In a rental tent over their crush pad at Foursight Winery in Boonville, Joe Webb and his wife Kristy Charles, and Kristy’s parents Bill and Nancy Charles, hosted a ten year vertical tasting, 2006 through 2015, of their Pinot Noir wines, made with fruit from the Charles Vineyard.

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The light April rain that fell couldn’t dampen the spirits of the assembled tasters, or the enthusiasm of the event hosts, “it seems shocking this is our tenth vintage, it seems like we just started,” Bill Charles shared.

The event proceeded with each vintage being poured, Joe Webb describing the winemaking choices, Bill Charles describing the choices made in the vineyard, and Kristy Charles describing the wine flavors. The wines were poured in order from 2006 to 2015, with one exception; the 2008 vintage was poured last, as fires throughout California led to wines from Mendocino County with egregiously smoky forest fire notes.

All of the Foursight Pinot Noir come from the Charles Vineyard, of clones 777, 115, 114, and Pommard 05, with wild yeast and wild malolactic fermentation, are unfined and unfiltered (except the 2008 which say filtration), spend 10 months in French oak with varying percentages in new oak, and are made with 10-50% whole clusters.

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The 2006 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard showed the ten years, with a slightly brickish rim and an aged wine sherry note.

Joe described the vintage as riper, and felt the wine had peaked.

Bill told of planting the vineyard in 2001, and explained that 2006 was the first year of commercial grape production, with the vines taken to trellis completely, and the vintage producing a large crop, necessitating dropping lots of fruit.

Joe shared that the family used the dropped fruit for a home wine, a sparkling Blanc de Noir.

Kristy said the wine was released in 2008 at a pouring in New York City, right as the economy was crashing, but that the wine was, “an amazing start to a first decade.”

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2007 Foursight “All-In” Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was holding up well, with a lighter rim than the 2006. For Joe this was his favorite of the early vintages, 2006 – 2009.

Joe noted this was the first vintage where he used whole clusters, and upon tasting it he noted it is , “turning savory.”

Bill described the vintage as, “unexciting,” from a growers standpoint, “which was great,” yielding, “one of my favorite wines, early, intense flavors in fruit, a good vintage.”

Kristy observed, “quite a bit of cellarability left.”

I picked up woody notes, pomegranate, light rhubarb, cranberry, cherry, raspberry, and bright acidity.
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The tasting moved over the 2008, from 2007 to 2009.
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2009 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was described by Joes, along with 2007, as the, “vintages of the decade.”

Joe used, “Slightly more whole clusters, “ with this vintage and, “built more structure with stems, used less new oak, for structure and acidity.”

Bill shared that he used sprinklers for 72 hours for frost protection during the year but, “picked early, which was wonderful.” Joe then explained that he sees average 55 degree diurnal temperature swings daily.

Kristy observed that 2009 was, “the year we (Kristy and Joe) were married, the year the winery was built, the first year we poured at the [Anderson Valley] Pinot Noir Festival.”

Kristy pulled, “brown sugar, anise, and baking spice,” notes, to which I would add deeper black cherry and slight vinuous stemmy notes. The wine has some age worthiness left to it, still tightly wrapped and dense, a good wine to pair with food to coax those hidden notes free.

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2010 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was a medium colored, translucent wine, clear at the rim.

The nose showed cherry, cola, berry, spice and herb, with clove and cranberry on the palate. This was my favorite of the early, 2006 – 2010 vintages. I do love feminine Pinot, and this was a cool vintage, yielding just that.

Joe said he used, “less whole clusters and wasn’t getting as much tannin out of the press, so a little more new oak.”

Where other vintages come in around 175 days between bud break and harvest, Bill said this was a, “cool long vintage,” and took 203 days to bring in.

Interestingly, Bill described two days of extreme heat in August that sunburned the exposed lower tips of bunches, and required cutting off all sunburned grapes with little snips.

