September 16, 2009
The entrance to Buena Vista is preceded by the huge stump of a Live Oak that must have been awesome in its prime. Bleached almost white from the unsheltered sun, it stands as rooted to the spot as the winery itself. Buena Vista was founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy. Now there’s a name that falls trippingly from the tongue. It is California’s oldest premium winery and still one of the best for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Their vineyards near San Pablo Bay in the Carneros region yield high quality fruit for these wines. The terroir permits a long growing season which combined with the stressing of the vines produce smaller, more intense grapes for making great wines. Buena Vista established these large blocks of vines in 1969, one of the first wineries to recognize the potential of what is now one of the best wine producing regions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They also have smaller blocks of Merlot and Syrah that benefit from the longer growing season.
Joe Trude, the knowledgeable counterman, was gracious even though I had neglected to call ahead that the Southwestern Wine Guy was coming. I’d been remiss in alerting the winery, but Joe was unstinting in the welcome we received. This always bodes well when visiting a tasting room.
The tasting included Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, representing their Carneros series and a new series featuring limited-production, clone specific wines also from Carneros. The 2006 Ramal Vineyard Chardonnay – Dijon clone definitely displayed the flavors of its native origins in Burgundy. There are actually a number of Dijon clones, numbers 75, 76, 95, 96 at my last count, which have been used in California and also with great success in Oregon where the shorter growing season produced harder, acidic wines before Dijon cuttings were tried.
This wine had the same wonderful minerality of their French cousins, or is that siblings? I never can tell about grape relationships. The Carneros terroir also contributed to the elegance of this selection. The tasting notes were interesting to read if a bit overwrought, which is often the case. The notes mentioned a bouquet that included subtle matchstick. So would that be like a match that doesn’t ignite when struck?
The 2005 Ramal Vineyard Pinot Noir, which uses the Clone-5 Pommard, was so good I bought a bottle to go. Earthy red and dark fruit and wondrously soft palate and long finish made this one irresistible. The notes mentioned that this one was ripe and explosive. I guess that means no subtle matchstick. I put the Pinot to the test later when we had dinner at Nick’s Cove on Tamales Bay, Point Reyes. I’ll have more to say about that in another blog.
The last wine I tried was a selection from the Atlas Peak Elevation Club. The club is entrée to some of the best Napa Cabs around. The one my eye locked on was the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain. Even the copious wine notes could not do justice to this Cab. In my less knowledgeable wine life, I only thought of Howell Mountain as a good bicycle climb. But it is also where some of the best cult wines originate.
I gave Joe my most pleading look as I asked for a taste. “I knew you’d do that,” he said. What, he knows my mind better than me? Hmm, good guy to have around. Do visit them when you’re next in Sonoma, or check out the excellent website if you can’t wait that long. Salut!