USA wine

Byron Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Barbara County, USA

Drunk@home November 2015

The winery

Byron, now known as Nielson was originally founded in 1984 and is located in Santa Barbara, California. In 2006 the Byron winery was acquired by the Jackson Family Wine Collection, founded in 1982 by Jess Jackson and still family owned. 

The Nielson Vineyard that surrounds the winery was Santa Barbara’s first commercial vineyard. When planted in 1964 by Uriel Nielson others said it was too cold and inhospitable for grapes, but time has proved the naysayers wrong.

Ken Brown, Byron’s founder, acquired the 432-acre Nielson Vineyard in 1989, five years after he launched the winery. It is located roughly 18 miles east of the Pacific Ocean at 500 to 750 feet above sea level. Chilling winds and thin soils ensure that Byron’s wines possess great intensity, heightened aromatics and firm structure.

Since becoming head winemaker in 2003, Jonathan Nagy has implemented many new methods including red/green fruit drop, intensive sorting, native yeast fermentations and small-lot fermentations.The winery focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 

Fermented Grape Tasting Notes

2013 was a very good vintage in Santa Barbara County with an even and warm summer with dry autumn. Many growers described it as a near perfect harvest with large yields with powerful, concentrated reds and bright and flavourful whites

Not a top Californian Pinot Noir at this price point and this is the winery's basic wine. Nielson now offers Byron Clone 667 Pinot Noir and Santa Rita Hills, Swan Clone and Whole Cluster as their premium range.

Good powerful black fruit as you'd expect with a hint of minerality which is a feature of the Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara county. Not a strong nose but well balanced with acidity balancing the signficant fruit forward style. Good value if you like an easy drinking Pinot Style but don't expect a French style. Would be interesting to try their premium Pinot Noir's. 

Antica Terra Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA, 2008



Drunk July 2015

Having previously tried the 2007 Antica Terra Pinot Noir vintage on a meal out, I obtained a few bottles of the 2008 vintage which have been sitting in the cellar for a while.

The winery

The inspired moment, the one that changed everything, occurred in the midst of a nervous breakdown, after a bout with malaria, on an island off the coast of Kenya. In this moment, facing her traveling companion's request to “put down her beer and get serious,” doubting her ability to return to Chicago and begin her career in conflict resolution, Maggie Harrison decided to become a winemaker.

Maggie Harrison

Maggie Harrison

This simple decision, incredible luck, and her own tenacity sent her to Ventura County where she landed, without any experience, the holy grail of winemaking apprenticeships. Maggie worked for nine wonderful and life changing vintages under the tutelage of Elaine and Manfred Krankl at the iconic winery Sine Qua Non. In 2004, at Manfred’s urging, she started her own Syrah project called Lillian. At this point she could see the rest of her life unfolding clearly before her. She and her husband Michael would settle down in Santa Barbara and raise a family. 

She would tend to the barrels at Sine Qua Non and make tiny amounts of her own exquisite Syrah on the side. But her well-laid plans were not to be.

This all changed in 2005, when Scott Adelson, John Mavredakis and Michael Kramer, three friends on a search for land, visited Antica Terra. Over the years, they had collaborated on countless projects but had always dreamed of starting a vineyard together. This was not the first time they had visited a piece of land with this dream in mind, but something was different this time. It’s hard to say if it was the subtle breeze from the ocean, the majestic stands of oak, or the fossilized oysters hiding among the boulders, but they knew immediately that this was the property they had been looking for.

Scott Adelson, John Mavredakis and Michael Kramer, Maggie Harrison

Scott Adelson, John Mavredakis and Michael Kramer, Maggie Harrison

When Scott, John and Michael asked her to become the winemaker at Antica Terra, she emphatically refused. But the three friends were clever. They asked Maggie if she would simply take a look at the vineyard and offer her opinion about the qualities of the site. She reluctantly agreed. Twenty-six seconds after arriving among the oaks, fossils, and stunted vines, she found herself hunched beneath one of the trees, phone in hand, explaining to her husband that they would be moving to Oregon.


The vineyard is an 11 acre vineyard located on a rocky hillside in the Eola-Amity Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.


The geology of the site is extremely unusual. In most of the region, vineyards are planted in the relatively deep, geologically young soils left behind by either the Missoula floods or the volcanic events that formed the Cascade Range. Here there is a mixture of sandstone sown with fossilized oyster shells. The vines are spindly and frail with tiny clusters of thick-skinned berries are less than half the usual size and fit easily in the palm of the hand. The smallest changes in the environment can cause the leaves to turn yellow and fall.

The wine

2007 in Oregon proved to be difficult year starting cool and dry and while the weather never warmed it rained a lot and the vintage was affected by significant late-September and early-October rains. This made picking a big challenge and for the better producers they got it right with Pinot Noir which was feminine in style - elegant and light. 2007 was certainly not seen as a great year for the region. My previous foray into Antica Terra Pinot Noir was in the context of this 2007 vintage and despite the weather it was mighty good.

