Twins Bob and Jim Varner Grow and Make Some Of California's Most Compelling Pinot Noir
three-bottles-and-a-glass-Varner

Singular Pinot Noir...

Twin brothers, Jim and Bob Varner are responsible for planting, growing and making some of California's most compelling Pinot Noir. They had been growing Chardonnay on Spring Ridge Vineyard since the 80's, but in 1995 they embarked on planting Pinot Noir. Their approach was similar to planting Pinot Noir as it was to Chardonnay, in small block parcels. The Spring Ridge Vineyard is a unique site. It is situated next to an open space preserve and sits on a property that spans elevations from 500 ft to 1800 ft. in the Santa Cruz Mountains. One ridge away from the Pacific Ocean only 10 miles away as the crow flies. This protected area experiences typical Bay Area maritime weather but at the altitude which the vineyard sits, the nights are even cooler and daytime highs are less sizzling, making it ideal for grape growing. The Varners make three single-block Pinot Noirs: Picnic, Hidden, and Upper Picnic. The blocks are small; combined, they total 6.5 acres. 

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Bob-opening-wine
Earlier in the month, not long after ten o'clock when we unlock our front door and begin the business day, in walked a man who apologetically asked if we were open. If I am sitting at my work station and look towards the door, people entering the store are back lit, so recognizing someone can be a challenge at first glance. I stood up and quickly knew who it was. Bob Varner. Well, that's not entirely true. Bob and his twin brother, Jim, look awfully alike, so it was considerate of him to stretch out his hand and greet us with "Bob Varner". At TWH, we've been lucky to have these unexpected visits from the Varner brothers. Sometimes it is Jim and sometimes it is Bob. Their visits are always a highlight to working here, but this last visit was particularly meaningful and memorable. The last couple years have found the Varners facing many challenges, not the least of which, they will no longer be making wine from Spring Ridge Vineyard. The 2014 vintage is their last. 



Bob lead me through the newly released 2014 Pinot Noirs. He started with a refresher course about the site, how the sedimentary rock is a combination of clay and loam and is almost sponge-like, explaining that when it rains, the water drains away in minutes. He went on to tell me that they dry farm, use no fertilizers and grow natural cover crops. The first wine we tasted was the 2014 Hidden Block. It was very open-armed and generous right out of the bottle. Hidden Block is planted to a clone of Pinot Noir called Dijon 115 and is north-facing. Bright, red cherry fruit rushes out of glass and lingers on the palate. Aged in French barrel, about 20-30% new (as do the other blocks), it is remarkable how well integrated the wood is with the fruit. A seamless structure. Next came the 2014 Picnic Block. It is the lowest vineyard, sitting at 600 feet and has the shallowest soil. A darker fruit profile than the Hidden Block, the acid perception is also more intense. The wine has real energy. They chose to go with an "elegant" barrel, one that has no heavy char. Next up was the 2014 Upper Picnic. Here, the Pinot Noir was grafted on to Gewurztraminer that was originally planted in 1981. Bob described the energy of the plants as old-vine. Upper Picnic is separated by only ten feet from the Picnic Block, but it has a bit more soil. It is always the last block to be harvested. The flavors are denser with red cherries galore, but the wine remains elegant throughout. One vineyard, three blocks of Pinot Noir: all three subtly different, but all three amazing. 
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Varner wines are the result of thirty-five years of hard work. Self-financed, they sold grapes long before making it commercially. They took on a long cycle of planting, as they didn't want to make any mistakes. Bob explained to me that "over time, site will dominate". All their decisions, all their attention to detail in the winery (i.e. they designed their own tanks) was an effort to take all that they learned along the way to carefully choreograph the outcome. Bob told me that his passion for making wine rests in the interplay of Science and Art. After Bob left the store, I was overwhelmed by emotion. I was thankful for this industry that gives me an opportunity to meet people like Bob (and his brother). Making wine is not a vanity project but a way of life for the Varners. Great people, great wine. Do not miss out on the 2014 Pinot Noirs from Varner. Just don't. 

- Anya Balistreri
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"The 2014 Pinot Noir Hidden Block is the most immediate and dense of the four Pinots in the Varner range. A core of sweet red cherry and plum fruit fills out the wine's mid-weight frame effortlessly. Round, pliant and totally seductive, the 2014 has a lot to offer, including tons of near and medium-term appeal."

93 points from Galloni for Vinous.

