Last week I was back at the Barlow in Sebastopol, one of the neatest artisan shopping/dining districts in Sonoma County. This time, to visit a small producer of really good Pinot Noir- MacPhail Family Wines. I had been meaning to stop in here for a while now, and since I was in the area that day, thought no time like the present!
A Von Saal installation- the immense work towers 40-ft above the tasting bar. His intent was to symbolize grapes being crushed and poured into a glass.
You’re probably wondering what the heck that huge sculpture is- right? Well, it’s made up of 39 Red Radio Wagons- all sandwiched together. I’m told it took over 8 hours to do the installation with various lifts and lots of tall ladders…and a few fingers crossed for good measure. In the end, the art piece is a conversation-starter for certain and conveys the family’s sense of whimsy. The wagon symbol has played an important part in the MacPhail Family Wine’s history and continues to do so as they look towards the future. So the wagon story goes: Owner and Winemaker, James MacPhail, was in the backyard of his Healdsburg home (and former tasting room location) playing with his daughters one afternoon. The girls were riding around the yard in an old red wagon he had once shared with his sisters growing up. Something about the image struck him, bringing back memories of a simpler life and the joy his wagon brought him. That was it. The wagons became (and have remained) an integral component to his labels and winery identity ever since. The wagon theme was recently carried through on a new wine: the inaugural vintage of 2010 MacPhail “Flyer” Pinot Noir–which just happened to be the 2014 Cup Winner at the prestigious Pigs & Pinot event held annually by Charlie Palmer at Hotel Healdsburg. Not too shabby at all.
Producing just under 5,000 cases per year of small-batch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, James hopes to convey that same sense of nostalgia though his winemaking—by keeping the process simple, letting the personality of each vineyard and its fruit shine through, and allowing the final wine to convey joy to those who drink it.
As you steadfast pinotphiles can attest, Pinot Noir is all about the vineyard. The clones, vinification, blending, barrel/oak choices play a major role– of course–but the beauty of
good stunning Pinot Noir is how it expresses itself based on what it’s growing in. Meaning the soil type, the mixture of minerals, organic matter, gases, liquids, and myriad organisms that together support and feed the vine. And with this thought in mind, James sources his fruit from vineyards with serious pedigrees, including Toulouse Vineyard (one of my favorites in Anderson Valley) Pratt, Wildcat, Sangiacomo (all Sonoma Coast), Rose Rock Vineyard (Eola Hills in Oregon), Rita’s Crown Vineyard (Santa Rita Hills), and Sundawg Ridge and Dutton Ranch (both in Russian River Valley).
The atmosphere in the Tasting Lounge is bright, open, and welcoming. They moved the tasting room from Healdsburg to Sebastopol just about a year ago, giving them a new found exposure to Pinot (and Chardy) fans who frequent the Barlow. They offer several tastings including a Library and Terroir tasting. There’s also a wonderful Cheese & Wine Pairing you can do by reservation too.
It was towards the end of the day when visiting and our gracious host was very kind to offer tastes of quite a few wines they had open (and hey, we weren’t complaining). These are my top three Pinots from the tasting:
2012 MacPhail Pinot Noir, Wightman House Vineyard, Anderson Valley ($55.00)
I wasn’t familiar with this particular vineyard, but it’s one that offers a bigger style. Lots of the traditional baking spices were on the nose along with sweet cherries and other red fruits. It had a nice earthiness to it, very full on the palate. Long finish.
2012 MacPhail Pinot Noir, Toulouse Vineyard, Anderson Valley ($49.00)
This was outstanding! One of the best Pinots I’ve tried in a long time. Earthy, wild mushroom, mineral-laced and bright red fruits on the nose. The palate was complex with layers of more red fruits, spices, herbal notes, and a hint of acidity to balance out the intense structure. My kind of Pinot! Due to the tiny production (only 12 barrels), there’s a 6-bottle limit. I say you max that one out…. yes, it’s that good.
2011 MacPhail Pinot Noir, “The Flyer”, Russian River Valley ($59.00)
This is a beautifully executed combination of bright, red fruits with subtle hints of soil, dustiness and minerality. Russian River Pinot fruit is typically more overt than I usually like, but because of the blend of clones (Mt. Eden, Swan, 777 & Calera), coupled with expert winemaking, the juiciness is tamed and brought into line pairing so nicely with the other floral and herbacious notes. I can see why it was chosen as 2014 Cup Winner for Pigs & Pinot.
I didn’t really mention it, but their Chardonnay is outstanding as well. They produce a couple of different styles, so there’s something for everyone. And I’m not a huge Chard fan, so that says it all right there. Do yourself a favor and drop by the Barlow to taste the entire MacPhail portfolio and experience Pinot at its best.