This 2008 Antica Terra on the other hand benefitted from an easier Oregon growing season. Cool weather in September kept grapes from ripening and it looked like rain was on its way like in 2007 but it was not to be. Fortunately for wine makers the sun came out in October and there was no rain which meant that growers could pick and choose when they harvested, optimising ripeness and flavour with picking going on in some vineyards to Halloween. This meant a great vintage and some say one of the best ever vintages though yields were down around 20% because of poor weather at flowering which produced smaller, uneven grape bunches and smaller berries. The result was more flavour concentration, structure and more tannins in the Pinot Noirs. 

The 2008 Antica Terra Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is 13.5% alcohol with just over 1100 cases produced 52% Antica Terra, 27% Shea and 21% Cherry Grove vineyards. 90% de-stemmed without crushing (10% whole cluster). Aged in 31% new and 69% 1 to 3-year-old French oak barrels. Never racked until sent into tank for bottling and completely Unfined and unfiltered. 

Fermented Grape review

The wine had strong aromas of spice, raspberry, cassis and cherry. The wine was wonderfully balanced with a nice freshness but with earthy, spicy and savoury notes persisting giving great length with a fruity burst.  If you are looking for complexity on the nose and on the palate this 2008 delivers in spades. I enjoyed the 2007 Antica Pinot Noir, and I loved this even more. A bit of time in the cellar has really softened any excessive tannins and made this wonderful with food and cheese. A great example of what the Willamette valley can produce.

Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River 2012

gary farrell.jpg

Drunk June 2015, The Capital Grille, Fort Worth, Texas

The winery

russian river.PNG

Beginning in the late 1970s, Gary Farrell was working with seminal Russian River Valley vintners such as Davis Bynum, Joe Rochioli, Tom Dehlinger and Robert Stemmle.  He made his first wine under the Gary Farrell label in 1982 and built the winery into one of the most acclaimed producers of small-lot Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the Russian River Valley, a region 55 miles north of San Francisco.

Farrell built a state-of-the-art winery in 2000 on a ridge overlooking the winery and he sold the property in 2004 with the owners today being The Vincraft Group, a fine wine investment company led by a trio of top wine industry executives: Pete Scott, former CFO of Beringer Wine Estates; Walt Klenz, former president and CEO of Beringer Wine Estates; and Bill Price, owner of Sonoma Valley’s famed Durell Vineyard and a partner in Kistler Vineyards. In addition to Gary Farrell Winery, Vincraft owns Kosta-Browne, a celebrated Pinot Noir specialist who’s 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was Wine Spectator’s 2011 “Wine of the Year.”

Winemaker Theresa Heredia, a highly respected winemaker who has long specialized in small-lot, single-vineyard wines is managing the production of wine. She joined Gary Farrell Winery in 2012 from Freestone Vineyards in the Sonoma Coast appellation, where she achieved significant critical acclaim, including “Winemaker to Watch” honors from the San Francisco Chronicle.


Theresa Heredia

Russian River is characterised by a maritime climate with cool breezes and fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean n the mornings and evenings during the growing season, tempering summer’s heat and reducing temperatures by 35-40 degrees at night, ensuring a long, even growing season. The slow ripening process that results fully matures the fruit while maintaining healthy levels of acidity. There is a wide range of volcanic, sandstone and alluvial soils which are favorable for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, providing essential water drainage while retaining sufficient moisture and nutrients to nourish the vines during the appellation’s long growing season.


The wine

This elegant wine is a blend from producers across Russian River AVA and certainly had a powerful nose of strawberry and spice. The palate displayed earthy characteristics, nicely balanced acidity and plenty of fruit notes with an enduring finish. A great example of what Russian River can produce. Very enjoyable!

Paul Hobbs Napa Valley CrossBarn Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley, USA

Drunk November 2013, Goodman City, London


The winery

The owner and winemaker Paul Hobbs Winery, Paul, grew up on a working farm in upstate New York, Paul experienced first-hand the influence of terroir on the character of fruit, when his father had him taste apples of the same variety grown in different orchards several miles apart from one another. The diversity of flavors and textures made an impression on him and would later influence his approach to winemaking.

First hired by Robert Mondavi for his expertise in oak aging, he then joined the Opus One team before moving on to Simi Winery.

He founded Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991 and Vina Cobos in 1999. Twice named Wine Personality of the Year by Robert Parker, Jr., he continues to be a leading consultant winemaker around the globe.

1969 - Paul Hobbs’s first sip of wine, 1962 Château d’Yquem, served by his father.

1991 - Paul Hobbs Winery is founded.

1998 - Land is purchased in Sebastopol, California, which will become Katherine Lindsay Estate.

2003 - First crush in Sebastopol

2005 Paul Hobbs 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard earns 100 points from Robert Parker Jr.’s, The Wine Advocate.