"The 2014 Pinot Noir Picnic Block is bold, powerful and beautifully resonant on the palate. Succulent red cherry and plum fruit is nicely pushed forward, with pretty floral and savory notes that add striking aromatic complexity. There is lovely depth and texture to this pungent, racy Pinot Noir from Bob and Jim Varner. Beams of tannin underpin the subtle yet persistent, structured finish."

93 points from Galloni for Vinous.



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"The 2014 Pinot Noir Upper Picnic is all class. Silky tannins and expressive, perfumed aromatics give the wine unreal finesse. Just as compelling on the palate, the 2014 is absolutely exquisite in its understated, nuanced expression of the Santa Cruz Mountains. What a gorgeous wine it is. The Upper Picnic is the most elegant of these four Pinots."

95 points from Galloni for Vinous.


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Domaine Michel Bouzereau: Burgundy For Grown Ups

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 4:45 PM

 

 

 

Tasting with Jean-Baptiste Bouzereau in January of this year I was overwhelmed by the absolute “deliciousness” of his 2009’s. I have never tasted a vintage of white Burgundy that was just so perfect at such an early age. This doesn’t mean the wines won’t age; I think they’ll be beautiful for several years, but they are just so enjoyable already that you just won’t be able to keep your hands off them. You may have heard this quote before, but the source lay here, as Jean-Baptiste said during our tasting, “If the pleasure is there for the taking, why resist it?”

The Bourgogne Blanc, which has been in stock before, just continues to impress. It’s as close as you can get to good Meursault without paying the price for good Meursault. Speaking of which, the Meursault Les Tessons is simply screamin’ great right now – a beautiful blend of fruit and minerality with that ‘come-hither’ look that is pretty alluring! The Premier Cru offerings are a step up, and while also quite tempting and scrumptious now, will reward after just a little cellar time. – David Netzer

Burghound‘s Allen Meadows’ reviews listed below:

2009 Domaine Michel Bouzereau Bourgogne Blanc

A very fresh and appealingly bright nose of white flower, straw and nut nuances leads to round and fleshy flavors that are quite forward, indeed to the point that this could easily be drunk and enjoyed now. There is a slight touch of warmth on the vibrant finish but overall, this is quite pretty for what it is.

2009 Domaine Michel Bouzereau Meursault Les Tessons

A subtle hint of SO2 and reductive notes presently dominate the nose though hints of ripe pear and flowers can also be discerned. There is good density and richness to the solidly voluminous flavors that possess fine dry extract that buffers the firm acidity and discreet minerality of the racy and dry finish. This is a bit awkward today but the underlying material is such that this should be an extremely good villages in time.

2009 Domaine Michel Bouzereau Meursault Les Charmes

A pure and very Meursault nose of hazelnut, pear and soft floral notes that gives way to rich, intense and utterly delicious flavors that possess an abundance of dry extract that confers a seductive texture upon the mouth coating and impressively complex finish. This lovely effort exudes energy and it should age well over the medium-term.

2009 Domaine Michel Bouzereau Meursault Les Genevrieres

A classic Genevrières nose features spice and slightly exotic fruit aromas that complement the equally spicy, pure, intense and fleshy flavors that deliver superb length on the balanced, mineral-inflected and mouth coating finish. Like the Charmes, there is an abundance of dry extract that should ensure excellent aging potential.

 







2009 Domaine
Michel Bouzereau Puligny Montrachet Champs Gains

Here the sulfur* is no longer subtle and I would strongly suggest decanting this if you’re going to try one young. There is good richness to the overtly ripe yet detailed flavors that possess plenty of dry extract yet the finish is distinctly hard. I suspect that it’s the sulfur that is causing the hardness as the ’09 vintage is not given to this sort of aggressiveness nor is Champ Gains typically like this either. A bit of patience as the SO2 is absorbed will see things righted.

*TWH Note: Mr. Meadows’ notes first appeared in the February 1, 2011 issue of Burghound. We’ve opened a couple of bottles ourselves recently, and the wine is showing spectacularly! The SO2 has blown off, allowing for the soft mineral, snappy pear-like fruit, and lively finish to shine.