Kristy noted, “earth, oak, dark berry fruit, and good acid.”
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2011 was a funny vintage, cold and rainy, and presented difficulties for grape growers and challenges for winemakers. Grapes that require lots of heat, Cabernet and Zinfandel come to mind, from the vintage yielded sub par wines in the vintage, but careful attention in the vineyard and good winemaking choices allowed some of my favorite wines to be made from cool climate areas,

2011 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard, with one deep inhalation, is a reminder of why I liked this difficult vintage. The color is light, light, light.

Joe said this was, “the coolest (temperature) vintage in California wine,” but Foursight, “brought in everything before the winter rains,” at Charles Vineyard.

Heat thickens skins, which give both color and tannin to a wine. Joe noted, “thin skins, pressed as hard as we could for color and tannin…old world techniques…no racking of this wine at all.”

Much of the vintage was used for a Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Bill brought the fruit in after 184 days, and saw rain from June 2-5, but missed the torrents of October.

Kristy said the wine was, “amazing in the mouth, lighter, smoother, strawberry, cherry, cranberry, softer,” than other vintages. I picked up bright sweet tart strawberry pie, cranberry, and vine.
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2012 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard marks the first of four consecutive drought vintages.

This wine shows tons of nose and mouth, lovely integration, layers of fruit, tannin, strawberry, and cherry. Tons of ageability.

Joe noted he used, “30% whole cluster and 40% new oak, but reduced toast on the oak.”

My favorite note was Bill’s, “I don’t think I worked this year.”
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2013 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard is the current release and available in the tasting room now.

“2013 was the first real ‘welcome to the drought’ year,” Joe told the tasters, “all the rain came in December and none after that, January and February were sunny every day.”

Joe noted, “the quality of the stems was higher than previous vintages, 40% whole cluster, backed down on toast on oak again, relied on skin and stem for tannin.”

Bill, “added more water because I had it, the pond did fill, stretching the stressed vines to 177 days, readings were really dry, it was a pretty good year from a grower’s standpoint.

I picked up cranberry and strawberry with clove spice. This is a studly wine with serious mouthfeel.
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2014 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard has not been released yet, and was bottled in August 2015.

Joe shared that, ”stem quality saw me hit my upper limit for whole cluster at 50%.”

Bill shared that he, “double pruned the vineyard, and, “the fan was a tremendous help that saved the crop.”

2014 was the first year Charles Vineyard used a fan for frost mitigation, saving a ton of non existent water in the third of four drought years, in an ecological friendly, water conserving, growing manner.

“The vines knew it was a drought,” said Bill, continuing, “ 165 days and they knew they were in trouble,” leading to a short but flavorful vintage for the crop.

The 2014 showed intense dense candied fruit flavors, and will benefit from additional time in the bottle. I liked it very much.
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2015 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was an assembled blend of barrel samples, served from Erlenmeyer flasks.

Brilliant color with light sediment, it tasted of yummy juicy-juice, Pinot flavored grape juice. I really liked this too, and though not close to a finished wine, it offers incredible promise of another great wine a couple of years from now.

Joe said the, “darker color was due to increased skin to juice ratio,” that resulted in smaller berries from a fourth year of drought.

Bill noted this was his, “second year of double pruning, “ and “a reduced crop load, 10-15% off average.”
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2008 Foursight “All-In” Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard – I almost left this wine out. I just do not like it. There are very few Mendocino wines from the catastrophic 2008 vintage that I do like.

As a result of the 2008 vintage, smoke insurance has been added to insurance policies, like insurance against floods or earthquakes, and smoke taint has been added to contracts as a trigger for rejection of grapes by buyers.

Joe filtered this wine, using reverse osmosis, dumbing down the fruit a bit.

The wine is dark and rich in color and aroma, ripe and pungent, but marred by smoke taint.

