2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
California: Sonoma County: Russian River Valley
What We Say
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Mission Codename: On its own plane
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to Perception Wine, a Wine Spies favorite, and procure their Russian River Pinot Noir for our thirsty, Pinot-loving Operatives.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Perception Wines
Wine Subject: 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
Winemaker: Mark Ray
Backgrounder: The Russian River Valley, in Sonoma County, produces Pinot Noir of remarkable distinction. The cooler maritime conditions of the region make the Russian River Valley ideal for growing Pinot Noir. The Russian River Valley in Sonoma is particularly well suited to producing exceptional Pinot Noir. This AVA was officially designated in 1983, but many of the wines in the region used the designation as early as the 1970s (early in California’s wine history) with the many of the vines having been first planted in the early 1900s.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – With perfect ruby hues and even concentration of color, this wine show even coloration from edge to core. Spin the wine and it settles quickly, leaving behind clusters of tall, chubby legs that fall quickly down the inside of the glass.
Smell – Sweet cherry candy and young raspberry rush out of the glass. Behind these lead aromas, black cherry, soft spice, earthy bramble, soft cedar, flint and Bing cherry mix with subtle fall leaves and a hint of tomato stem.
Feel – Cool, soft and smooth across the tip of the tongue, the wine shows a light style that gradually becomes more weighty. Finely integrated tannins and a soft acidity add interest and complexity.
Taste – Bright and juicy, with black cherry, raspberry, young strawberry and soft dark spice of clove and black pepper. As the wine opens up, red plum, tart cherry and hints of black tea, soft cedar and bramble all make a soft appearance.
Finish – Fresh, juicy and very long, leading with lingering black cherry, raspberry and young strawberry. These gradually yield to spice, flint and hints of cedar and bramble at the tail end.
Conclusion – The 2008 Perception Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is a focused and delicious wine that shows off great fruit – and the skills of winemaker, Mark Ray. All red and juicy on the palate, this fruit-forward wine is balanced by earthen bramble, wood and spice. This is a wine that we took a long time with, enjoying each distinctive flavor and aroma. Well-structured and bright, we all agreed that this delicious wine is a fantastic food companion. Despite its relative youth, this wine is drinking beautifully, now. Enjoy now, but be sure to cellar a few bottles for the next couple of years.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Mark Ray
WINE EDUCATION: Studied Chemistry at the College of Charleston , Charleston , SC, winemaking classes at University of California Davis, mostly learned hand on during work in California wineries
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF:
Harvest 2008 & 2009 with Jed Steele at Steele wines
2000 – Worked in lab at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville ; moonlighted at Turley Wine Cellars
2001 – 2003 – Wssistant winemaker for Ehren Jordan at Neyers Vineyards
2004 – 2007 – Assistant winemaker for Bob Cabral at Williams Selyem Winery
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Pay attention to the details and don’t screw up what nature and great farmers have given you. Use your senses, and be intimately involved in the winemaking process. Don’t rely on numbers alone.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: “In water one sees one’s own face, but in wine one beholds the heart of another.” – French Proverb
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: August 2009
AGENT RED: Greetings, Mark. We are thrilled to be showing your 2008 Russuan River Valley Pinot Noir today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
MARK RAY: It’s great to be back with you, Red!
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
MARK: I grew up in a family of restaurateurs and inherited my father’s love for wine. One of my first significant memories of wine was my father excitement at sharing an inexpensive bottle of Egri Bikavér with the restaurant staff during a meal. His enthusiasm was contagious.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
MARK: Winemaker – Bob Cabral. Allowed me to work with some of the best vineyards in California and taught me the attention to detail, dedication, hard work and passion that is necessary to make great wines.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
MARK: For those who love the magic of food and wine and understand that the right combinations can be greater than the sum of the parts. For wine lovers looking for truly handcrafted small production wines.
RED: That’s very romantic, Mark. Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
MARK: The wine you are featuring is our Perception 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Our little winery specializes in Pinot Noir from the Russian River and this wine is the one for which we are best known and it represents the core of our production. The 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is a blend from four different vineyard sources (the Martinelli family’s Ceremonial Vineyard, Bernard Orsi’s Eastside Road and Mark West Station Road Vineyards & Windsor Oaks Vineyard) and four different clones of Pinot Noir (115, 777, 828 & 114); each of these elements contributes different nuances and adds complexity to the finished wine. The wine was aged for a year in French-barrels, with about half of the barrels being new, then bottled without fining or filtration. This wine is truly hand made, with tremendous attention and care given at every stage of the winemaking process; 260 cases produced.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
MARK: One of the reasons that I fell in love with Pinot Noir is its ability to work well with so many different foods. Favorite pairings: for a simple meal, roasted chicken with root vegetables; summer – salmon, grilled medium-rare, accompanies with grilled vegetables and aioli; fall dinner – duck breast with chanterelle mushrooms; there are just so many great options. I’m getting hungry just thinking about the possibilities.
