A Russian River Valley Classic
The Story of Our Legacy Estate Wines
The Estate-grown wines in our Library Collection are the only vintages we produced from the legacy vines that were planted on the Russian River Vineyards estate before we took ownership. At that time, one of its two vineyards was planted with Pinot Noir (originally planted in the late 90’s). The other was planted with Merlot vines (originally planted in the late 60’s) and subsequently interplanted with Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
We removed those vines in 2017 as part of our planned growth of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from different clones, so these library estate wines are the last of the wines produced from those original vines. Prior to their removal, we were able to produce several excellent vintages, of which only the final three remain (in limited amounts) from each vineyard: 2014, 2015, and 2016. We set aside a few cases of each of those last three vintages, in anticipation of releasing them at a point where they had aged into their “prime”.
And that time is now. These wines are aging extremely well, and we couldn’t be happier with the way they are drinking at this point. That is why we have chosen to release the remaining cases. But as good as they are now, they have up to 10 years more aging potential.
An "Old School" Pinot Noir
The legacy Pinot Noir vineyard that we inherited in 2008 remained a bit of a mystery to us right up until it was removed in 2017. It has been presumed that the grapes were all Dijon clones. But records are scarce, so it’s fair to say that most of our knowledge of this vineyard came from our experience of farming it and the flavor of the wines made from the fruit it produced. When we began, the vineyard had been neglected and was badly overgrown. The conventional wisdom said we should tear it out and start over. But the Winemaking duo of Anthony Austin, RRV Winemaker at that time, and his apprentice, Giovanni Balistreri, who took the reins as Winemaker in 2012, are farmers. And their instinct was to revive the vineyard. So with copious amounts of effort and loving care, the vines were coaxed back to a level of productivity that could produce premium wines.
And those wines became a showcase for the signature winemaking style that Anthony passed on to Gio. This style is characterized by fastidious attention to detail in the winemaking process as a whole, what would later become known as an “earth to glass” process. But the style is more specifically applied to Pinot Noir, which is Anthony’s first love among all the varietals.
The Pinot Noirs were purposefully created to embody the balance & complexity that Pinot Noir grapes express so eloquently. The three remaining vintages of this wine are a showcase of what the aging process contributes to a wine. They were built to age, and they are aging magnificently.
A good Pinot Noir is multi-faceted. You really need to let these wines open up to appreciate them. You will be rewarded by changes in flavors & aromas as the wine gradually reveals its layers of complexity.
- Gio Balistreri
It is the balance, which is so critical to making excellent Pinot Noir wine, that sets these wines apart. Over the course of the aging process, the prevalence of the fruit gives way to the esterification process, which in turn brings new aromas and textures to the wine. But the essential balance and structure of the wine when it is created is what makes the wine “age-worthy”. These wines are entering their prime, but they will likely continue to improve for another ten to fifteen years.
A Merlot Like No Other
Sometime in the mid 1960’s, Merlot vines were planted on what is now the Russian River Vineyards estate. A decade or so later, the vineyard orientation was flipped 90 degrees to accommodate the interplanting of Cabernet Sauvignon vines. As winemakers would now agree, it was not a good location for Merlot or Cabernet grapes. It was too cold, among other challenges. But this odd, hybrid vineyard is what Anthony Austin, RRV Winemaker at that time, and his apprentice, current Winemaker Giovanni Balistreri, inherited when they took ownership of the estate in 2008. The previous owners had struggled with the vineyard, managing to ripen the grapes only twice in the previous ten years. And even that minor success was only with the Merlot. The Cabernet had consistently failed. Their advice to Anthony & Gio: rip the vines out and start over. From the beginning, Gio & Anthony planned to grow only Pinot & Chardonnay on the estate, so the Merlot vineyard was going to be replanted in the not-too-distant future. But why not try to make some wine from them in the short term?
Why not indeed? So from this unique & singular vineyard came several vintages of Merlot wines that are as distinctive as the vineyard itself. As with the Pinot Noir Library Wines, there are just three vintages (2014, 2015, 2016) of this estate wine remaining. It took all the skill and experience of these two winemakers just to ripen the grapes. The cool weather slowed the ripening and increased the acid levels well beyond that of a typical Merlot. But Austin’s winemaking style achieved his characteristic balance of fruit & acid. The result is a Merlot with higher acid that can soften over a long period of time and is uniquely structured to age beautifully.
“The vineyard is characterized by slow ripening & high acidity. And it’s really too cold for merlot. But if you can get it ripe, it really does add a dimension to Merlot that is rare. This really needs age to soften the tannins and the acid.”
- Anthony Austin
And what of the Cabernet grapes? The Cabernet vines produced a tiny amount of grapes. But in a very unconventional move, Anthony & Gio decided to combine those grapes with the much larger quantity of Merlot, thereby adding a unique structure to the tannins that you won’t find in other Merlots. The final product is a set of Merlot wines that are unlike any other you will drink. Exquisitely balanced, moving from the 2016 with its still-lively fruit, to the 2015 with its intriguing complexity, and finally the velvety smooth 2014. These wines have stood the test of time, but have plenty of life left in them still.
"Wine is sunlight, held together by water"
- Galileo Galilei