Bill in the vineyard and Joe in the winery did everything they could to make a good wine, and there are people who will like it, or who have found perfect food pairings for it, but with nine wines in the line up that I enjoyed, I can honestly say this is my least favorite, and owing entirely to circumstances beyond control.
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After the vertical tasting, guests were invited to rinse their glasses, choose their favorite wine from all poured, and fill plates for a delicious and visually gorgeous, colorful, lunch.

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Thanks to Joe, Kristy, Bill, and Nancy for including me in a really lovely, educational, and enjoyable glimpse into ten years of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Charles Vineyard at Foursight Winery.

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John on Wine – Spotlight Winery: Foursight Wines

Another perfect day in the Anderson Valley, made more perfect by a visit and tasting with Kristy Charles and winemaking husband Joe Webb at their winery tasting room, Foursight Wines, in Boonville, right on Highway 128.

Foursight Wines' tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight Wines’ tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

I am fortunate, and attend many wine events in the Anderson Valley, and see Kristy and Joe often, as both are active members, having each taken a turn as President, on the Board of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. Both have been helpful to me as a local wine writer.

Joe Webb and Kristy charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

Joe Webb and Kristy Charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

The tasting room is a cozy place to visit, and dog friendly, and the wines come from grapes grown on the Charles Vineyard, established in 2001 by William and Nancy Charles. This is a family operation from grape to glass, the grapes are grown sustainably and the wines are vegan made and with only that intervention required to make great wine.

Vegan wine? Yes, most wine is fined, to remove sediment and enhance clarity, using egg whites or gelatin. Vegan wines are instead typically fined, if they are fined at all, with bentonite, an absorbent clay.

Joe poured for me, and told me the story of each wine, in a moderately wine tech heavy way, which I enjoyed immensely. I’m not going to share sugars or acid or overly specific barrel regimen info, because what most folks care about is how the wine tasted and if I liked it. I will confess to near wine geek-gasm, and thought the presentation was tailored just for me, but Kristy shared that Joe loves sharing what goes into each of Foursight’s wines with each visitor to the tasting room. I love getting a story with each wine, and too few tasting room folks provide that level of care, so this was a real treat, a treat that makes each visitor feel special and cared for.

2013 Foursight Semillon Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $28 – Wooden side basket pressed, no fining, no filtering, full malolactic fermentation, aged in stainless steel and French oak, drinks dry. Round, fleshy pear and apple fruit and floral and honey notes. Great mouthfeel. Delicious.

2013 Foursight Unoaked Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $25 – Native yeast, 40% whole cluster, finished at 14.1 with a touch of sediment. Joe told me this wine was born of four influences: “1. During wine club blending trials, people loved the topping wine; 2. There is a growing number of people seeking Alsace style Pinot and loving the price point for unoaked reds; 3. Vegans and vegetarians love genuinely vegan wines…no trees were harmed in the making of this wine; and 4. Red wines rock!” This wine is all about fruit without tannin, cherry and berry all day long. I’ve tasted it twice, and it is SO much better now, benefitting from a little bottle age.

Joe went on to tell me he thinks, “the only way to do a press cut is with a basket press,“ and 2015 is, “so inky, not wanting to be over tannic,” but the compact harvest of 2015 will lead to, “little logistical things with winemaking in 2015,” as so many things need to be done at once, or nearly so.

2012 Foursight Zero New Oak Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $38 – Great mouth, round and rich in discernible bright cherry fruit, herb and spice, with a kiss of wood.

2012 Foursight Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $46 – Beautiful nose. Rose petal, soft herb, chocolate, lovely cherry and raspberry fruit.

2012 Foursight Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $49 – Pommard clone grapes. The first word I wrote was “ripest,” and Joe told me this wine is, “always the ripest.” Rhubarb, berry, cherry; darker, great balance. Joe said the balance comes from, “the different blocks, three different fermenters, picked on at least two different dates.” Larger berry, larger clusters, touch lower tannin, can take a little more new oak.

