What We Say 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir
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Mission Codename: Poor Tortoise!
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to Wine Spies favorite, Mahoney Vineyards, substantiate reports that they’ve crafted a worthy follow-up to their last Haire Vineyard Pinot Noir with the latest vintage.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Mahoney Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir
Winemaker: Ken Foster
Backgrounder: The Carneros region, which straddles Napa and Sonoma Counties, is famous for producing incredible wines, particularly Pinot Noir. We were fortunate to showcase a Haire Vineyard Pinot from Mahoney a few years ago and we were thrilled to learn that they finally released another one, this year. Agent Red was dispatched to investigate. Read his tasting profile and Winemaker interview, below, to learn what makes todays wine so special
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Cherry red, with a darkening ruby core. The wine maintains evenly concentrated color, right out to the very edge of the glass. After a hearty swirl, tall, skinny legs move swiftly down the inside of the glass.
Smell – Bright cherry, cassis and cranberry are out in front. Layered just beneath are bramble, soft spice, young raspberry, subtle cedar and a hint of leather.
Feel – Round on entry, then the wine transforms from high and bright (acidity) to more soft and plush. After a moment, a soft dryness spreads around the entire palate, eventually drying the lips and cheeks.
Taste – Loaded with flavors, including dusky red cherry, young blackberry, young strawberry, cedar and young sweetwood. Just below these, follow-on flavors of subtle fresh salad herbs, flint and bold black pepper linger into the finish.
Finish – Starts sweet and then goes brightly tart. This brightness is sustained and then the flavors soften and slowly dwindle as the edges of the tongue enjoy a spreading dryness. At the very end, a lovely hint of black pepper and flint round out the finish.
Conclusion – Another fantastic offering from our good friends at Mahoney! We love Mahoneys wines and we love Carneros Pinot Noir, so getting the two in one is like XMAS here at Wine Spies HQ. Youthful and bright, this wine is ready to drink now and we can’t help but think that it will only continue to improve over the next few years. We advise that you enjoy a few bottles now, but also squirrel a few away in your cellar – or dark, cool closet! The bright acidity makes this an easy companion for food. We’d recommend a seafood favorite or a nice pulled pork sandwich. Or, enjoy it all on its own. Either way, Yum!
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Ken Foster
WINE EDUCATION: On the job. Ongoing.
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: 2002 to present: Mahoney Vineyards, Napa, CA; 1987-2002: David Bruce Winery, Santa Cruz Mtns.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: To express unique qualities of site and varietal without overbearing intervention from oak and alcohol.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: ”Wine, first and foremost, is made from fruit, and should taste like it. It’s easy to overwhelm it in the cellar with heavy handed extraction and lots of new oak in the name of ‘maximizing the potential’. Restraint is essential, especially with delicate varieties like Pinot Noir. My goal is to preserve the quality and essence of the fruit from vineyard to bottle.”
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1988
AGENT RED: Greetings, Ken, and welcome back to The Wine Spies! We’ve missed you. We are thrilled to be showing your 2009 Haire Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
KEN FOSTER: As always, I appreciate your interest, especially in our very limited production bottlings!
