2017 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Valenti Ranch, Mendocino Ridge.
Jason Drew’s run as one of the state’s greatest winemakers continues with his latest set of wines and his Pinot collection, including this Valenti Ranch, are absolutely gorgeous wines. The warm year proved a challenge in some ways and the wines tended to be more overt at first glance and taste though this Valenti is really coming into its own at this stage proving the talent of Drew and it performed brilliantly last night with layers of black raspberry, plum, tangy currant that wrap nicely around its dark cherry fruit core that is lifted by earthy and spicy elements with dried herbs, truffle, orange tea, crushed flowers and subtle wood toast accents. This 2017 vintage of the Drew Valenti Ranch Pinot Noir, according to its winemaker, includes Dijon 667, 828, Pommard and the newer grafting section of Rochioli clone. Situated just six miles from the Pacific Ocean on an east facing ridge at between 1,200 to 1,350 feet above sea level, the Valenti Ranch is located along the Greenwood Ridge and the vineyard lies in both the Mendocino Ridge and Anderson Valley AVA’s, but produces the distinctive ultra cool climate profile from the Mendocino Ridge. The constant maritime winds coupled with thin marginal Ornbaun Series soils of oceanic sedimentary origins, which Drew says lends itself to naturally lower yields and gives the wines their character, concentration and depth with vibrant energy coming from the refreshing acidity. This translates, as Jason adds, into greater intensity at lower sugar levels, with natural alcohols well under 14% and balanced structures. Drew have been working with this vineyard for 13 years now, and he took over the farming lease in 2013, making it almost an extension of his estate and he continues to farm Valenti with organic methods. This place lends itself to smaller berry size and naturally lower yields, again making these wines so sensational and of fantastic quality. This silken dark ruby and garnet Pinot gains and changes dramatically in the glass, I recommend allowing it to fully open and make sure it has simple and fresh cuisine to match it, wild mushroom dishes and grilled salmon are solid pairings here.

Jason Drew, who along with his wife Molly started Drew Family Cellars in 2000, has years of experience with cool climate sites and as he puts it honed his skills in vineyard farming and winemaking, having studied in both the northern and southern hemispheres, in Agroecology, Viticulture achieving his Graduate Degree in Enology from the University of Adelaide, in Australia. His attention to detail and work ethic has seen him work for and with some industry icons and wineries in California including at St. Supery alongside Kirk Grace as well as at Joseph Phelps with Craig Williams, at Luna with John Kongsgaard, at Carmenet with Jeff Baker, along with one of my all time favorites Corison with Cathy Corison and at Babcock Vineyards with Brian Babcock, which makes a total of more than 28 years in the business. With this 2017 vintage, which saw an unwelcome heat spike around Labor Day has been decidedly different, more lush and luxuriously rich when I fist tasted a few and a touch awkward to evaluate, but the wine look like they have really turned the corner and revealing their true nature and potential, especially this Valenti Ranch Pinot, which is delivering all the complexity and depth you’d expect from one of the best wineries in California. Jason used 100% native yeasts and about 10% whole cluster in the fermentation, finishing at a cool 13.2% natural alcohol, a bit less whole bunches than per normal, but still every bit as expressive, and he aged this 2017 in about 25% new French oak with the balance seeing elevage in well seasoned neutral barriques. Drew gently handled this one, as he does with all his Pinots and just did two gravity rackings during the wine’s 11 months in barrel. As mentioned, maybe a million times in the last few years, these Drew wines are some of the greatest being made in California, they are in an elite league, in fact I would put these Pinots up against the best of Burgundy and the Syrahs against the classics of the Northern Rhone, with this Valenti Pinot reminding me a lot of Morey Saint Denis in the Cote de Nuits, its evolution in depth and texture the glass is outstandingly impressive!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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