2013 Foursight Paraboll Pinot Noir (Charles Vineyard) Anderson Valley $54 – Foursight purchased the trademarked Paraboll label from Londer, to continue the wine’s production. I loved the Paraboll, lushly forward rich cherry and strawberry fruit and caramel, with earthy spice notes to complement the fruit. Joe told me his favorite thing about the 2013 Paraboll is how, in a near endless sea of Pinot, this wine stopped tasters in their tracks at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival earlier this year.

Foursight's Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight’s Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

The Foursight Wines tasting room is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed January and the third weekend in June, and located at 14475 Highway 128, the first winery tasting room on your right as you head into Boonville from Ukiah or Cloverdale.

I enjoy Joe and Kristy immensely, and they have terrific single vineyard wines. Kristy summed up the charm of a visit to Foursight perfectly, “The important thing is we’re all family owned and operated, local, estate wines, and we love to pour our really good…great wines for people.”

Make plans to stop in and taste through the line up; you’ll find they are terrific drinkable snapshots capturing variety, vintage, and place. If you like the wines as much as I do, consider joining their wine club for spectacular discounts on delicious wines.

Note: This piece originally ran as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 29, 2015.

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John On Wine – Recap of a great three day wine weekend

Last week, I mentioned that I was attending some wine events and promised a recap of tastes of the eighteen gold medal winning wines made using Mendocino County grapes that were at the Barlow on Sunday in Sebastopol for the 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge grand tasting.

Upon arriving, I was instantly reminded of Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’s quote, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force,” which could be paraphrased and shortened, “no plan survives first contact.”

At check in, my badge could not be found, but I was saved by fellow writer and wine ambassador Thea Dwelle who recognized me and secured two wristbands for me and my tasting companion, Susan Johnson. Thank you Thea!

List in hand, ready to taste the wines in a planned order, I found that the wineries were not alphabetically ordered, but by wine type, whites and bubblies in one group, light reds and blush wines in another, and finally big reds in a last group. The problem, for me, is that a number of wineries won medals for more than one wine type, and the significant crowds made the tasting I had planned nearly impossible.

Instead, I decided to put my notebook away and simply taste what I wished, and enjoy myself. That new plan was a smashing success as there was much to enjoy.

I lived and worked in the Sonoma County wine industry for far longer than I have lived and worked here in Mendocino County, and saw many friends; the event was very much like a reunion for me. The wines were top notch, as you might expect from a collection of gold medal winners, and the food was beyond good, the food was great. Special thanks to all of the wine judges, including Christopher Sawyer who shared some of his event photos for this piece.

Two Michelin Star Cyrus' chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Two Michelin Star Cyrus’ chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

I tasted Foie Gras and Caviar from Michelin two star awarded chef Doug Keene, spectacular pork treats from Food Network celebrity Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart, salmon, truffled mac and cheese, pork belly, tuna tataki, and so much more. Every bite was an absolute delight but some were so intensely flavorful that finding a wine that could pair well was a challenge – a challenge I accepted.

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Wines, well that’s why I attended, right? I loved Carol Shelton’s new 2014 Wild Thing Chardonnay, Mendocino County, with oak but not so much as to mask the abundant and flavorful fruit notes. Navarro’s 2014 Pinot Blanc and Campovida’s 2013 Arneis were also drinking great. Handley’s 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir was bright and flavorful, a good match for many foods, and their Best of Mendocino County awarded 2012 Pinot Noir was especially delicious with gorgeous cherry berry fruit and depth, matched to oak and herb. Campovida’s 2013 Campo di Rossa, a Rhone blend, and Masut’s 2013 Pinot Noir rounded out my day’s favorite local red tastes. I finished my day with a taste of the 2013 Merriam Vineyards Chardonnay, Bacigalupi, Native Fermentation $56, poured by the multi-talented Toni DiLeo, and was well pleased with the choice. Toni and I sold a 1994 Bacigalupi Chardonnay made by Carol Shelton many years ago, and it brought the event full circle for me, with ribbon and a bow.

