Single Vineyard Wines; Clarified (Exposed)

California Pinot NoirWhen at a tasting room, you might overhear the good people generously pouring your California Pinot Noir expounding that what you have in your glass is the “Holy Grail” of the varietal; a “Single Vineyard” (or SV) wine. There is a contingency of Pinot enthusiasts that prefer only SV Pinots.

We’ll dig a little deeper into what an SV is and shed a little light from the depths of the cellar, if you will.

With SV, the illusion that comes to mind is of purity and simplicity in the lack of blending; the exact replication of each vine and grape, and that grape being from that single vineyard.  You are probably imagining all the grapes coming from the same row, all the leaves lining up facing the sun together. That angels actually hand pick the grapes, and by prolonged consumption of these SV gems, you only become better looking. (I tried, but it obviously didn’t work for me).

The winemaker might say “estate grown SV” on the label, when in reality the “estate” might be a plane ride’s distance between parcels and might be planted with a completely different  varietal.

The TTB** regulations cite that a 95% minimum sourcing is to be from the vineyard so designated on the SV label. This allows the winemaker  an exorbitant latitude to blend with grapes from a completely different source or even completely different varietals (the type of wine grape), all without saying so on the label. That 5% seems to be a whole lot of potential voodoo that could interfere with a wine that before, was so virtuous. But you say “come on its only 5%”. Try pouring 5% of Petit Verdot in your glass and see if you taste anything different.  Of course this is extreme, but…

The “Golden Holy Grail” lookith to show o’ bit of “pewter” beneath.

… this is not a bad thing. As long as the winery stands behind that they are using 100% Pinot grapes, a little blending has proven to be “Holy” beneficial, while tossing out the Grail. Some of the best winemakers in the world have worked for decades to refine the art of blending different “clones” (in French meaning “graphing twig”) to increase the complexity, caricature, nose and so on.

Let’s keep in mind that even though, in the best of circumstances, the SV grapes that are taken from the same vineyard can come from different levels on the slope, row orientation, different drainages, soil types, exposure to the sun, micro climate conditions, etc. So what you end up with is different tasting grapes, and many times different clones besides, just to adapt to the diversity in the vine locales on the plot.

The words that come to mind are “self induced homogenization”. But if the winemaker limits his or herself to small lots (blocks), then this could be a close representation of American “terrior”, as I have defined before as ‘its sense of place’ -encompasses both the exact location and the soil.”

In closing, there is a movement to have TTB change the ruling on SV to limit the wineries to 100% Single Vineyard wine production if the winemaker/winery states SV on the label, because some of the purists felt a bit jilted when they became aware of this little known fact about the 5%.

For me, as long as I know what is in the bottle I’m drinking, then blend away; just make sure I am able to “become aware – of what is there.”

Patrick Hurley is a wine merchant and has a varietal specific Pinot Noir website



**Alcohol & Tobacco. Tax & Trade Bureau


by Patrick Hurley

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