In March, the World of Pinot Noir vintners' organization conducted its eighth annual event at Shell Beach. If you are serious about Pinot Noir, you should attend this event. More than 150 producers poured their best wines in walk-around tastings. The gathering included many educational events, special tastings and dinners. A sommelier friend of mine participated, and he came back raving about one particular winery, proclaiming its Pinot was great and its Syrah even better.
I contacted the winemaker, and he stated he would get back in touch and sent an invoice. Two months later I received an e-mail telling me he would deliver the wine to my house. He was worried about the weather and did not want his wine damaged in transit. He showed up on the minute, and we sat down for a visit and a glass of wine.
His name and the name of the winery is Etnyre. Ethan and his wife Karen Mikuni are doctors, both general practitioners. They live in Arroyo Grande, more than 200 miles away, and he delivers wine – maybe babies too, who knows?
The grapes are grown in their backyard vineyard, called Quin's Vineyard after their seven-year-old son, Quin. Etnyre uses the Talley production facility and receives whatever technical assistance he needs from their staff. I got the feeling he definitely knows what he wants and pretty much knows how to do it.
His current release is 2005. He only vinified a barrel of Pinot and less than a barrel of Syrah. There are approximately 25 cases in a barrel, not very much.
His trip to Northern California included stops at the Sardine Factory in Monterey, the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay and my house, also a drop-off for another buyer. The 2006 vintage will be released this fall, and as the yield was only a half-ton per acre, it appears there will not be an increase in production, but the fruit should be more intense.
I asked Etnyre if he knew of any other hidden treasures in his immediate area, and he mentioned two: the Sinor-Lavalee Wine Company and Paul Lato Wines.
Paul Lato, as it turns out, is no secret, as Robert Parker likes his wines and has scored them in the 90s. Lato looks for unique vineyards growing premium fruit. He also makes only Pinot Noir and Syrah, and by all accounts, he does a wonderful job. I am on his sold-out mailing list, and I will let you know when I get to try one of his wines.
Sinor-Lavalee is another husband and wife team. Compared to Etnyre Wines, their operation is huge, producing 400 cases. Mike and Cheri met at Cal Poly in the early 1990s, both working their way through school with various winery jobs. They started the winery in 1997. Their wedding took place in Beaune, so you can figure out that wine is a passion. They work with two quality vineyards, Talley-Rincon and Aubaine. This is a wine you can purchase, and I look forward to my first taste.
These people are not really home winemakers, as they are bonded and actively selling their wine. Many of these small producers used to be called "boutique" wineries. Now many are lumped under the "garage wine" category.
The two best-known garage (garagistes, in French) wines are in Bordeaux, Chateau Le Pin in Pomerol and Chateau Valandraud in St.-Emilion. Both are highly touted by Parker. A decent vintage of Le Pin costs upward of $4,000 per bottle and Valanraud runs $300 or $400 if you can find it.
These wines are highly extracted, big, high-alcohol wines. Garagistes are quite the rage, and numerous tiny producers are actually making wine in garages hoping to be the next Le Pin. Many well-known Bordeaux Chateaus are producing another label and putting them in the Vin de Garage class.