Willowbrook Cellars

2008 Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir •Silver Pines Vineyard

California: Sonoma County: Sonoma Mountain

Offer Expired:Sep 22, 2009 at 11:59 pm
Avg. Price

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Mission Codename: The Ultimate Raid

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Secure another outstanding World Exclusive Pinot Noir, before competing agencies even know that the wine exists

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Willowbrook Cellars

Wine Subject: 2008 Pinot Noir – Silver Pines Vineyard – Sonoma Mountain

Winemaker: Joseph C. Otos

Backgrounder: The Wine Spies often receive intelligence reports from deep cover Operatives throughout the wine world. When we received a communique that Willowbrook was readying their newest Pinot Noir release, Agent Red was dispatched immediately to secure an exclusive allocation. Not only did he manage to abscond with most of the available wine, he was able to secure a very special price for Wine Spies Operatives! Read Red’s tasting notes andwinemaker interview below

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Ruby red with perfect clarity through its heart. This wine shows off glinting edges and a tight surface that, when swirled, settles quickly, leaving behind chubby legs that speed down the glass

Smell – Deep, lush and very aromatic with a rich nose of dusty blueberry, raspberry, tart cherry, fresh earthen anise, subtle espresso, dried meats and the slightest flinty gunpowder

Feel – Light and fine up-front then plush tannins gradually appear, gently drying the tongue and the top of the palate, with a combination of soft dryness and a soft creaminess

Taste – Delicious, big and juicy, consisting of Bing cherry, light plum, smoky blueberry, tart strawberry and soft herbs, with mildest leather and soft flint

Finish – This wine has a fine to medium finish that starts big with a slight tartness and great fresh fruit – but then goes wide as it turns soft, elegant and slightly dry

Conclusion – For such a young wine, today’s Pinot Noir from Willowbrook is really quite superb. At today’s price, prepare to be very impressed. While slightly youthful, I declare that this wine is ready to drink now. With big flavors and a really pleasing feel, this is a wine to sip and savor. I found myself, however, enjoying it in big gulps, too! With a bright acidity and an easy attitude, this is a great and flexible food wine, lending itself to pairings with finer meals or even more robust offerings such as grilled meats.

Mission Report:






CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Ravenswood from 95-98, wellington Vineyards 98-01, Willowbrook 01-present

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Find unique vineyards from amazing appellations and make a wine that will represent the area and my style, which is big fruit, big aromas and complimentary oak.


CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Being able to con a couple of retired business men into starting a winery with me when I was only 26.

CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Since I don’t enter my wines in for review, it would have to be going 3 for 3 gold at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.


AGENT RED: Greetings, Joe. We are thrilled to be showing your Silver Pines Pinot Noir today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

JOE: My pleasure

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

JOE: It started when I moved to Sonoma County. I was nearly 21 and out hiking with some friends in Sonoma Valley. After the hike, being covered in sweat and dust, my friend asked if I’d want to go wine tasting. I told I didn’t have any money. He then told me that there was no charge, so I was all game. After visiting three wineries, it sparked an interest. I started then tasting and looking more at wine. In the next few months, after I turned 21 I started working at Ravenswood and within a year I was making wine in my buddies old chicken coup.

RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?

JOE: I’d say I’m still learning. In 2004, my business partner John Tracy, purchased a custom crush facility. And in this facility I’m working along some of the premiere winemakers in California and we all share information and give advice. I try not to get stuck with one particular philosophy and like to adapt and incorporate what I see and learn from others to help me achieve my goal with wine.

RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?

JOE: For me wine is all about aromatics. If I’m not enticed by the aromas I feel the wine is just lacking. Once I achieve this, I then look to make the seamless. Meaning to bring the fruit, body and length of finish together in a manner as to not have any abrupt changes.

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

JOE: There are two winemakers whose philosophies have influenced me. The first is Chris Loxton whose attention to detail and overseeing every detail and controlling the ferment taught me power on consistency. The other is Joel Peterson, who showed that making wine exclusively by the book can be a little boring at times and that to have complex and exciting wines you sometimes have to take risks.

RED: How long have you been making wine?

JOE: Commercially since 2001, as a home winemaker for 13 years

RED: Who do you make wine for?

JOE: I make wine in a style that I enjoy and hopefully others will find it enjoyable.

RED: Tell me, what makes the Sonoma Mountain so special?