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
KEN: I think it dates back nearly 30 years now, when I first tasted two single vineyard Zins, same vintage and maker, and had the realization that the wines were somehow an embodiment of the place they were grown. I had never heard the term Terroir at that point, but I was hooked by the transformation of site into flavor, and have been chasing those wispy connections ever since.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
KEN: No single wine, no single winemaker. More the realization over time that great wines come from great fruit, and good winemaking is realizing your very limited role in that greatness and accepting it. Countless discussions with other winemakers have shaped my decisions, of course, but I gravitate toward those who share that sense of humility toward a winemaker’s potential influence relative to that of the fruit.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
KEN: Sometimes I’m driven by my own curiosity, other times gratified when I realize what we make can bring happy moments into other lives. It depends on where I’ve been hiding… in the cellar, it’s generally about feeling that connection back to the vineyard, and doing justice to the site. Out in the real world, it’s about happy consumers.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
KEN: You are featuring a very limited bottling of 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir from Jim Haire’s Vineyard that straddles the Napa/Sonoma county line. This block happens to sit on the Sonoma side, meaning it can also be called Sonoma Coast. So much for appellation names. This is an unusual clone of Pinot called Jackson 16, and it’s planted on a really steep slope with crazy terraces. It looks like a thumbprint on a map, rather than the neat blocks of straight rows that are more common. We find a ripe, darker berry fruit with interesting underlying herb notes, a soft but structured feel, and nice acid/tannin balance. We opted to bottle it after 10 months in older French oak, while the fruit was still vibrant, and it has had about six months in the bottle to knit together. Pretty tasty, and likely the only pure clone 16 Pinot you can buy… if you’re into that stuff.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
KEN: It’s a pretty versatile sort of wine, like most soft, fruit forward pinot is… Can’t go wrong with pork loin, or duck breast, or Carbonara, salmon on the grill… you get the idea….
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Carneros region so special?
KEN: Carneros, very generally, is special due to fog and wind influence from both San Francisco bay, and the Pacific Ocean winds via the Petaluma Gap, depending on site. But to say anything meaningful, we can’t talk about whole appellations, or even whole vineyards. Site is extremely specific, and subtle changes in soil type, exposure to wind and sun, etc. can happen in a matter of rows or feet, and profoundly change the fruit. We are lucky to have vineyards with great drainage from sandy, gravelly loam soils, where much of Carneros is heavy clay.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
WINEMAKER: We’re finalizing 2009 Pinot Blends for the Estate Vineyard wines, and bottling 2010 white wines. Vermentino is already bottled, and we’re getting our Albarino and Chardonnay ready. Soon we will start to get the 2010 Pinots divided up into Estate and other blends, and work on the Italian reds for 2009 like Nebbiolo and Montepulciano.
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
KEN: Armed with a knife and a corkscrew, sneaking up on them from the back-label side so they don’t see you. Beyond that, I hate to think people need to be conscious of an approach. There’s not really anything to KNOW, you know? Try it. If you like it, try more. We really try to make likeable wines, not preachy ones, or wines that try harder to be impressive than to be pleasant.
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
KEN: You mean, besides all the other wines we make? Sure.. The key to Mahoney Vineyards is that we are grapegrowers at least as much as we are winemakers, and our goal is to express the qualities of the site. This drives our style toward fruit driven wines with minimal influence from new oak. We also pride ourselves on affordability, refusing to sell a wine for more than we’re willing to go out and spend ourselves… and we’re pretty thrifty folks here. So I think we give an honest expression of our terroirs, at an affordable price. I hope you agree.
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
Just for fun, we present our original mission report, when we first infiltrated Mahoney, back in 2008:
I make no bones about it, I sometimes find Agent White’s discussions on upgrading our W.I.N.E. (Wine Internet Nexus Engine) system, frightfully boring. The W.I.N.E. system is our proprietary and top secret system that, in simple terms, assists us in finding superior wines for our Operatives.
Making my way to the computer lab, I took a deep breath and braced myself for another of Agent White’s endless soliloquys.
Agent White was grinning widely. A bad sign to be sure.
“Ready to begin?” he asked.
“Uh, sure,” I lied.
“I’ve been working on a new algorithm that will make it easier to determine the likelihood that future vintages of particular wines will be better than previous vintages.”
“Wonderful,” I said. “Sounds great! Let me know know how that turns out.”
“Let S be any finite set, ƒ be any function from S to itself, and x0 be any element of S. For any i > 0, let xi = ƒ(xi−1). Let μ be the smallest index such that the value xμ reappears infinitely often within the sequence of values xi, and let λ (the loop length) be the smallest positive integer such that xμ = xλ+μ. The cycle detection problem is the task of finding λ and μ.”
I blinked at him, suddenly realizing that the blank expression on my face probably revealed my disinterest.