Jean-Baptiste makes Red Burgundy as well. When negociante Jeanne-Marie de Champs last visited us, we were all treated to a taste of this fantastic Volnay, and you should have seen the dogfight over who got to take the remainder home! Elegant aromas of brambly red berries, incense, cola, and earth reveal the precision and purity of this signature Volnay. Easy entry on the palate, it is marked by harmonious balance, great weight and elegance. It is Red Burgundy for grown ups. The finish is lengthy and complex with all nuance fading slowly and evenly. This is delicious juice!Peter Zavialoff

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New Domestic Arrivals: Spotlight on Bedrock Wine Company

Thursday, September 1, 2011 5:26 PM

Bedrock Wine Company is no longer some little known, up and coming winery.  Quite the contrary, winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson is clearly a leading force in the making of California’s most intriguing wines from unique, often historical vineyards along the North Coast.  Only a few hundred cases made of this and a few of that, so nothing stays on the shelf for long.  Any self-describing Zinfandel lover must try the Bedrock and the Lorenzo’s… You owe it to yourself! – Anya Balistreri

*Notes from Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, May/June 2011:

2010 Sonoma Coast Syrah

2009 Sonoma County Cuvée Caritas90 POINTS
(A 55/45 blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc): Bright yellow-gold. High-pitched aromas of grapefruit rind, green apple and white flowers, with musky lees and smoky nuances adding complexity. Concentrated and tactile, with very good cut to its intense citrus and floral flavors. Has a firm backbone and closes with very good, chewy persistence.

2009 Old Lakeville Vineyard Syrah92 POINTS
(vinified with 40% whole clusters): Bright violet. Intense scents of blackberry, cherry-cola and candied violet, with strong mineral and spicecake accents. Shows energetic, peppery, very pure flavors of dark berries and candied flowers. Picks up a wild herb note on the back, finishing sweet and impressively long, with lingering suggestions of tangy minerals and allspice.

2010 The Bedrock Heirloom Vineyard, Sonoma Valley

2009 Lorenzo’s Heirloom, Dry Creek Valley90 POINTS
(A blend based on 50% zinfandel and 25% carignane): Opaque purple. Powerful, ripe cherry and blackcurrant aromas are deepened by strong mineral and violet tones. A rich, rather brooding style, with chewy texture and deep, liqueur-like dark fruit flavors. Finishes ripe and very long, with powerful tannins; this could use some time to loosen up.

2009 Kick Ranch Syrah92 POINTS
Inky purple. Rich, pungent aromas of singed plum, blackberry, cherry compote and espresso, plus a hint of licorice. Full and weighty but lively as well, with strong cherry and plum flavors accented by dark chocolate, espresso and candied violet. Finishes with pliant, harmonious tannins and excellent persistence. This decidedly rich, powerful wine would work well with grilled meats or strong cheeses. There’s 5% viognier in here and all of the grapes were destemmed; it’s carrying 15.1% alcohol but I get no heat.

2009 Rebecca’s Vineyard Pinot Noir90 POINTS
Bright red. Vibrant redcurrant and cherry aromas are enlivened by fresh rose, Indian spices and zesty minerality. Bright red berry and bitter cherry flavors are framed by silky tannins and given lift by a hint of tangy blood orange. Puts on weight with air and picks up a darker blackberry note, finishing with very good clarity and nervy cut.

2010 Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel

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Pinot Noir for Now

Monday, July 28, 2008 2:17 PM

Let’s talk about weddings … again. This Saturday I will be officiating my friends’ wedding. I’ve never done it before, but I’ve been practicing quite a lot. I feel prepared, and I’m looking forward to it. Wine figures into the ceremony, so we’re going to use some 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that we made (still making, really) in their basement. The winemaking has been a group effort that their family and friends have been a part of, so it is appropriate in a symbolic way.



Since the wine isn’t actually done (it’s slowly and I mean slowly trudging through malolactic fermentation), or legal to sell for that matter, I can’t offer it here. It tastes pretty good though, so if anyone wants to meet me in a dark alley with an envelope of cash, I can offer you a small allocation on futures. In the meantime, I’ll pay tribute to the upcoming nuptials with this delightful Pinot Noir that recently landed in our warehouse. You may say it’s odd to honor such an event with e-commerce, but I’m complicated like that, that’s the way I roll, et cetera, etc. I am truly excited for them, they’re a terrific couple as well as great friends. It’s going to be both beautiful and a lot of fun.

Now, how about some analogical fun comparing this wine to the ideals of marriage? Yay! My favorite. In marriage we seek purity and honesty; we want to be true to ourselves, and it’s nice if we provide happiness along the way. We want the same from Pinot Noir. While some varieties such as Chardonnay take well to the morphing and molding of the winemaker, Pinot Noir must remain true to itself if it is to be successful. It also has to taste good. It’s time to stop drinking Pinot Noir just because it is Pinot Noir. That’s why we buy less and less in the $10-$15 range for our store. It’s no fun to make excuses for a wine whose only virtue is its price point. Luckily Chauvenet-Chopin is making Bourgogne. Peter wrote about the 2005, which was great, and now I’m charmed by the classic 2006. This is pure and honest Pinot Noir, true to itself and its lineage in Burgundy. It wins me with its lovely aromas, supple texture, and a light-on-its-feet quality. These are the tendencies of Pinot Noir, and this wine succeeds because it embraces them. While the 2005 needed some time to really strut, and many of you are probably holding some of it for a few years, the 2006 is ready to go. It is Pinot Noir for now.