JOE: Sonoma Mountain is a warmer appellation than most parts of Sonoma county, but what it gets in warmth it makes up for with wind. So the growing season is extended due to the great winds that come up through Petaluma every afternoon. These winds slow down the ripening and extend the hang time and provide the grapes with additional time for flavor development.

RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?

JOE: Good Luck. There are a huge amount of people who want this job and a huge amount of people who have the knowledge to be winemakers. It’s not just knowledge from a book that makes a winemaker great, it is taking that knowledge and adapting it, applying and modifying it to meet your needs. Wine changes and you need to be able to change with it.

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

JOE: Besides being the winemaker, I’m also the sales manager. Right now I’m working on harvest as well as trying to maintain sales.

RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today? I love it by the way!

JOE: Thanks! This is the first Silver Pines Pinot Willowbrook has bottled and it is the first wine I’ve done were I’ve worked with another winemaker, Greg LaFollete. He has worked with the Silver Pines fruit for the entire life of the vineyard and helped with the initial ferment, I then came along prior to bottling and put the finishing touches on the wine.

RED: Gregs name pops up with alarming frequency around here. I think that we should recruit him to become a deep cover Operative! What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

JOE: This is a very big Pinot Noir and should be paired with some rich red meat.
RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know

JOE: I’m about to have my first child with my wife.

RED: Congratulations! Tell me, what is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?

JOE: Beer, IPA or Red Ales.

RED: You know what? I secretly crave beer sometimes myself! It seems to be a hazard of the job. How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?

JOE: Don’t worry about what people say is good. If it tastes good drink it and if it only 80 points, but you love it. It is a great wine to you and that is all that matters. Wine is completely subjective and it only matters how much you like it.

RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?

JOE: I must say I really like Shafer Hillside Select Cab.

RED: What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?

JOE: It is a question I get asked every time I walk out my door. “ How tall are you?” I’m 6’8”

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

JOE:Thank you and great talking with you.

What the winery says

About This Wine:

Deep, dark color foretells of the wine’s strength. Aromas: this is a young, brooding wine with dark fruits, coffee, anise, and hints of wild game. On the mouth the youthful presentation continues with a chewy, dense, thick and powerful entry that shows off the tannins of the vintage – big but broad and spreading, rather than attacking. This wine takes time to open up to black cherry and dark plum with a tartness of cherry on the late palate. This is a wine to taste through several years to watch its evolution.

About The Vineyard:

Located on a solo hill at 980 feet above sea level in the middle of the wind tunnel created by the draw of Crane Canyon up from the Petaluma Gap, the two clonal blocks of a Swiss scion (Mariafeld) and a Pommard selection (UCD-4) are grown on the NW-facing slope. In years where mean air temperature is a little higher on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain, this protected yet moderating influence means that Silver Pines ripens its grapes fully and without haste – something that California Pinot is generally not used to doing!

About The Winery:

Willowbrook started in 2001 as the dream of winemaker Joe Otos, then 26 years old. This dream became reality after he teamed up with retired technology executives John Tracy and Ed Sillari. Sillari and Tracy had recently moved to the wine country and had begun separately to explore opportunities to pursue their passion for wine. Sillari was involved in wine sales and Tracy had acquired a hilltop vineyard in Forestville. Their combined experiences were all the pieces needed to get Willowbrook Cellars started.

During the first two years, production was about 500 cases total, split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, all of the fruit from Tracy’s vineyard in Forestville. In 2003 Willowbrook began to increase its production of vineyard designated wines, seeking out interesting small vineyards, each with its own microclimate and flavor profile.

In recent years, while the principal focus has primarily been on Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, Willowbrook has begun to explore interesting vineyards from adjacent wine growing regions.

Technical Analysis:

Harvest: The challenges of 2008 were not seen so severely at Silver Pines. The warm spell in the early part of harvest was embraced by the Pommard block of Pinot, giving us an early opening harvest window. The open cluster architecture of the Mariafeld clone kept Botrytis at bay as this clone hung through 3 rain events! Tough going, but the vineyard stepped up to the task.

Fermentation: Both lots were done with wild fermentation, both primary and secondary. Pressing was conducted using a JLB basket press about 2 Brix before dryness, with both ferments finishing within 6 weeks of pressing off. All wines went to barrel without racking or clarification of any kind. The wine was then aged in 80% new heavy toasted French oak barrels to bring forward and compliment the wild nature of this wine.

Bottling: Once in tank and ready for bottling the wine was mildly fined, not to soften but more to help pull and integrate all the unique flavors into one elegant unifying profile.

Production: 125 cases

Alcohol: 14.4%

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