Porter Creek, Pinot Noir 2019, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA
This quintessential example of a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir shows elements of wild strawberry and fresh forest floor on the nose and a luscious textural balance on the palette.
APPELLATION (AVA): Russian River Valley
REGION: Sonoma County
VINEYARDS: Porter Creek Estate
GRAPES: Pinot Noir
SOIL: Sandy Loam
PRACTICE: Certified Organic & Biodynamic
VINIFICATION: De-stemmed, less than 30% new oak, hand punchdowns, natural yeasts, minimal intervention
COLOR: Pale Ruby
BODY: Light (1-2)
PRIMARY AROMAS: Wild strawberry, fresh earth,
FLAVOR: Soft texture, balanced smooth finish
FORMAT: 750 ml
SERVICE AND SUGGESTION: Pair with oily fish, earthy mushrooms, or game such as quail or duck.
ABOUT THE PRODUCER:
For us, it began in 1978, when founder, George R. Davis, purchased the Estate. The property had young Pinot Noir vines, some of which are still producing today at 45 years old. Davis first improved the existing vineyards and then planted the remaining plantable acreage. Finally he was able to get one of the old barns on the property bonded for wine production in 1982. This was a very exciting and formative time for Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. It was in 1983 that the Russian River Valley became a recognized American Viticultural Area, and there were just a handful of us betting our livelihood on Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir was so underappreciated at that time that George was actually forced to plant more Chard. and less Pinot Noir than he wanted to by his banker and farm advisor, who saw no future in Pinot Noir is the Russian River Valley!
George was self-taught winemaker for the most part. As an avid reader, he studied every book he could find on subjects ranging from winemaking technical information to Burgundian winegrower’s philosophy. He had lots of conversations with other local winemakers and then ended up renting part of his winery to other winemakers and learned from them. (Sometimes it was leaning what not to do!)
While George was quite proud of his achievements, he saw the value in formal winemaking training and had a longing for the depth in the Pinot Noirs that he tasted from Burgundy. To that end, he encouraged his son Alex to study winemaking on a university level and then go on to work multiple vintages in Burgundy.
Alex Davis grew up rolling barrels, driving tractors and tending vines as George’s chief “gopher.” At that stage, he was not drawn towards academics, although he did come home with first place in the FFA California statewide grapevine-pruning contest. His interest grew as he studied with peers at Santa Rosa Junior College and Fresno State University.
While attending Fresno State, Alex worked summers locally at Sonoma Cutrer where he was introduced to Monsieur Feuillat, the director of the Oenologie program at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon France. Monsieur Feuillat was kind enough to connect Alex with a harvest job with Christophe Roumier, who is by almost all accounts considered to be one of the greatest winemakers in Burgundy. It was there that Alex gained a deeper appreciation for the benefit smaller scale estate winegrowing, which is the extremely close relationship between the farming in vineyard and the final product. Learning under a master, Alex gained an understanding of how winemaking is adapted from vineyard to vineyard as well as from year to year. Plus Alex enjoyed seeing a willingness to “throw the book out” at times when academic training might inhibit a wine’s full development.
After this experience, Alex was excited and wanted more. So he reconnected with Monsieur Feuillat and enrolled in a one year program at the Université de Bourgogne, studying both Viticulture and Enology. Just before the school year, Alex fit in another harvest in Burgundy, this time working predominantly with Chard. with Michelot-Mestre families in Meursault.
While at the university in Dijon, Alex met students from winegrowing regions all over France and even a few other international students. Often the students would get together, bringing wines from each person’s region or where they had worked, and then long conversations would ensue late into the night discussing the relative merits of each growing region and its winemaking approach.
One of the friends that Alex made in Dijon, was Philippe Guigal from the northern Rhone Valley, and he eventually ended up working yet another harvest season with his family at Domain E. Guigal as their first foreign intern. Before the harvesting began, Alex’s job was hiking up and down some of the steepest vineyards in the world, taking grape samples with Marcel Guigal, and then working side by side with his experienced cellar crew until the last wine was in barrel.
In early 1997, Alex fit a fourth harvest abroad in South Africa. He then came back to Porter Creek on a full time basis that year. After “just a little” negotiating, George eventually let go of the winemaking role and retained his management role in the vineyards. Alex continued with his father’s quest to produce delicate, nuanced wines, even though the trend du jour, was going towards richer, heavier wines. In the first year, Alex converted all of the fermentations to native yeast, and wanted to convert the vineyards to organic farming. Initially concerned about the extra cost that this would incur, George did his own research and had his own revelations. In the end he decided to go even further and convert the vineyards to Biodynamic Farming. By 2003 our estate vineyards were Demeter Certified Biodynamic, well before it was as popular as it is today.
Today George is still active in some of the administrative aspects of the business, but spends most of his time split between his life long passion of boating and as Vice President of the California Farmers Union and the State Organization on the Board of the National Farmers Union (a non-partisan lobbying group that advocates for small farmers and responsible farming).
Taking the example from his mentors in Burgundy, Alex has worked really hard to remain on the ground level with his staff in the vineyards and winery to create truly hands-on, hand-crafted wines.
ABOUT THE VINEYARDS:
“I believe that an ecologically minded farming approach goes hand in hand with a gentle handed winemaking approach. My first priority in the vineyard is maintaining healthy soil, rich in organic matter, high in microbiological activity and avoiding soil compaction that inhibits the vines roots systems. At significant expense, we go about this by using compost, limiting soil cultivation, avoiding herbicides and using a specialized ultra low ground pressure tractors.
I believe that creating conditions that favor biodiversity are very important since, by definition, wine grapes are a monoculture crop, which tends to limit biodiversity. I allow native, volunteer and some seeded plants to grow both under the vines and in rows, with the thought that a multitude of plants, having roots at various depths will promote both microbiological diversity and overall microbiological activity. In between parcels, I maintain large strips of undeveloped grass and woodland zones.
The often foggy, cool weather patterns that we get in this part of the Russian River Valley produce wine with great acidity and depth, but it does come with the steep price of very high mildew pressure. Rather than reaching for the strongest pesticides available, I rely on good, old-fashioned work ethic and careful timing of our vine tending. All of our quality oriented procedures such as shoot positioning, shoot thinning, crop thinning and careful pruning also reduce the demands on the natural products that we use to prevent mildew. The new vineyard installations on the estate have close row spacing, high vine density, and careful orientation to sun exposure.
The steep terrain in our vineyards have qualitative attributes of promoting well drained soils and naturally lower yields, but can be erosion prone and cause safety issues with the farm equipment. The largest agricultural pollutant in Sonoma County is the siltation of streams caused by erosion so we encourage dense cover crops in the wetter months of the year, with strategically placed surface drains and bio-catchment zones near riparian areas, where appropriate. To deal with the rugged conditions, we use exotic European tractors built for similar conditions. Much of the farm equipment has on-site, customized fabrication features.
Our estate vineyards have been certified Organic and Biodynamic since 2003 and while about 1/3 of grapes come from purchased grapes, I only work with growers with a similar approach. My bare minimum requirement for purchased fruit is that there are absolutely no synthetic chemicals used. Most of the grape purchase agreements are sealed with a hand shake rather than third party written contracts.” -Alex Davis, Winemaker