Pinot Noir’s New Paradise
Pinot Noir lovers are well aware of regions and appellations like Carneros, Russian River Valley, Green Valley, Anderson Valley, Santa Barbara, Santa Lucia Highlands and Oregon. They are recognized as being the sources of America’s best Pinots. Yet, there is a move afoot to find recognition for a region that seems to be remarkably well suited for this grape that needs cool temperatures and loving producers.
Marin County is squeezed between San Francisco to its south, Sonoma County to its North, San Francisco Bay to its east and the Pacific Ocean to its east. I grew up here and know the county well. People still remember the bad rap the county got in the 1970s for being the home of very eclectic people. What many don’t know about Marin County is that it is a place of amazing beauty, particularly its western reaches where dairies once ruled the day, where a shoreline including Point Reyes National Seashore is unmatched in its wildness and beauty, and where a group of very savvy vintners are establishing Pinot Noir vineyards.
A Celebration of Marin County Pinot Noir
The first-ever tasting of Marin County-grown Pinot Noir wines will happen on Wednesday June 1 from 5pm to 8pm at the historic (and rarely open to the public) Escalle Winery at 771 Magnolia Avenue near downtown Larkspur, only minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge. Among the wineries that are making Marin County Pinot Noir and who will be on hand to pour them are Dutton-Goldfield, Niebaum-Coppola, Pey-Marin Vineyards, Pt. Reyes Vineyard, Stubbs Vineyard, Sean Thackrey and Vision Cellars. Benefiting the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, A Celebration of Marin County Pinot Noir cost $20. Tickets can be purchased at the Dutton-Goldfield Website.
Anyone who is familiar with the western part of Sonoma County and the Pinot that is grown there would look at the green rolling hills of west Marin, feel the cool breezes that rush across those hills from the Pacific and think, "Perfect for Pinot". It turns out that Marin once had thriving vineyards in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The first vineyards were planted in 1817 when the mission arrived in what would become the Marin city of San Rafael. These vineyards were eventually lost to Urban expansion.
MARIN COUNTY’S TIGHT-BUNCHED PINOT NOIR
Today about 150 acres of mainly Pinot Noir, Riesling and Merlot are planted in Marin. A number of different microclimates exist, which suggests that a number of different varieties could be planted. What will hold off development of more vineyards is the cost of land in West Marin. However, as more Marin County wines are produced and as their quality becomes recognized you will probably see more vineyards developed. I was told by the owner of Pey-Marin Vineyard that Chalone recently planted some acreage in Marin.
Artisan Pinot Noir producers tend to be explorers and risk takers. They are just the type of people who are constantly looking for a better piece of land on which to grow their notoriously difficult grape. Marin seems just the place for them to branch out. The best-known winemaker to stake a claim to Marin Pinot is Dan Goldfield of Dutton-Goldfield winery, one of the best Pinot houses in America. I highly recommend you go the Celebration of Marin County Pinot Noir and taste his 2002 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir. It is remarkable!
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