In this series, The Conscientious Consumer in Quarantine, I’m going to point to some of my favorite producers, wineries that are owned by individuals human beings, human beings who use their wineries to employ other people and feed their families, human beings whom I would encourage you to support with your patronage. Wineries make money primarily in two ways, namely by selling wine and by having visitors. Both of those revenue streams are being deeply slashed during the Covid 19 pandemic, as restaurants are closing and, in many if not most instances, tasting rooms have been asked to close down for the time being to help stop the spread of the disease. The following wines are wines I encourage you to purchase online to help support these small producers so that, when this is all over, they will still be there for all of us to visit.
I have a love-hate relationship with Pinot Noir. Mostly, I love it. I love it’s delicate, nuanced nature, it’s incredibly distinctive characteristics. I love the way the body can get all glassy upon the palate, smoother perhaps than any other wine. I love the “funk” that is often associated with the varietal. I love how eager it is to take on varying terroir and how capable it is of expressing them beautifully. I love Pinot Noir, I truly do. What I hate is how people so often talk about it, as if it is singularly superior to all other varietals. Some people treat it like the child who can do no wrong, and if you’ve had a glass of Meiomi lately, you know just how badly wrong this varietal can go.
The thing about Pinot Noir, I think, is that you can’t take it for granted; to say that not all Pinots are created equally would be understatement on the level of hyperbole. The wines I’m going to recommend below, in addition to being family operations that support good people in these difficult times for us all, are wines that embody what this varietal can, and maybe even should, be. They’re all quite different, of course, but they’re all amazing and very worthy of your time, attention, and finances. Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll never buy another bottle of Meiomi again.
Cloud’s Rest Vineyards — Sonoma Coast, $100
These guys are passionate about making great wine, and they do it well. Fruit from the Petaluma Gap can make some very distinctive wines, and Cloud’s Rest makes an age-worthy wine and has vintages dating back to 2002 for sale on their web page which is pretty damn cool. Visit cloudsrest.com to purchase wine.
Fairsing Vineyard “Dardis” — Willamette Valley, $62
Fairsing is a thirty-eight acre vineyard in Oregon owned by a couple of Nebraskans, which I think is an added bonus. Mike and Mary Ann make phenomenal wines. Dardis is probably my favorite, and limited to 523 cases, though I’d encourage you to try them all. You can purchase Fairsing wines at fairsingvineyard.com.
Fourth Estate “La Cruz Vineyard” — Sonoma Coast, $38
Fourth Estate is a really cool producer owned by a couple journalists who did or still do work in the industry. The term “Fourth Estate”, Jeff once told me, is a nod to the free press. Expressive, beautiful, and affordably priced, the other thing I love about this producer is that they come to VinNEBRASKA every year and support our community. You can support them back by buying their wine at fourthestatewinery.com.
Fullerton “Three Otters” — Willamette Valley, $22
Fullerton is a producer that supports VinNEBRASKA every year, for which I am grateful, and their Three Otters Pinot Noir has come to be a gold standard in value. It’s on shelves across the state, and it drinks way above its meager price point. Get yours in almost any wine section in Nebraska, or at fullertonwines.com.
Frank Family — Carneros, Napa Valley, $38
I got to sit down and taste through wines with Todd, Frank Family’s winemaker, a few years ago for a story I did commemorating the 25th anniversary of this winery for Food & Spirits Magazine. He’s passionate, and he’s amazing with Pinot (also sparkling). Sonja and I drank a bottle of this wine on Wednesday night and loved every last sip of it. I think you will too. You can buy it at frankfamilyvineyards.com.
Illahe Vineyards “1899” — Willamette Valley, $65
This wine is fun to talk about because Brad Ford, the winemaker, produces it without using modern winemaking equipment (only equipment that was available in 1899). Then he canoes it to Portland. It’s a great wine and worth reading up on. Brad’s estate Pinot is $23 a bottle and an amazing value at that price, so check that one out when you make your order. I also like their Viognier — illahevineyards.com.
Maysara “Jamsheed” — Willamette Valley, $30
The story of the Momtazi Family coming to the United States from Iran is one that’s definitely worth hearing. I find the Momtazi’s inspiring, and their now-famous vineyard and winery a statement about the American dream. All of their wines are excellent, but I especially enjoy Jamsheed for the intersection of quality and price. The sparkling rose’ is really cool too. Get yours at maysara.com.
Purple Hands “Latchkey Vineyard” — Willamette Valley, $55
Cody Wright is the son of Ken, possibly Oregon’s most famous winemaker, but Cody is definitely make a name for himself independent of his pedigree. All of his wines are fantastic, single-vineyard, tiny production bottles of the highest quality, each one distinct and exciting. I noticed on their web page purplehandswine.com that you can buy nicely wrapped care packages of wine. Great idea. Let me know if you need my address.
Ravines Wine Cellars — Finger Lakes, $25
Ravines is a neat little producer that I’ve recently become acquainted with. Honestly, there should be more Finger Lakes Pinot on this list, but I’m just not familiar enough with the region. I’ll make it a goal to change that. In the meantime, this is an excellent wine from a small family operation and I know you’ll love it as much as I did. You can get it at ravineswine.com.
Reustle — Umpqua Valley, $36
This is another producer I’ve only recently become familiar with, but I love what they’re doing. Oregon’s Umpqua Valley is closer to California than it is to Portland, and the wines have a distinct terroir from these estate vineyards. I especially love this Pinot, which is limited to about 500 cases and spends substantial time on new French oak. Their “Matrix” white blend is exciting, too. Check them out at reustlevineyards.com.
Tamber Bey “Sunchase Vineyard” — Sonoma Coast, $75
Barry and Jennifer Waitte are a couple of Sonja and my favorite people. Their Napa Valley winery produces a lot of our favorite wines, especially Cab and Merlot, but their single vineyard Pinots sourced from the Sonoma Coast AVA are really killer as well. “Sunchase” is one of my all time favorites for masterfully walking the line between delicacy and strength. You can get it, and other great wines, at tamberbey.com.
Sonja and I had plans to visit the Willamette Valley in late May, and while we haven’t officially cancelled them yet, I think it’s fair to say that things aren’t looking good at this point. I booked the entire trip, flights and hotels, using mileage. It cost me $92, so we’ll see if I can get some of the miles back in the event that we end up cancelling. Wish me luck. And if we do end up having to cancel that trip, well, this post just reminded me of how badly we need to get out there, and also back to Sonoma, and Napa, and also to the Finger Lakes and the Umpqua Valley. I think there’s some travel in our future — if not in our immediate future. Thanks for reading, friends. Stay safe, be good to each other, support small businesses, and drink some great wine tonight!