Pinot Noir to people moving away from
Moscato, saying they are too sweet now.
Moscato was the ‘gateway’ wine, but now
they want to branch out and try some reds,
so Pinot Noir makes sense.”
Still at the Movies?
Other industry members point to the pae-
an to Pinot Noir,
Sideways
—not because
so many people saw it and were converted
(the 2004 movie grossed $71 million,
a relative pittance for Hollywood), but
because it made the casual wine drinker
aware there was something more to try
than the usual red wines.
“There’s an insecurity in the wine-
consuming public,” says Donny Sebastiani
of Don Sebastiani & Sons, whose family
has been making wine in California for
four generations. “Sometimes, they need
something to guide them in their wine se-
lection, and in this case it was
Sideways
.”
Guidance might be a strong term but the
film’s belittling of Merlot and elevation of
Pinot Noir became fodder around Ameri-
can water coolers; even people who never
saw the movie could catch on to the gist
of Pinot Noir being hip.
The other advantage of these Pinots,
in large part because of the style that Mark
West pioneered, is that they are easier to
drink—softer, lower in alcohol, less acidic
and less tannic, with a smoother fruit pro-
file than Cabernet and Merlot.
Purists may like to dismiss under-$15
Pinot as sub-standard, not true Pinot, etc.,
but the bulk of America is not keen on
debating varietal character; they just like
what they like. Or, as Keith Roberts, the
owner of Vintage Cellars, a 4,000-square-
foot fine wine shop in Blacksburg, VA,
where Castle Rock and Bronco’s Coastal
Vines are among the best-selling un-
der–$15 Pinots, says: “As long as there is
vanilla oak, people go
yum, yum
.”
This kind of wine doesn’t have the
dark earthiness of red Burgundy, given the
cost limitations and terroir differences, but
most of the Mark West–style wines are
much better made than comparably priced
Pinot Noirs from elsewhere in France and
often taste more like Pinot Noir. And Or-
egon Pinots, for all their quality and style,
hardly exist at less than $15.
Those who argue that these new-style
Pinots don’t taste like traditional Pinot—
whether from Burgundy, Oregon or even
Santa Barbara—point to the grapes often
used to fill out the wine, including Gre-
nache, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and
even Refosco, Tannat and Dornfelder,
and which turn it into a very fruit-forward
wine (as well as keep the price down).
McIntyre, however, thinks those ar-
guments miss the point. “I don’t think
customers will care if their inexpensive
Pinot isn’t 100% pure,” says McIntyre.
“They won’t know. Geekier customers
will want truth in adver-
tising. And we’ll always
be guessing what other
grapes are in that bottle
of dark, brooding Cali-
fornia Pinot, no matter
the price.”
And, says Gallo’s
Stephanie Gallo, her
company hasn’t seen this as a problem,
either: “Consumers will try Pinot Noir
and discover its distinctive taste pro-
file. It is because of this distinctive taste
profile that consumers will continue to
repurchase Pinot Noir.”
That enough Pinot could exist, given
the grape’s legendary fickleness, is the
other surprise. But, says Cecchetti, that’s
not necessarily true any more. As recently
as the 2000s, he says, it was difficult to
source Pinot. But as demand increased,
growers planted more—lots and lots
more. The U.S. Department of Agricul-
ture reports that Pinot acreage increased
in California by almost 50% from 2001 to
2012, compared to 18% for all red grapes.
In addition, newviticulture techniques,
including improved canopy management
and irrigation, plus better approaches to
crop management, make it easier to grow
Pinot successfully—and not just in Califor-
nia’s cooler, more Pinot-friendly climates,
says Bronco winemaker Bob Stashak. All
of Bronco’s Pinot grapes come from the
San Joaquin Valley, and while the wines
don’t have red Burgundy’s earthiness or
mushrooms, the Pinot Noirs Stashak and
his seven colleagues make (mostly Pinot
blended with one of the aforementioned
grapes), “don’t seem to cause many prob-
lems. The wines are elegant and tasty.
They may not have the whole gamut of fla-
vors, but you can get the nice fruit flavors,
the strawberry and plum.”
Plus, they don’t cost a lot. Here in
America in 2013, what more could a wine
drinker want?
Based in Dallas, TX, Jeff Siegel’s Wine Curmudgeon
(winecurmudgeon.com) was awarded this year’s Best
Wine Industry/Business Blog.
Affordable Pinot Noir
Bronco Wine Co.
vineyards and wine-
maker Bob Stashak
Pinot acreage increased
in California by almost
50% from 2001 to 2012,
compared to 18% for all
red grapes.
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