2007 Three Sticks “Durell Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

People tend to turn up their noses at the word “pedigree” as it is most often invoked in the context of class, but for both grapevines and the skills of the people who work them, a long history can make a big difference.

The tiny Three Sticks winery started in 2002, but unlike many wine labels that spring up overnight with nary a grapevine to their name, Three Sticks emerged as a logical conclusion from the collision of several decades of experience in the wine industry and one of Sonoma County’s most well known vineyards.

Bill Price made his money not by selling wine, but (among other things) by selling wine companies. As the co-founder of the private equity firm the Texas Pacific Group, he did quite well for himself buying the Beringer brand from Nestle, taking it public, and then selling it to Foster’s Wine Estates. In addition to doing big deals like that, Price has been an investor on a smaller scale in many wine ventures over the years, and in 1998 he bought a very special piece of the Sonoma Coast called the Durell Vineyard.

Sitting on 200 acres of gently rolling land that overlaps both the Sonoma Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area) and the Carneros AVA, the Durell vineyard has been producing top quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for almost 2 decades. The grapes have been, and continue to be sold to many top producers, including Kistler, who makes one of California’s most sought-after Chardonnays from the vineyard’s fruit.

The vineyard, first planted in 1979, is an old riverbed, filled with rounded cobblestone rocks, and sits at a low point 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west and 10 miles from the San Francisco Bay to the south, just below the rising foothills leading up to Arrowhead Mountain. Like many of the vineyards in this saddle area of Sonoma, it benefits from the fog influence as well as slightly warmer afternoons.

It seems to me that it would be pretty hard to own a piece of land such as this and not want to make some of your own wine from it, especially if you’d been working in or around the wine business for so long.

Price enlisted wine-industry veteran winemaker Don Van Staaveren to be the winemaker on his little project. Van Staaveren has been in wine business since 1970 when he began doing vineyard management. After spending about five years in the fields, he decided to see what happened on the inside of the cellar. After spending five years working his way up from cellar rat, he got his first job as a winemaker at Chateau St. Jean in 1985, eventually becoming chief winemaker and Vice President. At this point he has 36 years of experience making wine, and in particular Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Sonoma County.

As might be expected, the rest of the Three Sticks operation has similar pedigrees.

The winery produces a couple hundred cases of Pinot, as well as a slightly larger amount of Chardonnay, all from the Durell Vineyard, as well as a Cabernet from grapes sourced elsewhere.

The Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir is made from select blocks in the vineyard, and then destemmed and fermented as whole berries (Van Staaveren claims to not have crushed a grape since 1990) before being aged in 50% new French oak for 15 months.

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

Tasting Notes:
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet dirt, wet chalkboard, and peeled willow bark. In the mouth, a gorgeously silky texture carries flavors of raspberry, cedar, caramel, and orange peel across the palate. The finish of cedar and dried orange peel is stunning. Great acidity and powerful complex flavors. An excellent wine. 14.7% alcohol.

Food Pairing:
I’d love to drink this wine with some rosemary roasted pork tenderloin.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $60

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.