Alma de Cattleya, Pinot Noir 2021 Sonoma County

Bibiana of Alma de Cattleya by the Pacific

A promising winemaker and a promising California Pinot from $27.98, JP¥5,428 or £32.

I was very taken by this beautifully made Pinot at the recent Wine Society spring tasting.

The Society’s California buyer Sarah Knowles MW, who took the picture below of the wine’s maker, has sniffed out something quite special. Bibiana González Rave (great surname) is Colombian and claims to have decided to become a winemaker at the age of 14. After studying chemical engineering and business in Columbia, she studied viticulture and oenology in Cognac and gained a degree in oenology at the University of Bordeaux, graduating with honours.

She seems to have worked in wineries all over the place, not just Châteaux Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion (celebrating 40 years of Dillon family ownership this year) in Bordeaux but with Stéphane Ogier and Clusel-Roch in Côte Rôtie, Saronsberg in South Africa and La Crema, Peay, Au Bon Climat, Qupé and Lynmar Estate in California.

On her informative website she declares, ‘Growing up in Colombia shaped who I am. My training in France defined the winemaker I became and California gives me the land and the opportunity to make exceptional wines.’

Like so many ambitious winemakers in California she doesn’t own vineyards and rents the winemaking space seen below, but seems to be pretty clever at finding good Pinot Noir fruit, at least if this 2021 is a measure. (Some US retailers have moved on to 2022, which I haven’t tasted.)

She wrote to me, ‘I do purchase all my fruit, but I get very involved in the farming practices. I do believe the biggest impact we can have on the quality of a wine is the way we take care of our vines and vineyards.'

Bibiana of Alma de Cattleya

Far be it from me to suggest that her talent is anything other than self-generated but it may be worth dropping in to the mix that her husband is Jeff Pisoni, winemaker at Pisoni, so presumably she has tasted her fair share of fine California Pinot. (Her French hands-on experience does not seem to include Burgundy.)

This particular blend of Pinot from Russian River Valley and the much cooler Sonoma Coast (where she is pictured in the main image above) was cold-soaked before being fermented in open-top tanks and punched down by hand two or three times a day during fermentation. After fermentation, the wine was drained from the tanks and the skins gently pressed. (Don’t you find everything in wine notes is done gently?) The wine was aged for eight months in neutral French oak barrels and bottled unfined. The good old Wine Society provides all sorts of analytical details such as that the alcohol is 14%, residual sugar 0.57 g/l (though the fruit is so charming it tastes higher), free SO2 is 20 mg/l and total SO2 is 66 mg/l. All very creditable. Empty bottle weight is GFC (good for California): 490 g, which would be about 1,240 g full.

Neither the sweetness nor the oak is excessive and the whole caboodle is beautifully balanced for sipping with or without food. It has obviously been made with a very delicate hand in the winery and has sufficient fine tannins to remain a pleasure for some time. I gave it a score of 17/20 and suggest drinking it in the 2023–2026 period.

Bibiana wrote to me:

The 2021 was a very special vintage for me and for wine producers in California. Not only it was coming after the fires in 2020, where I was not able to make any of my red wines, the growing season was long and smooth. Cold winter followed by a great budbreak and lots of potential for concentrated grapes. I am very involved in the farming of vineyards I used for my three different wine labels: Cattleya, Shared Notes and Alma de Cattleya. 
During the maturity process and after green harvest, we realised that the mild ripening weather was bringing to us matching physiological, phenological and aromatic maturity. I felt like I had all the time in the world to make a picking decision.
Fruit for our 2021 comes mainly from the Russian River Valley and sites across the Sonoma Coast AVA. Clonal selection includes Dijon 114, 115, 667 and 777 and Pommard, Calera, Swan and 2A.

The 2021 Pinot is available at £32 from The Wine Society, not a ridiculous price for a fine Pinot Noir. UK prices for Littorai Pinot 2021 Sonoma Coast, for example, start at £73 a bottle, though of course Ted Lemon of Littorai has a much more established and glorious reputation than Bibiana. Her Pinot is fairly easy to find in the US. also lists a stockist in Osaka, Japan.

Her Chardonnay 2021 Sonoma County (£27) was also shown at The Wine Society tasting but it seemed a little low key in comparison with another 2021 California Chardonnay that they sell for only £12.95, District 7 from Monterey. The Alma de Catteya Chardonnay may have shone more brightly last year.

Alma de Cattleya Pinot Noir

And the name of this range of wines? Alma means soul in Spanish and cattleya is the local name for the common Colombian flower known in English as the Christmas orchid, illustrated on the label.

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