brand to be successful and for a small winemaker to find great vineyards.

As I mentioned, I had heard of Sussman’s wines for a long time. Several of you readers had sent me notes suggesting I ought to look into them, but somehow they never crossed my path, or I theirs. And it was finally at the hands of one of you who actually literally dragged me out to dinner and plopped a couple of bottles down on the table that I actually got a chance to try them (thanks Hector!).

Radio Coteau produces several (at last count, four) Pinot Noirs from the North coast, along with three Syrahs and a Zinfandel. This wine is made from a mix of fruit from two Sonoma Coast vineyards, one near Cazadero, very close to the ocean, the other in Sebastopol. “La Neblina” means “the fog” in Spanish, and is an homage to the cool marine influence on both these vineyards, though especially on the Cazadero vineyard which is a rather cold site. While I don;t know a ton about the winemaking, I can guess that the grapes were totally destemmed and cold soaked for a good long while before fermenting (with natural yeasts?). I’d guess that it saw a good deal, though perhaps not 100% new French oak, and I do know for sure that it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. 760 cases of this particular wine were made.

Tasting Notes:
A cloudy, medium garnet color in the glass, this wine has a lovely nose of raspberry and pomegranate fruit aromas mixed with light notes of mulling spices and dirt. In the mouth it has nice balance, with good acid, and a beautiful core of raspberry fruit flavors that has a nice underlying mineral and earth note to it that fades as the wine heads across the palate leaving an ethereal slightly sweet herbal note in the long, very satisfying finish. It’s a bit of a cliché to talk about this as a classic Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, bit that doesn’t make it less true. An excellent example of the form.

Food Pairing:
I had this wine with a delicious Four Story Hills Farm roasted quail leg with truffled chive mashed potatoes and fresh jus. Dare I say the perfect pairing?

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: $40

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.