2010 Wine Spectator ranks Paul Hobbs 2008 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley #6 on the Top 100 Wines 

2012 Robert Parker Retrospective: "Paul Hobbs 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard earns 100 points from Robert Parker Jr.'s, The Wine Advocate"

The wine

The grapes for Paul Hobbs' Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon are hand-harvested from select vineyards across Napa Valley. It was aged for 17 months in 15% new French and American oak barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Dark ruby in color with cherry aromas. Plenty of upfront fruit on the palate with blackcurrants, plum with a chocolate note. Balanced, with tannins somewhat offset by acidity but still perhaps could do with some ageing. Good value for a Napa Balley cabernet sauvignon but not best in class.

Sine Qua Non, Five Shooter Syrah 2010, Ventura, California, USA

Drunk November 2013, Hawksmoor Guildhall, London

The winery

The wines of Sine Qua Non, "without which nothing" are made by the eccentric Manfred Krankle in the outer suburbs of Ventura California, in a winery described by Robert Parker as "a set scene from the movie Mad Max". This is true cult wine, it takes 6 years to get onto the waiting list for the winery. There are stories of divorcing couples fighting over the rights to their position on the list. Those on the list sometimes flip their allocation. This is when a person on the mailing list buys their allocation and then puts it on the secondary market to turn in a healthy profit, as wines will sell for two, four, six,  or as much as 10 times their release price.

Krankle came to California from Austria in the early 1980's. In 1989 he opened the LA restaurant Campanile, the accompanying La Brea Bakery became a national chain of shops which Krankle sold out of in 2001. There is a excellent Forbe's article about Krankle at

Each bottle is produced in very small quantities from low yields, bought in from trusted growers in the central coast area. With little estate fruit to speak of and constantly changing tastes, Manfred Krankle rarely makes the same wine twice, prefering to be able to chop and change vineyards as he sees fit. Krankle says, "The real differentiation in my mind comes from if you’re willing to go through great lengths for a very small reward."

While this is an unorthodox approach for a quality producer it doesn't seem to affect the quality of his wines, which regularly receive Parker scores in the high 90's, very often reaching the mythical 100 mark. Robert Parker has awarded 12 Sine Qua Non wines 100-point scores so far, placing Krankl's winery well ahead of the most famous Burgundy and Bordeaux châteaux. As Krankl himself says, "People buy Sine Qua Non, they don't give a toot where it's from".

Sine Qua Non was created after the 1994 harvest of a Bien Nacido Syrah named “The Queen of Spades”. Krankl made only four and half barrels and sent a bottle to Robert Parker with a handwritten note and overnight Sine Qua Non went from just another wine label that no-one had heard of to the must-have new talent. Parker called Krankl after tasting the wine and scoring it a stupendous 95 points - the highest score an American Rhône blend have ever received. "We were going to give our home number [for customers to ring] and he said, 'You might wanna rethink that because you’re going to get a lot of calls!'”

In the last few years Manfred and his wife, Elaine, have begun creating their own vineyards dedicated to Rhone varietals. Previously, Manfred had made wines with Bryan Babcock and John Alban and still sources much of his fruit from Alban’s vineyard. Their winemaking philosophy is to work in very small batches, gravity flow, natural yeasts (unless a fermentation problem is anticipated), long lees aging for the whites and repeated racking for the reds to open them up. This is a modified explanation of a very dedicated and artistic approach to winemaking. The wines are simultaneously very rich and elegant, superbly balanced and thoroughly harmonious with food, never overwhelming.

Krankl's idiosyncrasies are a product of his laid back approach to wine. He took up winemaking as a hobby, not an occupation. He claims he never felt the pressure to “conform to be commercially successful." He has never written a business plan, has never had a budget, and in the absence of such constraints, he has operated the winery “from a rather emotional or passionate standpoint.”. “We are sort of this oddball outsider,” he admits.

Their wines really only began to hit full world-class qualitative levels in 2000. The vineyard sources have largely changed from Alban, Stolpman, Bien Nacido, Shadow Canyon and White Hawk Vineyards to primarily estate vineyards Cumulus Vineyard in Ventura County and 11 Confessions Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. 

His reds fetch some of the highest prices of any Californian wines, according to Wine-Searcher’s statistics. The 1998 Hospice du Rhône Alban Vineyard Syrah currently sells for an average $2570 before tax while his first wine, the 1994 Queen of Spades Syrah would set you back at least $2400.

The wine

I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to try this cult wine from California, The Five Shooter Syrah 2010. Krankle sounds like a cool dude indeed and this has been on my wish list for a long time because of the price outstanding £325 in a restaurant, £200 retail!

It is actually a blend of 85% Syrah, 5% Grenache, 3% Petite Sirah, 5% Roussanne, 2% Viognier.

The first thing that strikes you is how different this is to a standard Californian Syrah. Deep, deep red in the glass, really smooth on the palate with incredible floral and fruit notes on the nose. Berry, smokiness, pepper and spices. A long, long finish. Incredibly complex is all I can say...I wish I had another bottle to take my time on and figure this one out. No wonder Sine Qua Non is so difficult to get hold of in any quantity. A connoisseurs choice, some Sommeliers have been known to steer their least favoured customers to other wines! Wowsa! Shame is so crazily expensive. I guess this is a wine for a wine lovers bucket list.