What’s hot in the wine world tends to focus the most attention. The newest superstar winemaker. The hot new vineyard. The latest cult wine brand. The stratospheric auction results in Hong Kong. But in so many ways, these bright lights are not at all representative of the real world of wine — a world in which farmers and winemakers (sometimes the same person) work day after day to produce something that not only fires their passion, but also pays their bills.
For every winery that makes news, there are dozens or hundreds that never seem to get much of the limelight, and many of those don’t want it. While they work hard at selling their wines, just like any business, they are focused on making great wine year after year with a minimum of fuss and fluff.
Perhaps more than most, Though it has an incredible pedigree, and lots of talent behind it, the winery and its people are generally content to let their wines speak for themselves. Instead of managing a brand, they just put two names on the label, and focus on the important stuff: growing and making great wine.
Dutton-Goldfield is a partnership between farmer Steve Dutton, and winemaker Dan Goldfield. Since 1999, the two have been crafting wines that embody all the qualities I think of when I think of wines from the Russian River Valley.
Steve Dutton is a fifth generation Sonoma County farmer. Since about 1881, there has been someone with the last name Dutton farming in Sonoma County. The family’s progenitor grew fruit trees and hops outside of Santa Rosa, but in 1964 Steve Dutton’s father purchased land in the Russian River Valley and planted the first grapes that would become part of what is now known as Dutton Ranch. Now consisting of over 1150 acres, Dutton Ranch is one of the most well known names to be found on the side of a Sonoma County wine bottle. The family ranch is run by Steve Dutton and his brother Joe Dutton (who has his own winery, Dutton Estate), and their customers read like a who’s who of Sonoma County wineries. Chardonnay, in particular, from Dutton Ranch has been turned into some of California’s highest scoring and most celebrated white wines thanks to wineries like Kistler, Patz & Hall, and more.
Dan Goldfield was trained as a chemist (and a philosopher, a fact responsible for some of the interesting conversations I’ve had with him over the years). Despite falling in love with the wines of Burgundy, thanks to his brother, Goldfield never intended to get into winemaking. But as luck (or fate) would have it, his post-graduate research took him to U.C. Davis, and one thing led to another. Coming out of his enology degree, Goldfield worked for Mondavi, and then Schramsberg, before being recruited to be the winemaker at La Crema. It was at La Crema that Goldfield first encountered Dutton Ranch fruit, and soon became a fan and a friend of the Duttons.
In 1993 Jess Jackson purchased La Crema, and tapped Goldfield to start a new project focused entirely on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to be named Hartford Court. After getting that project off the ground, Goldfield felt it was time to move on, and in 1999 he reached out to his friend Steve Dutton, and Dutton-Goldfield was born.
The winery has never aspired to be much more than what the label says. A guy who grows grapes, and a guy who makes wine. With a production of around 8000 cases, these two stick to what they know, and try to do it better every year. What they know happens to be lots of small vineyard plots spread over Sonoma’s Russian River Valley and Green Valley AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), filled with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Zinfandel.
Winemaking at Dutton-Goldfield follows the fairly standard regimen you might encounter at any careful, small-production facility interested in making extremely high quality wines. Goldfield is more philosophical than religious in his winemaking, adapting his winemaking processes as dictated by the nature of the fruit from each site. Some wines are destemmed, some are made with portions of whole clusters. Most reds get a nice cold soak before being allowed to warm up for fermentation. Some wines undergo native yeast fermentations, others are inoculated, and whenever possible, after aging in various kinds of barrels, new and old, the wines are bottled without filtration.
I’ve had the pleasure of tasting Dutton-Goldfield wines consistently for perhaps the past 6 years, starting with the 2002 vintage. The wines have always struck me as solid, well made, no-nonsense, and high quality. They have also, undeniably, kept getting better and better. Goldfield has been making wine now for almost three decades, and Dutton has been farming his whole life, but somehow these two seem to be really hitting their stride with the most recent vintages, which include some truly fantastic wines. In particular, their Devil’s Gulch Pinot Noir below may be the finest wine I’ve tasted from their winery to date, and one of the best Marin County Pinot Noirs being made today.
Goldfield has mastered several very different grape varieties, making wines that speak clearly of where they are from while celebrating the best attributes of their particular grapes. Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, however, seem to show his skills the best, with the former being wonderfully silky and balanced between earth and fruit, and the latter bursting with flavor.
The winery has sent me a number of samples over the past year, which I have tasted with great pleasure. Here’s a compilation of the notes I have made.
Full disclosure: these wines were all sent to me as press samples.
