Navarro Pinot Noir, Méthode à l'Ancienne 2001 Anderson Valley

It is my belief that Pinot Noir, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon for instance, can be absolutely delicious in pure, fruity, lightish, early-maturing form. There is something so delicate, flirtatious and beguiling about a Pinot made to express this unadorned face of the grape – particularly at this time of year when, in the northern hemisphere at least, we are starting to look for red wines suitable for drinking in warmer weather, wines that may be flattered by being served very slightly cool.

Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn of Navarro have been making pure,
fruity reds and aromatic whites in the cool, foggy Anderson Valley for 30 years now, without hype or major policy shift. They have since been joined most notably by Roederer who, alone among the Champenois who invaded California in the late 1980s, decided Anderson Valley rather than Carneros could deliver the subtlety they craved. Their daughter is now in the graduate viticulture and enology program at UC Davis but they have been extremely laid back about marketing their wines so the easiest way to buy them is from their own atmospheric website where this wine is on offer for a mere $21 a bottle – a refreshing change from so
many California wine prices.

For the wine techies among you, here's what Ted Bennett wrote
to me recently about how this wine is made:

Méthode à l'Ancienne is a fancy way to say the “old fashioned way” and it refers to the fact that we gently punch down the cap of our fermenting Pinot Noir rather than pumping- over. It is a labor intensive way to make Pinot but it helps minimize harsh tannins and enhances the bright fruit.

Navarro’s Pinots are from Anderson Valley grapes grown in the “Deep End” west of Philo. We expanded estate Pinot acreage dramatically in the 90’s, so most of the grapes are estate grown with the remainder of the fruit grown under long-term contract; most theoretically qualify for the “estate” moniker. There are two field blends planted (Chalone and David Bruce), two FPMS clones (4 & 13: Pommard & Martini), and 5 ENTAV clones (115, 667, 777, 114 and 113). Although we still have about 3 acres left on AXR1, the newer plantings are on 101-14, 3309C, 5C, 110R and SO4. We have several fields divided into 2 different clones with the rootstock changing every fourth row. Although we have limited experience, so far we found more flavor difference between the rootstocks than we did between the clones. (This was after thirty years experience when I thought I knew something about Pinot clones; experiments can be humbling!) The grapes are grown on a variety of trellises: Lyre, VSP and the California T-Top. (The separate sides of the Lyre are kept as separate lots due to the flavor differences in the resulting wines.) Our original vineyards are at 300’ elevation and our newest ones at 1300’ feet. Since the upper vineyards have an ocean view and ocean breezes, they ripen about 10 days later than the same clone/rootstock combination on the valley floor.

The grapes are harvested in the early morning; typically between 45 and 50 degrees F. The grapes are de-stemmed, then placed in either a ¾ ton macro-bin or a 5 ton open-top SS fermentor to soak. No SO2 is added at the crusher, no yeast is added to the must and we try to keep the grapes cold for several days. Both types of fermentors are punched down daily and on the third or fourth day, when the must is starting to de-gas (something is fermenting!), we add a half-dose of a commercial S.C. yeast to assure the fermentation finishes. Once fermenting, the must is punched down three times a day until we reach 12 degrees alcohol. Typically this is 8 to 12 days after harvest and at that point, the must is pressed; the first squeeze along with the free run is racked to a tank for malolactic inoculation and settling of the gross lees. (Heavier press fractions are not used in our varietal bottlings. We press at 12% alcohol to avoid seed tannins which are selectively extracted by alcohol; we prefer to extract from the skins by natural enzymatic reaction by our pre-fermentation cold soak.) On the third or fourth day, the wine is racked off the gross lees and into barrels to complete malolactic fermentation.

We do little racking in the cellar, keeping Pinot in that borderline reductive state. We age in French oak barrels; the vast majority of the barrels are coopered by Remond from Allier wood with a medium toast. The 2001 Méthode à l'Ancienne was aged in 25% new barrels, and 25% each of one, two and three year old barrels for about 10 months. Our tasting panel spends about two or three weeks blending the Méthode à l'Ancienne cuvée; leftover lots and leftover barrels are candidates for our lesser priced Mendocino bottling.

Suffice it to say that this wine is pure pleasure at a very reasonable price. And what more could one ask for? Look out for it on wine lists of American restaurants with particularly astute sommeliers.