Olivia Brion

2008 Heron Lake Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir •Heron Lake Vineyard

California: Napa Valley: Wild Horse Valley

Offer Expired:Jul 29, 2011 at 11:59 pm
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What We Say


Today’s selection from Olivia Brion is a delicious example of a great Pinot Noir from the unique Wild Horse Valley region in the Napa Valley. If you love great Pinot Noir, we encourage you to try this exceptional wine.


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Mission Codename: The Suffragette

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Send Agent Red back to Olivia Brion, the only winery currently producing wine in the Wild Horse Valley to procure the latest vintage of their stellar Pinot Noir, a wine that proved extremely popular with our Operatives, the last time we featured it. Grown high above the valley floor, the cool climate of this unique AVA is perfectly suited to Pinot Noir.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Olivia Brion

Wine Subject: 2008 Pinot Noir – Wild Horse Valley

Winemaker: David Mahafey

Backgrounder: The Wild Horse Valley AVA is an American Viticultural Area whose borders overlap both Napa County and Solano County, California and is partially contained within the Napa Valley AVA. Despite the appellation’s southerly location, which results in more hours of sunshine than other locations in Napa Valley, the Wild Horse Valley enjoys a cool climate, approximating France’s Burgundy region. The Valley’s proximity to San Pablo Bay, which results in a cooler climate, makes the Wild Horse Valley attractive for the cultivation of grapes like Pinot Noir.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Deepest ruby, with a darker core of dark crimson. At the edge of the wine, a fine ring of vivid light pink encircles the wine. When the wine settles, after a good swirl, wine -stained tears begin high up on the glass. They begin slow and fat, and then go skinny as they glide their way to the surface of the wine.

Smell – Reminiscent of a French Burgundy on initial uncorking, as the wine opens up, it begins to express lush red fruit, beginning with dusky dark cherry, dark strawberry and smoked cranberry. These sit atop subtler rum cake, fresh morning forest, gentle clove, leather and cherry-sandalwood.

Feel – Plush up front, then voluptuous and round at the mid-palate. This medium-bodied wine has a bright acidity, which makes it an obvious companion for food. A moment after swallowing, a fine dryness gradually spreads from the edges of the palate, inward.

Taste – Earthen dark cherry mingles with tart cranberry, stewed mixed dark berries, soft clove, black tea leaf, autumn leaves, subtle darkly toasted oak and a hint of anise at the end.

Finish – Medium long, with red fruit yielding to the more earthen flavors of the wine. Soft spice and a hint minerals seem to increase as the fruit flavors diminish. Ultimately, a soft minerality and an easy dryness

Very long duration, with bright red fruits sustaining far longer than most other Napa Valley Pinot Noir. Brown spices encroach and eventually overtake the red fruit, ending in a mineral-rich black pepper spice that leaves the drinker craving another sip.

Conclusion – Once again, winemaker David Mahafey shows his considerable skill at making Pinot Noir. Of course, he begins with some of the most unique Napa Valley Pinot Noir grapes, grown in the Pinot-perfect Wild Horse Valley. This small sub-appellation of the Napa Valley benefits from an evening cooling that the rest of the valley does not enjoy. The terrain and coastal fog that rips across the valley makes this AVA a fantastic place to grow Pinot. This 2008 Olivia Brion Pinot Noir is another California Burgundian, that delivers plenty of character, without sacrificing the Cali fruit that has become so beloved. Pinot Noir is such a great varietal for showing off the concept of Terroir and the Terroir of the Wild Horse Valley is distinct – and certainly worthy of your attention in this wine. Of course, the wine itself is fantastic. It is bright, and it is bold, but it is also balanced and softly earthy. Enjoy this delicious wine, now, or cellar for up to seven years.

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: David Mahaffey

WINE EDUCATION: Taught wine production and wine study classes at Napa Valley College for ten years — I have a Masters degree in Education from Harvard

OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE WINE BIZ: Inventor and co-developer of an Ozone Sanitation system used by more than 800 wineries. Applied for and got Wild Horse Valley approved as AVA in 1987

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Transparency in the winemaking so that the vineyard specific qualities always shine through.
WINEMAKER QUOTE:“Great Pinot Noir is always aromatically forward – it should reach out and grab you by the nose. If you have to suck whitecaps to smell it, its not great pinot”

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: First Vintage 1980, first commercial wine release 1985


AGENT RED: Greetings, David. We are thrilled to be showing your astounding 2008 Olivia Brion Pinot Noir today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

DAVID MAHAFFEY: It’s great to be back with you, Agent Red. As you know, I’m always happy to pontificate about wine in general – especially my wine in particular.

RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine making?

DAVID: Yes, harvest 1979, rain threatening, last day of picking at Green & Red vineyard, the last box of grapes were dumped into the stemmer, the heavens opened and Biblical rain started… Followed by one of the great feasts of my life.

