Some people seem to get into the wine business through sheer determination. After years of saving, scraping, dreaming and planning, vineyard or winery ownership is the fulfillment of many people’s long held (if not hard earned) fantasies.
And then there are those people who somehow seem destined for it — people whose stories you hear and you think, how on Earth did you manage not to do this earlier?
If Stephen Singer was going to fall into one of these categories it would most certainly be the latter. In 2003 he became the proprietor of a small winery called Baker Lane, which was the end of a long road, and will no doubt be the beginning of another.
Singer has been in the wine business in the San Francisco Bay Area for decades, starting with a small wine shop and distribution business in the City that began over 30 years ago. His retail skills and wine knowledge were parlayed into wine consulting for many restaurants, eventually landing him at Chez Panisse, where he was the wine director for many years (and also was married to owner Alice Waters). After leaving Chez Panisse, Singer went on to become a restaurant owner and entrepreneur, a career which still takes up much of his time. He is a partner in the popular Cesar in Berkeley (next door to Chez Panisse) and the newly opened West Country Grill in the town of Sebastopol in Sonoma County.
As if that weren’t enough, Singer has been importing artisan olive oils and vinegars from Italy for over ten years. I find myself asking, is it any wonder that this guy eventually had to get his hands on a vineyard?
Singer was waiting for just the right piece of land, apparently, and eventually found it in a ranch just outside of Sebastopol, where two sloping edges of small valley in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed offer good exposure for Syrah and Pinot Noir.
To make his wine, Singer has enlisted veteran winemaker Steven Canter, who currently spends most of his time as winemaker at Quivira. Canter, who comes to winemaking first via music and then via a series of jobs in most every facet of the wine industry, has developed his craft through experiences working at Torbreck Winery in Australia, Foris Vineyards in Oregon, and Davis Bynum in California, among other places.
Canter makes this wine from grapes grown on the east-facing slope of a hillside vineyard that sits nearby Singer’s property near Sebastopol. The Hurst Vineyard is planted with the Pommard, 777, and 115 clones of Pinot Noir, which are hand harvested and fermented in small lots. The wines age in large (450 liter) French oak casks, of which 40% are new and the rest (including some smaller barrels) are old enough to be classified as “neutral,” meaning that they impart little or no additional flavor to the wine. The 570 cases of this wine that are made are bottled without fining or filtration.
The 2006 vintage represents the third commercial vintage (and the second I have tasted) from this small winery. It confirms for me that Baker Lane is on the path to being another coveted producer of excellent Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs. 2006 wasn’t an easy vintage for Pinot Noir in many places, but this wine shows a steady hand in the vineyard and cellar.
Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.
Cloudy medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a pretty nose of exotic spices and raspberry fruit aromas. In the mouth it is beautifully soft, like baby skin or velvet, and offers bright raspberry fruit flavors laced with mixed herbs that seem to expand on the palate as the wine lingers in a long finish that elicited a “wow” note in my tasting book. This is an honest, excellent wine that is a pleasure to drink.
Not overbearing in the slightest, this wine is very food friendly and I’d gladly pour it alongside grilled rosemary and pork tenderloin brochettes.
Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5
How Much?: $39
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.