2017 Storm Wines, Pinot Noir, Donnachadh Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
Ernst Storm’s 2017 Donnachadh Pinot is dead ringer for a tasty Savigny Les Beaune or a little Volnay with elegant reds fruits, smoky mineral tones and supple and silky texture with a sense of earthy charm and delicate floral notes, plus a touch of classic reductive funk that adds an old world complexity to this vintage. The Donnachadh Vineyard, Storm notes, (pronounced “done uh kah”) is located in the heart of Sta. Rita Hills on Santa Rosa Road and is planted on a steep hillside block that is set on marine derived shales with a high clay content soils with loose rock and cobbles strewn about the vines. The constant cool winds off the nearby Pacific Ocean make, as Ernst says, for challenging conditions to get the timing right here and results in smaller yields on this serve location, but the grapes are full of intensity, deep concentration and retain loads of natural acidity. This year’s Donnachadh has plush dark cherries, racy plum, strawberry and pomegranate fruits that are supported by fine flinty mineral notes, a touch of thyme, subtle toasty wood, cinnamon and orange and rose petal tea. This Pinot will intrigue Burgundy fans and it seduces lovers of nuanced wines with graceful textural excellence, all making it a joy with lighter foods and especially salmon and or Ahi tartare. Each of Storm’s wines are made from the vineyard and what the year gives and he does his best to capture the nature of each in the bottle using traditional techniques to hand craft his wines, preferring native yeast fermentation and aging his wines in more neutral vessels with the Pinots seeing mainly used French oak, while his Sauvignon Blanc sees some acacia wood.

It has been a great experience watching these recent releases of the California Storm wines improve and settle into their grove after first tasting them in the 2012 vintage, after tasting the South African versions made by Ernst’s brother Hannes, who’s lineup is also outstanding. Ernst Storm, who set up his California label back in 2006 or so, grew up in South Africa and completed his studies at Elsenburg Agricultural School, which is just outside the town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. After completing his final year, Ernst worked as a winemaker in the Stellenbosch region and also spent two harvests in the cooler Walker Bay region in South Africa, where Pinot and Chard do exceptionally well. During this period he was also consulting on a few smaller projects with his brother Hannes Storm, who does his own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, an area that should be on your radar for outstanding Burgundy styled cool climate wines. At that time Ernst learned the arts that have brought him success in crafting balanced wines made from Pinot Noir and interestingly Sauvignon Blanc, both of which he does fabulously well with here. Ernst found Santa Barbara County after making wines throughout California and saw a lot of potential for carving out a niche for his style of winemaking and formed Storm Wines, which was started with just 6 barrels in 2006. Santa Barbara’s and Santa Maria’s Mediterranean climate shares many similarities with that of the Western Cape and the diverse soils and microclimates within these counties, as Storm adds, make it a region with endless possibilities to explore and a great place for him to express himself. This is serious stuff, I highly recommend checking out Ernst’s wines as soon as possible.
($55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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