Campovida's Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Campovida’s Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

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2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

Before the Barlow event on Sunday, came 2015’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Once again, another amazing event put on by Mendocino County’s best organized appellation. I might be the largest cheerleader for inland Mendocino’s wine scene, but credit where credit is due, Janis MacDonald and her team at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association do the very best job reaching out to the press, marketing and promoting, and staging first class wine events within Mendocino County. Kudos go to Janis, Kristy Charles, and all of the amazing volunteers, for another memorable and worthwhile event.

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard's Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard’s Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

The event kicked off for me Thursday night with a Welcome Dinner at Balo Vineyards. There were more wines than I could taste, more winemakers and winery owners than I could chat with, but I said my hellos and tasted some delicious wines. Favorites of the night included the 2014 Avenging Angel Pinot Noir Blanc, a 2013 Philo Ridge Viognier with Greg Nelson’s grapes, the 2012 Waits-Mast Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2012 Donkey & Goat Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 Williams Selyem Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, and a 1994 Husch Pinot Noir which I would describe as ‘faded glory’, a wine from a great vintage, a little beyond its prime, but filled with memories of other wines from that year. The appetizers, salads and pizza by Stone & Embers were excellent.

Friday morning’s Tech Conference featured a look at the state of Pinot Noir by Glenn McGourty, who shared that Pinot Noir acreage in the state has doubled, at least, since 2000, and that the variety is the most valuable grown per ton, on average. Nancy Smith and Jennifer Carah from The Nature Conservancy returned to update attendees on water flow and proposed efforts to balance the needs of fish and humans in the Navarro watershed. Andy Walker discussed rootstock and Jean-Jacques Lambert talked about soil in the two tech sessions aimed well over my head, but undoubtedly of value to the vineyards and winery owners attending. My favorite sessions included a panel tasting of Pinot Noir produced from different soil types, another panel tasting focusing on various Pinot Noir wines produced using Charles Vineyard grapes, and the lunch session with various Anderson Valley Pinot Noir wines and the best conference food ever served at a tech conference, prepared by Boont Berry Farm. I’m a simple taster, and my favorite sessions involve wine and a story. My favorite quote of the day came from Bill Hill of Expression 39 wine, on terroir (soil and climate), “there are a few places in the world that make wines that are really interesting, there are places in the world that make wines that shouldn’t.” The day’s conference amply demonstrated that Anderson Valley is a place to make Pinot Noir.

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

That night’s Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars catered by The Q was a blast. Lots of people gathered to enjoy the best event BBQ food served at one of these events, fantastic wine, great heartfelt country folk music, and the company of one another.

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Saturday morning, at 8:50 am, I started working through tasting wines, taking comprehensive notes for each, at the Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars. I took over 2 ½ hours to taste through about 55 wines, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience as John and Linda Compisi and Christopher Sawyer were also tasting and there were great conversations and cross talk over wines being tasted.

My favorite wines of the press tasting, in reverse alphabetical order, were the 2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Witching Stick Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir; 2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley; 2013 Phillips Hill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley; 2012 Husch Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir, Ella’s Reserve, Ferrington Vineyard (not a consensus choice, light, but stand out interesting); 2013 Drew Pinot Noir Fog-Eater Anderson Valley; 2013 Bink Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; and 2012 Baxter Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (tasted at the Grand Tasting).

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

The Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery was indeed grand, with smiling winemakers pouring for smiling attendees. The smiles were easy to come by, bought with some of the best wine and food imaginable, from among many of the county’s best producers.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Tom Liden, Mendocino County photographer extraordinaire, was on hand and his photos are as gorgeous as the wine and food served. Thanks for sharing, Tom.
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Next week, I’ll be recapping the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines.
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NOTE: This piece is scheduled to run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 28, 2015 and, instead of waiting for publication there before archiving here, I am running it here first for timeliness. The early reference to last week’s column will actually be a column that runs tomorrow, and be archived out of order shortly after, here.

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