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

DAVID: I’m lucky enough to have been able to drink some really great Burgundy. The one that comes to mind is, ‘95 Musigny from Comte de Vogue – extraordinary fragrance and femininity. I’m sure I’d recognize if I ever got to taste it again. (now, however, a second mortgage would be necessary to do that)

RED: Who do you make wine for?

DAVID: If I can make myself happy, everybody else is going to be thrilled. Most of the time winemaking is a skilled craft, like being a chef, however, once in a while, an intuitive leap from my standard protocol really works and it feels like art has happened. That makes me happy.

RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

DAVID: The ’08 Olivia pinot is really showing its “spice rack”. > All the pie spices – cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and allspice – are more forward each week. It also has a nice broad and rich mid palette and amazing long finish.. The beautiful younger sister of the justly famous ’07 Olivia Brion pinot.

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

DAVID: I’ve just returned from an amazing white water trip in the Yukon and Alaska and I brought home Sockeye Salmon that I caught on a fly rod. Dark orange salmon perfectly grilled on pinot vine cuttings with dark red Olivia pinot full of rich aromatics and spice flavors is my idea of a perfect meal!

RED: In your opinion, what makes the vineyard so special?

DAVID: My winery has its own appellation, Wild Horse Valley. This AVA status was granted on three important factors – unique mineral rich soil type called the Trimmer series, its mountainous elevation, and the historic name of the valley. I have been growing grapes on this soil since 1980 and I can taste the minerals from the soil in both the pinot and chard!

The Wild Horse AVA was granted largely on a unique mineral rich volcanic soil called the trimmer series. The Pinot vineyard sits right on top of this soil. Add to that the 1200 foot elevation and a straight shot west to Bodega Bay. So you have all the factors for a great place to grow Pinot – shallow rocky soil, cool steady wind from the ocean and altitude for further cooling. Plus, I have been farming this spot of land for thirty years, so I’m off the flat part of the learning curve. Still lots to learn.. the difficult part about winegrowing is that you only get to bat once a year.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

DAVID: We’ve just finished bottling the ’09 pinot and chard, also lots of hand work in the vineyard doing cane positioning – really the first steps in the quality of the wine from the 2011 vintage!

RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

DAVID: With reverence… OK, BULLSHIT! Wine is to make the pasta more interesting on Wednesday night! Serious answer — with curiosity, intent, and memory sensors set to 11.

RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

DAVID: Please call and come taste my wines from the barrel and talk to me about wine.

RED: I have the feeling you’ll be seeing our Operatives, soon…. 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!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The approximate location of the vineyard where Olivia Brion was born can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

Awards & Accolades:

About This Wine:

Ruby garnet in color – our darkest Pinot yet. Fat viscous legs indicating glycerol richness.

Dried rose petals and potpourri, hint of hickory bacon, clove, cardamom typical of our Pinot fruit emerging as the wine opens.

Plums and blackberries explode on the forepalate. Surprisingly grippy fine-grained tannins emerge midpalate. Great concentration, but slower to open in the glass than some vintages. This suggests long aging potential for this outstanding pinot!

The guiding principle for our winemaking is gentle fruit handling – not a seed broken! After fermentation and gentle pressing, the wine is transferred by gravity into French oak barrels below in the underground cellar to be aged sixteen months.

About The Winery:

In the mountains just east of the town of Napa is the coolest growing area of the Napa region, Wild Horse Valley. Here, nestled just below the ridgeline at 1200 feet elevation, is Heron Lake Vineyard and Winery, and the home of Olivia Brion wines.

History: Heron Lake Vineyard is in the south end of Wild Horse Valley, 1,200 feet higher than the Napa Valley floor and five miles east of Napa town. Wild horses frolicked in the cool climate of Wild Horse Valley in the 19th century, but since then the area has been the home of a gentler breed: grape growers. Grapes were first grown there by Joseph Volpe and Constantino Malandrino, who planted in the 1880’s.

Today, the 3,300-acre valley has just 70 acres of vines in three vineyard operations. Wild Horse Valley is a distinct viticultural appellation: while Napa Valley has hot summer afternoons, Wild Horse’s proximity to the San Pablo and Suisun bays exposes it to cool westerly winds. That weather, along with the rocky volcanic soil, results in small yields and fruit of great color, intensity and minerality.

About The Winemaker:

From the Winemaker, By David Mahaffey – I have been making wines in the Napa Valley for 30 years, and have been the winemaker for Heron Lake since its first vintage. My primary goals are to create wines that are balanced, elegant and age beautifully. I think of myself as a craftsman with occasional lucky intuitional leaps into something like art.

Besides being a craftsman in wine, I’m an accomplished woodworker–canoes, guitars, turned bowls and a houseful of furniture. I taught winemaking for a decade at Napa Valley College, regularly lecture about the world of wine, and consult on a variety of wine making projects. I’m the co-inventor and developer of an “ozone for sanitation” system that’s now used by over 700 wineries to save water and avoid harsh chemicals.

Technical Analysis:

Varietals: Pinot Noir

Alcohol: 14.2%

Appellation: Wild Horse Valley

Vineyard: Heron Lake Vineyard

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