When customers come asking to see our selection of Burgundy Pinot Noir under $25, sometimes I wish I had a little puppet that I could pop out laughing hysterically. If I, a human, started pointing and laughing at someone, it might be considered rude. But for some reason a puppet can get away with more. These ideas aside, I’m generally polite when I inform people they are dreaming the impossible dream. This time I don’t have to be a jerk, and I don’t have find a nice way to say ‘no’. I can say, “Right over here. This is true, this is good, and this is the fabled under $25 Burgundy … and you will like it.” Lest you think I forgot about the wedding angle, I had an epiphany while writing this: Wouldn’t my friends’ love it if a puppet pronounced them husband and wife? – Ben Jordan

2006 Domaine Chauvenet Chopin Bourgogne

Red Wine; Pinot Noir; Burgundy;
$24.99

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$21.24 per bottle with case discount.

 

Tasting Notes

People talk about the delicate nature of Pinot Noir, but that’s hard to believe when you taste some of the dark, high octane, chewy versions that we sometimes find in our glasses. This Bourgogne is a case study in Pinot Noir the way the grape wants to be. The aromas are lively, juicy almost, with all that cherry and strawberry jumping around with red flowers and orange peel. The juiciness continues on the palate. It’s a lively wine not meant for tastings and points, but rather for tables and the meals that rest on them.

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A TASTE OF BURGUNDY MAY/JUNE 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 2:11 PM

A great way to learn about Burgundy and its wines, and (even better) the perfect way to get a discount on two high quality bottles. Sign up now!

Click here to purchase the sampler.

Basic Facts for those of you who are new to the program: Every two months we select two Burgundies, one red and one white. We include write-ups detailing the background of the grower, the vineyard source, and the wine. Finally we knock a significant percentage off the prices of the wines, making the Sampler price $89.98. If you would like us to add you to the Sampler Club and receive the wines regularly, please specify “store pickup” or “ship it” in the comments field, and we will charge your card accordingly. If you would like us to ship faster than the standard ground service, please specify this as well.



2005 Beaune 1er Cru “Aigrots,” Albert Morot

The Domaine Albert Morot has a long, well-documented history dating back to 1820. What had started out as a negociant business in Beaune turned into a long-standing family winery. After 16 years of running the business on her own, Françoise Choppin turned the reigns over to Geoffrey Chopin de Janvy, her nephew, in 2000. Since then, Geoffrey has taken the winery into the spotlight by crafting wines that have garnered attention from critics, collectors and Burgundy lovers alike. The vineyard of Beaune Aigrots is situated between Clos des Mouches and Champs Pimonts. This classy, concentrated chardonnay has lovely notes of buttered toast and green, apple fruit. The palate-feel of the wine is broad and expansive. The flavors linger to reveal rich, ripe fruit uplifted and carried by bright acidity. Not flabby in any way, this wine is open and ready to drink.

2003 Gevrey Chambertin “Vieilles Vignes”, Philippe Naddef

Philippe Naddef goes back decades with The Wine House, all the way to his very first vintage in 1983. This long relationship has given us a unique insight into the evolution of his full-bodied, sturdy wines. Naddef’s reds typically begin their young life tight and firm. With age, they turn graceful and exceedingly aromatic. As a vintage, 2003 red burgundies were either softer, fleshier and approachable in style or assertively tannic. The former vintage characteristic coupled with Naddef’s big pinots produced a 2003 Gevrey Chambertin Vieilles Vignes that is at once drinkable and big-scaled. The wine is produced from grapes that come from 4 different parcels. The average age of the vines is 45 five years old. These cherished old vines produce naturally concentrated, small berries. The wine is aged in 60% new barrel and 40% in one year old barrels with no racking. Notes of cinnamon and beeswax give way to ripe red cherry fruit that finish in silky, round tannins. Naddef’s wines have a flavor all their own. In our fast-food culture where conformity is all too often equated with quality, it is soul-soothing to taste the magical union of winemaker and grape in Naddef’s wines.

A TASTE OF BURGUNDY SAMPLER
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