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Russian River Valley so special?
MARK: The Russian River Valley is a truly amazing place for growing wine grapes. The region has the unique combination of soils, warm daytime temperatures for ripening fruit, and cool nights created by the cooling influence of maritime fog from the Pacific moving up the river valley. It is the perfect environment for growing great Pinot Noir!
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
MARK: We are gearing up for harvest. Our first pick will be in about eight or ten days if the weather cooperates. It is my favorite time of the year.
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
MARK: Enjoying wine shouldn’t be complicated. It is a very subjective experience, much like the enjoyment of music or art. Trust your own palate and don’t let anyone tell you what you should smell or taste. Slow down and really experience the wine. Look at it closely, see how the light moves through the wine and how it moves about the glass. Spend some time with your nose in the glass and enjoy the aromatics of the wine. I often find this to be the most pleasurable aspect of wine; eighty to ninety percent of what we perceive as taste is actually due to our sense of smell. Then move on to tasting. Move the wine around the mouth, pull some air through it. Try it by itself, then with some food. Share it!
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
MARK: My favorite quote is from Julia Childs, “You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” That’s why I love making wine. I learn something new every day.
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!
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
The 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is a blend of four different clones of Pinot Noir fruit from four different vineyard sites. Two of the vineyards are located in the Middle Reach of the Russian River Valley and the other two in the warmer Santa Rosa Plains subregion of the Russian River Valley appellation. These vineyard sources give the finished wine a nose of wild strawberries and cola and on the palate provide a core of red cherry fruit with an extended finish.
About The Winery:
Perception Wines is dedicated to producing small quantities of the finest quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel, using fruit from prestigious family-owned vineyards in the Russian River Valley and on the Sonoma Coast. The Perception portfolio includes a trio of appellation-inspired Russian River Valley wines, and a handful of vineyard-designated wines. The appellation-focused wines feature Perception’s flagship Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, as well as exceptional appellation-designate Chardonnay and Zinfandel bottlings. Representing the heart of the Perception winemaking program, these elegantly layered wines are made in small lots and limited quantities, and are released each year during the spring.
In the autumn of each year, Perception releases its vineyard-designate wines, as well as its premier Pinot Noir bottling — Charlatan. Where Perception’s Russian River Valley appellation wines explore the rich complexity of individual grape varieties through a diversity of sites and clones, the single-vineyard bottlings capture the terroir-focused essence of prized sites. These wines are made only when merited by the quality of teh vineyard and the vintage, and production is extremely small — often less than 100 cases per bottling. While many wineries reserve their finest fruit for their vineyard-designate wines, Perception takes a slightly different approach by dividing the very best lots and barrels between the appellation-focused wines and vineyard designates. “Our Russian River Valley wines are the core of our portfolio,” says Founder and Winemaker Mark Ray. “We want them to be compelling and complete. So instead of stealing all of the best fruit away from our appellation bottlings, we divide the fruit and make significantly less of our vineyard-designates.”
Though every wine is a unique expression of its variety, vineyards and vintage, there are common threads that run through each, from a balanced house style that champions harmony and depth to a belief in maintaining the authentic character of each wine by bottling without the use of filtration, fining, or the additions of adjuncts, enhancers, or chemical sterilants. Most important, every wine released by Perception is made entirely by Mark.
In an era when words like “handcrafted” and “artisan” have largely lost their meaning, Mark keeps the production extremely small so that he can personally oversee every detail of the winemaking. This includes being in the vineyards and tasting the grapes constantly in the run-up to harvest, so that he can make picking decisions to accentuate a more elegant and sophisticated style. He is also present for the harvesting and field sorting for every lot of grapes. In the winery, he monitors all of the fermentations, personally punches down the caps by hand, and does al of the winery’s cellaring and racking himself. “Unless you’re making wine solely by the numbers, you can’t phone it in. And why would you want to?” says Mark. "This is what I love to do. This is my dream job. By doing the punch downs by hand and actively managing the fermentations and elevage, I can see and smell every change, every step in forward in the evolution of the wines. I touch every barrel, and know their stories. There’s an intimacy that comes from working in small lots. You know when you need to to do something: and maybe more importantly, you understand that sometimes the best thing to do is show restraint, and to leave an already perfect wine alone.
Perception Wines is a partnership between winemaker, Mark Ray, and his two long-time friends Shane MacNicholas and Dean Felber. The dream of making these wines began in Charleston, South Carolina in 1998. The first small amounts of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Zinfandel were crushed in the fall of 2007.
Varieties: Pinot Noir (100%)
Clones/Selections: 115, 777, 828 & 114
Harvest Date: August 30th, September 4th, 5th & 8th
Barrel-aging: 11 months in 60-gallon French oak barrels (48% new)
TA: 6.5 grams / liter
Alcohol: 14.2% by volume
Bottling Date: August 12th, 2009
Cases Produced: 260