He went on: "I call this my Tortoise and the hare algorithm.
‘Hare’… ‘hare’… That reminded me of a well-regarded vineyard I had recently heard of, Haire Vineyard.
Perking up, I grabbed my spy-handheld and, pretending to take notes as Agent White droned happily on. I punched in “Haire Vineyard” and set the Nexus to work. In an instant, a few wines and wineries were revealed. I narrowed my search based on my own favorite search criteria and was presented with a single result:
Mahoney Vineyards. 2004. Carneros Pinot Noir. Haire Vineyard.
As I read about the wine, I nodded and made “mmm, hmmm” sounds. The wine seemed fascinating and I logged a mission request with HQ.
I’ll spare you the rest of Agent White’s discourse. Needless to say, if it hadn’t been for his lecture, I never would have found today’s really superb Pinot Noir.
The Carneros region has consistently wowed me with its quality wine production – particularly Pinot production. Today’s wine is a beautiful example of delicious Carneros Pinot.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Haire Vineyards can be seen in this spy photo.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
Sourced from one of the pioneer vineyards in the Carneros region, this wine is a blend of Pinot Noir clones we do not grow in our vineyards at Mahoney. The enticing nose is full of raspberries and blueberries with a hint of anise and the mouth feel is velvety, while the great tannin structure will allow the wine to age brilliantly.
About The Winery:
Mahoney Vineyards is the culmination of 35 years of experience growing and producing wines in the Carneros region spanning the cool southern reaches of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Francis and Kathy Mahoney invite you to enjoy the uniqueness of their wines, carefully crafted in small quantities from the very best of their 160 acres of estate vineyards.
About The Founders:
Armed with the enthusiasm of a 25-year-old and confidence in California’s potential to make world-class wines, Francis Mahoney set out in 1971 with his bride, Kathy, to grow Pinot Noir and make wines that would rival red Burgundies. Undaunted by Pinot Noir’s reputation as a difficult grape to grow and vinify, Francis accepted the challenge.
He researched the elements linked with great French Pinot Noirs, noting that the Burgundians were captivated by the concept of terroir, the combined influence of climate and place on a wine. Francis found an area similar to Burgundy in Los Carneros, the appellation which lies across the southernmost portions of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Often obscured by fog and swept by breezes from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, Carneros offered cool year-round temperatures ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Francis planted Pinot Noir and began 30 years of clonal trials to better understand some of the hundreds of clonal variations of the variety. In 1972, he built a small, functional winery and set about using his best tool, a palate honed in the cellars of Burgundy during his tenure as a wine importer. The profile of superb Pinot Noir remained always in his memory, now expressed in the wines of Mahoney Vineyards. Click here to read more about Mahoney or view a timeline of his career.
About The Winemaker:
Francis Mahoney appointed Ken Foster, veteran Pinot Noir winemaker, to oversee production at Mahoney Vineyards in June, 2002. The winemaker/production manager from David Bruce winery in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, Foster had been making wine there for 15 years, helping change the focus of the winery from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Ken focused on small-lot production, emphasizing gentle handling and separation of small wine lots for potential vineyard designate as well as appellation-labeled wines.
Foster’s hiring further strengthened Mahoney’s Pinot Noir program and wine quality enhancements instituted by previous winemaker, Scott Rich, including use of small, open-top fermenters, new oak barrel regimes and small-lot processing. “Ken is the perfect person to drive our quality to new heights,” Francis remarked. “He brings a wide range of experience and a commitment to exceptional winemaking.”
Foster joined David Bruce in 1987 to work crush after undergraduate studies in geology sparked his interest in translating the qualities of a particular site into wine. During his tenure, he gained experience with Pinot Noir drawn from fifty different vineyards and a dozen appellations. “At Mahoney, it’s great to have vineyards within a 15-minute drive of the winery so I can stay on top of grapes as they develop. I also can draw on Francis’s rich history – his pioneering clonal trials and his more than three decades of experience.”