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1998 Barrel Tasting Report

(March 21, 1999) So these two kids from Texas catch the wine bug and head to California with stars in their eyes. They get jobs at wineries, dream, scheme, save their pennies, work like fiends late into the night -- and before you know it, they’re making their own Pinot Noir!

     And what do you know? The stuff is good. Word of mouth spreads. Parker gives their first vintage 90 points. Wine Spectator gives them a feature page, with pictures, no less.

     They get married, work even harder, move into their own winery and...

     Nope, it’s not a fairy tale. It’s Siduri.

dianna&adamlee.jpg (27759 bytes)
Adam and Dianna Lee, beside their lone barrel of 1998 Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir. Yields were down for them this year, but quality was up. See below for notes on all the 1998 Siduris.

     Is America a great country, or what? In the space of five vintages, Adam and Dianna Lee have bootstrapped this operation into one of California’s hottest new Pinot Noir producers. Their 1997 vintage has already garnered high praise from the press (and me!)...

     ...and I’m here to tell you that 1998 may very well be their best yet.

     Really? 1998? Uh-huh. You may have heard some moaning about the vintage in general for Northern California. But the Siduri wines in barrel are dark, rich-tasting, deep and complex, across the board. I tasted the delicious ‘97s last year at a similar stage of evolution. Without question, the new ones are a notch above.

     How come? I can think of four reasons. First, from what I tasted at other wineries this week, 1998 produced some ace wines for folks who did the right things. Yields slumped as much as 50%, but quality could be terrific. Remember too that 1998 was generally a cooler year. So the growing season or "hang time" was often considerably longer. That’s supposed to be good for flavor intensity.

     Second, the Lees do all the right things out in the vineyard. They purchase their grapes, but they do so by the acre instead of the ton, so they can control their yields. They green-harvest, so the grapes ripen more easily. They sort fruit like fanatics -- and in 1998, they have already performed a further barrel-selection, with lighter barrels going into a lower-priced, California-designated blend.

     Third, they have their own winery now! Dianna tells me this gives them a lot more control over when and how they crush and make the wine. The new facility is gravity-fed -- from destemmer to press to barrel. They have an ultra-gentle new press. And they’re able to do slower, cooler fermentations, theoretically extracting more color and flavor.

siduriwinery.jpg (12155 bytes)
OPUS ONE IT AIN'T. Not from the outside view, anyhow. But, like Opus, the new Siduri facility is set up for gravity-fed winemaking.

     Fourth...okay, maybe they got lucky too. If so, they deserve it. Anyhow, here’s what I tasted:

*1998 California Pinot Noir. This is the new blend I mentioned earlier, containing lighter barrel selections from Pisoni, Hirsch and Van der Kamp Vineyards. Although it’s the lightest in color, it’s still a lot darker than the ‘97 Oregon. Nice brambly flavors with a hint of cherry.

***1998 Muirfield Vineyard (Oregon) Pinot Noir. Surprise! Muirfield vineyard supplied most of the grapes for the ‘96 and ‘97 Oregon -- but what a leap forward in quality this year. The wine is not completely through its malolactic fermentation, but never mind. Judging this one ain’t brain surgery. Very, very dark, with floral aromas and amazing flavor intensity. Pure blackberry juice that finishes long. TIED FOR WINE OF THE TASTING.

**1998 Hirsch Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir. In character with previous vintages. Very showy red raspberry and cherry flavors. Kirsch aftertaste. Sexy stuff without the hard tannins that Hirsch vineyard wines from other producers sometimes show.

***1998 Coastlands Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir. A new site for the Lees and seemingly a great one. Fabulous extraction, wonderful finish, what a Pinot Noir! But ooh, what a tease. The grapes were afflicted with uneven set and harvest yielded just 0.4 tons per acre -- so little fruit that the squeezings fill just one barrel. Available only to the futures list. Won’t be sold retail. TIED FOR WINE OF THE TASTING.

**+1998 Pisoni Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands) Pinot Noir. Close to the Muirfield in quality, but possibly more backward right now. Very pure, intense, with a hint of blueberry shading the black fruit.

*1998 Van der Kamp Vineyard (Sonoma Mountain) Pinot Noir. Like the Muirfield, this wine seems considerably more extracted than it’s 1997 sibling. Doesn’t have quite the pizzazz of the Oregon wine, but it’s very dark, thick and showing more berries than earlier vintages.

**1998 Archery Summit Vineyard (Oregon) Pinot Noir. Showing its site. A very different wine from any of the others in the tasting -- equally dark, but dominated by black currant and ripe blueberry flavors.

     Finally, an Un-Pinot...

** "Novy" Sonoma County Syrah. This wine will not be released under the Siduri label, say the Lees, but may form the basis for a new venture. It’s jet black. I was expecting a California fruit-bomb, but no -- it’s loaded with varietal character. Lots of pepper. Hints of meat. I find it tough judging a Syrah in the company of Pinot Noirs, but it seems like a winner to me that should please fans of French-style Syrah.

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