2009 Dutton-Goldfield “Dutton Ranch – Green Valley Vineyard” Gewurztraminer, Green Valley
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of rosewater and candied orange rind. In the mouth the wine has a bright, floral rosewater character, with hints of mango and orange blossom. Good acidity and nice silky texture linger as the orange peel aromas fade in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2008 Dutton Goldfield “Dutton Ranch” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of baked apples and a hint of sweet oak. In the mouth, flavors of baked apples, vanilla, pastry cream and wet stones all mesh nicely in a silky-textured stream across the palate. Less acidity than I might like, but still fairly well balanced. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2009 Dutton-Goldfield “Rued Vineyard” Chardonnay, Green Valley
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and wet stones. In the mouth the wine offers flavors of cold cream, wet stones, and lemon zest, with a hint of vanilla from sweet oak. Nice acidity and a silky texture round out a nicely packaged Chardonnay. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2008 Dutton-Goldfield “Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black raspberry and cherry fruit with a darker cassis undertone. In the mouth the wine is silky, with faint powdery tannins that wrap around flavors of plum, black cherry, and raspberry fruit. The finish is moderately long with hints of cedar and orange peel emerging in the aftertaste. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2008 Dutton-Goldfield “Dutton Ranch – Sanchietti Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Green Valley
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of chocolate covered cherries and pomegranate liqueur. In the mouth it is silky smooth, with flavors of cherries, raspberries, and cedar with hints of cocoa powder. Bright juicy acidity makes it a pleasure to drink and hints of cinnamon linger with raspberry aromas in the finish. A young wine, with faint tannins, that will no doubt improve with time. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2008 Dutton-Goldfield “Freestone Hill Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry and plum. In the mouth the wine is quite floral and bright with flavors of raspberry, cherry, and hints of sweet oak. Plush, silky, and beautifully balanced, this is an incredibly feminine and beguiling wine. Faint tannins wrap around the mouth through a very long finish. One of the best I have had from Dutton Goldfield. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2008 Dutton-Goldfield “Devil’s Gulch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Marin County
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and plum and vanilla. In the mouth the wine is smooth and silky, with cherry and plum flavors that course over the tongue encased in delicate fine grained tannins. A wonderfully aromatic sweetness suffuses this wine and lingers with cherry and plum notes in the finish. Excellent. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2009 Dutton Goldfield “Devil’s Gulch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Marin County
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth the wine has a boisterous spicy cherry character with wonderful raspberry and cranberry notes made juicy by excellent acidity. The oak is so restrained as to be barely noticeable, and the spicy character lingers in the finish. Fine tannins and fantastic balance. Outstanding. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2009 Dutton-Goldfield “Fox Den Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Green Valley
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of flowers with hints of blueberries and raspberries. In the mouth, wonderfully lithe flavors of black cherry and cedar mix with darker earthy notes and green wood flavors. Very nice acidity and balance, with a moderate finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2009 Dutton Goldfield “McDougall Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of wet stones and sour cherries. In the mouth, flavors of wet stones, raspberries, and redwood bark have a bright quartz hardness to them that is quite appealing. The wet stone quality lingers in a long finish with faint tannins. Wonderful acidity and a nice light, silky presence on the tongue. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2007 Dutton-Goldfield “Dutton Ranch – Cherry Ridge Vineyard” Syrah, Russian River Valley
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis, blackberry, and the barest hint of white pepper and violets. In the mouth the wine has supple tannins and a smooth, satiny texture that carries flavors of cassis, blackberry and black cherry across the palate. Nicely balanced acidity and a floral note in the finish make it quite pretty. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2008 Dutton-Goldfield “Cherry Ridge Vineyard” Syrah, Russian River Valley
Inky garnet in the glass with a hint of cloudiness, this wine smells of bright blackberry and cassis aromas. In the mouth the wine is wonderfully juicy, with flavors of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry. Faint, powdery tannins and a velvety texture make this wine full and round in the mouth. Nice acidity and a wonderfully long finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.
2008 Dutton-Goldfield “Morelli Lane Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a strong nose of sweet blackberry jam. In the mouth bright blackberry jam, black pepper, and black licorice flavors mix with bluer fruits that linger in a moderate finish. Nice acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36.click to buy.
2009 Dutton-Goldfield “Morelli Lane Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry jam and prunes. In the mouth flavors of roasted cocoa nibs, blackberries and blueberry jam mix with notes of black pepper. Faint tannins and decent acidity don’t manage to overcome the very jammy nature of this wine. A bit much. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $36.
2009 Dutton-Goldfield “Stoetz Ridge Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet blackberry jam and sour cherry fruit. In the mouth juicy sour cherry and blackberry fruit mix wonderfully with a dark underlying earthiness. Fantastic acidity and excellent balance with just a hint of tannins at the edge of the mouth. Outstanding. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30.click to buy.