Honey, Let’s Pop a Good Bottle Tonight! – by Patrick Hurley
At my household, that is music to my ears. I could roll off one of the dozens of great Pinot Noir wines in our cellar that would complement the pork loin we are having tonight.
It wasn’t all that long ago that when we opened what we thought was a good bottle of wine, it did not include the Pinot Noir varietal. Only because we didn’t want to spend $30 plus on a bottle of wine. The Pinots available for $15 to $20 were not impressive enough to fall in love with. As a matter of fact, out of the hundreds of Pinots that I have tasted, to my chagrin, very few even raised an eyebrow in the under $30 crowd. We found out later that it was very difficult to find “quality” Pinot Noirs for under that price point because it is almost impossible to make a memorable Pinot for that price.
During a harvest, I had the opportunity to interview Ken Brown, the renowned winemaker who started Zaca Mesa, Byron and Ken Brown wineries in the Central Coast of California. He enlightened me to the fact that Pinot Noir grapes are the hardest grapes to grow in the world. It can take a very large amount of acreage to produce grapes that at times are no larger than a raisin. So the tonnage can be very low. Also, the wines that are of good quality take a large team of human beings to care for and prune specific leaves that shade on one side of the vine and not the other. No machine can do the kind of pruning and maintenance that Pinot Noir grapevines require – period. It is the trained hand crafting at the vineyard that can make or break a quality Pinot. The $15 to $20 stuff in the bottle you are hoping is good, usually isn’t for the reason that it was machine tended in the field. (A quick note-one of the most expensive wines in the world for many years in a row – Roman’ee-Conti a French Burgundy, or Pinot Noir, priced at a mere $13,500 for a 750ml bottle).
During and shortly after the Pinot Noir rage flamed up from the movie “Sideways”, there were a lot of wineries and vineyards that jumped on the wine-wagon to supply what the movie-going population would demand. But the real problem was and still remains, that there was absolutely no rhyme or reason as to where the Pinot Noir vineyards were planted, as far as the correct environment for the Pinot Noir grapes to develop to their highest potential. Pinot Noir demands precise, cruel, if not tortured soil conditions; also a very cool, sometimes foggy location, void of any hard freezing and plenty of afternoon sunshine. It also has to have a very exact location in reference to the sun so the sugar and acid levels development in the grape react in an exact way. And that is just a partial list.
These limitations effect the proper cultivation (this actuality represents a high percentage of the areas that grow Pinot grapes incorrectly planted), to that of a very limited spectrum of places that can grow consistently quality Pinot Noirs.
So here lies the problem: there is a glut of cheap (lesser quality) Pinot Noir that seems to be everywhere you turn. My recommendation is to save your “allowance” up for one bottle of “really good Pinot Noir” instead of two bottles of the lesser stuff. Make a really good meal with a really good Pinot; there not too many simple things in life that are better!